Tuesday, May 31, 2011

-- Chinese version --

So my contract at the dark chocolate-like pints factory was up and not renewed and I saw myself job hunting again, luckily I like to believe I have a good CV and got called for a few interviews before even being finished at the Storehouse.

Some two successful interviews later, I was starting as a tour guide and nothing better than a four-day trip fully in charge to do it.

Next day, it was half six in the early Dublin morning when I woke up after a night of some drinks in town the night before and packed some clothes into my small carry on ( wishing I had done laundry some days ago, but that's a different story), had a energetic cup of black coffee and headed into town on my bike while the light rain kept giving me a heads up on the weather conditions for the next days.

And in College Green the city was waking up and I met the driver for the trip, good old school Denis. He came across very friendly and eager to meet our tourists which by the list I had been given the night before, looked like a completely different culture.
So, driver: check, snacks for the road: check, tour guide: check, tourist? Where were my tourists? Was just waiting by the Tourist Office while I would feel like asking to every Chinese person walking around if they were booked for a tour. At some point I even tried it and all I got was a very hostile "No, what do you want" from a Chinese man and his son.

After a phone call, I found out that all of them were waiting for me at Busaras (Bus Station) and some five minutes later I got to meet them all. Mo and Kelly, a Chinese couple that had been living in Dublin for ten years and Phoebe from southern China who was in Ireland on a business trip and had been booked an adventure trip before starting her work tour.

The Liffey was left behind as we took the motorway straight down south west for the first stop of the route: Moneygall, County Offaly. Now, this is a town with a funny story as a few months ago, this little quiet 300-and-something village in the Midlands was completely unknown after the "most powerful person in the world" position was taken by Mr. Barack Obama who happened to have some Irish background inside that genetic salad he has.
So his grand-grand-grandfather emigrated from this little village some centuries ago straight to Ellis Island and now, after Obama's official visit and extensive flattering to Ireland, the town was boosting with tacky American flags hanging off every pole and a new plate was revealed in front of the house where his grand-grand-etc used to make shoes.
Now, trying to explain that under the rain and wind was a challenge, so after a few snaps of the bar where he had a pint of Guinness and the house itself, we got into the bus and went to our next stop down the motorway, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park which we decided to give a go as in the end, we were all foreigners.

As we were all students (sic), we got a special price and there we were looking at the good old Irish costumes and the little cottages which made me think on how short people were back then (or they just wanted to exercise their hips all the time as the doors were tiny) and all the old furniture and machinery which we had fun playing and taking pictures with for a while.
Then it was time to explore the Castle which was home of the Lord of Ireland as far as I remember and the wealthy O' Briens (which are not related with the sandwiches as Mo had asked before) and after dodging all the Irish speaking kids we got to the top and a nice view of the Shannon was waiting for our camera lenses.

We left the flat Shannon area and the landscape suddenly changed as we were getting closer to our destination for the day, Lahinch on County Clare.
I had been to Lahinch once when I first got lost in this area with my German friends and the feeling of coming back was great, specially because back then when I saw the beach I thought it would be a great experience to surf in there and this time I was going to do it.

Weather was not helping this day and the wind was transforming the North Atlantic into a trap for rookie surfers so our surf lesson was postponed for the next day and we decided to go for lunch and then for a hike around the Cliffs of Moher area.
My calculations were not exactly right kilometers wise and we started our long walk up the road, with nice views of the Lahinch Bay and going uphill through villages like Liscannor where we had a pit stop to rest the legs a bit and then left the main road and walked through beautiful green fields, dodging the curious cattle who would get so close you'd think they would bite you and getting shocked by electric fences…the Irish way like most people would say.
And some hours later we were facing the south side of the Cliffs, where tourists don't get a chance to go to. It was a great feeling to know that we were the only tourists around and at some point we were just lost from the outside world (as my phone had died too) and we were just enjoying the landscape and the late evening sun who decided to appear adding some golden tones to the green pictures we were taking.
Turning around time and Mo, Kelly and Phoebe were showing clear signs of tiredness but their spirits were high enough when answering to the basic question: "Are you OK?".

We reached Liscannor again and we had some fresh fish and chips while waiting for a taxi to pick us up, kindly called by the friendly South African owner of this chipper in the middle of nowhere.
NIght had already reached the little surfing village and after a hectic day (and a five hour walk), pints were postponed for the next night and we went straight to our comfy beds.

Next morning we were up and after a light breakfast we were ready to face the drizzly conditions of a cold morning and the 13ºC strong North Atlantic for our surf lessons. Now I had surfed before so just needed a little mind refreshing and off I was on the water, wearing a thick neoprene layer and trying to catch some waves while Mo, Kelly and Phoebe were doing the same and taking some pictures in between while trying to stand on the board and conquer the many good waves on the Bay.
It was the first time I had ever been in such cold water for such long time and the wet suit was extremely helpful except for the times when for some reason a little stream of freezing water would get into the suit and would feel like a stab on the spine for a second before it would get warm…so, would I do it again? Can't hardly wait!

Then our lesson was finished, we had a quick lunch at the hostel (no I didn't cook, i had a sandwich instead) and our friendly driver Denis took us down the many roads through the countryside to The Burren area where we going to have our rock climbing lesson.
This was the first time all of us ever tried rock climbing so it was going to be definitely interesting and refreshing but wait, did I mentioned it was pouring rain and we had a very strong wind blowing from the sea? Now rock climbing shouldn't really be that hard if you have the right equipment and professionals supervising everything but the rain multiplied the difficulty factor b a few points.

I was always chosen as the first victim so after putting on all of the harnesses I was facing the wall and trying to fit my flat shoes into the different fends and using the strength on my legs to lever myself up to the top of the rock and thinking on how funny it was when you were on the safe ground and the rock wouldn't look tall and when you were up there hanging up and trying to remain glued to the rock it looked like you were hundreds of meters away from the ground.
Then it was time for Mo who climbed the rock very quickly and without difficulty, then Kelly who panicked a little bit when being up but still tried it and learnt how to properly climb rocks and then Phoebe who showed a fighter spirit and kept climbing, even though she was soaked and shivering.
It was a great experience and after climbing two more ropes it was time to go back to our warm transport and the guys collapsed tired until we got back to Lahinch for some rest on the hostel, as the weather conditions outside just got worse and any outdoor activity was officially canceled.

After a well-deserved mid afternoon "siesta", we were up and ready for some pints at the local pub where Phoebe had her first ever pint of Guinness ( she didn't like it) and we were just laughing about the experiences and things we felt during the day over some pints of beer and Irish cider. I even got to learn some basic swearing in Mandarin , important information for my next time in China.

Next morning we woke up a little late (because we earned it), and our transport was waiting for us outside the hostel for a long drive to Galway where we would spend our last night, but we would have stops along the way such as The Cliffs of Moher and Doolin.
When we reached the Cliffs , the weather was finally picking up and I guided my tourists through a different route, northside of the Visitors Centre where again, after dodging some cattle and crossing electrified fences we reached the beautiful edge with a view of the five rocks that give Moher its name, a view that not all the tourists enjoy and most importantly , the feeling of freedom as you would step by the edge with nobody annoying you or appearing on your pictures, situation that was inviting for a long photo shoot and a longer stop.
Then we went down the road to the little village of Doolin, important port of call for all Aran Island ferry services which was bubbling with tourists heading to the islands and a very rough sea hitting the docks and the sponge-like rocks where we sat for some minutes just to enjoy the view. To complete the experience, a friendly dolphin made his appearance which made the day of many camera holders hanging around.

Some two hours later we were in Galway City and must admit it felt refreshing to get back to civilization, stores and supermarkets for a bit. Just gave them some time-off so they could enjoy and shop (Phoebe got this idea very well) and the we would meet up later our last pints.
We were booked different rooms on the hostel so we could mingle with more people as well and I got the one sharing with nine more people which was great fun as I met an Aussie and two German girls who happened to be very fun and went for a walk along the Bay with.

Night time again and I met the Chinese for our last pints, hard thing to do when a very popular football match (Barcelona and Man U) was on and most people were watching it on practically every pub in town. Time to exchange Facebook addresses, e-mails and pictures as it was the last opportunity to chill out (and learn more swearing in different languages) before finally heading to the hostel for a night of not so tight sleep, if you don't believe me , ask me for the American girl who couldn't stop coughing for about four hours or the guys that were on Mo and Kelly's room that wouldn't stop snoring and farting. Oh well, that's hostel life for you.

Next morning and after a good bowl of cereal and toast with jam, we were on the M6 straight back to Dublin with a stop in Kinnegad to stretch the legs and have some water.
Back in Dublin a few minutes later, we said our good-byes with promises of meeting again at some point, whether it's gonna be in here , China or anywhere in the world.

Now off to some heavy laundry and house keeping like every good traveler does when he gets home and off to a new adventure very soon. I will keep you guys updated as usual.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

-- Hitchhiking --

Tired of a very busy week at the Storehouse and with the hand a little numb of drawing shamrocks on the pints of Guinness that amazed Americans (and tourists in general sometimes) would drink in awe, I saw myself very tired and with only one day-off to spend on a Sunday.

My Uruguayan friend who was craving to leave Dublin for at least one day and explore the country-island a bit further, convinced me through Facebook chat into going to Galway, a place I had been to at least three times since I'm settled in Ireland.
Thought it was a good idea, since the weather promised to be a little sunny and warm, signs of a pseudo-summer coming soon and needed to stay away from the murky Liffey.

And with a ticket price of only ONE euro on the early morning bus, we decided it was worth the hassle of waking up extremely early in the cold morning and head our way to Heuston Station to catch the bus.

Waking up was a hard one, but I admit that doing so when you are about to travel is quite refreshing. Put on my clothes, brushed my teeth and off I was to her house a few blocks away from mine and then hitting the road (or avenue) to the Station, some 3 miles away.
Once we dodged some drunk people and junkies, we caught the bus on time and fell asleep until after a couple of hours of smooth motorway, our bus was making its way into Galway Bay.

Weather was sunny but very windy and chilly so we went for a quick breakfast at...Mc Donald's (the only thing opened) and we wandered around town deciding what to do next.

I had been to the Cliffs of Moher once, the visit is even registered on this blog some two years ago but she hadn't.
When we found out about the bus fare to go there (about 20 Euros return trip), we knew it was time to get a little adventurous and go for the second best option in West Ireland...hitchhiking.

Grabbed a piece of cardboard from a local shop and with the best Industrial Designer abilities I could remember, I crafted a sign stating where we wanted to go...Doolin, base town for the Cliffs of Moher.
And we started our long 6 miles walk to the outskirts of Galway where we would start using our beloved sign and a thumb up trying to get a lucky lift.

At the beginning it looked hopeless, nobody would stop while we were walking down the road getting amused by curious cows and their biological show.
Half an hour later, a Dublin soul stopped and gave us a lift up the road to Kinvarra, where the main road ends and the main road to Doolin begins.
While we were heading that way , the guy told me about his childhood around the area and how things have changed. He was on a nostalgic driving around the area before heading back to his boring life in Dublin while remembering younger times when he used to hitchhike around the island or when he went backpacking to Peru some decades ago.

After being dropped on our first stop and some couple of minutes on the road, an Australian couple stopped and asked us if we had left our knives back in Dublin.
"G'day mate" started the whole thing as they were heading to the Cliffs of Moher, turning our hitchhike into an Express Service to where we wanted to go in the first place.
More and more talking as my Uruguayan friend was taking pictures and glancing the beautiful view of the Burren Region, the friendly retired Aussies were telling me about their adventure through Europe so far, the cheap Italian cottages, the cruise liners to avoid in the Mediterranean Sea and the little villages in France.

As we approached Moher, lots of memories came back to my mind. Mainly of a more innocent time and probably more hopeful.

And some two and a half hours later and no saliva left on my palate, there we were contemplating the magnificent Cliffs with the brave Atlantic Ocean roaring under us.
Nothing conventional about my trips of course, we crossed the fence where all the lazy tourists would stop and started to walk through the narrow trail (no vertigo allowed) while appreciating the beautiful views of a region that would never let you down if looking for inspiration.

Seagulls flying high and fighting the wind, the Arann Islands receiving tourist on the background and some scattered showers that would quickly dissipate revealing rainbows and light effects...the knee pain was worth the walk through it for sure.

Heading back to Doolin for our return journey, a donkey wouldn't let us go through a field and we had to go around it. It became my Uruguayan friend's best friend and laugh of the trip.

On the way back and with the sign turned around to a clumsy and tired "Galway", we got our first lift with a Israeli couple who gave us a small push to a crossroads where we would have more opportunities of getting longer lifts.
It wouldn't take five minutes and a self-proclaimed hippie gave us another short lift to Lisdoonvarna while giving us out some pointers on how to hitchhike successfully in these green lands.

Starving and thirsty already, we got our third and last lift after a few minutes from a nice young lad from Doolin who was studying in Galway and returning for his last exams.
He used to work on a bar back home, so the conversation was mostly around it while he would demonstrate on how highly skilled in the art of drinking Irish people are. (He wasn't drinking and driving , but a few minutes passed by very fast while he was explaining to me about his and his friend's drinking habits).
And we were back in Galway again, very tired and dodging the rainy patches. So we headed back straight to the bus station and caught the first bus back to Dublin.

Very busy day indeed, must admit that at the beginning I didn't really think we would make it all the way and at some point at the end of the day, it really felt like if we were traveling for days and not just for a few hours.

Anyway, back home and off to work first thing the next morning. Things are changing very fast nowadays and hopefully new adventures will happen in the near future. Maybe some flying in between?
I'll keep you people updated.