The Ādaži military ranges north of Rīga include wide expanses of forest, meadows, and bog: all excellent for mushrooms at this time of year. However, they are also excellent for things like tanks, howitzers, and live fire exercises, making them somewhat more dangerous than the average tract of Latvian wilderness. Yet such hazards, and prominent warning signs, do not prevent determined mushroom commandos from launching raids well behind prohibited lines to terminate toadstools with extreme prejudice.
Military police are on high alert to prevent the special forces of the fungus world gaining access to the forbidden zone, a sort of Area 51 of chanterelles and ceps. Last year, 500 mercenary mushroomers were caught at Ādaži. Several hundred have been caught already this year.
"Our mushroomers are like well-trained soldiers - they hit the dirt, hidden, they dive into the nearest foxhole, hide behind trees," said Adaži garrison military police officer Jānis Vīcups, adding that as well as the more obvious dangers presented by bullets, grenades and tank tracks, mushroomers also risk having heart attacks if an unexpected big bang suddenly happens amid the tranquil woodland.
When caught, mushroomers often pretend they were merely answering the call of nature, he added.
If in previous years a mushroomer was taken PoW on the Ādaži ranges, he or she was given a stern warning and a drill-sergeant style dressing down. Only for a second infraction was a fine imposed. But such measures reckoned without the resilience of the battle-hardened mushroomer and wave after wave of them kept coming.
Now a tasty mushroom sauce can cost up to 1,500 euros, and mushroomers must negotiate not only patrols but surveillance cameras and drones to gain access to the mushroom extraction zone. Any that make it in and out undetected should probably be recruited to Special Operations units.