From 10th of August and for about twenty days was the celebration of the Baltic Rainbow Gathering in a forest near Anyksciai, some 160 kms. from Kaunas. The Rainbow Gatherings are temporary egalitarian communities that have been held worldwide since the 70's, in contact with nature, and exposing the ideals of peace, love, nonviolence, respect for the environment and freedom as a counterculture opposed to consumerism and mass media. Basically, a bunch of hippies meeting! Indre (now my host) and I had never attended one, so we decided it would be cool to join the brothers for a few days.
The idea was to hitchhike, which would take about three hours. But it was too easy, so with a smile I asked, "What if we go by bike?". So I borrowed Tuchkus' bike, Hercules, who would become my partner in this first trip on two wheels of my life. Hercules was about 30 years, and the truth is that he had better times. Only two of the three shifts worked, the brakes were not working well and the seat (a beautiful vintage 80's Brooks, must be said...) was wobbly. But he proved his name right carrying over 40 kilos of luggage (mine and Indre) among clothes, sleeping bags, tents, food and kitchen utensils. Didn't do it to be a gentleman, but for practical reasons (as I like to pedal faster, decided it was a good idea to carry all the weight to make our pace even). Moreover, it was the perfect argument in case of discussion: "Don't you see I'm carrying all on my own?!". It did not to stop her from being behind me, so I had to tease her to pedal harder... The first day we left Kaunas in the afternoon (about 1pm) and took small regional roads, unpaved but with almost no traffic, going through small towns and villages in the countryside, with the kind of views and scenery that only in this kind of forgotten roads and going by bicycle can you find. We stopped for lunch in Jonava, where for 2€ I ate a generous portion of fish with melted cheese and baked potatoes, and kept going. We soon realized that going by bike was the best choice, with a beautiful landscape that looked like out of a fairy tale and beautiful wooded trails to ourselves. Here's a little video on the landscapes of Lithuania to give you an idea:
We passed Anyksciai and found a beautiful lake of fresh blue waters inviting us to swim. Indre wanted to stop, but I had enough of stopping and stopping here and there, and all I wanted to do was to reach the final destination before the night and leave all the crap I was carrying. So in spite of Indre's dissapointment we kept cycling, and in a small town called Andrioniskis, close to the meeting, we stopped to ask directions. The lady was super friendly and knew about the Rainbow, so it was pretty easy to find the place.
We traversed Lasiniai and Inkunai on small roads through the forest until we finally met Urtas, who showed us the path. We saluted some of the guys that were there and went looking for a place to drop things and pitch the tent. Then, socializing a bit, the usual presentations and a good swim in the crystaline waters of the river passing by. We met all the people, who were already there for two weeks, drank some tea and they told us a little about the meeting. I also met Airida and Gabriela, whom I met at the ecofestival, of which Gabriela was also an organizer. When night fell, we ate under the stars and around the campfire the delicious traditional dish of Uzbekistan (Plov) that Sergei had prepared. Before eating, we all standed in a circle around the fire holding hands, and began to sing songs and praises giving thanks. I ate three huge plates, with my stomach open for both days of cycling, and we were drinking tea and chatting until midnight, when I decided to go to my lovely tent to rest and recharge batteries.
Woke up early next morning and had a tea with Urtas' brother and Katja. She was German and had been for a few years traveling the world. That day was Saturday, main day of the biggest folk music festival of the country, so many people had left. I wanted to go, but it was too late and now it was difficult to get there on time, so we planned to spend the day in the woods. We helped Serguei to cook "borsch" and delicious mushrooms that they had brought the forest and had an amazing flavor of chicken and fish. We spent the night playing some guitar with a guy from Norway while Ehres played the didgeridoo, and talking about things.
But the forecast for the next day was heavy rain and thunderstorms after noon, so we decided that the most sensible option would be to wake up at dawn and get out as early as possible, and to pedal strong to have halfway done and be camped in good spot when eventually the storm came. So we woke up early and said goodbye to the kids. Ricardas, who had made many bike trips and sometimes fixed bikes in his spare time, gave me some advice and checked Hercules. We started, and after 15 kms. we stopped at Andrioniskis to buy supplies and eat something. From there, keep going and another stop in Kavarskas, where Hercules and me faced a pretty decent climb. Standing on the pedals, trying to keep balance with the excessive baggage, and zigzagging from edge to edge of the road to minimize the slope. It wasn't much, but given my condition of beginner looking back from the top while trying to recover my breath I felt like the first man to climb Mount Everest. I decided I deserved a good cold beer (Svyturios, Lithuania's most popular) to celebrate, and stop with Indre for a bit. I started trying to provoke her gently to make her go faster, and the strategy worked: a little angry and frowned began to pedal as crazy to prove she wasn't a weak woman. Finally! For a couple of hours we moved at over 30 km/h. I was trying to keep up the pace with all the load, tailgating wheel to wheel to cut the strong headwind, when she suddenly decided to brake in front of me. My brakes were not really working, so it wasn't perhaps the smartest choice, and I ended up smashed in the middle of the road. Luckily, no cars were coming at the time and I suffered no more inconvenient than a few scrapes on the knees... The good news was that at least it was not raining, and although the sky was overcast, it seemed unlikely that the feared storm was coming.
Past Jakutiskiai, Indre's batteries ran out and started again the pain in the buttocks, so we returned to the weary speed of 10 km/h. But we were not far from our destination and had covered a good chunk of the way so we could relax a little. A beautiful golden sun began to shine, illuminating the cotton puffy clouds and the green fields the men worked, as their parents and the parents of their parents did from ancient times, in their simple lives, devoted to the Mother Earth and the eternal circles of life.
In the small town of Bukonys we stopped to refill the water bottle and buy cigarettes and chocolates, essential supplies on any good trip that deserves to be regarded as such. We asked a few locals that were spending the hours sitting on a bench and staring at life passing by for directions, and I laughed inside of their stupor when Indre told them where we came from. I think I could have told them we were from another planet and they wouldn't have been more astonished. So we ate some chocolates in a bench by a pond as rumors spread in the village and people passed looking at us.
We reached Jonava (25 km. from Kaunas) whit a couple of hours of sunshine left, but decided to cheat and take a train (at the end of the day we realized we would have done it faster by bike ...). 120 kms. in a day was fine and we could treat ourselves to rest on the station and sip a coffee. It was the end for now. But the seeds of the idea of another adventure, this time much larger, were already planted in our minds ...