Friday, August 26, 2011

-- Checkin' - In --

Scheduled for yet another Bundoran trip, I left the house early in the morning with the doubts of whether the coach was gonna show up or not. Not because there was a mix up, but because the inefficiency of my company's management was starting to show up.

I would still work my way around like I always did but this time, I was at the pick up point and no bus was there. Called my boss and she said she would handle it. Met three of my tourists, two from Dublin and one from France (but living in Ireland) and after waiting for a few minutes, we decided to walk to Busaras and meet the rest of the group.

Everyone was already there and must say that it was one of the most fun groups I've had. A group of three girls who went to college together, four lads that had their days of footy glory, a couple from Dublin and how could I forget, my dear Trudy who was sixty-something and really got me impressed.

Four-hour delay behind thanks to what it was stated before, and met my driver and now friend Rob and off we drove non-stop to Bundoran to make it in time for the surfing lesson.
We even set a new record and we got there in about two hours and forty five minutes!.

The sea was beautiful this time, very clear and clean, consistent and smooth waves and I was handed out a practically brand new board.
There is something about surfing that makes you completely addicted to it and even when your muscles are tired, you refuse to leave the water. Maybe the fact that you struggle against the current for long minutes just for a few seconds of glory when riding a wave. I don't know really.

Then it was time to relax and I was completely tired so went to bed quite early.

The next day we went for the hike and it was pouring rain, so for the first time we had to turnaround in the middle, going all the way up at this point was completely pointless as you couldn't see a single thing on the valley.
I decided it was better to postpone the high ropes for the day after as everything was gonna be wet and tricky and everyone had time off.

Some stayed at the hostel watching movies...I went surfing again! Probably the best surfing session I've had. Beautiful solid three hours of catching waves.

Back in the hostel and I cooked the barbeque which we all enjoyed. The group really bonded at this point and the day was closed with a visit to the local pub to have absurd amounts of cider and beer while watching sports and dancing (well, they did).

The next morning we had to wake up early and do the high ropes circuit. Now, most people did everything and I was used to it, but who really impressed me was our sixty-something Trudy who had said before the trip that she was just going to watch. No she didn't! She did every single exercise, jumped off the trapezes, crossed the balance beam, everything! I want to be like that when I am that age!

After that, it took us three hours to cross the island and Belfast welcomed us with that gray and sordid air. The city was still bubbling with Sunday shoppers and we had a lovely accommodation booked at Queens University.
I just went for a walk with the french/tunisian guy and we had coffee in Starbucks while trying to figure out the free wi-fi that never really worked on our iPhones.

We couldn't leave Belfast without having a last round of drinks, so we headed straight to The Crown Pub and fitted twelve people on a lounge for six. Perfect way of warming up before heading to the Botanical Gardens area for some clubbing and to see what Belfast had to offer at night time (wasn't that bad really) and I even think some new couples were created within my group.

The next morning, just had a light breakfast with sausages (still don't know who cooked it) and we left Queens behind and went to see the Titanic Quarter again and the murals on both sides.
It was rather sunny and my last memory of Belfast was actually a good one , thanks to the people I was traveling with.

Some three hours later and we were stopping at College Green in Dublin. The end of yet another successful trip.

Now, the nasty part:

The company hadn't paid my salary yet and they wouldn't even lodge 100 euro so I could survive during the trip. That was probably the last thing I wanted to know about them and two days later I found out, not because they told me but because I had access to our clients e-mails and got surprised when saw people replying to a message titled "Cancellation", that indeed the tours had been cancelled.

My boss, responsible for Experience Media/Lost in Ireland sent me a text (yes, a text) saying that the company had gone bust and someone would contact us about payments.
Some minutes later and got a waterfall of e-mails from providers that never got paid asking me if I could tell them something about the vague texts and e-mails they had received.

Ok, I was in trouble now and the first thing was damage control. So sent tons of CV's online and got called for interviews within hours.

