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Inspiring Traveler Interview with Solveiga Kalva

Solvita in Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Khorog to Murghab - Photo by Adrienn Lorincz - Solveiga Kalva

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]dventures are hidden not in the huge distances, but in your willingness to find them. When you’re open for everything, that’s when the best things happen. That’s what Solveiga answered, when I asked her for tips how to travel more. And, you know what, that’s something I can completely agree with. Let’s take my latest journey to Thailand as an example.

I had planned a few short stopovers along the way, and was planning to make it in 6 days. Quite a few things didn’t work out. Two of my flights got canceled. As a result I missed two another flights. And in the end it took me more than 2 weeks. But I loved it. Because I wasn’t on a strict schedule and could easily adjust to all of it, and visit places I wasn’t planning to go to.

But enough about me (I’ve written a separate post about it), meet Solveiga! And let’s now talk about her travels and adventures!

Please, Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourself!

Hello, I’m Solveiga. My heart belongs to music, photography, art, writing, but most of all – traveling, nature and adventures. According to my education I’m a furniture designer, but I’ve never worked as one – somehow it took me 4 years to understand that furniture is not my passion at all.

But I don’t regret this time, I truly believe that everything we’ve learnt might be useful one day. I translate subtitles from English to Latvian, time to time I work as a photographer and play in a post-folk band. In my free time I go hiking, I travel and write my travel blog.

I’m still trying to figure out how to afford traveling more often and for a longer time. I guess, the answer will come at the right time.

Mountains, Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan - Solveiga Kalva

Mountains, Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan

How Did You Start Traveling? Why?

Since my childhood I’ve  been traveling a lot. At first together with my family by car, mostly around Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. When my brother and I grew older, we started to go on longer trips to countries like Slovakia, Germany, Austria, France, Luxembourg. I guess, this is how I started to love traveling.

During one of our family trips to Slovakia we visited High Tatras and that’s where I fell in love with the beauty of the mountains. Later I got a bit different mountain experience in Norway where I went for a two-week trip with my boyfriend at that time. There my passion for mountains started for real – wild camping for several days, drinking water from mountain springs, listening sheep bell sounds at night, sleeping under the starry sky, how could you not love that?

From that time on I was constantly looking for possibilities to be in the mountains again. And so I found an EVS (European Voluntary Service) project located in a tiny village in the French Alps. For one year. Perfect, no?

How Long It Took Until You Realized, That You Need More?

It was my EVS year which made me understand that I can’t live without traveling anymore. EVS gave me this huge freedom of being who I am and following my passion. I was traveling a lot during this year not just around France, but also around closest countries.

I went to the city which was my city of dreams for a long time – Barcelona.

I went to Switzerland to meet my family.

I went on a solo trip to Madeira which I still consider as a Paradise on the Earth, that amazing is the nature there. This was also the time when I started hitchhiking.

Right after my EVS I did something I wanted to do for a long time even before this route became so popular – my American co-volunteer and I hiked across Spain from St. Jean Pied de Port in France until Finisterre on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Spain. Camino de Santiago, about 850 km, 33 days.

Mostly we were wild camping, but every fourth night we stayed at a hostel. For those who don’t suggest carrying a tent with you on the Camino (and there are lots of people like that), I say – horseshit! That’s the best way of experiencing being on the road. This trip taught me to appreciate smallest and simplest things.

Later after all these experiences I went on one more family trip – to Ukraine. Although I really liked the country and its interesting culture, but this way of traveling – when every single day is planned out, traveling only by our own car, getting stressed if something is not going well – drove me crazy. Traveling for me means freedom. Freedom of following the road, people you meet and coincidences. However, I’m really thankful to my family who planted the seed of traveling deep inside me since the very beginning, even if our ways of traveling at the moment are so different.

Kids in Murghab, Tajikistan - Solveiga Kalva

Kids in Murghab, Tajikistan

Tell Us About Your Last Trip to Central Asia!

Ok, this will be a long story.

I spent most of this summer and autumn (2017) in Central Asia. For 3 months I was volunteering in the Pamirs, Tajikistan. I went there thanks to GLEN (Global Learning Internship Program). I was volunteering in a local NGO “Gulu Giyoh” which promotes herbal medicine, preserves local culture and languages. This NGO is run by the doctor Shirinbek Davlatmamadov – an old man who has been a surgeon all his life, but now already for more than 20 years he works with folk and herbal medicine.

