An Asian at Europe’s widest (and shortest) waterfall
In recent years, the Baltic states have risen to popularity among backpackers and package tours. For instance, Latvia’s capital, Riga, finds a place in every tour that claims to venture into the exotic beauty of the ex-Soviet states. Back in 2008, however, I had the whole floor of a Latvian hostel for 5 euros. Tourism was at an infantile stage as far as I saw, especially for Asian tourists. While I explored the country, I forgot its people was equally keen to sample an unfamiliar part of the world out of me.
One sunny afternoon, I ventured into Kuldiga, a small town outside Riga. The town itself is as picturesque as any of its European counterpart, but most people pay their visit to the Venta Rumba, Europe’s widest waterfall. At that time of travel, I have been in major cities for over a month, increasingly yearning for some nature. I imagined standing under a tumbling waterfall with the height of Niagara, meditating about life. As the bridge opened into the falls, however, I was greeted by a water curtain slightly over my height. Needless to say, the falls did not have a high flow. One can cross it on foot with a solid pair of shoes. Fishermen and tourists also nested themselves on the small plateaus that dotted the landscape, trying their luck at the salmon and trout that were in season. Looking back, I’d say the falls had its own charm. But my younger impatient self was unimpressed by the sight I saw. After lounging about the falls, I went back into town and settled myself on a bench, napping under the warm, April sun.
Suddenly the sun was blocked out. I woke to be greeted by a local tour, with small Latvian flags in their hand. A woman with thick, bushy hair and dramatic mascara spoke with great urgency in Latvian. Before long, she started giving me hugs and expressing gratitude.
“A Thai tourist finds her way to Latvia, the country’s tourism is on the rise. We thank you very much for your act of kindness”, a lady from the group translated. “She believes your intention is purely to discover the beauty of the country, and has no intention to stay beyond it is needed”, she added. The ladies enthusiastically invited me along their tour, and showered me with goodies on the way. Despite this being wrong on multiple levels, I decided not to offer any clarification. After all, when travelling, you are what others imagine. It takes more than words, and more than an encounter, to change the impression.