Monday, June 20, 2011

- Waves, Murals and Bogs -

And after two weeks of office job , organizing clippings, talking to hostels and walking around Dublin ,I had another tour booked to the beautiful Irish northwest region.

Now, I had never been around the area, so guiding a group of people through a place I didn't know was looking very challenging. Despite this, I woke up early that morning (or I didn't really sleep at all as my body clock was always wary of the time and not used to wake up that early anymore) and packed my little backpack for yet another road trip.

The van was already waiting besides College Green and our London driver was set to go. One of my tourists, named Peter, was also on the van ready to go and since I didn't have the exact number of bookings with me, we were waiting for a few minutes.
Then we headed to Busaras where the rest of the group met us. Pierce and Grace (who were not a couple, or were they?), Anne-Marie and Sam, both from Dublin and the Danish-filipino mixed Maria Elena.

Off the road, Dublin was left behind while we headed towards Kells, the stop that almost was and a quick pit stop in Cavan for some coffee, electronic cigarettes, and cereal bars.
As we were driving through Northern Ireland, a smoother road, a heavy rain and some beautiful scenery splashed with green mountains and lakes were welcoming our way to Donegal and our stop for the next two days, the surfers paradise named Bundoran.

As soon as we got our room keys and got introduced to the brilliant staff at the Bundoran Surf and Company, we grabbed a quick nibble before jumping on our wet and cold wetsuits and off for a ten-minute ride to a nearby beach.
The weather was great: slight wind and some showers approaching, so our introductory lesson was very quick, just the basics of how to hold a surfboard properly and the mighty one-step pop (because I just couldn't get the two-step one).

And the cold and brave North Atlantic was saying hello again while some freezing drops of water would slide through the wetsuit straight to my spine and two hours of intense current struggling and beautiful surfing started.
Waves were easily caught as the currents were strong enough to take our boards like pieces of paper and then, on one pop you would be ready to balance on it and just enjoy a ride all the way to the shore, otherwise, ask Anne-Marie who crashed her board with mine and we even got a chance to chat while we were dragged for hundreds of meters over the smooth waves.
Oh surfing under the rain is probably one of the best feelings ever, and as everyone was enjoying the struggle, a couple of hours flew by and we said our good-byes to the Ocean, promising that we would return very soon.

Back to the hostel, we decided it was time to chill a little bit and we decided to go for dinner (cheeseburgers against proper meals) and then some pints at the local pub while the sun refused to leave and kept shining until about midnight, creating one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my life, completed by some beers and life talking with Pierce and Grace.

The next morning we woke up early and the hostel staff drove us to the Benbulben area for a hike. Even the mountains had a surf theme as the biggest one actually does resemble a big green wave.
And uphill we went, crossing sheep-sparkled fields and heading our way into the valley until we reached a private road which we were very keen to follow for about another hour to the top of the mountain.
The peace of the mountain was priceless, at least for some minutes until the noise of machinery and a very friendly German guy interrupted it, making us realize about the big antennas being re-built at the top.
Downhill was easier and faster and without even noticing, we were catching the bus back into town. Even the girls who I thought were gonna whine, enjoyed it and didn't complaint at all.

Back in town, we had a little lunch (yes, I made noodles) and we went for the high ropes circuit at the adventure Centre.
Now this was something new for everyone and we started it by wearing our helmets and harnesses and abseiling we went.
Abseiling from a 40 feet tower was on my job description I think, but my body was refusing to understand it and after a few minutes of trying to lean all of my weight on a rope, I managed to descend enjoying it.
Then it was the turn of everyone on the group, very proud of the ones that even though were scared of heights did it.
Then rock climbing wall it was, which I thought it was very easy and enjoyable, with a bit of abseiling in the end and probably one of the activities that cracked the most laughs in the group.

It wasn't over there though as we had a final challenge, all harnessed it was time to balance on logs hanging at 40 feet high and I was the first victim.
How to do an activity when everyone is watching you and all you feel like is throwing up? Well, I don't know how to do it but I did it, even though every second felt eternal whilst on the pole gathering courage to make it through. My dear people dared to do it afterwards and Sam even did it twice!

Jokes and shivering aside, it was time to go to the hotel as everyone was dead tired and the aura was quite low. A great idea by the hostel staff to organize a little barbeque, we just bought some basic stuff, meat, burgers, sausages and a few hours later we were enjoying a very nice evening filled with laughs, beers, ultimate Fresbees, meat, sausages, candy and even vegetarian sausages!
Don't even get me started about the dance performances and the flower pot. Those are things that will remain in Bundoran.
After that lovely evening ,we went for some pints at the local pubs which proved to be a perfect ending to a very hectic day.
The next morning, a sunny weather was cracking, perfect for a last session of surf with short boards and loads of waves being caught, whilst part of the group was scoring points by playing mini-golf back in town.

Time to say good-bye to Bundoran...because the driver was ready to sail and a three hour drive was waiting for us.
Belfast was our next destination and we got there just when everything was closed. The hostel was good fun, but I must admit the staff was a little rude. I had been to Belfast before but there is a 'special' vibe on the city every time I go.

Some walking and we decided to have our 'last supper' at a lovely Italian restaurant near the City Hall where we shared experiences and we made plans for new meetings on our boring normal Dublin life (did I say boring?).
After dinner some of the guys went for pints and a gig in town which according to their words, seemed lovely and a great fun.

Next morning and it was time for the last leg of the race, Belfast to Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan for what I still think it was something completely surreal...Bog snorkeling.
On the way there we stopped by the different murals in the city, the Loyalists ones filled with pro-United Kingdom messages and a very negative housing state, then the Wall of Peace which divides the city in two and then on the otherside for a touch of Irish on the Republican side. The vibe is just terrible, something you would feel in places where you know something bad happened and the air is still thick.

So, back to the Bog-thigie. Had never heard of it and doing it looked like yet another challenge and after getting a bit 'location challenged' on those winding Monaghan roads we got into the place where a cold bog was waiting for us.
For those who don't know what a bog is, I'd say it's just a nice way to say 'smelly swamp shaped like a swimming lane'.
Cold wetsuits again, flippers and snorkels and there we were, swimming on the swamp trying to break World records (because apparently, they have them).
The courageous Maria Elena tried it and felt a little panicky halfway through but the main thing is definitely trying it, even though you need about one car wash-style bath and three full showers to take off the smell.

A couple of hours later we were heading our way into Dublin and I was actually very happy to be home. It was a very hectic weekend for all of us, but the combination of activities and a very vivid group created an excellent environment for great memories to be created and lots of Facebook comments for the next days.

I am off to bed now, my house smells like chocolate brownies that I didn't cook and I have just been told I am doing another tour to the West this week. Oh well...more posts to come then!. Have a nice week my readers.