My co-volunteer Adri from Hungary and I were his volunteers and “granddaughters” at the same time. Most of our days we spent collecting medical herbs (sometimes in the meadows, where we were secretly observed by the military guys sneaking out of the wheat fields, sometimes hiking high up in the mountains), cutting and drying them, afterwards preparing teas according to the recipes given by the doctor and packing them.

And yes, we were collecting medical herbs like Asian mint, barberry, immortelle, ziziphora, calendula, chamomile and so on, not some “special & magical” plants as usually people thought when we said what we’re doing in the Pamirs.

There we lived together with the doctor and his wife in a traditional Pamir house at the altitude of 2600 meters (8530 ft), with a beautiful view of Afghanistan. Sometimes we went down to the river Panj, which is the only border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and we could hear people talking on the other side. You might think – “oh, Tajikistan, such a poor and underdeveloped country”, but you know what? Our Tajik grandma uses a smartphone, takes selfies and writes books on a computer! Latvian grandmas could learn from her!

The opportunity to live together with a local family gave us an amazing chance to be a part of the local culture – to try traditional foods, see local rituals, go to weddings and other parties. And not even mentioning that right now we have one more grandpa and grandma – deep in the Pamirs!

Local women in Ishkashim, Tajikistan - Solveiga Kalva

Local women in Ishkashim, Tajikistan

To get from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, to the place we live we needed to take a 15-hour car ride on one of the scariest roads in the world – the Pamir Highway. In short – beautiful as heaven, dangerous as hell. I chose the window seat for being able to take photos and sometimes I couldn’t even see the road under the car – so close we were to the gorge.

In the middle of our internship we went on a 2-week trip to Kyrgyzstan. And that’s when we experienced the other part of the Pamir Highway – not scary at all, as the road was mostly going through a very high plateau, the highest pass we crossed was about 4600 meters (15 090ft). Landscape there seemed very foreign and spooky – like a surface of the Moon. On this road I visited the most surreal town I’ve ever seen – Murghab. It’s a town in the middle of a desert with no electricity and no trees, although lots of electricity lines are still left from the USSR.

On the Kyrgyz border I had a very interesting border crossing experience. Instead of asking official questions (Where am I going? Why am I going there?), border guard opened my passport and said: “Wow, you’re from Latvia! Yes, all the Latvian women are very beautiful. I’m even thinking… maybe I should marry a Latvian. Can you please give me your phone number?”. And that’s it, no other questions.

Later in Kyrgyzstan we went hiking in the mountains, spent a night in a yurt, got invited for a tea with a guy who returned from 15 years in a jail just a day ago and so on and on.

After finishing second part of volunteering we were hitting the Pamir Highway again and visited some places in Tajikistan. The most memorable thing – climbing on the mosque’s roof together with locals!

in Murghab, Tajikistan - Photo by Adrienn Lorincz - Solveiga Kalva

In Murghab, Tajikistan – Photo by Adrienn Lorincz

Later we went to Kyrgyzstan again, but just for a really short period, as we moved to Kazakhstan. Border guards thought I’m trying to smuggle some weed in Kazakhstan, although those were just herbal teas from the Pamirs. It took me some time to explain them that. Kazakhstan surprised us with endless steppes and cities growing out of nowhere, especially Astana which felt like straight from a science fiction movie.

In Kazakhstan we finally tried famous fermented mare’s milk “kumis” (pretty sour, a bit sweet, with smoked cheese flavor, really refreshing) and even fermented camel’s milk “shubat” (a bit sour, a bit sweet, a bit camel-like). I liked both of them but Adri was laughing that drinking camel’s milk feels like licking a camel, ha, ha, ha! We visited some beautiful mausoleums, found ourselves in the middle of a traditional music and food festival, saw camels wandering around the streets like sheep and cows in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Already in Kazakhstan we traveled a lot by night trains, but my longest ride was from Astana, Kazakhstan, to Moscow, Russia – 56 hours.

In Astana I said goodbye to my co-volunteer and went on this train ride alone. But still it was fun – I became friends with 7 years old girl Eva who played games with me and draw dinosaurs for me.

And I have to mention a couple from Ukraine. They decided to have a lunch.

First they put on the table a sheet of a newspaper, then they put on the table huge smoked chicken and eggs (each wrapped in a newspaper). After that man took out a 0,5 liter plastic bottle and poured vodka from it in a metal mug. Both of them drank a huge sip of vodka, then some water and then they started their lunch. And they offered me some cookies.

If I would be a film director, I could find so much inspiration for movies on this train ride alone!

After visiting few friends in Moscow, I took a train to Riga.

So in the end I traveled all the way back home by land. More than 8600 kilometer (5343 miles). Almost one month on the road.

Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Dushanbe to Khorog - Solveiga Kalva

Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Dushanbe to Khorog

What Did You Like the Most About Central Asia?

I think the biggest value of this region is the culture, welcoming people and beautiful nature. Everything is partly exotic and new, partly – familiar, if you come from Latvia. Thanks to our common history, most of the locals consider Latvians as “one of us”, being even more friendly, especially if you speak Russian.

What I miss the most are super friendly people and super full shared cars and “marshrutkas”. If there are 8 seats in the car, for sure, there will be at least 10 people sitting inside, if not more. In the cars everyone is sharing their food with others, so at some point you just end up drinking some weird milk product from the same plastic bottle as everyone in the car and eating some “kurut” (dried cheese balls) from a bit suspicious looking plastic bag.

To find a car you simply go to a market place and look for a free car, all the drivers are screaming where they are going and trying to get you in their cars. And then you wait until the car is full. It might take 15 minutes or 4 hours. You can never know.

One episode… Late evening. Car ride from Ishkashim to Avj. Curvy road, majestic mountains all around us.

Front row – the driver and two old men with golden teeth, one of them sitting on the other man’s knees (!!).

Middle row – my co-volunteer Adri from Hungary, I and a Tajik lady.

Back row – two men, two little boys and black & white cat.

Trunk – strange yarn making machine which we are supposed to bring from Iskashim to Avj.

We’re missing only a cow on the roof… By the way, I’ve seen a goat on the jeep’s roof here, so it wouldn’t be anything strange actually.

Front row is lively talking and laughing despite very, very tight sitting conditions. Back row is full of children voices and cat meaaaaaaws. Music, loud Tajik traditional music. Some of men are singing along the radio. We’re riding fast, jumping over the potholes on the road.

It feels like a surreal party-car. Both, Adri and I, have the same idea how to describe this ride – “Black cat, white cat” by E. Kusturica… I think this ride is a perfect description of the Pamirs and my trip around Central Asia. Everything is so crazy that you just love it! I could talk and talk about this experience and cultural differences, but for that I would need pages and pages. If you want to hear more, you can contact me.

In general – I really suggest this region for other travelers!

How Much Do You Usually Carry with Yourself?

It depends where I’m going and for how long time, but mostly I try to carry with me just a hand luggage-size bag.

I remember my first two-day hike along the sea when I didn’t have proper travel gear, neither a backpack, shoes, nor a sleeping bag. Food (way too much!!) I was carrying in my school backpack. I didn’t have enough water – when I checked how heavy is my backpack at home, I decided to get rid of some water (I’ve never repeated the same mistake again!).

I was carrying my huge sleeping back in my hands, as I didn’t have space for it in my backpack and there was no option to attach it to the bag. I was so “clever” that I decided to wear shorts, although I knew there won’t be any shade all day long. Guess, what was the result? Yes, very, very red legs. Lots of lessons learned in a hard way.

With each trip my backpack got lighter and lighter.

Now I can pack pretty light. For example, I managed to put a tent (and it’s not a super light-weight or small tent, just a regular 2-person tent), sleeping bag, clothes, some other things and even some food in a hand-luggage when I was packing my bag for a three-week mountain hiking and hitchhiking trip in France.

I guess, the secret of this success was having one shirt and leggings on myself and another shirt and leggings in the backpack. That’s it. And then washing them in mountain springs and drying attached to my backpack. If you don’t mind to look like a traveling gypsy tabor (no offense to gypsies) during your trip, it’s possible to pack very, very light.

Quite an opposite experience – my last trip to Central Asia.

When I was traveling back home I had a 75 liter + 15 liter backpack completely full + hand luggage + Tajik music instrument. I could barely walk. But it was just because I was on this very rare I-am-coming-back-home-and-I-want-to-buy-some-cool-stuff-for-myself-and-others mood, and actually during my trip I didn’t use my huge backpack at all, it was full with souvenirs and stuff from the Pamirs. Including some rocks.

Solveiga in Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Khorog to Murghab - Photo by Adrienn Lorincz - Solveiga Kalva

Solveiga in Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Khorog to Murghab – Photo by Adrienn Lorincz

There is one thing I DO NOT carry with myself – a smartphone with internet connection or GPS. I prefer to travel (and live) old-school way with a very simple phone. Believe me, this is way more interesting – sometimes you have no idea where you are, sometimes you don’t know how to get somewhere, you need to interact with locals a lot and you can’t avoid it.

And as you’re offline, you can fully focus on traveling. Try. Highly recommended.