I am still dealing with the big Experience Media/Lost in Ireland scam, and so are the providers, but I am also glad to see that my skills and what I like to call "professionalism" is still intact and my name is completely clear.

I am now working as a night porter on a hostel in Central Dublin and loving it. Night shifts remind me of long overnight flights a la Doha-Osaka and give me enough time to think and organize my next move as I am due to leave the Emerald Isle in November.

New stories will come up from this experience I am sure, and will keep you all posted about them.
The next months are also transition months and many things could happen. I still haven't a clue of where I'm going or what I am going to do.

Next week I am flying to Kerry for a short break and then off to London in September. November New York, Costa Rica and Brazil will see me (you gotta love frequent flyer miles) before I get to see my family for the first time in two years.

So, any ideas of what to do next? Even volunteering is crossing my mind.

Later my readers! That's my update from cold Dublin, where we had the shittiest summer in years now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

-- Strandhill Dunes --

Can't believe how busy the last weeks have been, I am starting to lose sense of time regarding my tours lately and mixing up beaches and hikes and people participating on them. Summer is still here but nearly over as it's getting rainier and uglier again reminding me that I actually live in Ireland.

Anyway, last week's adventure was in Strandhill, Co. Sligo, a beautiful surf spot designed to cater for the holiday seekers at the foot of a splendid green hill and a nice long sand strand with very strong winds and lovely sand dunes that frame the whole scenery.

It was a perfect spot for a relaxed trip, I was going as a passenger as we were going to work with some new people to lighten things up a bit on our side. Never happened.

I met the driverguide and my tourists at Busaras and College Green (then again everyone was on time and ready) and we hit the road again.
Four waterpolo players from North Dublin traveling together, a couple that was living in the UK, two former Soviet girls (one Latvian and one Ukranian) and two friends from Naas, Co. Kildare that used to work together.

Some hours ahead was our first stop: Carrick-on-Shannon, where we wandered around for a bit and took some snaps of the beautiful River Shannon and it's many yatchs.

A few minutes later we had arrived into Strandhill and the weather was just brilliant. Since the hostels were fully booked, we decided that for the first night we were going to camp. What an experience as the last time I camped was probably about seven or eight years ago and by now the memories of doing were all blurry. Imagine trying to set some tents then!
Then with all of that extra exercise, the four lads and me decided to hit the Ocean for some swimming, I couldn't believe that I didn't feel cold at all.

Few minutes later and the weather got miserable again: cold and rainy so the surf was also canceled.
So we decided it was going to be an afternoon of just have some time-off. Some of the tourists went for pints, some to go for a mountain bike cycle, some decided to get all dressed up and go to the Sligo Races and I decided to stay in town , wander a bit and relax.
A nice walk over the dunes and some beautiful snaps of an extremely dramatic sunset and we were all ready to have some dinner and then a nice bonfire to heat up the spirit in order to have the energies ready for the next day.
I reckon I went to my tent quite early as I was just tired and really needed to rest.

The next morning we woke up and it was time to tear down the camp site, have breakfast and put on the wetsuits: TIME FOR SOME SURFING!
Waves were perfect and very smooth, they were excellent for beginners and most of the people on my group were able to ride some waves and enjoy themselves, then again two hours just flew by and as the tide was raising and hitting the rocks heavily, that was our sign for leaving the water.

Some issues arise on the tour with our driver and after a little "I said-She said" situation, he left the tour and I was left in charge again.
Nothing against it, at some point I think I even like it as I reckon that working under pressure suits me better.

Trying to forget all of that, our rooms at the hostel were ready and we went for a little hike up the sand dunes, took several pictures and even rolled down the hill (it's on video) maybe trying to bring back some feelings from our childhood.

Barbeque followed and now was pouring rain, but after a little siesta (well, I didn't have it, they did), the moods were good enough for a nice piece of grilled meat and I wander, who wouldn't? that's a combo you can't beat unless you are a vegetarian.
We had food and drinks while looking at the dancing portable disco and then went to bed after a day of heavy physical activity.

