Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aran Islands and Hanne -- Doolin, Ireland

I'm starting this post from Doolin Hostel across the street from the Bus Eireann stop. Two dark-haired bearded Irish chaps stand behind the counter, clanking cups and wiping work surfaces.

*cough, cough*

"Don't die on me today, you've got a lot to do."

"Right" *sniff*

The colors aren't so very green, as of late. The colors are golden and purple, brown and black. Yellows shine and pinks pop.

The grey stone walls against the golden green grass.
The saturated black cliff walls against the foaming blue green sea.
The timid purple flowers nestled into the grey stones, surrounded by energetic grasses.
The neon green algae against the orange brown seaweed.
The light brown of my coffee against the ivory white cup.

This week has been so bizarre... but I believe I'm finally learning how to wear my travel boots again. I've been getting a lot of good advice from a lot of good people, and it seems like my boots are perfectly good, but I've been wearing them on the wrong feet and backwards besides. I'm working on letting go of my limiting beliefs of what this trip should be, and the chafing, bleeding blisters are beginning to heal and my boots are starting to take the shape of my very unique sort of foot. The extreme volatility of my life is starting to energize and excite and ceasing to stress and depress.

I tell myself that I travel to meet people, not to see the sites. I tell myself that I travel to learn about different cultures and ways of thinking, not to take pictures of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I travel to go to birthday parties and weddings and picnics in parks -- not to eat at the best restaurants and stay at the best hotels.

Sometimes I forget these things and I feel pangs of regret when I can't afford the trips and tours my fellow tourists take. And then I meet people like Hanne, and the fundamental reason I travel comes back to me.

Yesterday started off with bright and early with a quick walk to the Cliffs of Moher. The stark, sheer cliff faces took every bit as much of my breath away as when I first saw them the day before. My eyes widened, my jaw dropped, and I turned to my companion and stammered, "People come from all over... all over the world to see this. That's something that gives me hope. In a world of manure lagoons and monoculture crops and birds that die because they ate plastic from one of our many massive landfills, there's still this. And people come to see it."

Happy Irish sheep.

I met Brandon on the bus into Doolin. It was really  lovely to share his company on two of my three walks to Moher. I'm also extremely envious of him, as he's found a way to work from his computer and travel at the same time. He's the sort of long term independent traveler I yearn to be.
After the walk, I headed down to Doolin Pier (about three km from my hostel) to board the Queen of Aran for my ferry ride to Inishmore through the reputable Bill O'Brien's

 I was cold and tired for the first part of the trip, and squandered a good hour of my ferry time sitting on a rock hard bench, drawing my knees into my chest, and doing my best to keep my lids from drifting close as the steady noise and movement of the ferry lulled me into a deep state of relaxation. After a brief stop at Inisheer, I staggered to the upper deck and braced myself against the side rails. The wind against my face woke me up quick enough, and staring at the abundance of jellies under the crystal clear water kept me quite occupied.

Clear jellies with four purple circles.
Translucent pink jellies.
Massive orange/red jellies floating deep under the surface.

Jellies, jellies, jellies.

I need to be more like a jellyfish, I gazed down at them admiringly. I need to find peace with being moved by the current. The creatures gently floated away in the ferry's wake and my eyes followed their bouncing bag bodies until they disappeared back into the Atlantic.

The Aran Islands were harsh and extreme and other-worldly. Most people rent a bike for ten euros and cycle 30 minutes to the Fort on the other side of the island.

I decided to walk. I couldn't afford the extra ten euros and I love experiencing a place one step at a time. Walking makes it easier to notice things and feel more connected with my environment when I'm grounded and moving slowly. I like to feel the eat of the rocks and the softness of the grass through my barefoot shoes.  I can wear thick hiking boots whenever I please -- but when is the next time I'll have the Aran Islands under my feet?

 The heat was intense and I was soaked with sweat (as opposed to rain) within the first twenty minutes of descending The Queen of Aran's haphazard bridge. Ireland hasn't experienced weather like this in years. People wear sunscreen and leave their sweaters at home. They wear shorts and flip-flops and jump into the Atlantic whenever possible. They water their gardens when they can cope with the heat enough to force themselves outside and many seem to be turning a color reminiscent of a maraschino cherry. 

the island is a maze of stone walls.

