“Could you give me an interview about your kayaking experience?”, I did ask Janis?
Janis Vilcans is a kayaking addict. He also consults other kayakers and rents kayaks. Janis finds the most exciting kayaking places in Latvia and brings other people there. When I contacted him in January I had forgotten that he goes out kayaking regardless the season.
“Of course, I will answer your questions, Roland. But maybe you also want to join us for a kayaking trip this weekend? There is incredibly high water level in Daugava River. That will be an amazing reportage!”
“This weekend? My dear friend, it’s cold and wet out there!”, I mumbled silently. But it was too late. At that moment I understood that I have no other choice than to accept his offer. And not because I wanted the interview. I knew for sure that it will be an amazing experience.
In order not to “suffer” alone I convinced a couple of friends to join me. To my big surprise, some of them agreed. There are only some that are crazy enough to wake up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to drive three hours God knows where. Besides, hey, it’s winter out there! Hiking, yes. Skiing or ice skating are also good options. But kayaking in winter? One must be a real outdoors addict, right?
Not really! As for all the things, the limits are only in our heads. We are the ones who decide what is and what is not possible for us. It is all about our attitudes and beliefs.
First Day Of The Winter
Despite some doubts, the weather forecast for Sunday was promising. After heavy rains during the last two weeks, it was finally the time for snow and winter. So it was. Our kayaking day was also the first day of a real winter.
The early dark Sunday morning greeted us with heavy snowfall. The large snowflakes lowered the visibility on the road almost to zero.
“Well, it looks that this will be one exceptional kayaking day!” I thought (still being excited, to be honest).
As we approached our destination, the picture changed. At one moment it looked dark and hopeless. Yet some ten minutes later the sun was rising and skies got absolutely clear. We left the clouds behind and got a gorgeous sunny winter day. That was our prize for early wake-up and patience.
Our kayaking trip took place in the remote Dviete Floodplain. It is a protected area of European Union importance (Natura2000). This conservation area is the floodplain of Dviete and Ilukste rivers. These rivers connect with the largest river in Latvia - Daugava. Thus when the water level in Daugava raises, the entire area of grasslands along with some woodlands gets flooded.
Dviete Floodplain is one of the most diverse and richest bird sites in Latvia. It’s an important stopover site for migrating waterfowl in spring. Thousands of geese and ducks gather here every year. Hence spring is the best time for visiting the site.
Information Centre “Gulbji”
There is also an interesting information center “Gulbji” in Bebrene Parish. You can get lots of attractive and interactive information about Dviete Floodplain here. Plus you’ll get some local spirit and hospitality too. Yet be sure you call before your arrival! It’s a remote off-the-beaten-path place, and it gets not that many visitors to be open all the time.
What’s The Fun In Winter Kayaking?
While there are no migratory birds in winter, Dviete Floodplain is still an amazing place to come while traveling in Latvia. The snowy fields and trees give a magic feeling on a sunny day.
We arrived when the winter had just begun. Thus the thick ice layer had not yet developed on the water. The thin ice in some places broke with an ease under our paddles. Yet unusually the ice formed on our kayaks like it does on the ships in winter.
Riga Black Balsam
A cold wind blew in our faces when we first got out of the car. Janis met us with a wide smile and determination on his face. A shot of traditional Riga Black Balsam woke us up immediately. This dark and thick drink is what you usually get as “a must” while traveling to Latvia. We drink it with tea or pure when it’s cold out there. The original brew is to say quite challenging for those who have not used to it. But you get acquainted with it soon, as it warms you up.
Getting On But Not In The Water
We packed our stuff in the kayaks and slipped off them in Dviete River, trying to get on but not in the freezing water.
We had three professional/single kayakers with us. Two double recreational kayaks were for us. Both are fine for winter kayaking. Yet, the double touring kayaks are more stable, while the single ones are faster.
The Flooded Kingdom Of Nature
From the moment we got on the water we entered a different world. I had visited this place several times during the summer. The locals had earlier told me that the grasslands I was walking on are under the water when the water level is high. Yet I could not imagine the scale of these floods until I saw them.
Kayaking in winter or in spring here means that you are kayaking in the pastures and woodlands. Everything is under water. Hay bales, pasture fences, and trees are all flooded.
We crossed the fences and entered the birch and alder woodlands. Kayaking among the trees adds some surreal feeling. The sun was shining and gave a great energy and mood boost. We felt happy that we came to this magic place.
We made some ten kilometers (six miles) altogether. It is not cold at all when you paddle intensely. And you have to paddle, as there is no water stream that would carry you on a floodplain. Just get warm and comfy socks and waterproof pants and boots! This will let you enjoy your trip to its fullest.
Live "Grazing Machines"
The protected grasslands need to be kept open and free from bushes and trees in Dviete Floodplain. This is very important for the protected bird species like Corncrake that are nesting here. Therefore the area is grazed by semi-wild cows and horses. These highly effective “grazing machines” are working on their own all-year-round. As we approached one of the watching towers the heard curiously watched us but kept at a safe distance.
Winter Kayaking - An Ultimate Experience
At the end of our amazing kayaking trip, Janis asked us if we are maybe interested to “go pro”, and try some rapids in winter or spring. We did not say no.
At the end of the trip, one of our fellow kayakers Ivo demonstrated his skills of getting up after the kayak flips in the cold water. The smile did not disappear from his face, which was pretty encouraging.
After all, winter kayaking is very enjoyable. Besides, it is available not just for advanced kayakers but for everyone. Yet you have to be well prepared and a bit lucky with the weather.
Author: Rolands Ratfelders
Republished from www.escaperies.com