Thursday, June 25, 2015

14 Days of Sun.

We sat on the tarmac patiently at first, yet when the third announcement from the Captain about delays came over the speakers, the masses have given up. Disgruntled whispers devolved into audible complaints. The reality of missing our connecting flights shred the last strands of hope we held on to.

I sat back and shut my eyes during take-off, saying my usual prayers and wondering if the words are now more of a superstitious ritual rather than a prayer of protection. I came to terms with knowing that I would most likely miss my flight from Philadelphia to Dublin, as it was out of my control, so I drifted off into light rest.

A rough sleepover in Philadelphia Airport, a stand-by flight to Charlotte before sunrise, an afternoon downtown in the Southern city, and a six hour flight over the Atlantic later, I stood at the baggage carousel in Dublin not expecting to see my blue backpack. My sneaking suspicion was confirmed as the kind Irishman behind the luggage counter explained that they failed to load the bags onto the next plane departing Philly like they were supposed to. The small crowd behind me protested in frustration, yet I had been down this road before. Almost exactly three years prior, my black suitcase was lost on route to Croatia when I commenced this soul searching journey.

The other half of the Dream Team, Clare, was waiting in Arrivals for me. We hadn’t seen each other since Camp Cal Summer 2014, but picked right back up where we left off. After breakfast in Howth Harbor, we swapped stories of job woes and dating disasters while visiting Hill of Tara and Trim Castle. Irish banter never fails to entertain, once again proven by the witty guide sharing the Castle’s past.

The following day Clare introduced me to megalithic passageway tombs. Nestled in Boyne Valley, a set of passage tombs dominate the landscape. Older than the Pyramids and built over 5,000 years ago, they have served as a central place for sacred rituals, burials, and later as a means for defense. The megalithic art carved into the stones in and around the passageways are left to interpretation and transport you to another time.

After a surprising night in Dublin, Clare and I drove west to Achill Island. A new adventure for Clare as well, this quiet island blew us away. With only 1,000 loyal habitants year round, the summer months bring 2,000 more mainly for the surf conditions. Graced with clear skies, we explored the Island, shrieking with delight with every turn. Crossing the bridge at Achill Sound we carried on to Keel Beach where massive cliffs rose above calm turquoise water. A crescent strip of white sand framed a wonderfully picturesque view. 

We hopped back in the car and took the extremely windy and narrow Wild Atlantic Way, not knowing where it would lead and stopping along the way to be repeatedly stunned by increasingly impressive viewpoints. Rogue sheep marked the way and paid no regard to vehicles crossing their territory. We reached one summit and looked down upon quaint Keem Bay that rested on the other side of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Sufficiently satisfied with the day, we returned to the hotel to set up shop at the bar and learn a bit more from the locals.

We arrived a few weeks before tourist season begins so the island felt desolate in comparison to a bustling Dublin. There were probably only a dozen other tourists on the island, if that. The only traffic consisted of tractors crossing to the next field or sheep moseying on to a new patch of grass. Over the next two evenings during residence bar, the barman shared his wit, stories of Irish weddings, and knowledge of what the Gaeltacht on Achill is like. The next day we drove through the peat bogs and then explored the Deserted Village, brought to silence from visually seeing the morbid legacy The Great Famine left behind. Afterwards we started to climb up Slievemore Mountain to find a small Megalithic tomb and a group of archeologists excavating a Bronze Age farm house.  From Slievemore, we looked out over Keel Beach and directly at the chiseled cliffs of Minaun, then deciding we needed to stand upon them.

