Sunday, September 26, 2010

-- FlyingCamba tries CouchSurfing part 2 --

So i was woken up by a very strong sunlight, very atypical for the region of West Ireland which most of the time features very unstable and rainy weather.

Enough said, I had a cup of tea with a toasted piece of bread, grabbed my backpack and packed it with a bottle of apple juice, cookies, a jumper and my camera and then took the bike straight to the unknown.

As I was cycling towards 'the unknown',a very strong scattered shower caught me by surprise and had me waiting for around ten minutes under the weak protection of a skinny tree (the only one I could find). Again ,pretending my wrists were not sore I kept cycling passing through beautiful fields of blackberries, nice cottages and a very dull and flat road which led me to the little town of Ventry, where you could spot a very dirty and depressing bay, full of tourists taking pictures.

My host told me this was the beach I should go to when cycling...was that it?. The question echoed within my head while a mild stream of deception was going through my spine.
Instead of conforming with it, I decided to cycle further and forget about beaches as for today... it was going to be a Cliffs Day! (as there were not enough cliffs in Ireland).

So cycling on the same road towards Slea Head at the very West of the peninsula, bumped into some other tourists that were having the same idea of cycling and even some that were on the same bus I was the day before while heading to Dingle.

The landscape dramatically changed as the road joins the Cliff and you get amazing views of the fierce Atlantic Ocean roaring down and the little cottages practically hanging of the mountain like they were gonna fall apart at any time.
Great time for stopping, drinking a sip of juice, having ONE cookie ,taking a picture and continuing the trip.

After some forty minutes I reached a cross and a spotting point, this was Slea Head!. Again beautiful views of the Blasket Islands, the Ocean and the whole scenery.
Road was still going somewhere and I previously had seen on my map about a town called Dunquin so decided to at least reach this little town and turnaround to Dingle.

Some curves later,the mountain revealed a mirage: Blue clear water, white sand, cliffs...was that a beach? and what a beach! definitely more than what I had expected for that day. My heart starting pumping faster and a huge smile was drawn on my face as I stopped the bike to take tons of pictures and decided I would spend the rest of my day down there.

Went down the road while lots of tourist kept taking pictures of the scenery and some would even get change to get into the freezing water, which I also did, considering that what kind of person goes to the beach and don't even go for a quick dip? Even if it is the North Atlantic.
Set my little spot by the rocks, put on my swimming trunks and there I was running like a crazy kid trying not to think about the water temperature. Some German girls joined me so I was not the only one freezing.

Then just taking more and more pictures (and the ones wet so I would prove that I was actually swimming in the North Atlantic, drawn some messages on the sand for my beloved people and relaxed while having the rest of my cookies, sitting on the sand, taking some sun and thinking about the heavy week I would have to deal with later.

Then when the sun started to get weaker and the winds were increasing, packed everything and it was time to go back to Dingle with a short stop at the Slea Head itself to take a look at the beautiful Blasket Islands and head back on a non-stop leg towards town.

It took me around forty minutes to reach Dingle as everything was downhill, I was quite tired and I had 'tailwind' (you get that on the bike).

I got to the house and my host arrived some minutes later, we had a couple of tea while I was telling her about the beautiful beach I had spent the day one and then she went for a nap. I just had a shower and went for some town sightseeing and snapshots as I knew that the next day I wouldn't have time for all of this.
Had a little sandwich with crisps and went back to the house where the Israeli guy was ready to go around for a walk and my Czech host was thinking about going out at night.

We decided we would and some hour later, the German couple joined us and we went for some pints at a local pub while laughing, telling jokes and talking about trips until it was closing time, raining and topped up the night with a disgusting meal of 'Fried Chicken and Chips' served by one of the most dodgiest Indian people I had ever seen.

Next morning and the weather was again back to normal: gray clouds, some drizzle and a depressing sight. Time to get up, get the backpack ready and meet 'the gang' for a good-bye coffee. Fast and not painful, thanking my host for such a brilliant experience and my new friends for those amazing and brief moments we had.

I went to the bus stop and I was amongst the last persons to board the coach to Tralee, so I got the terrible seat at the very back of it...crowded! but at least would be a short one-hour hop. Departed Dingle at 12:00 (midday).

Tralee was depressing and rainy so just stayed at the bus terminal waiting for my connecting coach to Limerick while writing some stuff about the trip on my Moleskine and some other personal stuff.
The bus to Limerick departed full and as always, amongst every skinny or petite girl that was on the bus ,the extreme fat one had to seat by my side which limited my movements to practically none during the three-hour journey to Limerick through this rural bumpy road.

