10 September 2016

Was supposed to meet Kristiaan and Robbin downstairs at 7:15, but I overslept. Missed the bus to the train station, so I called an Uber. Jan arrived with only seconds to spare. There was no available seating so we sat on the floor between cars. Everyone was still very ‘exhausted’ from the night before.

Around 10:00 we arrived at the station in Ignalina, the central station for exploring Aukstaitija National Park. Aukstaitija National Park is both the largest and oldest national park in Lithuania. Formed by receding glaciers about 16,000 years ago, the park is over 70% forested and boasts 127 lakes. Kristiaan organized the trip and had intended to keep it small, but after mentioning it in passing, a few of us invited ourselves.

From Ignalina we made our way via taxi to Paluse, the epicenter of Aukstaitija. We started at the tourist center where we received a general overview and a guidebook.

After purchasing snacks we began our search for a bike rental. The first place was out, so we continued our walk along the permitter of the lake.

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After a lengthy walk we realized that bike shops were not as plentiful as we had imagined. Once we hit the main road Kristiaan suggested that we hitchhike to the nearest town. I was obviously doubtful as I’d never hitchhiked before, but within ten minutes I was in the backseat of a van. We didn’t know where to direct our driver, so when we passed a sign pointing to a lodge, we motioned in that direction.

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When we first arrived at the lodge we were greeted by a man who can only be described as ‘rural’. He gave a look of disbelief, something along the lines of ‘how did you find us’ or ‘what in the world are you doing here’. We pointed towards the canoes and he called over a man who spoke impressive English. We explained our predicament and were ultimately invited to join his expedition which was to depart in 20 minutes.

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We explored the surroundings in the meantime.

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After adorning lifejackets we crowded into a van with other travelers. We arrived at the river about 30 minutes later.

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Jan and I shared a canoe, as did Kristiaan and Robbin. The water was cool and calm, but extremely windy.

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After 5km (a couple hours) we stopped at an open area for lunch. It turned out that the other travelers were acquainted with the innkeeper. We were crashing a family gathering. They invited us to join their picnic and shared their food and drinks. One young man (Martinas) had just started his first semester at Vilnius University.

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Eventually we started back down the river, and Jan and I were soon disconnected from the group. I was afraid that the river had diverged and we had taken the wrong path, but after a few anxious moments we were reunited with the group.

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Our journey ended in a luscious lake. The water was the clearest I’d seen. In total, we had canoed about 15km. It was then, while waiting for the van, that we decided to stay the night.

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Our driver took us to the nearest town to pick up food for the night. We decided on chips, bread and beer.

We arrived back at the accommodation around 5:00. The village was called ‘Pabirze’. It was located on a beautiful, still lake. We were directed to our quarters, which included a pier and a campfire sight.

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Naturally, we were soon in the water. To my amazement I could actually see my feet. It was initially chilly, but we were quickly numb. It was beyond refreshing.

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Since we didn’t have towels, we decided to warm up by the campfire. We were supplied with an abundance of perfectly sized firewood. I built and then started a fire using only one match. Thanks Camp Barney.

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We sat by the fire the rest of the night.

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I briefly turned on cellular data (I’m officially out) to play a song, which is when I received a message from one of my closest high school friends (Will Riley) letting me know that he was engaged. I immediately video called him and we spoke for a bit. I am still in disbelief.

Our night ended with some wholesome stargazing. They were unbelievable. I saw two shooting stars.

With that, we tucked in for the night.

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