Was crossing the 18th-century Atlantic in a ship’s hull like this? Does a kitten in a crate on a plane feel this way?
I can tell you where we landed. I can’t tell you how we got there.
Our vessel was a burgundy Toyota Corolla. Our five-day pre-determined route covered the southwest corner of Latvia, mostly Kurzeme (Kurland).
The itinerary seemed manageable. Most importantly, it fulfilled our top Latvia travel yearnings. Early morning hikes for Marika. Cute little towns for Līva. Castles for Dārija. I claimed the sea.
That this voyage was only going to happen with Marika at the wheel was decided months ago. Driving still zonks me out. Most drives, and any drive over 45 minutes long, have been the domain of either Marika or Dārija for over a year now.
What we hadn’t factored in was how exhausted I’d get even without the driving.
This became apparent after stop one.
My #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth microblogging marathon tells a bit about what we saw and did. What might not be clear is that my first stop required more energy than a full day back in Toronto.
But we were on vacation, right?
We’d spent thousands of dollars getting there. It’s the 100th anniversary of Latvian independence! We’d been rehearsing for the Song and Dance Festival for two years.
After stop one at Jūrmala, I took a seat in the back and closed my eyes.
Driving wasn’t just driving.
Every kilometre etched out another layer of our personal geography, history and cultural identity. We were traversing the land of our grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers. (Grandfathers too, yes!)
The road signs were in Latvian. (Where else would I find Gulēni!?) The sun set on the Baltic Sea as it does in the songs we sing. We walked along the shore searching for nuggets of amber.
I had travelled across Latvia in the ’80s and ’90s. But doing it with my grown-up daughters — that was something different and magical.
We lunched on-the-go on dark rye bread and St. John’s cheese. We drank lemonades with cool-sounding Latvian names. We stuffed ourselves with bite-size cheesecake Kārumi.
Back home I keep re-energized with frequent naps.
On vacation that’s not so easy. So the four of us decided that the best approach would be for me to sleep between stops.
I wore sunglasses or covered my eyes with the Lufthansa sleep mask that my niece gave me. I’d join singalongs with my eyes shut. I’d do my best to stay out of conversations.
But at times what I overheard was so interesting that I couldn’t resist jumping in.
I’d hear: “Is that a castle?” Or “OMG, check out the poppy fields!” Which would prompt me to yank off the eye thingy, sit bolt upright and shout, “Pull over!”
One of the girls would cajole me back on task. “Dude, are you sleeping?” they’d say. “Either enjoy the ride, or enjoy the stops!”
I stayed in the car and slept while the girls shopped for groceries. They unpacked the car and did the navigating.
When your brain’s functioning at a normal level, you don’t worry about running out of gas until, well… the day’s over and it’s time to go to bed.
When you have a brain injury, everything takes more energy. You have less in reserve. There’s no choice but to pace, plan and prioritize and, on trips like this one, keep your eyes shut during the ride.
Our favourite family anecdote goes like this.
It’s our last night of vacation at my sister’s cottage. Marika, Līva and Dārija are bobbing on the river on rainbow-coloured floaties. I’m on the dock, at it again, telling stories about Latvia.
About 45 minutes into the story, a curious turtle surfaces. The girls scream. The turtle disappears. Marika, Līva and Dārija scramble to shore.
Fast forward 11 years. Metaphorically, we’re floating on a turtle down a river called “Our 2018 trip to Latvia.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter that I literally had my eyes closed for 900 kilometres. This trip was about being together and making new stories.
[*Our Latvian folk costumes, as featured from the left in Ieva’s illustration, are: Marika in Ērgļu pagasts (I had this specially made in the late 80’s in honour of my grandmother’s homestead, Kalna Dibeni); Dārija in Rūjiena, the second 21st-century group costume of the Toronto Latvian folk dance group Daugaviņa; me in Piebalga (the group costume of Dižais Dancis, the group I danced with prior to my TBI); Līva in her iconic Lielvārde tautas tērps.]