A short drive alongside a steep spiraled drop off brought us to a plateaued lot of land. The wind was already whipping when we parked and headed up to the peak. Climbing through soft bogs and scattered stones we reached a statue of a welcoming Virgin Mary who stood upon a pillar with an old blessing for sailors engraved on its side. Standing 466 meters above the sea, we had a 360 degree view of Achill Island and County Mayo with the wind roaring in our ears. Yet, after passing over the peak and walking among travelers’ markers, the wind abruptly ceased and we were able to sit and take in one of the most incredible views of my life. A familiar feeling returned with the disappearing wind  – whether I am on a cliff on an island off Croatia, atop an active volcano in Indonesia, looking over the desert in Arizona, or above the tree line in the Alps, I feel in the presence of something greater than humanity can ever be, something more deliberate in creation than coincidence.


We stopped back in Dublin on our way home from Achill Island for Clare’s friend’s comedy gig. I went to my first comedy show when we were staying at Clare’s apartment and immediately regretted not going to more in the past 26 years. In both shows I was clearly pegged as an American, perhaps due to my massive smile while sitting in the front row, and I became a recurring theme throughout the sets – all in good Irish banter fun.

The weekend had us crossing the border to Northern Ireland to meet two other Irish friends from camp, Carol and Shelley. We all have not seen each other since August of 2012 so we knew it would be an entertaining reunion. We met in Belfast at the Titanic Museum and were surprisingly impressed by a museum that did not hold any artifacts – holograms, virtual tours, and rides took their places. Afterwards we continued driving north to Ballycastle where we would soon explore the Giant’s Causeway.


Over a delicious meal with plentiful white wine, we exchanged the primary updates from the past three years and immediate plans, if any. Traditional music playing at the pub across the street lured us over so we set up shop there for the night. The lock in turned into a session night when fellow patrons sang a few tunes, Clare and her incredible voice included. Over a connection of duets and pints we made friends with a group of guys rowing around Ireland in a small wooden rowboat for Cystic Fibrosis. All the fun from the evening’s entertainment left us struggling the next morning; however we were on a mission.

Headed west a few short miles down the coast we reached the rope bridge. Although the sun was blazing, the on shore breeze kept our jackets zipped and tight. The coastal cliff walk offers stunning views of the bold sea and rocky islands. After meandering through wildflowers a simple suspension bridge hangs 30 meters above the water connecting the mainland to Carrick-a-Rede. Once a prime location for salmon fishing, it is now only frequented by tourists crossing the bridge to explore the island and bird watch. Looking down over the bridge, vibrant turquoise water swirls in caverns and lagoons, making you forget you’re so far north.

 






We arrived at Giant’s Causeway just as our energy levels were dipping but the bizarre landscape shot them right back up again. Backed by dramatic cliffs, the Giant’s Causeway is battered by the Atlantic with each passing tide. Lava from an eruption 60 million years ago has cooled in a very peculiar way, spurring folklore to make sense of the wonder. Thousands upon thousands of polygonal columns at alternating heights make up the causeway. Whether Fionn the Giant left the remains of his causeway or a volcanic eruption created this strange formation, you can’t help but be amazed while walking among the stacks and towers.

 


After our reunion weekend Clare and I returned to her hometown in Wexford. I was warmly greeted by her parents and just in time for tea. When I was last in Ireland I visited the Model County, home to the best strawberries and new potatoes, and met Clare’s family and farm. My welcoming was just as grand the second time around. Even though I had only lefts the states a week and a half ago, home cooked meals and a mother’s attention was beyond appreciated.  Being able to spend the next few days among Clare’s incredible family, chatting about the farm and life in general, was exceptional and heartwarming. 

That’s the thing about the Irish – they are truly the kindest and most hospitable people I have met.  Throughout the past 14 gloriously sunny days in Ireland, Clare has introduced me to her friends and I was given the chance to see some old faces. I have enjoyed delicious meals, thirst-quenching pints, and spectacular views – all thanks to my wonderful friend and tour guide, Clare.  She is a light in my life, an effortless friend whose company, wit, and charm give comfort like a full Irish breakfast prepared by a loving mom. 









2 comments:

  1. Beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing your journey. Keep shining!

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  2. What a journey! Love reading your post! Very inspiring.



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