Are You a Planner or Spontaneous Traveler?

In my spirit I’m a 100% spontaneous traveler, but if it’s needed I can make a plan as well. I admit, planning might save you some money and time, give you an opportunity to take out most of the place, especially if you’re short on time. But in general – I like to read some information about place where I’m going, just to know what are my options, and then follow where the road and local people will lead me to.

Very good friend of mine even have a “Snake Theory” about my style of traveling – you take it out of your pocket and say: “Look, such a little snake! Take it!”. And when someone takes it, it turns out to be a big, big snake. Meaning… when Solveiga says: “Oh, that will be just a short, about 20 kilometer hike, we will come back by the afternoon bus,” might actually mean hiking 30+ kilometer and hitchhiking. You never know.

I think my most spontaneous trip started with an urgent and unstoppable feeling – I need to go somewhere today! Yes, today!

15 minutes later I had a train ticket from Lus la Croix Haute, France, to Geneva, Switzerland, in my pocket.

In the afternoon I arrived in Geneva not knowing where to stay, what to visit and where to go. And, as I mentioned before – I didn’t have a smartphone with access to internet. But as usual – everything turned out great and I remember this as a very refreshing, short and spontaneous trip.

Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Khorog to Murghab - Photo by Adrienn Lorincz - Solveiga Kalva

Tajikistan, Pamir highway, on the way from Khorog to Murghab

One (or Few) Countries Where You Can’t Wait to Return?

Mostly I don’t like returning to places I’ve already visited. There are so many new places to see in the world! But… there are two exceptions.

First, France, Vaunieres, a very small village deep in the Alps where I spent my EVS year. It’s such a remote village that I really had a feeling I’m living in the middle of nature and even more important – in the middle of mountains. This place is bound together with lots of memories about crazy adventures – how I went on my first mountain solo hike and got lost during a thunderstorm, how we made our own beer, how we got lost on a very steep hill and were rescued by firefighters and so on and on.

When I left this place, I thought I’ll never come back because of the reason I mentioned above. But… one year later I had a feeling I need to return there. So I did. I just needed to prove myself – yes, this place, my French “home”, still exists and I can go back there anytime I want.

Right now my mind and heart are peaceful and I’m not very eager to go back there again (but one day I will, I’m sure).

And the second exception, country where I really can’t wait to return – Tajikistan. And more precisely – the Pamirs. I fell in love with the Pamirs, although this love is hard to explain – environment there is so harsh, rocky, sandy, dry and spiky that we were laughing: “It wouldn’t be a surprise if even carrots would have some thorns!”. But… I just can’t resist to those magnificent mountains, friendly people, beautiful music, lively dances, super-crowded cars, curvy roads and crazy spirit of this place.

There is something magical, inexplainable. During 3 months I had a small glimpse into this culture, but it was not enough. I want to go and explore it deeper.

A Country You Can’t Wait to Visit

As already mentioned, I completely fell in love with Central Asia, so I have two countries fromthis region which are very high on my “to go list” right now – Uzbekistan and Mongolia.

Uzbekistan with its Islamic architecture, beautiful ornaments and delicious Oriental sweets.

Mongolia with its endless steppes and nomadic culture. I just have a feeling I need to go there.

Your Advice to Those Who Want to Travel More

Just take your backpack and hit the road! How about… today?

I think “today” is the most perfect day for traveling, no? It shouldn’t necessary be a far, far trip abroad, it can be a small hike along the sea. Don’t forget that even our small Latvia is extremely beautiful country with lots of places to explore! More I travel abroad, more I’m sure about that.

Adventures are hidden not in the huge distances, but in your willingness to find them. When you’re open for everything, that’s when the best things happen.

Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan - Solveiga Kalva

Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan

Photos used in this article have been provided by Solveiga.

Follow Solveiga’s adventures on her blog and Facebook page!

1 thought on “Inspiring Traveler Interview with Solveiga Kalva”

  1. Solveiga, hi there! First of all, thanks for your story – it really inspires, also agree that you shouldn’t wait for changes, you should make them by yourself. If you mentioned that furniture didn’t become your dream profession – I have vice-versa story, as I was studying logistics while I came to realize that exactly designing is my real passion. So I packed my stuff, got out of logistics job and studies and changed my life for 360 degrees and never regret it :) I started travelling via my international studies + Erasmus period gave me full vision for Central Europe ( Belgium, Luxembourg, France, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria ), but I have never been in Asia – it seems so different from all I’ve seen, didn’t that bother you, I mean cultural difference or opposite – it was that cherry on the pie?

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