If you ever come to the Baltic States, especially Lithuania, you will notice that a big part of our souvenirs are made from amber. Lithuanians will always suggest that you bring amber home and will be keen to mention at least a couple of amber-related places that you must visit if you really want to experience what Lithuania is all about. Why? Because amber is a big part of our identity. But to really appreciate and understand amber, you have to hunt it yourself. And here is how.
Most of the souvenirs you see in Lithuanian streets, especially in the western side of the country, are not made from Lithuanian amber. The simple truth is that there are no amber mines in the country, meaning that larger amounts – needed to satisfy the jewelry, souvenir and medical industries – have to be imported from Kaliningrad, Russia. However, Lithuanians still say that amber is the Lithuanian gold. We just get it in a different way.
While Russians in Kaliningrad are mining it, Lithuanians get their amber by hunting it in the Baltic Sea. An intriguing hobby which requires a ton of enthusiasm and skills. Not many tourists know that going amber hunting yourself is not only possible, but extremely addictive.
How NODUM came to amber hunting?
Amber is believed to have some medical properties. Lithuanians, for hundreds of years, used amber to make amulets to protect them from evil spirits. The rest of the world, unfamiliar with the Baltic gold, is still starting to discover amber. In Brazil, for example, amber necklaces are becoming more and more popular. Lithu Âmbar, a Brazilian company, is selling amber jewelry to people with great success and outstandingly positive customer support.
Brazilians believe that amber jewelry helps fighting some skin conditions, helps babies to go through teething, and much more. Therefore, since Lithu Âmbar is selling amber from Lithuania, it only made sense that the owners of the business, Mara and Marcelo, would come to Lithuania to see how we deal with amber, what we make of it and how it is taken from the sea. They are making a documentary about it, which will appear sometime soon on the Lithu Âmbar YouTube channel.
That’s where we came in. We helped our Brazilian friends to cope with the language barrier and to gather some needed contacts. It was an opportunity for us to stay in the seaside for several days and to learn something really cool and interesting.
Coming back to the story, one of the things Mara and Marcelo wanted to try out was amber catching. So we met with Igoris, an experienced amber catcher and exceptionally good guide.
Theory before practice
Igoris Osnač is an experienced amber hunter and a guide. He took us to Karklė, where he started by giving us a brief introduction about amber. We found out that amber burns and that it floats in salty water, but that the Baltic Sea is not salty enough, so there amber stays at the bottom. Thus, the best time to hunt amber is after a storm happens. We also found out that there are hundreds of different colours of amber. Igoris said that black amber is often left behind, because other people do not recognize it.
Igoris explained that you can distinguish real amber from fake by rubbing it between your hands. When it gets warm, it starts producing a distinctive smell, resembling pine trees. We also watched a short video showing several people harvesting amber from the rough Baltic Sea waters. One person in the video happily said that he collected around 3 kilograms of amber that day and it wasn’t the end yet. That amount is worthed several thousands of euros, by the way.
Not going to lie, at this point it seemed as if amber hunters do it for the money. The ability to earn in just a couple of hours more than many people do in a month is really appealing. However, this attitude quickly changed when the time came for us to go hunt some amber.
Going amber hunting for the first time
Igoris provided us with appropriate waterproof clothing. They were really warm – despite it being quite windy, I did not feel cold at all. We grabbed some special homemade nets and went to the beach.
Immediately, I noticed how Igoris eyes changed. They started scanning the area, smiling at every positive sign he saw. He noticed birds and some dark spots in the sea under them. These spots were a mixture of sea weed and small driftwood pieces. Birds are attracted to them because they can find shrimps and some other fauna in there. We were attracted because that is where we will get our amber from.
This is how amber catching looks like
Amber weighs about the same as the sea weed and driftwood, so it oftentimes gets tangled in them. That is why we set out eyes on a small dark spot in the sea and, while walking there, were looking at the sand, trying to find some pieces freshly washed out by the waves. Igoris was exceptionally good at it – obviously. He was pointing at the pieces and we picked them up. I couldn’t understand how he finds them so easily when I cannot – small amber pieces are almost undistinguishable in between pebbles that have almost the same colour. “Amber is shiny”, explained Igoris and we moved along.
Then the time had come for us to go to the sea. We were about knee-deep in the water and listened to Igoris instructions. The technique is rather simple – you wait for a wave to come, poke the net in and pull it out before that wave retreats. You repeat this process until your net is just about full of weeds and little pebbles, then you drag it to the beach and dump its contents on the sand. Quick search through that little pile of sea weed, rocks and an occasional shrimp (I threw the one I found back in the sea) and you’re ready to go back in. I lost the track of time, but, I guess, in around 45 minutes I found only several small amber pieces, really nothing spectacular. But I finally understood what amber hunting is all about.
What is amber hunting really?
Igoris had such a vivid passion for amber hunting you had to be completely dissociated from this world not to notice it. As soon as we came down to the beach his eyes were on fire and he looked much happier. In many ways, he reminded me a child in a candy store with a 5 euro bill – there was no possibility for him to go home loaded with his treasure, but he was so happy.
Time flied so quickly. At first, I felt like a gambler, but I soon stopped caring about not actually catching much amber. I enjoyed the process and immediately started thinking that I will definitely do that again sometime in the future.
I don’t know why, but all the build-up before the real amber hunting trip is so attractive. You have to check the weather information, wait for the perfect storm. Then, when the time comes you have to meticulously choose a place where you will stand and work with your net. And then you hunt amber, which may or may not come with a reward.
“I can’t stop thinking about fishing amber. I really want to come back”, says Mara and I’m on the same page. This amber fever that was burning Igoris from inside is actually contagious and if you ever get a chance to try it, don’t miss the opportunity!
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