Did I mention that we had planned surfing at 7 am the next day? And so did we! Must say that putting on a wetsuits at 7 in the morning when it's 7 degrees Celsius is a new feeling but completely worth it.
Surfing in the morning was peaceful, almost perfect, with just six or seven people in the water. Got to catch great waves and wake up from a five-hour sleep.

A few minutes after the surf session it was time to leave and our bus was ready for departure to take us to Galway via Cong.
It was a smooth drive that took us down to County Mayo until our first top, the little village of Cong in the heart of the Connemara Region.

The place was stunning with cristal clear water streams and rivers, the different tones of green, giant sequoias waving and a beautiful well-groomed castle.
Then we drove through Connemara and reached Galway a couple of hours later. All I know is that at some points of the drive, I just felt like hopping off the bus and walking around the area with my backpack. It's absolutely beautiful and can't wait to go back on my own with time to walk and possibly camp.

Galway welcomed us again and it was time to chill out again at the accommodation. Trip was almost over and I just bought loads of junk food while the girls went for a boat trip and the lads were watching the Gaelic Football match.

Town was bubbling with tourists again and a lovely warm evening couldn't just go by without heading into town and have a pint of Bulmers before bed.
Next morning it was time to take the bus and travel non-stop to Dublin. Moods and bodies were already craving for some rest at home.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

-- The Burren & Races --

Been quite hectic for the past weeks as I am now running one trip a week , which leaves me with only three days-off to do all the laundry, organize my life in Dublin in general ,pay bills, drink insane amounts of coffee and be boring.

Again at 8am of another rainy and dull Dublin day I was meeting my passengers and (again) my good ol' driver Rob for an adventure trip to Lahinch and Galway. That had been my first trip when I started working for the company some weeks ago and I was looking forward to go back again as the towns themselves are very friendly and we don't really have to leave the Republic and face currency conversion, mobile roaming charges, etc.

So the first ones I met were an Irish woman and her daughter, they were traveling together looking for a weekend of fun and bonding. And nobody else had showed up at College Green, so we decided to go to Busaras where, for the first time, everyone was ready and waiting for the pick-up.

Backpacks in and little introductions: a couple consisting on an Irish girl and an Australian boy who had met down under in sunny and hot Darwin, six girls from Leixlip, Co. Kildare who were traveling together and had been friends since before the Euros were known in this island and two guys from Dublin looking for some outdoor activities and to see the Cliffs of Moher for the first time.

Naas Road behind and we took the motorway for our first stop: Moneygall, Co. Offaly, a town in the middle of nowhere that practically hit the jackpot when Obama took the power of Consumismland. Time for some snaps "a la Obama" with cardboard cuts of him and everything and then hitting the road again straight to Lahinch for some rock climbing.

When we did the rock climbing on The Burren last time, it was pouring rain which made the climb extremely hard and cold so the sunny and dry weather this time really made a difference as the climb was brilliant.
We tried three different climbs with a twist of difficulty on each wall and must say I loved it.
The fresh air, the way you have to use your brain to think where is the safest spot to grab onto or to step onto and nature in general.
I think we all enjoyed and even some of the girls who had assured to me that they were afraid of heights terribly, were seeing climbing the rocks without hassle and enjoying the view of the Atlantic Ocean below us at that time of the afternoon.

Outdoor activities always make you hungry and tired so we headed back to Lahinch and we had some time off for walking around the beach, which was packed with tourists and wander around.
The boys went for a walk to the Spanish Point which proved to be extremely far and I went for a walk on the beach with an add-on of SURFING! (Thanks to the staff of Ben's Surf Clinic) who kindly borrowed me a wetsuit and a board and I rode waves until my body was craving for a decent meal and a bed.

Of course not everything happened as when I got back to the hostel, I got engaged into a conversation with a guy from Nenagh and a Spanish girl who was working in Lahinch for the summer (bit of a free spirit) and guess what...they cook me dinner!
Well, off for some pints at the local pub later where we enjoyed a nice session of Folk music and some Irish cider and then off to bed for day two...

