IN THE COUNTRY OF STORKS 
LITHUANIA BIKE TOUR 2000

I wished to make a cycle tour different from the usual ones, which would recharge me from the everyday life monotony. So, informed through internet as in the past years, I have thought to spend some week on the saddle, in the Baltic area, together with an international group. 

I had considered two possibilities: the Ecotopia cycle tour and the Lithuanian mass cycle tour. The first, in name of environment protection, since 10 years proposes every summer a 1500 km ride from Poland to Finland; about 30 participants who represent various countries of the world; with daily stages of about 65 km in almost a month they cross Poland and the Baltic countries; they camp together along the way and cook in turns, usually with a vegetarian menu; sometime they organize also entertaining activities (e.g. singing, playing) or encounters with authorities of politicians of the countries which they pass through, to awaken them. The second tour is also held regularly in summer since some years from a group of volunteers of the Lithuanian environmental associations, from 14 to 23 of July. 
Like Ecotopia, it wants to propose a simple, equal and with low environmental impact, lifestyle. For this it is organized in a similarly Spartan and convivial way; it is though limited to an articulated route starting from Kaunas till Ignalina and, as last path by train plus bike to Vilnius the capital. 
The organizers have given to the 250 participants two booklets (in English for the foreigners) describing the route and giving tourist information on the places crossed to be visited. Some volunteers were available to be a guide in English for the foreigners. A van has assisted the participants every day carrying the luggage for who had difficulties, the water for cooking and being ready for the repairing of bicycles. A refund for expenses including the distribution of a T-shirt has been asked: 40 $ to foreigners and 15 $ to locals. 
The last four days the two tours Ecotopia and Lithuania mass have traveled together. Every day we have run an average of 65 km; everybody was carrying all necessary as tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking utensils. We bought the food usually at shops along the way called parduotuvè which sell usually a little of everything.
A little note: in the kavinès the local cafè where we occasionally stopped, if you order something, you are allowed to eat also your own food.
There were not rigid times for starting or for the arrival; usually, we came out from the tent, we washed ourselves or bathe in the near lake or river, a breakfast and still during the morning dismantled and started our daily trip. In the evening usually a worm supper self prepared or offered from the tent neighbor. The climate in this period of the year is usually good; daytime temperature around 24 degrees (Celsius) and night around 13 degrees comfortable with a sleeping bag. The starting has been difficult. Since the first night a recurring rain has hard tested we and our equipment. Actually few of us were prepared to such situation; gradually we learned to manage for example covering our bags with plastic sheets; with this trick many of us have avoided to sleep in or to wear items soaked with water. The third and last night of rain we have had the pleasant honor to sleep … in a church, instead of camping. Probably moved by the pity for the circumstance, the local priest had accepted to host such a numerous group. 
The landscape we have crossed was beautiful and various: from the forest to the small farming flatland, often near rivers of lakes; from time to time we saw storks, the symbol of Lithuania, with their nests built on the top of electric poles. Furthermore the folk music, our songs, the sitting around the fire which welcomed us at night in a magic atmosphere which gave me the idea of a tribal rite; all has canceled the discomfort of the rainy days and left of all the period a pleasant memory. 
During the pedaling we were clustering in small groups inside which we spoke with pleasure, especially with Lithuanians among whom many young adolescents only 16 years old, surprisingly mature. There was much reciprocal curiosity; the Lithuanian republic is only since about ten years free from the soviet oppression and it is trying to develop and to link to the EU after years of extreme poverty and deprivation. 

In the days following the tour I stayed first in an hostel, after I have been guest of some families one of which member of Servas. In this way I have realized how people lives; I have found a relative poverty, but also much humanity. 
The bicycle is the main transportation means in the country, while in the towns it is seriously threatened with extinction cause the cars and heavy vehicles; very few urban measures in favor of cyclists. 
The Baltic countries have a reputation, in my opinion not deserved, of being at risk for theft and violence. Although someone has stolen my speedometer, I must say that the bike was unattended, as we usually did, out of a supermarket where I was in, leaning on a wall, without a chain; I challenge anybody to live the bike in such way in Italy or even in the safe Germany and to find it intact. 
On the whole, there have been few foreign participants; around fifteen, five of whom a group of Americans who live there since a few years, some Latvians, a British and, for the first time, two Italians.
In general the tour has been a wonderful experience, which I advice to others.

Gianni 

INTERNET and other information
Sites

  Mass Lithuania Cycletour                     Ecotopia 2000.  
Former organizer of the Eco- Cycle Tour in Lithuania: Saulius Ruzinskas, E-mail: zvejone@klaipeda.omnitel.net 
A very interesting book on history of Lithuania (and not only): Anne Applebaum "Between East and West", Across the borderlands of Europe, Papermac '95, £ 10 (UK).

IN THE PICTURES 
above:
me, my bike and two girls participating to the tour, Jurgina and Angela
right: a dinner at the camp; always happy to socialize