How Lithuanians spend their time in nature
For me, there is nothing as rewarding as escaping to nature after 5 days of work on a computer. Even though Lithuania has a very beautiful nature and it is easy to get energized outdoors, but from my personal experience, hiking or trekking is not as rewarding as elsewhere. Lithuania lacks some eureka moments in a form of grandiose natural monuments. It is very hard to get rewarded for your hard walk and everything is so easily accessible by a car in such a small country anyway. Solution to that is usually just to spend your time in a place and chill, or to go fast, which results in high popularity of cycling and kayaking. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but it is very popular to go kayaking and camping for a weekend here in Lithuania.
I think the reason for it is not only the amount of how much you can see in a relatively short amount of time but the change of a perspective as well. To me, rivers never looked the same after I tried kayaking for the first time in my life more than a decade ago. And the kayaking in the lake is a totally different beast on another level. The rapid change of the scenery is something like a movie from which it is hard to take your eyes off.
Aukštaitija National Park
And if you are looking for water, there is no better place to look for it in Lithuania than Aukstaitija National Park, which is hilarious, because the word "Aukštaitija" means the highlands and the place doesn't look like that even by Lithuanian standards. The only reason for it, is probably that the region near it called Žemaitija (eng. The lowlands) is flat as fcuk. Anyway, Aukštaitija National Park is famous for its lakes and stream labyrinths. With a size of Vienna, it contains 126 lakes, 116 villages, a river and 17 streams. Still, somehow, 70% of the park is covered by forests, which entangles you to the beauty of nature wherever you go.
Our trip started on a small river in the northern part of the Aukštaitija National Park. River Buka is only 9 km long and we kayaked 8 km of it. Buka connects two lakes: Utenykštis and Baluošas. It is a part of a wood raft transportation route for which due to being a very shallow river several dams were built. On a hotter day when the water level is lower, eroded edges of Buka can be observed holding still growing tall trees above it.
The beauty of it is that river Buka is not somewhat exceptional compared to the others. It could be almost any other river in one of the local parks and results would be the same.
If somebody asked me to give a title for the rest of the journey, I would call it "volunteer unpaid hard labor under harsh conditions in the exotic unknown land".
Volunteer unpaid hard labor under harsh conditions in an exotic unknown land
As you might have guessed it (yes, I'm talking to you - the only reader probably went this far), the journey didn't end with 8 chilly kilometers on a gravity-driven highway called River Buka. What was a pure pleasure turned into 6 km of kayaking on still waters of lakes where the only way to move is to use your own kinetic energy, which you got from the sun after many complex exchanges on the natural food chain.
And it was the same sun which was the killer of this part, unpaid hard labor could be also called an exercise, which changes the perspective and turns it from torture back to pleasure, but no matter how you call hot, it is still fcuking hot. Though, it doesn't mean that I didn't try. I did, oh boy, I did. I called it tanning, but in the end, it was more like torching a pig and I ended up with moderate sunburn.
Anyway, back to the positive side, it was really beautiful and totally worth all the hard work even compared to the kayaking in the river. It includes not only the enormous spaces of beautiful panorama of Aukštaitija National Park, but also many different birds which you encounter after every turn, clean transparent waters of lakes where you can observe variety of underwater flora and fauna, a dinner on an island in the middle of a lake, silence, echoes and many other things which you don't get in the concrete city.
Remember I told that Aukštaitiją National Park was a maze? Yeah, I didn't lie. First day we started on Buka and kayaked until we entered Lake Baluošas, after it we followed a small stream to Lake Baluošytis and did the same to enter Lake Sravinaitis after which we had to take out our kayaks of the water and carry it through the other side of a road as a waterway was blocked by a water mill. On the other side of it was a perfect place to take a swim and a short rest. On summers nearby, you can find a store for resupplies before the campsite, which is reached after kayaking on another stream to another lake called Almajas.
Camping near a lake
I will not go too much into safe camping or how to build a tent etc etc, but what is important to mention, no matter how tired you are, when camping near the lake with kayaks, don’t put down your paddles too soon. A good part of being in a lake is that you are surrounded by enough space to observe a sunset no matter where you are and that is exactly what you should do. Even if you are super lazy and tired, just take those Einstein-damned paddles and kayak yourself into the middle of the lake. For more romantic people, you can do the same during the night and observe the endless universe above your heads, a universe which is always running away from us due to dark energy, leaving just falling stars and unfulfilled wishes.
Well, day 2 is a must because you must camp near the lake, that is the fun part of it, even if you hate sleeping in tents or not having a shower or a toilet, whatever, camping is an amazing time to socialize and share your impressions with friends after a good day of kayaking.
Well, where was I? Oh yeah, the maze. I won’t go too much into the details, I’ll let the photography to talk for itself, but on the second day our 15 km route took us from Lake Almajas through the same small stream to Lake Asekas, after which we ended up in another stream leading to Lake Linkmenas where you can visit a hill surrounded by 3 lakes and from which you can see up to 6 lakes.
There is a great oak on the Ladakalnis hill with a high-end pagan message below it:
Don’t put your dreams on my roots and branches as I‘m choking under the layer of stones, cannot carry your dreams to the skies.
Better surround an altar with a circle of your dreams – within him running sands of time will carry it to the heavens.
Ladakalnis rises 175 m above sea level (yeah, Lithuanian highlands), it is high enough compared to surrounding landscape to give you a view of six different lakes. It is thought to have been a sacrificial place for a pagan deity Goddess Lada, the primordial Great Mother, wife of supreme God Dievas (These days we still use the same word for Christian God as well). She gave birth to the first-born twins in the shape of horses, who are related to the fire of the sky - the Sun and lightning.
Maze of lakes
After it, we went to another lake called Alksnas to have a dinner near ethnographic island village, then back to Linkmenas which led to Lake Asalnykštis until you enter Lake Asalnai which finally leads to Lake Lūšiai - our final stop in a Baidariuuostas (kayak docks) kayak base. It is in a small village called Palūšė which something like a small resort town, you can find beaches, a bar and plenty of other water entertainment to do including supping, motor ships, water bikes, boats and many more.
Kayak base in Palūšė
To our surprise on our way back we were met by the man behind kayak docks who came riding a motor ship which he built by his own hands. He offered us a ride, but we decided that we want that feeling of accomplishing whole 29 km in two days by ourselves. There are quite a few kayaks renting bases around here, but for many reasons including that this kayak base is near a beautiful lake in small resort village with an old wooden church and relatively many activities, a team which not only gave us all the information we needed, but also a map (first time I got one and I’ve been kayaking for years) and the possibility to camp on their own campsite near Lake Almajas, I would recommend using their services which you can read more about on http://www.baidariuuostas.lt/en
Ok, enough of free advertisements, time to wrap up with a great quote from Martin Luther King Jr:
“The time is always right to do what is right”
So, go out and do something active with your friends, I won’t go into details now, there is plenty of science behind that, but an adventure within a group of people is where we evolved and where we belong. A possible path to happiness lies within it.
Every Thursday something new from my travel adventures
Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
Design: Mantas Ališauskas
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