Hello, everyone. I want to first apologize for my lack of postings in the past week or so. You’ll hopefully be happy to know that while I haven’t had the ability to connect to the internet, I have been writing as much as possible. Below you’ll find an update as to where I’ve been in the past five days. There is quite a bit there … so maybe you’ll want to read a couple posts and check back later. But let us not kid ourselves, you’ll be so engrossed by my journeys that you’ll have to read them all. I hope so, at least.
Anyway, I’m back in Dublin. I’ll be crashing early tonight as I have an early morning scheduled for tomorrow. cheers, mk
doolin, cliffs of moher, pain, and hitching – thursday the 13th, 2007
Pain. I’ll first start off explaining the pain portion of the title. Brian and I walked for miles today. Walking for miles would normally be a pretty pain-free process. This whole walking for miles concept becomes painful when you come to find these miles were walked with 75+ pound packs on our back. My entire body aches, I can only imagine how I’ll feel in the morning.
Immediately after posting my last blog entry, Brian and I headed to the Galway bus stop to catch a bus to Doolin. The country roads in Ireland are really something else. I’d compare them to a poorer quality, Iowa, county road – full of hairpin turns. In a small vehicle, these would be relatively comfortable to navigate. But in a massive Bus Eireann coach, these roads are treacherous. To me at least … they didn’t seem to mind the 65 year-old driver who drove them like a bat out of hell.
Doolin is a small village directly north of the Cliffs of Moher. Doolin is known throughout Ireland as being the place to be for traditional Irish music. Brian and I found great “trad” in the pubs of Doolin – real good craic. We spent the evening at the Aliee River Hostel – a 20 or so bed hostel with loads of character. An old brick home which was seated right on the Aliee River, approximately two miles from the sea. Two miles, I know only because of experience.
After Brian and I dropped our packs at the hostel, we decided we would check out the area. I figured if we went right out of the hostel, we’d come to the sea. We were correct, it was just further than we anticipated. From the small cliffs, we could see lights which I guessed marked the other half of Doolin. I had in my head that there were two parts of Doolin; unfortunately, I ended up being wrong. We made our way to these lights in the distance. We headed towards these lights not via a road, but through pastures of rocks, cows, and, alas, cow manure. A half an hour later, we came to realize said lights originated from a campground full of motor homes. It was now dark, my Chacos were covered in cow manure, and we had to make our way back to Doolin. Luckily, a short two or three mile walk up the road put us right back in Doolin where we found pubs with trad music, cold Guinness, and our first shot of Jameson on the Emerald Isle.
This morning we packed our packs and planned on hiking to the Cliffs of Moher. A conversation with the hostel owner resulted in us getting instructions on the best and, in my newfound opinion, only way to experience the Cliffs. The Cliffs of Moher stretch for miles and reach heights of over 600 feet. They are truly a breathtaking sight. We experienced the cliffs by way of a seven or eight mile hike directly on the cliffs’ edge. I’ll post pictures later, but again I do not feel they give the views justice. The sheer drops, gusty sea breezes, and vast openness of the ocean cannot adequately be described by my writing.
Four or five hours of hiking later, we came to the actual visitors center viewing area. I could not imagine having these viewing platforms ten feet away from the cliffs be your only experience with the cliffs. The views do not even begin to give what Brian and I experienced justice.
Hitching. The only true (an inexpensive!) way to backpack across a country. We left the Cliffs by way of a road that led into Liscannor – five miles into Liscannor. After a six or eight mile hike, we decided our bodies couldn’t handle any more pain. We began the walk with our thumbs out. Ten or fifteen minutes later, we were picked up. A couple from the UK were the hosts of our first hitching experience (we concluded they stopped much to the husband’s dismay). They drove us past Liscannor and into Lahinch where we intended on catching a bus to Ennis or Limerick.
These two towns were our goal as they would get us further east in the country. Further east was the goal as we had 3pm interviews with face2face fundraising in Dublin the next day.
