Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Great Outdoors

Your correspondent had an opportunity, not too long ago, to get out of Riga and go see some of the beautiful Latvian countryside. Our section of the Embassy went on a "team-building" mission in the wild forests of Kurzeme. Of course, we were just doing this one afternoon, so a full Outward-Bound lost-in-the-wilderness experience was out of the question. And, in fact, seeing wildlife was out of the question, because we experienced the wilderness on the back of ATVs. The whole wilderness thing -- that wasn't really the point. We voted, and the ATVs came out way ahead of the ropes course and the trust falls. It was at a sporting resort of sorts, with a ski hill for the winter, and tennis courts and ATV-riding for the summer. It was, as I believe ATV-riding types say, "rad." We rode around a bunch of rutted, washed out trails, which made the "All Terrain" part of ATV pleasantly necessary. Also, I don't think the summer uses of the resort got tons of interest, as the tennis balls they had were all pretty dead, and the brakes on the ATVs only sort of worked. The guide was not exactly apologetic about the dangerously weak brakes, but he did us the courtesy of acting surprised and testing them out when we got back to the lodge and told him. (We couldn't tell him during the ride because the ATVs are loud and we were all wearing camouflage coveralls and motorcycle helmets, of which photographic evidence exists but is being held back from publication out of respect to my colleagues.)

The best part, which ensures that your correspondents will be back to this lovely resort, was the view of the ski hill, above. Yes, that's the entire hill. I am estimating about a five-minute rope-tow ride to the top and a quick five-turn, fifteen-second descent. But that is fifteen seconds more downhill than we ever had in Guatemala. Of course, this all assumes they get some snow this year. Apparently last year, despite being at (very roughly) the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, Western Latvia got almost no snow. We are hoping for some snow this year: It would be a shame to let such a fine ski hill go to waste.

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