I tried to follow the green path, which should have had me back at the pier by 3:15. As the ferry didn't leave until 4:00, I thought this was a grand plan. However, at about 1:30, I was passed by a bus driver who pulled over and asked (I couldn't understand his accent well at all) where I was going.

 "I'm following the green arrows," I replied.

"What time's yer ferry?" he leaned out the window.

"Four. The walk is a loop and only takes three hours, though. I should be back in time."

"No, da walk's tree hours one way."

"Whaaa? I thought it was a loop! On the picture, it said -- "

"No, you'll never make it in time. Best hop in, like."

And so I reluctantly gave up my walk and hopped in. Which proved to be an extremely poor decision. The bus driver dropped me off at the fort (a place I'd never intended to visit) and offered me his card to pick me up later.

"Ya can't walk back in time for yer ferry, now."

"I don't know what to do," I stuttered my confusion. "I wasn't heading for the Fort -- I just wanted to follow the green arrows," I ended helplessly.

"Don't know a ting about dese green arrows, no."

"It's a walking trail."

"Don't know a ting about it."

"I don't know what to do," I repeated, as if saying the words again would magically tell me exactly what I needed to do."

"Don't just stand dere den, hop in," the driver motioned me to the back of the van. "Might as well catch a lift back wit me now, so."

I sadly climbed into my seat, wishing I'd never left the road and abandoned my green arrows. 

Before I lost my green arrows...

I love taking pictures of strange/funny signs in foreign countries. This was my favorite from Inishmore.

After the well-meaning bus driver had dropped me off at the pier, I ambled to the beach to cool down and massage my aching feet on the soft broiling sand. The water was almost hot nearly died of shock.  Shock and happiness. This was not the hangover annihilator water I'd experienced in Westport that knocked the breath out of me -- this was lazy tropical Pacific.

The ferry ride back to Doolin was a bit tiring and I felt the skin on the back of my neck starting to stiffen and tingle and burn as the sun pounded down tirelessly upon my exposed back.  I'm still so amused and astonished by the idea of sunburn in Ireland that I had chosen to leave my sunscreen at home and dare the sun to roast me red.

The Queen of Aran deposited my burns, my blisters, and my very tired self back on the mainland at about 18:00. I wanted nothing other than to sit down and quaff a giant glass of water, but I sighed and started the 3 km trek back to the hostel, passing other exhausted Aran pilgrims on the way. The small, colorful town of Doolin loomed in front of me, and my aching feet screamed and cramped in protest as I excitedly picked up my pace.

Almost there, I consoled my angry appendages. You will soon be able to rest as I rehydrate and check couchsurfing and my emails and facebook. And once you're rested and have quieted down some, I'll make eggs with my ham and cheese and the mushrooms, pesto and creme fraiche from the share shelf and... CHOCOLATE! I came to an abrupt halt in front of a quaint looking local chocolate shop. I checked the time on my phone, I'm meeting Hanne at seven and it's a good while after six already... I don't want to be late and I still have to buy my bus ticket for tomorrow's trip to Dublin and make those eggs with the pesto and... CHOCOLATE. Le sigh. I can just buy my ticket first thing in the morning. I'm not leaving until then anyway.

I didn't make it back to the hostel until just before seven, so I checked my couchsurfing messages for news from Hanne and scrambled my egg concoction with dervish speed. Hanne hadn't responded to my messages on couchsurfing, but I decided to go sit at the hostel sign to wait anyway. Just in case. But after 25 minutes of sitting in the grass with my kindle (and the third book of GAME OF THRONES), I stood up, brushed myself off, and went to join Brandon in the hostel's common room.

"I guess she didn't get my last message," I did my best to sink into the unyielding and uncomfortable wooden chair as I once again opened my laptop to check couchsurfing. Hanne had a fantastic profile and I'd really been looking forward to meeting her, but my inbox remained disappointingly empty. 

"That's too bad," Brandon looked up from his book.

"Want to go walk the Cliffs again as soon as it gets cooler?"

"Sure, sounds good."