In Lahinch, we made our way to the bus stop where we could catch a bus to Limerick. As the bus was pulling up, I said to Brian, “Are you sure we should drop fifteen euros on a bus ticket? Maybe we should hitch.” Thirty seconds later the bus to Limerick was pulling away without Brian and Matt on board. We walked to the edge of town and started thumbing for a ride. In not even fifteen minutes, a small two door Honda picked us up. I’m still not quite sure how we made it into this extremely small vehicle with our packs. Our newfound friend took us to a small town five or six miles away (a town that once held the record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most pubs per capita, 22 pubs with 1000 people). From here, we caught a ride to Ennis. Hitching seems to be far more common and accepted in Ireland – it really is pretty amazing. As we were trying to get rides, we noticed people kept pointing one direction or the other as they drove past. We later found out that they were informing us they were soon turning, not heading in the direction we needed to go. I would hazard to say that 50 – 60 percent of the people who didn’t stop signaled to us in this way. “I’d love to pick you up, but I’m turning, sorry man,” is what they were trying to tell us. No worries.
We arrived in Ennis to find the only hostel in town was closed for renovations. The guy who drove us to Ennis advised us to steer clear of Limerick (everyone we’ve met has nothing but terrible things to say about this city). Sore, and still hauling packs that were most definitely not getting any lighter, we caved and booked a room at the nearest hotel.
A clean shower, a dinner of fish and chips, and a couple pints of Guinness served as the cessation to one hell of a day.
September 15, 2007 – 11:08am – Kells Hill Hostel
“Kells. Why in the hell are you going to Kells? There is absolutely nothing to do in Kells.” – The words of our neighbor on the bus leaving Dublin. We had just booked one-way ticket to Kells. Perhaps this Kells native has never read Lonely Planet Ireland’s description of the town. Or, on second thought, maybe she has …
“Kells is best known for the magnificent, illuminated manuscript that bears its name, and which so many visitors to Trinity College hope to see. Generally, they don’t make their way to where it was stashed for the guts of 600 years, from the end of the 9tth century until its removal by the Church in 1541. Frankly, they’re not missing all that much, and apart from the remnants of the monastic site that housed the Book of Kells, there’s not a lot to see or do here.”
I couldn’t help but laugh after reading this. Lonely Planet definitely had a negative outlook on the town. I thought the description of the town was intriguing. If nothing else, Kells presented a perfect opportunity to get out of busy Dublin and into the countryside. On a Friday night, all Dublin hostels wanted upwards of €25 a night for a dormitory style room. A ticket at €8, a hostel for €14, and €3.60 pints in Kells compared with €5.50 in Dublin? A no-brainier.
“But Matt, what about your job search? The interview, how’d it go?” Yes. What about the job search? Bran and I caught the 9:30AM express bus from Ennis to Dublin – at least, we thought it was the express bus. As it turns out, it stopped in every damn town between Ennis and Dublin. Our scheduled arrival into Dublin was half two (The Irish way of saying 2:30. Love it). This posed a problem, as we still needed to print our CVs and figure out where face2face was located – all with an interview at 3:00.
It worked out. We bypassed the printing of the CVs and caught a taxi to face3face’s office. We interviewed and (as if you had any doubts) were both offered positions with face2face’s roaming team. We start training a week from this Monday. It sounds like a pretty solid setup. We’ll be with a team of 4-5 other people who travel throughout Ireland to raise funds in support of local charities. We’ll typically spend 2 weeks in a town with our weekends free. Transportation is provided between towns. Accommodation is provided for the entire time we’re stationed in an area. What type of accommodation? Probably hostels, right? Wrong. We’ll be put up in local holiday homes. The work will be difficult, but it pays extremely well with opportunities for bonuses dependent on performance. The only downside to the position … I’ll have to – at least temporarily – be separated from my accomplice in this year spent abroad. For reasons which I may or may not agree with, face2face prefers not to place friends on the same team – at least until they prove they are able to adequately perform the functions of the job. It isn’t ideal, but again, the job opportunity seems to good to pass up.
