Monday, June 20, 2011

3 months, 3 countries, 3000 dollars, 3000 kms

The very brave Bernii, with her 50-kilo loaded bicycle...

Her name is Bernadette. But she prefers Bernii. She comes all the way from Melbourne, Australia. And the 16th of June 2011, she "landed" here in Paluse, for a night and morning stopover. "Landed", so to speak... She actually cycled to here. One month ago, she was still in Helsinki. She stayed there for a few days, before starting her trip : 3000 kms through the 3 Baltic countries, for 3 months. At first, the trip was going to be just holidays. It's only two weeks before she left Australia that she thought about raising awareness and money for mental disabilities.

"This is a huge issue in Australia, Bernii explains. Lots of people suffer, and there's not enough money for it. Plus there are still prejudices. If you have a physical illness, people can see it and acknowledge it. But if you have a mental illness, it's a lot more difficult."

So before leaving Australia for Europe, she sent a common email to all her colleagues at work (she worked for the State, as a project officer to help people to carpool), and to all her friends, eventually trying to collect as much as 3000 Australian dollars for the Mental Illness Fellowship. She collected more than half of it for now, and still hopes to achieve her goal.

If you're intererested by her ongoing project, check it out on :

or on her blog :

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kretuonas Lake : thousands of birds...

Welcome to Didzioji sali, a large island located in the middle of the biggest lake of the Park, Kretuonas Lake. This island used to be a place for grazing and mowing for local people and their sheep and cows, and a fantastic bird reserve. In the seventies, a decision was made to empty the island from all grazing animals to as to protect an endangered species of bird, threatened by these animals stepping on its nets. But the troublesome consequence was forest starting to grow and birds, instead of living there, were... leaving from there!

In 2001, trees were cut and later on, some sixty sheep were sent to the island to graze, like in the "old times", to try to come back to the original state. And that's been pretty successful, with the presence of more than ten thousand birds (mostly Larus Ridibundus for the ones who know...). But that only last for two years, and some trees are starting to grow back again...

Some monitoring is being done on the island on a regular basis to count birds, especially three species : Larus Minutus, Sterna Hirundo and Philomachus Pugnax. If the number of these birds decreases too much, some money can come from Europe to improve the situation.

Bronis, ornithologist, biologist and botanist
for the National Park, on the way to the island

The population of Larus Ridibundus raises up to 10000 units!
And then, there are other species of course...

Four people from the Birds Protection League were already
on the island to look for birds nests and to clip young birds

Sterna Hirundo's eggs

Larus Canus' eggs

Beautiful plant diversity as well on the island...
this is a Platanthera Bifolia

And the parasitic plant Cuscuta europaea,
first time Bronius saw it on the island

Andreus, inspector of the Park,
uses this tool to look for illegal nets in the lake's waters

Another illegal tool : a berry "collector"

Sekmines : folklore at our door

Last sunday (the 12th), we went to a small folk festival in Meyronis, the closest village from our "Ekologinios Svietimos Centras", the place we live in. Organised by Aukstaitija National Park and Labanoras Regional Park together, this event symbolises the approaching end of spring and real start of summer. Normaly, each year, a cow (or a few of them) has to swim in the lake and to cross it to get to the other side, where it can stay for the whole summer in a pasture. But tradition is getting lost, and the cow had already crossed Lake Lusai... First time it does not happen during the event. What a shame!

The event

The customs

Soon, Florence will be crowned... with a home-made crown of various plants and flowers

Participants carry birch branches to give them to villagers.
The birch tree is seen as a link between earth and sky. 

The people

Florence with our Lithuanian teacher Astra, member of
the same folk group than the one our mentor Linas belongs to

A drama play amused the visitors...

And for a small village like Meyronis, the visitors were quite numerous!

The food

The diversity of Lithuanian food

The giant omelette was a complete success

Singing and dancing

Many more women than men...

This is quite exceptional. Unfortunately,
men are not as numerous as women in traditional folk groups

Our mentor Linas, much better dancer than we were!

Florence was pretty good in dancing
the traditional "Oira Oira"

An example of traditional singing

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Istakos nuo pradziu pradzio... 540km by rowing boat across Lithuania

Here comes the story of some friends and co-workers, uniting their strenght in a never-seen before trip by rowing boat, all the way from Paluse to Nida. These twelve or so people struggled and suffered for 540 km and during eight days, experiencing heavy rain as well as a big hot sun, but most of all enjoyed and celebrated some kind of freedom, although being (proudly) "stuck" on their 8-meter long wooden boat.

Why proudly? Why being so proud of achieving what can only appear to be a physical performance? Well, because it is much more than that... We both know about it, cause for the first three days, and for the very last day, we were part of it.

