Children Of Freedom
After rolling awhile in the sleeping bag, I finally manage to get out of the tent. Lately it has been an early wakeup, no matter what time I passed out. Perhaps it is due to the excitement I feel. Exactly like today, anything could happen.
While packing the tent, a man appears from the forest behind us. We do not share a common language with him. He is asking for something to drink, but then refuses the water I offer him. Edgars, as he introduces himself, looks a bit messed up. Fingers pointing to his neck, he seems to be in a serious need for something smoothing. We can only raise our shoulders and arms in the air while showing the empty wine bottle which is all that is left from last night.
Even without a drink, Edgars wants to open up his heart to us. We do not mind. He used to be a high ranking officer in the Latvian army and later served as a police officer. Then, as it seems, he ran into troubles, started drinking, got imprisoned, lost his job, and is now wandering about aimlessly on beaches like here in Saulkrasti. I feel for him. Edgars seems to be a really good chap who just made some stupid mistakes and is now having hard time pulling it together. He looks at me straight into the eye for a long moment and shakes my hand. This is his way of wishing us a good journey. As quickly as this mysterious man had appeared from the woods, he vanishes to the invisibleness of the far end of the beach.
It is late August and the sun is smiling at us. Trying to thumb a ride, we have been standing already a while on the side of the Via Baltica road. Sensing the early glimpses of an arising frustration, I come up with an idea to prepare a sign with the Latvian word for please, lūdzu, written on it. “It usually works fast,” I try asserting and begin by drawing the letter L on a piece of card board with a neon-red marker. In the same instant a car stops. “I wouldn’t have believed it works that fast!” I exclaim with full excitement, while shoving the sign to my backpack for a later finishing touch. Laughing out loud, Mateusz is already galloping towards the car.
A friendly Estonian guy has taken us all the way to the center of Riga in about 70 minutes. A German exchange student who has just arrived to town asks us directions. “We are not from around here,” I answer to him, to which he replies: “Oh, so you are also tourists?” Mateusz cannot help himself and corrects the young guy by explaining that we prefer to call ourselves travelers.
Talking with the exchange student brings back memories of my own exchange year in Germany. Staying a year there is probably one of the most important reasons why Europe feels so homely. Nevertheless, some time ago I could not possibly have imagined traveling here without money. I still cannot believe I have made it all the way from Helsinki to Riga, and that I am going to continue all the way to Berlin, without spending a dime. This all feels like a dream. As if I was in a dream and at the same time aware of it: a lucid dream. And I would prefer not to wake up.
We bum a ride in a local tram, obviously, because we have no money. A bit later we change to an electric bus and ride on it about half an hour towards the suburbs of the city where tall and cementish Soviet-style buildings are rising from a mixture of asphalt and gravel.
We meet Laura at a bus stop and walk to her apartment. Her friend Rihards and the two French couch surfers, Loïc and Fabian, are already waiting for us. Food is already being prepared for us hungry travelers.
After getting to know each other, the discussion starts revolving around moneyless traveling, probably because I have been honest to Laura about my agenda in the couch request I had sent. None of them have ever heard of such a way of traveling and they all seem to be genuinely interested in hearing more. Loïc and Fabian have traveled a lot, especially in South and Latin Americas, and Australia, but also in Asia. When I tell them about my friend’s plan to start an ecovillage in Chile, they open up about their idea to do the same in Brazil. We also find out that Fabian is soon going to start working in Aachen, where I spent my exchange year. The world is truly a big small place.
With Laura and the Frenchmen we get to the central bus station. They want to go to Jūrmala beach, even though it is raining. With Mateusz, we decide to stay in the city.
As we are walking around, we cannot evade deep topics such as God and money. God is quickly bypassed: we both seem to share the same view that acknowledging God has got nothing or very little to do with religions. Mateusz does not necessarily believe though that life could be free in practice. We are constantly distracted by gorgeous looking women walking on high heels in short, thigh-exposing skirts. I suggest we go to a skyline bar which is located on the top floor of one nearby hotel. Mateusz is doubting we could get there for free. I suggest we give it a try, and he agrees. When I ask the receptionist, she advises us, regretting that the bar is not yet opened, to take the panorama elevator all the way up to the top floor.
Gazing at the beautiful view of a sea of red-tile-roofs opening in front of us, I cannot help wondering how everything has worked out so well. I realize having met a Polish journalist, who is standing right next to me. Heck, he even has a tent and he speaks some Russian, which makes him a perfect companion for moneyless traveling through the Baltic states. We have got a place to sleep in a cosy apartment, and got to know to international and open-minded people. Food and beverages are in abundance and people have been really helpful and encouraging. One might assume it is virtually impossible to travel without money. That is, you cannot always get what you want. But as the Rolling Stones sing, “if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.”
Soon we are standing both feet on the ground again. As we walk through the Freedom Square, I truly feel free.
In the evening we are all in the center attending a couch surfer’s meeting. When two Swedish girls hear my story, one of them tries to give me some cash. After refusing politely they begin to grasp the idea: I am not begging for money. I am traveling without it.
Why are we not thrown out of the bar, Rihards is wondering and laughing, when he watches me and Mateusz foraging some leftovers from the surrounding tables while drinking beers we had brought with us. After convincing me that he is not tired, Mateusz soon falls asleep in the table, not solely of tiredness. Again, Rihards is wondering why we are not thrown out. Rihards goes for a walk. I stay with Mateusz, watching the passers by, letting my thoughts fly.
The relation between fears and love come up. The source code for perfect love can be found inside all of us. Fears are those bugs that prevent love from functioning. The system can never be perfect, but the less bugs the better it works and is able to fulfill the purpose it was designed for. Often trust in love is equated with floating in emptiness. That it is, exactly. Love is that emptiness which surrounds us all, which is inside of us. The fear of emptiness can block love like any other fear. Love can never be fully functional in the presence of anxiety. Hence, courage and love are interrelated. More courage, less fear; more room for love. It takes courage to jump into emptiness, but if one is fearless, there is no need to jump: emptiness is already carrying everything that is.
I poke Mateusz to wake him up. We are ready to go home. It is four o’clock when I fall to a sweet sleep on a comfy leather sofa. After a few hours of sleep we would hitchhike to Lithuania.
This story was submitted to travelmeansfreedom.