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Friday, June 03, 2011

Didn't feel like blogging yesterday, but I'll try and catch up...

We slept till about 9 and then got ready to start working, which we began at about 10. Our job was to figure out how to make the climbing structure we had started yesterday and then put it together. Thanks to youtube, we learned a couple of different ways of making cargo nets, and after practicing with a small piece of rope, decided we were ready for the real thing. We made a net with nine rows of loops, alternating between three rows of dark green, three of light green, and another three of dark green.

We had a good system going using a play structure's ladder as a guide to make sure we were getting the loops consistent, and after a brief lunch break for liver (um, yum?) and salad (watch that European E-coli outbreak!) we hung it up on it's frame. Unfortunately, the rope stretched way more than we anticipated so the whole thing was too stretchy and we had to un-knot the bottom third of it and then wrench it down to the bottom frame.

However, after that we just needed to water some plants and weed some cucumbers and we were done for the day, which was nice--so different from Iceland! Zane was headed into town with her mum for a play so she offered to take us into town with her while they went, which was great--we went to an Irish pub, walked around Old Town, did some window shopping, saw a fabulous brass quartet made up of cross-dressing tuba and trumpet players, and had desert at a cute little cafe where you paid for your cake by the weight of the slice they cut for you.

Today the club we are staying at held a women's squash tournament, so we helped out with that a little bit--first we took the bikes down the ridiculous washboard road to the store to get groceries for the girls to snack on--it was funny bringing home two kg of coal and two kg of grapes and cucumbers and milk and bread and cookies, etc., on our bikes. We spent most of the next few hours helping to make iced coffees, clearing and washing dirty dishes, and grilling up some marinated chicken wings we had bought. It was so ridiculously relaxed compared to the cow farm that I thought she was taking the piss when she thanked us for 'helping so much.'

Oh, I can't believe I almost forgot, but we got talked into yoga this morning, which we agreed to fairly readily, thinking that our poor muscles could really do with stretching for the first time in six weeks, but it turns out it was Kundalini yoga, which is verrrrry low on the stretching and very high on the chanting of things. It was an interesting experience and involved mantras, bouncing around for a bit, and nearly falling asleep on the grass (that part was good!).

Anyway, after the tournament finished midday, most of the women stayed to hang around and we played volleyball (just keeping the ball up in a big circle) and Cecilia and I took advantage of all the lovely grass to do gymnastics and acro, which everyone found entertainingly impressing.

After that, we piled into the car and took a slightly terrifying drive down a gravel highway to Zane's mother's and step-father's house (he's the one building everything around the club) for a sauna. We weren't entirely sure what to expect from this, except we were worried about the 'you don't need your bathing suit' directive. The house was on a plot of land taken from a soviet-era co-operative, where you were given land to farm for personal use. It was a pretty interesting hodge podge of tiny old houses and holiday homes tucked away in gardens and mini-farms.

Their house is amazing and built entirely by Vikas, in just a couple of years. It is gorgeous! He also built a traditional sauna room, where they heat up rocks and then pour water over them to make one ridiculously hot room. Well it was only 50C, which they told us was nothing, but I barely lasted two sets of 3-5 minutes each before bailing permanently. I only did slightly better than the kids, who sit in tubs of cool water at the floor of the sauna getting used to it. We all wore little tea-cosy like hats on our heads in order to stop our hair from getting too hot, and scrubbed a ridiculous amount of black crap out of our skin. And not just us backpackers from a cowfarm, either--they all do it once a week and get this much out. Crazy. Once I got out, they gave me a traditional Latvian drink--Birch Juice. It's slightly fermented and more than slightly vile, I have to say. It reminded me a little bit of natto (fermented soy beans in Japan) but I suppose tasted approximately like you might expect from fermented forest.

I didn't stay in for the full meal deal, but Cecilia did, so she is going to guest blog her experience:

"We joined the mum, sister, grandmother and children in the sauna for a couple of rounds of hot sauna, cold shower. This included a loofa mit round in which the granny took it upon herself to exfoliate our backs. I really appreciated it, but Dani's poor sunburned shoulders certainly did not. After the loofa mit round, Dani bailed and I thought we were all pretty much done so I got dressed too (did Dani mention we were all expected to be totally naked?). Then out came the ladies from their most recent round in the sauna and told me I couldn't possibly bow out now or I was going to miss the best part. So I stripped down again and went and sat in the sauna, not knowing what to expect.

The next thing I know this strapping young man (husband of the sister) comes in wearing only his towel - which I was told was a courtesy so that I wouldn't be shocked. I sat on the bench and pretended I wasn't completely naked and alone with a strange man in a sauna, and he prepared some buckets of water and some birch branches. He laid a bunch of wet, leafy birch branches on the bench at one end and I was instructed to lie front down on the bench with my face on the branches. He then took two more bunches of the leafy birch branches soaked in water and shook them vigorously over me. This had the effect of spraying me with water (nice) and bringing all the hot air from the very top of the sauna wooshing down on me (nice... ish). It was VERY hot!! He did this several times. Every time I thought it was too hot to stand, he would stop, re wet his branches and start over again. The water it splattered was a relief but it got hotter and hotter! At some points in the middle he ran the wet branches up and down my body and pressed them into my back. I think it's supposed to be like a massage. Finally when I really didn't know what to do if this grunting, sweating man didn't stop waiving branches and incredibly hot air over me, because really I was seriously cooked and about to die, he picked up a large tub of cold water (I was unaware of this because I had my eyes shut and was focusing on steady breathing) and doused me head to foot! I yelled in shock, but it was such a relief. Then we were done and he opened the door and I went staggering out wearing nothing but a multitude of birch leaves and all the assembled people chuckled at me and told me to take a cold shower.

Once I cooled off it was back in for the next step. The host mum and I sat in the sauna with her sister and it was salt time. We took pinches of salt from a bowl and scrubbed ourselves with it.
Once we were thoroughly salted we sat back and let our bodies sweat like crazy and 'melt the salt off'. When we couldn't stand it any more we staggered out and I took the coldest shower of my life. It felt so good and now my skin is, as promised, very soft. All in all an experience I won't forget that's for sure!

Oh, and by the way, I disagree with Dani's assessment of the birch bark juice. Forest would taste good. This stuff tastes like your mouth after you puke. Revolting! But the kids were downing it."

Haha thanks Cecilia!

After that we caught a ride back to the club with the sister's family, and chatted with their 8 year old about gymnastics. She is in rhythmic 18 hours a week and we are going to play gym sometime soon, and then back in our little cottage we cooked our first real meal since breakfast 12 hours ago, and are now falling into bed for a quick rest before we go to an open air museum having a fair of some sort tomorrow.


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