As for now, Wolken and I are headed to Mrs. Carpenter’s house. Mrs. Carpenter has the keys to the St. Colmcille’s house where the Book of Kells was kept for 600 years. After that, we’re going to try to hitch to the Loughcrew Cairns. Here, there are 30 some Stone Age passage graves scattered about the Loughcrew Hills. These graves were all built around 3000 BC.
Sounds interesting enough. And there is nothing to do in Kells?
Sunday the 16th, 2007 – Donegal – Independent Holliday Hostel
The generosity, warmth, and kindness of the Irish continue to amaze me. Every time Brian and I find ourselves in a pub, a grocery store, or cafe – from the village of Aughrim to the city of Dublin – we are almost immediately surrounded with individuals trying to help us find the nearest bus or hostel. If nothing else, they offer us advice on places to see and wish us the best in our future travels. Last night proved to be no exception, in fact, we met one of the kindest individuals as of yet.
We hitched from Kells to the hills of Loughcrew. These hills marked the highest point in County Meath and provided an utterly peaceful atmosphere with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. The Loughcrew Cairns sat at the summit of these hills amongst fields of sheep and cattle. Our plan after our hike at Loughcrew was to walk to a town we could see that was about two or three miles away. We made our way down an old, country road towards this town. As we were walking a car pulled up and asked us if we needed a lift. The driver was an archaeologist from Cork who had just left the Cairns. We were dropped off in the town which we learned to be Oldcastle. Our hopes were to catch a bus heading north someplace, but we learned from a bartender at a local pub that the last bus had already pasted through Oldcastle. However, Virginia was about 15 miles away – we could catch a bus in Virginia. We walked towards the end of town and were soon able to hitch a ride to Virginia.
Our new friend (who speedily drove us to Virginia, he was late to pick up his girlfriend for a date) dropped us off near the Virginia bus stop. As we walked up the sidewalk, we nearly ran over two men who were walking out of the pub. I’m sure two backpackers aren’t a common sight in the small town. The men asked us where we were from and where we were heading. “We’re from the states, from Iowa. Not really sure where we are heading – heading up the bus stop to hopefully catch a bus north,” I let them know. “Well, there is a pub in town, The American Bar! Come, we’ll buy you a pint.”
We couldn’t hardly say no.
Ralph and Datmond seemed to take a liking to Brian and me. They bought us a couple rounds that we enjoyed over great conversation and later the Ireland vs. Georgia Rugby World Cup game. Datmond was a Virginia native and had moved to Estonia years ago doing architecture. Ralph was originally from Dublin but had moved to Virginia. He designed and built kitchens. Ralph insisted that Brian and I stay at his home – Datmond was staying, as were two of his friends from South Africa. He had a couple couches that we were more than welcome to crash on. To be true, we were both somewhat apprehensive about the offer. Both Ralph and Datmond seemed to be great people and we were happy to have a free place to stay. We took Ralph up on his generous offer.
Ralph lived a couple miles outside of Virginia in a house he was in the process of building. We arrived, Ralph showed us around his home, and headed to bed. Exhausted, Brian and I crashed. We awoke this morning to meet Ralph’s friends from South Africa. They had moved to Ireland about four years ago and live in Dublin. They occasionally come to Ralph’s to enjoy the countryside (there was an amazing view from his home) and escape the busy life of Dublin. Ralph, Datmond, the couple from South Africa (my memory fails me as I can’t remember their names), Brian, and I enjoyed tea (coffee for this guy), breakfast, and more good conversation until about noon. We then got a ride into town to the bus stop.
What an odd, yet extremely refreshing series of events. I’m sure most of you reading this are shocked we would go to a strangers home to sleep. Yet, how amazing is it that someone would be willing to take in two backpackers (strangers) for the night? I guess you go with your gut. Thanks to our gut, we were able to meet four amazing individuals. There need to be more kind, genuine, people in this world. Ralph, if you find your way to my blog, thanks again!
We caught a bus to the town of Donegal today. Donegal is in the north of Ireland. The trip here was beautiful – full of lakes and rolling hills. We’re staying at a small little hostel on the edge of the town. The plan is to hike tomorrow before heading back to Dublin on Tuesday – hopefully, with the help of face2face we’ll secure our PPS numbers.