God, I got off the bus in Limerick (known as Stab City) and decided to walk around just to get completely convinced about the reputation the city has. Everything looking extremely dodgy, empty streets and litter everywhere.
Had some fish and chips on this dodgy diner (the worst fish and chips I have ever had) and sat at the train station reading LIDL (supermarket) catalogs and listen to my iPod while waiting to board the train.

The final leg of the trip, the train, was very comfortable. We departed on-time and it was very smooth, the problem was that I had been traveling for the entire day so I just wanted to get to Dublin as soon as possible.
We passed through some little towns like Thurles, Portlaoise, Kildare until Heuston Station welcomed me at 21:00 pm with some rain and wind.

Again, nobody to welcome me. Time to be quick, leave the building ,catch the LUAS for two or three stations and then walk home.

So there...that was my CouchSurfing experience which was completely unexpected but very rewarding. I can now say that I have exploited every way of lodging, going from five-star hotels to middle-range ones, to hostels, to stay with friends, to this.

See you soon my Dear Readers! I will be moving out of Dublin very soon, so new adventures and trips will definitely be posted in here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

-- FlyingCamba tries Couchsurfing Part 1--

So there I was, having an emotional meltdown in Dublin after a row of accidents with the bike and a fight with very important people so it seemed like a proper time to leave the city and try to think things through.

Talked to one of my friends here who suggested that it would be the best for me at the moment as I was practically crashing (and with a extremely sore back) so after browsing the internet for a bit I decided I'd give West Ireland a last try, as a way to say good-bye of the Emerald Isle.

So "The Wonders of Dingle Peninsula" would be. I decided that my first night would be spent on a hostel as I haven't stepped into one in quite a bit and then, as my budget was very tight, I decided to recover my CouchSurfing password and browse through some profiles and see if I could find a nice and willing host for two nights in the countryside.
This particular girl from the Czech Republic caught my attention as she described herself as very friendly, outgoing and very outdoorsy so I immediately messaged her requesting for a spot on her house and she replied straight away saying that no problem, but I would have to sleep on the couch as she was also hosting another person and the bed was 'booked'.

It was written on the cold Irish sky, so I packed my trusting Eastpak backpack, witness of my trips around the world and still in perfect conditions and scheduled my journey in the best way possible.

Next morning I woke up very early and took the bus to Busaras, where I arrived extremely early and had to kill some time by watching homeless people being thrown out the terminal and watching Sky News until Limerick departure was announced and got into the bus for some challenging hours of travel.

Oh I had been warned about the buses in Ireland but I didn't realize until now how bad the services were. The buses were fine and quite comfortable for short trips but the space between seats (pitch) was absolutely ridiculous and I'm not even that tall. That added to the fact that the bus would stop at every single town, dodging motorways and taking narrow, curvy and slow roads to get to the point, so a journey of 120 kms took around three and a half hours to be completed.
Nothing interesting to say about the journey from Dublin to Limerick ,the landscape was plain and I was still feeling very sad, specially after passing through some towns that would bring back so many memories and would drive me crazy.

Connecting time in Limerick, that looked like my worst Northside Dublin nightmare, was short and then I boarded the bus full of tourist straight to Killarney where I arrived two hours later through a road full of green , low hills and some nice views as we were getting to our destination.

I was tired of my six hours journey, but since I would have just some hours in Killarney I went straight to the hostel (where luckily there were some free beds) and went to town to rent a bike.
Despite the suggestions of the Polish/Italian guy that rented me the bike and said I shouldn't go far because I would only have four hours to go and my weak wrists, I headed south with the idea of reaching a random point in two hours and then coming back.

Entered Killarney National Park and the landscapes wouldn't disappoint me as the Lakes were looking beautiful ,even with the rain that started to fall at the moment and mixed with my sweat and made my jumper feel like it was weighing ten kilos.
Uphill I went to a place called Ladies View, dodging cars and tourist coaches from all over Europe.

The view was amazing and you could easily spot all three lakes, the mountains and Killarney some 17 kms at the back.
I was with an empty stomach as my anxiety wouldn't let me eat anything until then, but after feeling sore on my heart (for real) and a extremely big craving for water, I entered the little shop at the Point and bought a bottle of water and a juice who went down the hatch in less than ten seconds.

Looking at my map I noticed that I was far indeed but I still had some three hours to keep on cycling and after spotting a hiking trail that would connect me to the famous Gap of Dunloe, I decided to give it a go.
So downhill for a bit and took the little dirt road which looked fine and sheltered from the rain until when I was taking a little steep part of it my gears broke and I was stuck in the middle of nowhere completely soaked and with a broken bike...Whyyy!!!

