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  • Day1111

    The River Gauja, Dieveniškės Appendix

    July 12, 2019 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    You know somewhere is going to be 'interesting' when locals stare at your van with wide eyes and slack jaws. Today's adventure takes us to the Dieveniškės Appendix. As we can see from people's expressions, not many visitors make it this far; which is one of the reasons we wanted to!

    If Lithuania's eastern border were coastal, the 'appendix' would be called a headland. As it is, 110km of the perimeter extends into Belarus like a tongue. The area within it is known as the Dieveniškės Appendix and has protected status as a historical regional park. The story goes that when redefining border lines, Stalin placed his pipe on the map. No Soviet officer had the courage to move it, so they merely drew around it! In reality, the small number of Lithuanians living here expressed a strong desire for their homes to remain part of their homeland, so despite the majority of people identifying as Polish, the land remained Lithuanian.

    Upon entering the Appendix we were required to pass a border control of sorts. There is only one road in and out. It is a lot easier to manage access at this point than patrol the 110km perimeter. No passports were needed, we merely slowed to 30kmph over a couple of speed bumps while two officers sized us up then waved us through. As we understand it, the Belarusian border has a barbed wire electric fence all the way around the Dieveniškės Appendix. With Lithuania's accession to the EU it became part of the Schengen area. This meant abolishing borders with other EU nations, while reinforcing those with non EU countries like Belarus. The fence, completed in 2007 runs through the middle of small settlements and has divided families and friends. There are few cars in this mainly agricultural land, poor infrastructure and poor public transport. We read about a case of an 85 year old woman needing to take a 90 mile round trip via the nearest border crossing, to visit her sister who lived just a mile away, in the same village, but on the other side of the fence.

    Driving between patchwork fields we came to roadworks on the mainstreet of a village. There being so few roads in the region we were required to drive through a section that was being worked on, in order to reach the detour. Bearing in mind the road we'd been driving on was unsurfaced, we were hesitant, but there was no other way round so Vicky steered Martha past the dumper truck and onto the soft sand road surface. Honestly, it was like driving in a nursery school sandpit; diggers and lorries with big wheels forging deep tracks in the sand. Squeezing alongside the yellow JCB, workers stared at us, seemingly trying to figure out if they were really seeing a couple of nervous looking Brits in a big white motorhome with canoe on top, slipping and sliding along a dead end farmland route... we could hardly believe it ourselves!

    Relieved not to get stuck, we stopped for lunch by a lake in Poškonys; one of the few villages whose residents are predominantly Lithuanian. We were almost tempted to stay, but decided to delve further into the appendix to a place Will had found on Park4Night. The two spots were only 12km apart so we could easily return if we wanted to spend the night in Poškonys.

    We are so glad we carried on! A small gravel car park gave access to one of the most wonderful nature reserves we've ever visited. The Gauja botanical path ran in a loop of about 1km around a small, sandy bedded river of the same name. The valley was overflowing with flora and fauna. The scent of Meadowsweet hung in the air while hundreds of butterflies of many different varieties flitted between brightly coloured meadow flowers. Looking closer, the flowers and seed heads overflowed with insects. A boardwalk made up much of the path, with regular information panels showcasing plants, animals, the geography and management of the Gauja valley reserve. Some even had a paragraph in English. They cleverly left it until the 7th board to share information about the adders that called this place home! From meadows, we were led through forests of pine, spruce and juniper. The alders took over as we reached the bog, lush with springy moss and grasses. We enjoyed seeing froglets hopping in front of us, but stopped and stared in amazement as a couple of baby Common Lizards darted between shadows of foliage amongst the wooden slats! We thought on first sight they might be newts, but with a lot of research, found these creatures, who measured 3-4cm long, were new born lizards!

    To see 2 minutes of the drone footage we filmed, click here:

    The reserve is less than 3km away from Belarus, a country Vodafone classes as 'rest of the world', (not part of the free EU roaming zone). We were aware of being caught out like we had been in Tariffa when our signal attached to a Moroccan network, so manually selected a Lithuanian provider. Sure enough, a text came through; 'Welcome to Belarus!' Vodafone snuck a cheeky 60p charge into our bill all the same but it wasn't enough to argue over. Interestingly this is the first time we've seen Trip Advisor totally stumped as to what to do or where to eat nearby!

    Will's desire for a swim and a fish took us back to Poškonys for the night.
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