Hike Through the Kemeri National Park on a Day Out in Latvia
STRAP ON YOUR BOGSHOES TO WALK ATOP AN 8000-YEAR-OLD QUAKING BOG
Springy. Squishy. Damp. Different. Dare to walk across freshwater lakes layered with a mesh of moss in a Latvian peat bog and that is exactly what you’ll feel. Any trepidation soon slips away as the spongey moss below your feet feels secure enough to sustain you. There is something serene about sloshing through a swampy bog. Maybe you don’t believe me. I didn’t believe me. Before I did it. I went “bogshoeing” on a pristine peat bog on my latest trip to Latvia.
The Great Kemeri Bog in the Kemeri National Park
About an hour’s drive outside the charming Latvian capital Rīga, brings you to the Kemeri National Park near the coastal town of Jūrmala. Established in 1997, the Kemeri National Park is the third-largest in Latvia covering 38,165 hectare. Here you’ll find a wild wetland forest, shallow coastal lakes, dunes and – what we came for – the Great Kemeri Bog. The park plays host to many rare and endangered species like wolves, lynx, otters, black storks, sea eagles plus many migrating birds. A huge diversity of unique plants like orchids, mosses, lichens, and carnivorous flycatchers also grow protected in this place.
BOOK A BOG TOUR WITH PURVU BRIDĒJI
Brilliant white birch trees line the forest where we are let off to meet our guide – Kristaps Kiziks from Purvu Bridēji. Here we don rain boots (or wellies, if you wish) and pick up our bogshoes, which are really just snowshoes given new purpose. Kristaps knows this bog like the back of his hand and is a brilliant guide for our day out.
SLOSHING THROUGH THE SWAMP
Carefully we maneuver a path through the birch forest before reaching the brink of the bog. We pass trees felled by beavers and carefully navigate around branchy bushes. Kristaps points out wild rosemary plants native to these parts and tells tales of its hallucinogenic properties that may have helped ancient Viking warriors get ready for marauding. We take notice and some of us smell, but no tasting today.
Soon we are ready to strap into our bright green bog shoes. Click, click, click. Make sure they are fastened on tight as you don’t want to get bogged down on your hike. (See what I did there?) We are shown how to walk in the somewhat wide and unwieldy plastic shoes and warned of where we can tread and not tread. Kristaps pushes his walking stick all the way down through the soft layers to show us how deep the bog goes.
WHAT MAKES A QUAKING BOG
There are many different kinds of bogs around the world, but most live in milder northern latitudes. This wild Latvian bog we explored is kind of “quaking bog.” Layers and layers and layers and layers of mosses and lichens die and decompose in freshwater lakes and ponds, as more grows right on top. A mat of organic material is woven over these lakes that we can walk upon, but it moves or “quakes” with our steps. Be careful where you walk. You can fall in. This is why Kristaps recommends you never bogshoe alone. We follow his instructions on where to hike and also where we can feel the bog rock safely under our feet.
ANCIENT BOGS AND BOG BODIES
What you see here has been composited over 8,000 years. And while some parts of the world drain their bogs and use this organic decomposed peat to burn for fuel, this Latvian bog has never been disturbed.
The lakes here are oxygen poor and the soil quite acidic making them inhospitable to life. So while you won’t find fish swimming in these ponds, you could find an ancient bog body. Believed mystical spaces, many ancient Northern European societies buried their dead in bogs just like this. Over 1000 bog bodies have been found amazingly wel-preserved with hair, beards and skin intact. Shrunken and black. But intact.
SIDE NOTE: In Denmark, you can see and learn more about these bog bodies at the Moesgaard Museum outside Aarhus or at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.
Kristaps says we are welcome to take a swim, that lots of the Latvians do in the middle of their hike come warmer months and shows us one especially popular with the teens called “cola lake” for its murky brown color that makes it harder to see each other when naked, which is normal and natural when swimming in Northern Europe. When in Latvia? Maybe? Not for us today. Although the sun is shining on this autumn day in November.
WHY BOGS ARE IMPORTANT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Peat bogs while beautiful to explore offer big benefits for local environments acting as a base for flood protection in the region. An added bonus is the capturing of greenhouse gasses from the environment, that are then trapped in the organic material of the bog. This process is called carbon sequestering. Essentially the bog acts as a huge carbon sink.
The world’s peat bogs sequester more than 200 billion tons of carbon. – National Geographic Encyclopedia
Bonsai Trees and Wild Cranberries of the Bog
Because the soil here is so acidic in the bog, trees and larger plants grow much slower than in the surrounding forest. Slow growing pines look like carefully pruned bonsai trees battling the elements above the mosses and heathers. Look carefully for bright red wild cranberries tucked in between the light green lichens. We are assured they are safe to taste – tangy and tart as you would expect. The colors of the bog come autumn were truly beautiful. Kristaps shares that summer brings more exotic flowers like orchids and carnivorous flycatchers that color the landscape.
SEE MORE OF A QUAKING BOG FROM OREGON GIRL AROUND THE WORLD ON YOUTUBE
RULES FOR BOGWALKING
1 | Wear comfortable clothes to hike in, layers that are breathable and warm.
2 | Wear rain boots or wellies or your feet will get wet.
3 | No umbrellas should be used in case of rain or snow, wear a waterproof coat.
4 | Hiking takes place in protected natural areas, so be aware of the environment and take away only photos and impressions from your tour.
5 | Alcohol and smoking prohibited before or during the hike.
6 | Don’t walk or climb over wet trees, rocks with bog shoes and ask for assistance for tricky to maneuever obstacles.
7 | Be careful when approaching bodies of water (lakes, bog rivers, etc.) and do not overestimate your abilities.
8 | You are responsble for yourself, your children to not endanger yourself or any other participants or property.
9 | Carefully follow the guide’s instructions as well as the other safety rules that the guide will inform you before the hike.
BOOK YOUR OWN TOUR WITH PURVU BRIDĒJI WHEN IN LATVIA
If you’ve never been bogshoeing before, I can highly recommend learning the lay of the land with an expert. While I always felt safe, I was happy to have a local there to guide and warn us of places to look out for. Check their website for all the options, so many bogs to choose from, not just the Great Kemeri Bog. Tour prices include bogshoes, but you should bring your own rain boots or plan to rent a pair for 5 € extra.
PURVU BRIDĒJI BOGSHOE TOUR
Groups smaller than 8 persons | 160,00 € per group
Groups of 8 or more | 20,00 € per person
DISCLOSURE: I was a guest of Purvu Bridēji, but all the opinions, photos and fun were my very own.
MORE UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN LATVIA
This was my second trip to Latvia and I’m still impressed by all it has to offer. Come to Rīga for a charming capital full of culture and beautiful architecture and delicious food. But get outside the city and explore the gorgeous scenery. Our last trip was in February and while cold, the snowy white landscape was a distinctly different experience. We went dog-sledding with rescued Huskies and Malamutes and took a run down the Latvian Olympic bobsled and luge track in Sigulda. I can highly recommend both. Come to Latvia, she said. Read more below: