I will never forget my first view of Latvia. Peering out the window of my airplane, a tidal wave of excitement and panic washed over me: Somewhere deep in those woods is my little off-grid homestead. What am I doing with my life? Oh man, Imma needta figure ma shit out real quick.
I shuffled jet lagged and disoriented to the little window where an immigration officer waited for my passport. When he asked me where I was staying, I absentmindedly replied, "Skrunda." He stared at me, "What? Why do you stay Skrunda?" I'm not really one for authority, but when someone's holding my passport I don't mess around. I perked up immediately, "I'm house sitting. I'm staying with a grandma named Velta. I have an email from her granddaughter. Hang on..." He continued to stare at me.
I handed him my phone so he could read the ridiculous description of how to get to the house, a house that doesn't have an address, a house that's in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the woods. Finally the immigration officer stopped reading and looked at me. He smirked as he held my phone up to the glass, "You stay here?" "Yes, that's where I'm staying." "For how long you stay here?" "I'm here for eighty-eight days. I'll leave before my visa expires." He full on laughed at this point. The woman sitting next to him, in the process of checking someone else's passport, laughed at everything she'd overheard. "Okay, girl..." he said gruffly. "You don't stay there three months." "I do stay," I said more defiantly than I should have. "I'm allowed to stay 90 days." "You don't make 90 days. Enjoy." STAMP THUD STAMP THUD ... he slides my passport back to me and shakes his head.
In contrast to being flat out mocked by a Latvian government official, I found two friendly faces waiting for me on the other side of two more security checkpoints. It was truly a traveler's miracle. A friend of a friend of a friend lives in Riga and her husband happened to be driving to Liepaja on the very day I flew in, driving right past my little village of Skrunda. She saw an Instagram post and reached out during my NYC layover.
I didn't know what would come of it. I prepared myself to navigate rickety old Soviet buses for hours on end and eventually end up somewhere useful. Not so. By the time I'd landed, total strangers had leapt into action, shuttling me 3+ hours to the front door of my new home. Anton and Alexi were in that moment the most beautiful humans I'd ever seen.
After a few short hours of below-freezing daylight, I stumbled into some sort of boho fairytale farmhouse. My weird life morphed instantly into fuzzy candlelight, a mess of blankets, icy attic windows that whistle in the wind, and the darkest sky I'd ever seen.
That night I started my first fire (yes, first ever) and it crackled away in the adjacent room. I wasn't sure if it would burn two hours, let alone through the night. I wore more clothing than I'd ever worn to bed, namely three of the four outfits rolled into my backpack. I stepped on a mouse as we both navigated the steep, narrow, creaky wooden stairs.
I was too jet lagged to let myself fully realize how hard this experiment may actually be. Or how beautiful. More often than not they're actually one in the same.
I mostly wanted to prove the smug immigration officer wrong.
Love + lots of luck,