I edited pictures as I waited for the heat to wane. Just as I was about to ask Brandon if he'd like to pack up and hit the trail, a blonde woman with a Danish accent asking for Aimee flew in the door.

"That's me!" I stood up excitedly.

"I'm sorry I'm late," Hanne gave me a hug. "I was taking care of a bird and wasn't sure it would survive. I was thinking we could go for a drive up the coastal road and then would you like to go for a swim?"

"Yes, a drive sounds fantastic and I would love to go to a swim," I found myself saying (what a difference from Westport... I believe I'm warming up to the idea of submerging myself in the Atlantic).

"Great, I'll meet you at my car outside," and she fluttered away.

I glanced over at Brandon who was still working away at his book, "Do you mind? I'll see you later tonight or in the morning."

"Yeah, yeah, of course. See you!"

I grabbed my towel and rushed out the side door, thrilled that we had managed to make contact.

I don't believe I will ever forget my evening with Hanne. One of the questions in my interview project is, "Looking back on your life, what is one defining experience that helped shape you into who you are today?"

In a few years, I think that I'll be able to look back and say, "meeting Hanne."

We sat in a small rocky pool and watched the tide come in. The cold water covered me with goosebumps and I struggled to swallow gasps as the random frigid wave splashed my torso. The sun was setting across the horizon and sending dancing pink light over the ocean.

And we talked. I didn't realize I needed to talk so badly about so many things. I didn't realize that I needed someone like Hanne to talk to me. But life knew, and life managed to bring us together that evening in Doolin.

We talked about my dreams and my attachment to them.

"If your dreams ever become a burden to you, it is time to set them free. Dreams are like love in this."

I will plant the seeds of my dreams and then I will let them go and honor what life chooses to nourish. I will recognize that as different plants have different seasons, so do dreams. I will choose to honor these seasons.

We talked about my fear of disappointing the people who've supported and encouraged me. Throughout the five weeks of this adventure, I've had several moments where throwing in the towel seemed like a marvelous option.

"But I'm guilty," I looked into her empathetic blue eyes, "I'm guilty because all of these people have given me so much. I can't just end this trip because I'd be letting down so many friends."

"Aimee, those people didn't help you because of your trip. That's yours, not theirs. They helped you because they loved you. The best way to honor that is to enjoy yourself. That's all they want -- for you to enjoy yourself."

We talked about finding yourself in stillness.

"I'm always moving. Stagnancy is one of the things I fear the most. I want to find my life -- I have to do something. I have be in the active pursuit of a dream. Always."

"Yes, but perhaps you are moving around so much that your life is looking around for you and saying, "where is Aimee? I cannot find her!" You must surrender to life. Trust it."

"But I just can't be stagnant."

"Stillness is not stagnancy. Stillness is listening. Listen to life." 

We talked about identity and how I find my sense of worth and being in what I do. If I am doing something about which I am not proud, I feel worthless.

"I spent the year after I graduated university sweeping floors and I was so deeply depressed. I lost my identity entirely."

"I think that when the day comes that you are happy sweeping floors, you have found your stillness. What does it matter what you do? I think we should try to have no identity. Only then can we find ourselves."

It went on like that for hours.

"Aimee, I think you need to come to the Burren. People have revelations there. Great artists find their inspiration. Walk around the Burren and let it speak to you."

"I don't know if I'll be able to get the hostel for another night..." I started to say, but she cut me off with --

"You can stay with me. I don't offer on couchsurfing that I have a room available because I have a roommate, but he is so welcoming and you would love it there."

"I'll have to contact my next host... I just really hate canceling plans. Especially when people have been so good to me the way Lochlann has."

"Just think about it," she gently urged. "I will check the internet until 12:00. Let me know what you would like to do and I will pick you up around one. This is Ireland -- plans change. Do what feels right."

 It was very easy to know what felt right.

Preconceptions: I really haven't experienced a lot of poverty in Ireland. Of course, poverty is a relative thing... but most that I've met appear to be quite happy and healthy.


I saw the Red Admiral Butterfly! I wasn't able to take a picture (they move exceedingly quickly), but I definitely saw one. So you'll all just have to take my word for it.

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