Three questions to... Sarunas, "captain" of the boat :

1. When was "Paluse" born?
The idea of building this boat was born two years ago in Finland, when we went there with a bunch of friends for a few-weeks trip. We were staying in small houses in the nature. There was this night I drank vodka with this local guy. I asked him if he could find a boat-builder. He found us one, I wrote him a letter, but he was asking 8500 euros for it. And then, we would have needed to add one more thousand for transport from Finland to here. So my friend Kostas decided to make it. It took him two or three months to make it, with some information provided on the internet. It was easy work.

"Captain Sarunas"

One day, we were sitting by the fire, and we decided this boat had to make a long trip, like a trip to the sea...
When I told Linas (our mentor, employee of Aukstaitija National Park, ndlr) and other guys of the Park about it, they said we could make it bigger, create a real event, with the official opening of the new boat rental place in Paluse, and the 20-year anniversary of lithuanian National Parks (the five of them were created in 1991, except Aukstaitija, named that way in 1991, but created in 1974, ndlr). And they called the trip Istakos, which means the source of a river, the beginning of it.

2. What were the most beautiful thing, the biggest difficulty and the biggest surprise you experienced during the trip?

The most beautiful thing was the team. I was afraid that twelve people altogether in a boat for a week would have been a difficult situation. But the team was wonderful. Everyday was a new day, a happy day, we had lots of talks about nothing and everything. We became real friends. With some colleagues, we used to say just hello in the morning, not much more, but now we know each others much better.

The hardest part was not what I was expecting. I thought we would experience some problems along Nemunas river. I thought some big winds would come from the West and we would have to row against them. But there was only one day with strong wind. The hardest part was on Zeimena river, when there were so many branches across the river and one of them made a hole in the skull of the boat (the second day, ndlr). But we managed to fix it in Kernave, with the help of some very good people.

And what surprised me the most was the warm welcome we've had in different regional parks we stopped for breaks or overnight. In Panemuniu (regional Park, ndlr) for example, we arrived very late, it was 9.30pm. But they waited for us, made us very good food, and some home-made vodka (laughs). We've even had a local guide from there, who spent the whole day on the boat with us!

3. How is the boat being used now? Did the trip give you other ideas for the future?

The boat has a commercial use. People like to be altogether, so over the week-ends, this boat is perfect for rent for large groups of friends or family.

Kostas has another idea to make a boat with a roof, with tables, maybe for a restaurant. But I've got an idea to make another boat like Paluse. I really like the shape of this boat, it is very stable. Last day of the trip, we've had big waves, but no problems with that.

So I would like to make long up to 10-day commercial trips. But of course, the participants wouldn't have to row ten hours per day everyday! So we could use a motor sometimes, and go for some sidewalks to the forest or to interesting places. I really want to try that this automn. This summer, I'm going on vacation to Iceland and to Oural, I won't be back before the end of september. So october, with rain and short days, might not be the best, but I'll try...

1. The excitement of a... NEW BIRTH

The preparation of the fish soup, before leaving

Some traditional music, after the official part

Almost ready to leave...

2. The innocence of... CHILDHOOD

3. The harsh realities of GROWING UP

Rain + trees and branches = problems...

The only solution is sometimes to go for "a swim"

4. The beauty of FAMILY

The arrival in Nemunas Deltas, the day before the last

Last day, 6am... a bit early maybe?

Mixed feelings before the end of a beautiful adventure

The "inspection" boat, last joke right before Nida

Imantas will not go for the sirens...

This gift was given all along the trip

They did it!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

EVS meeting in Varniai

Welcome to Varniai, beautiful "lake-resort" in Zemaitija region, western Lithuania. Varniai is famous for its lake Lūkstas, which is the biggest natural lake of Samogitia region in Lithuania. The lake is the only one in Lithuania where visitors can find pieces of amber stranded. But today, the very place we spent a day and a night in is even more famous for its international blues festival, Blues Nights. We are hoping to get there this summer, the first week-end of July.

But this time, the lake was a very quiet location offered for us to enjoy our meeting with all other volunteers from different regional and national parks, and their mentors. We (volunteers) discussed our first steps in our parks, the projects and expectancies we might have, the atmosphere at work, our accomodation, etc. Mentors did the same on their side. Then we gathered to share our conclusions, positive for most of them. For us? So far so good!

Was Anthony Hopkins with us? No, this is Leonas,
responsible from our host organisation.
Leonas, some kind of a father for all parks' volunteers...

On the way back to Varniai

Medvegalis Mound

Burbiskio Dvaro, a huge property with a manor and some stables,
all given to the town of Pakalniskes (Radviliskio rajonas)