Look at a map of Lithuania. See that tiny tiny sliver of coast that looks like a land sized cheeto? That’s next. The Neringa Spit is a pretty unique little spot in Lithuania, and it’s definitely worth the trip. Starting from Klaipėda, you can take a ferry to the beginning of the spit and it’ll only take about 15 minutes if you catch them on a good day. It’s a relaxing way to start a morning. You’ll likely be onboard with a hoard of German tourists and Lithuanian elementary students feeding seagulls, so take out some bread and enjoy. Once on the spit, you can either drive and stop in the picturesque villages on your way to Nida, or take the bus directly there. As we have a car, we decide to take the former and wind our way through artistic communities of small wooden houses. I wanted to stop into every little village but knew I had to stop myself somewhere. When we reach Nida, we indulge in some local smoked fish and dark bread. Lithuania has some of the best dark bread I’ve ever tried. Denmark and its dark rugbrød have sustained me through college, but Lithuanian dark bread is on another plane of existence. Sweeter and somehow darker than the Danish kind, it makes any health bread you buy at Whole Foods look like a piece of Wonder Bread. Probably for a fifth of the price, too.Happy with our lunch, we head to the ‘top’ of Nida where you can see the Russian border. It’s an expanse of sand as far as the eye can see, and apparently one of the more quickly moving dunes in Europe. They’ve got the kind of sand here that you would expect to find in a souvenir jar from Hawaii. White, and silky smooth. It’s the kind of sand you wish you could cover yourself in constantly or make a robe out of. I don’t think that can be said for most kinds of sand around the world.We consider making a dash for the Russian border, but I’m not interested in getting into prison on espionage charges. Call me old-fashioned. Next, we head to the hill of witches. Weaving through trees and clouds of mosquitoes, we find giant wooden totems appearing as we go. As the name suggests, witches live in this forest. I guess they turned a couple unsuspecting fishermen into carving as they were flicking off mosquitoes, as a lot of these sculptures just looked like trapped salty men. The silence is ever striking again, as leaves rustle and my stomach craves more smoked fish. I can’t help but wonder who built all of these, but all I can do is be happy someone did.This last one’s my favorite. It’s like the little guy was playing peek-a-boo when he suddenly felt his blood turn to sap.
The next few hours would be a bit tiring, as I found a couchsurfer willing to take us up in the forests of Latvia, and we were down on the beaches of Lithuania. After evading the witches, we make a hasty retreat back to the ferry for more seagull feeding frenzies before driving through acres upon acres of forests into the (even more) wooded Latvia. Most of any Lithuanian/Latvian road trip will look like this. Pastoral, and pine trees everywhere. We eventually get to our hosts, just thirty minutes North of Latvia’s coastal city Liepāja. I didn’t feel the need to stop in Liepāja, as I was so excited to meet some local Latvians. We arrive to Kal, our fantastic host who would take us in for the night. The couchsurfing network is always such an amazing way for me to reaffirm my faith in humanity. Strangers can give absolutely everything to each other. I always find my self in these situations with couchsurfer’s where they’re just a little too nice, and I feel utterly spoiled. But honestly, I try and spoil all of the couchsurfers I host so I guess it’s okay in the long run. We arrive to a barbecue, warming up and ready for some Georgian shashliks. If you don’t know what those are, you will soon. Georgia is going to be the next big thing, and so will their cuisine. But shashliks are pretty simple, just marinated beef, pork or chicken roasted slowly of freshly charcoaled wood. Put meat on a fire and it’ll taste good. Damn good. No need for potatoes or dill here, kids. Just a bit of natural seasoning from charcoaled pine. They’re not done until they’re pretty much blackened, so I head out for a wander while the shashliks brown and Šarūnas opens some beers. Having grown up on a farm his whole life, Kal lives with his wife and mother while studying at a University in nearby Liepāja. He’s 22 like me, but they keep a much more fit lifestyle than I ever could. He and his wife are preparing for a six-hour bike ride North the next day. It’s probably more like an eight-hour journey for a normal person, but Kal says “You have to go fast, or else the mosquitoes get you.” He’s a fascinating guy, and the fact that he has chickens makes me even happier. I feed the chickens some table scraps and keep wandering. I see that this is just a cozy, farming community. The kind we all occasionally wish we could quit our jobs and move to, but never do. The shashliks are getting ready, so I head back and help out cutting homemade pickles and other assorted tasty things before diving into charred meat served on a sword. Latvian beer flows just as smooth and uniquely as the kind from Lithuania, and is even cheaper. Saving ten cents makes a beer that much tastier. Beers are emptied, shashlik swords are stripped and stacked, and we share the evening together talking about travel and dreams. I’m never certain how to repay these amazing couchsurfing hosts, but usually being curious and curtious is enough to leave a great impression with the host. At the end of the day we all just want to put a smile on each others faces, and you don’t need much to do that. The night moves on, and we decide the best action to take is to walk through the village and explore. It’s getting late, but as with everywhere in Northern Europe in June the sun doesn’t go down until 11 or so. We have enough time to see the sites, and Kal’s wife takes us to her father’s secret beer garden. The combination of those three words are so rarely used, but so instantly gratifying. Once we arrive, the sun has finally gone down but we sit in the wooded secret garden eating the first strawberries picked ‘just over there’. We stargaze and talk, until our eyes can gaze no more. This is exactly the local experience every traveler dreams of. Warm, loving hosts that are just as curious about you as you are about them.