Don't panic, even with nobody around, I decided to give my best and try to sort the problem by myself and after doing 'i-dont-know-what' I fixed it and me and my greasy and wet wrists continued the journey now trying to put on less pressure on the gears which was a challenge when I would go uphill.
Bumped into this beautiful open space where every part of the Lakes could be spot and I realized that I WAS ALONE. Alone in Killarney, alone in Ireland I thought and started sobbing while the rain wouldn't have mercy on my soaked everything and I would keep cycling so I'd make it back into town on time.

Finally reached the cottage I was looking for when noticed that the little road I had seen on my map was not as short as it was drawn and it was exclusively for local traffic.
Rain, rain and more rain while I kept cycling until I bumped into this Gardai on his bike who told me that indeed the fastest way to go back into town from that point was through the Gap, so no turning back.

Now the things got interesting as the road suddenly dissapeared into a sharp turn and a zig-zag climb for some four kilometeres continuously...second Whyyy!!!
My legs were numb already and I was shivering from the cold mountain wind and my wet clothes but I faced the mountain with a very heavy breath and some outbreaks of deep sobbing, mixed with some 'a la Rambo' self-encouraging words.

Reached the Head of the Gap and when I finally saw that everything else would be downhill I let out a big freedom shouting and started my descent hitting the brakes constantly as I knew there was nobody around, my wrists were still weak, the road was absolutely slippery and I had two accidents lately.
At some points I would take my camera and shot some quick snaps because I wouldn't have enough time or energy to actually stop and contemplate it, even the scenery being as beautiful as it was with the Glacier Lakes practically hanging out the mountains and making the way through the mountains on something that would resemble a massive terraced fountain.

When I reached the bottom of the Gap , some 15 kilometers later I spotted some tourists finishing their walk and when I thought I was close according to the map, a beautiful sign indicating that Killarney was 'only' 12 kilometers away completely took all my energy out and that was probably the longest half an hour ever.

Got into town ,returned the bike without even saying a word to the guy that rented it to me and straight to the hostel for a long and warm shower, dry clothes, internet and e-mail checking (wrote some very important stuff there) and some groceries shopping.
Had a disgusting instant soup, because I wouldn't be able to cook it properly and went straight to bed as it was a very long day.

Next morning I woke up, brushed my teeth quickly and went downstairs to the busy Hostel kitchen where everyone was running around gathering stuff for their own breakfasts.
I only glanced some toasts with jam and butter and a cup of tea and off I went to explore town and part of the National Park again.
Walked through this beautiful green trail to Ross Castle where a rainbow over the lakes was shot by me and the 'free' parts of the castle were explored.

Got tempted to follow the Mining Trail until I met face-to-face with the amazing Lake and the mountains and was time for a pause, a sip of water and some snaps before the rain would come back and screw my walk again (it didn't , luckily).

Back into town went for a quick shopping at Tesco and then to the Hostel to have lunch ,check my e-mails and to the Bus Station to catch the bus to the next leg of the race: Dingle.

Journey was smooth and before I noticed we were entering Tralee where we would connect for our bus to Dingle which was packed with tourists again, all eager to see and explore the most westerly Peninsula in Ireland.
Dingle Bay received me after some one-hour trip between green mountains and I went straight to my host's house who had everything ready to receive me and the other Couchsurfer who arrived ten minutes after and was from Israel but with a very strong british accent.

After the three of us met, set my couch to sleep and had a cup of tea, we went for a walk to the Bay when it started raining and everything got soaked again.
Dingle has a natural bay that shelters it from the brave Atlantic Ocean, so you have to go around and follow a trail along the coast until you reach the beach where an old dolphin is the main attraction (Funghi is his name) and then to the lighthouse which by this time of the day with the mist resembled a classic Scottish moment.

As we were heading back into town, rain stopped and sun shined for some hours but as we were all tired already, just went to the supermarket and decided to buy ingredients for Spanish Tortillas and some cheap Chilean wine.

Cooking was fun as we were all trying to make our best but in the end had just some 'scrambled eggs with mushrooms, onions and tomato' and the wine.

Then some more friends from Germany and Czech arrived and we wandered around town for a bit to meet some of my host's local friends at this house uphill where the view of the Bay was amazing and had some more liquor while talking about trips and places to go and then off to bed after another long day, thinking about the amazing weather and the possibilities for the next day.

Stay tuned for Part 2...