... Early morning surf session! Waves were small but consistent so it was perfect for my group to have the lesson and then off to the water (which felt incredibly warm by the way) to catch some good waves for a few hours.
I even got some advices on how to improve my "surfing" so it was truly enjoyable. Then again, I think everyone really enjoys it because after having it, all I can here is "I'm gonna buy my own surfboard", kind of like when you are a kid and see someone singing, hence you want to be a singer too.

Sunburnt face, lunch and the bus broke down when we were trying to go for the hike around the Cliffs of Moher, so we decided to have some time off to rest the arms and legs after being battered by waves for hours and have the barbeque in the afternoon.
I just went for a walk on the beack with my new Spanish friend with the funny accent and comments and the Aussie guy for some beers and dipping into the cold water which was not feeling as warm as in the morning now (maybe because we were not wearing the bloody wetsuits) and then just chillin' out with beers until the barbeque was set.

Oh the amount of food we had, but the weather was brilliant and the atmosphere very relaxed as the hostel was filling out with people staying for the weekend. So we just were around the tables eating and chatting until late night and then went for some pints at "the local bar" again and off to bed as everything was closing quite early.

Next morning was time to say good-bye to Lahinch and head to the Cliffs of Moher for the walkaround. Must say I had never seen the area so quiet in all of my times there. No wind whatsoever! No waves, nothing!, perfect for walking with my group and getting stunning pictures of the area while they were seeing the other side of the beautiful 400 metre fall.
Crowned the Queen of Surf for the trip there, sat at the edge and just admired the landscape as we walked towards the Visitor Centre for some hot chocolate and had to wait for the bus to work again to pick us up.

Then a drive to Galway while North Clare was left behind and town was booming with people due to the Races being hold over the weekend.
People wearing suits and fancy dresses all around town while drinking pints of beer or cider on the street, people cheering horses and making bets. It was a nice enviroment and after leaving our luggage at the accomodation, we plunged straight into it for some lunch (read pizza) and cider to wind up a bit as the trip was practically over.

I can't say I went out that night, I was dead tired so I walked back to the accommodation and had a nice of chillin' out and Skype. I know for a fact that my passengers went out and enjoyed themselves as it was reflected on their faces the next morning when the bus was packed and ready for the trip back to Dublin.

Not a word. Quiet journey back as most of people were just reading or sleeping. Quick stop in Kinnegad to leave the Aussie & Irish combo and we were back in the good old Fair City.

I had my days-off and did nothing, so today I had to do my laundry, clean the apartment, get things sorted out, meet some friends who arrived from London last night and write posts as tomorrow, Strandhill awaits me!
Until the next post lads!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

-- Trapezes & Surf --

Another trip to Bundoran and I was again taking the bus into town (couldn't cycle because of the rain) to meet my driver Rob, which had previously been on my previous trip to the North.

One of my tourists was already waiting inside the bus, she was Hungarian and had been in Ireland for a bit, kind of an adrenaline junkie to be honest.
Nobody else had appeared in College Green and we went to Busaras to meet the rest of the group, mostly people traveling in pairs: an Irish girl and a french girl who used to have a friend in common and are not friends with anymore, two lovely middle-aged women from Dublin and a couple from Blanch who came across very friendly...nobody had ever surfed or rock climbed in their lives before.

Some curious fact about this trip is that most of them were into photography and had very expensive and professional equipment to face the beautiful landscapes of the North.

And after having some troubles locating all of them under the rain ,we drove off Dublin and hit the road for our first stop, the Monastic Site of Kells.
It was my first time there and the place had another group of tourists. It reminded me a lot of Kilkenny to be honest, many ancient headstones and old Celtic crosses. This was the place where the famous Book of Kells was originated so I guess the historical weight was also very important , even though it wasn't really my turf.

After some snaps under the drizzle, we continued our trip to the North with stops in Cavan for a quick snack, Enniskilleen for views of the lake and Ballyshannon for lunch.
Since surf was not good and things in Bundoran were not ready yet, we went straight to the Benbulben for some heavy hiking.
It was very warm and the changing Irish weather looked a bit indulgent to us as when we reached the top of the mountain, the view was absolutely clear and the ocean was showing some amazing shades of silver and blue while we were taking all the pics we could as nobody was around the antennas and we had a beatiful 360 degrees view of the region.

Hiking down was also very nice, even though my knees were already asking for a break and we headed back to the hostel for some well deserved time off and rest.
Most of us were very tired and just went for something quick for dinner, saw the sunset and went straight to bed in preparation for the famously hectic second day.

And as we woke up very early and after a light breakfast, we were bussed to the beach for SURFING!!! All I know is that it was a lovely sunny day and the waves were calling my name.
The group had the basic lesson and then off to the water. I could see how they were trying to catch the waves and what a great time they were having while doing it. The weather was just perfect for it.

Two and a half hours of getting battered by powerful waves later, we had our lunch and walked into the Adventure Centre for the...high ropes!
The instructor this time was very funny and made sure we had a great time in there. The rockclimbing wall is always a good laugh and see people struggling with their stamina and fears to get to the top is very fun.
The girls had no problems with getting up really, nor the couple and even our driver tried it and reached the top.
Arms a bit tired and we did the abseiling which I really enjoy but still can't get used to after a gap of weeks without trying it, although I must admit that now I am very comfortable with it.

And of course the reason of many laughs: the trapezes. Now, I had tried that one before and struggled to actually pull off that shaky telephone pole and grab the trapezes but must admit that this time was easier and very enjoyable. Even had it taped and now available on my YouTube channel.
Most people on our group jumped. The french girl gathered courage after seeing us jumping and finally made it in the end, but the jump that made our day was from our friend Bernie who, after climbing the pole and standing on it, took about ten minutes to jump off after all the cheering from the group forty feet down the ropes and after about twenty false attempts of jumping.

Then it was time for the classic afternoon barbeque, a perfect opportunity to bond and to mingle with other people staying in the hostel, including a French guy who was working there for the summer and a group of Brazilian tourists who had brought half a cow to grill and made it all very enjoyable.
Since most people on the group were very into photography, we decided to go all together to watch the famous sunset while the camera shutters wouldn't stop clicking until the sun said its good-bye and it was time for us to go to bed after a hectic and long day.

Next morning we drove up north to the border and Strabane welcomed us to Northern Ireland. An hour later and we were at the Giant's Causeway with yet another day of beautiful sunny weather, perfect to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the site.
The sea was very calm and the air so clean that you could even see Scotland from there while the sea bottom was showing different tones of blue and emerald green.
Then we drove to the Rope Bridge where I relaxed on the "beach" for a while as I refuse to pay ten pounds Sterling to see a bridge.

Belfast was our next stop and after locating our hostel, we had time off to go for some shopping in Victoria Square, enjoy an outdoor movie at the City Hall or just relax around the city which by that time was bursting with people.
Then we decided to go for a pint at the famous The Crown pub in front of the infamous Hotel Europa (target of many bombing attacks) to close the day.

After that I just went back to the hostel and relaxed for the night, as the next morning we left the hostel early for a tour of the Titanic Quarter, birthplace of the Titanic, where I admit I felt like a kid in a candy shop when watching the gigantic pool where the steel floating fortress was built and then to see the not so cheering murals (both sides) where my tourists enjoyed themselves by taking many pictures and learning about them thanks to a very interesting history lesson featured by our driver Rob.

Two and a half hours later, Port Tunnel was welcoming us into Dublin. Promises of get together reunions were made as well as some of getting wetsuits and try surfing themselves. I am happy to know they enjoyed it. Next post: Lahinch/Galway! Haven't done one of those in quite a while.