Friday, September 5, 2008

ANNASCAUL TO DINGLE

ANNASCAUL TO DINGLE

Finally a van pulled up, and Douglas let me in. He was in his late 50's or early 60's, and there was a dog in the back. I think he was a vet. He told me he had come to Ireland with his wife for a visit 10 years ago and never left. Let this be a warning to be careful when visiting Ireland. You might stay.

He took me about 10 miles down to the next stop, and I said good-bye.

I stood on a sparse hill that seemed to be in the middle of Nowhere. Or perhaps on the outskirts of Somewhere. There was a community centre to my left, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you where the community was that apparently required a center. I didn't mind, though, because I was able to find a bathroom next to an empty schoolhouse. I tell ya, nothing's finer than a toilet when you really need one.

I came out of the bathroom and began walking in the direction I wanted to go. The traffic was as sparse as the landscape.

Finally a nice, big, beige, expensive, old person's car slowed down. I introduced myself and Sylver said hello. I didn't get to talk to Sylver too much. Sylver didn't say too much, though he did have a pretty cool name. We mostly listened to Irish talk radio. Today people were complaining about the Irish airline Aer Lingus. Apparently, they had mistakenly posted prices on their website as being $10, and a bunch of people bought tickets and were now angry that they were asked to pay the correct price.

Perhaps I caught him on the wrong day, but he seemed to be one of those decent kind of folks who enjoys listening to people complaining about nothing. Sylver was a decent enough fellow. After all, he picked me up, and that says something. In any case, he took me to Dingle, which is where I was trying to go, and I was very thankful for him.

Dingle is a coastal town. There are a lot of tourists there, but for good reason: It's beautiful. I wish there were more words than 'beautiful' to describe beautiful things. I'm kind of tired of using it, but that's how many beautiful things I saw.

I found my way to the boardwalk and took it all in. Gulls flew overhead or sat one-legged upon the pier. The wind blew strong, and the sun came out for a moment here and there to illuminate the reds and blues of the old fishing boats. Slowly the clouds began to part as I walked along the docks. I found my way to a rocky quay to look out upon the ocean waters. I heard there was a dolphin named Fungie who has called this bay home since 1984. As I reached for my pipe and tobacco, I scanned the waters, but caught no sign of him. “Just how long do dolphins live, anyway?” I thought.

Struggling to keep my lighter going long enough to light my pipe, I crouched down against a rock until my pipeweed took flame. I stood and drew a puff at the pipe my father gave me. It fit my hand well, and the bowl felt warm against the ocean wind.

“I'm here.” I said quietly. “God has brought me here.”

There was more wind, a consistent sun, gulls adrift on the air, and the sounds of fishermen at work.

“God has brought me here.”

I sighed deeply. Life is incredible sometimes. All you have to do to notice just how incredible it is, is see something you haven't seen before. I'm sure the residents of Dingle don't wake up every morning in awe of the place in which they live. Well, maybe they do. I don't know. But perhaps if they came half way around the world and saw the California coast, they too would be reminded of the immensity of life.

I thought of my family. My father. My mother. My brother. A warmth refreshed me from the inside out. I strolled back down to the boardwalk and was greeted by a little black-and-white sheep dog. I was reminded of Dick The Salesman as I patted his head and said hello.

I walked on back to the main part and finally caught a glimpse of Fungie the Dolphin. He was playing around by the bench in front of the tourist centre. Well, at least a representation of him was. The life-sized bronze statue captured his plucky, dolphinious spirit perfectly.

Alas, my bags were getting heavier, so it was time to find my bed for the night.

As I walked into the tiny downtown area, I noticed just how many tourists were here. Gaudy looking middle-aged ladies in big sunglasses, pointing at things with confused looks. Husbands of the gaudy looking ladies who had been dressed by their wives. The town was bustling with, well, people like me. Of course, I mentally distanced myself from the other tourists as much as I could, but ultimately I was not a local. I was one of “them”.

Eventually, I was directed by one of the locals to check out The Grapevine hostel. I checked in, and unloaded my increasingly heavy backpack upon the bunk I was to sleep in that night. But of course, before the night was over, a pub would be on fire.

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( I know. Cheap device to get you to come back and read more. Oh yes, and dolphins can live to be about 50 years old. A.A.)



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Thursday, June 19, 2008

CROMANE TO ANNASCAUL

This may be what it will be like when I die and awake in heaven:

Bright, white, clean sheets. Sun filtering through gently curtained windows, politely telling my eyes It's time to get up. There's an adventure to be lived today.

I slept well, and I awoke refreshed. This may seem inconsequential to most, but for me, this is a rare and delightful gift. I showered, put on freshly washed clothes, and followed the scents of breakfast down to the kitchen. The three of us ate a delicious breakfast. Eggs and bacon and sausage were involved. It was lovely.

It was also time to be moving on.

The three of us hopped into the little car and made our way into the nearby town. We came to a good spot for catching a ride at the edge of town, and said some warm good-byes. I grabbed my backpack and shoulder bag and waved as Mark and Carol-Ann drove out of sight. I walked a block or two with my left thumb outstretched.

Soon a little car pulled up. A 50-ish man was inside. He had kind eyes and a frumpy suit, which means it was a suit that used to look good, but was now comfortable (You can't have it both ways, gents). He cleared his open briefcase from the passenger seat and bid me to sit. It was apparent that this humble little car was also his office.

“Thanks,” I said as I sat down. “I'm Aaron.”

“I'm Dick,” he said as we pulled out onto the road.

Dick and I drove for a long time. I think he was one of my favourite rides. He was a talker, but not an obnoxious talker. He was a kindly, and not at all a self-important type.

We drove along thin, Irish roads at a speed that, only a week before, might have been alarming. I had realized early on that the Irish have a different pace on those skinny roads, but they are very aware and conscientious drivers. I told him about my trip so far, and mentioned that I'd gone to mass at the Black Abbey in Kilkenny.

“Are you Catholic?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Ah,” he said with a smile.

“I try to go to mass two or three times a week,” says Dick. “I'm not trying to say I'm holy, but I think it's important to go to mass. It's important to pray. I pray for people while I'm there, you know? And it works. It really does.”

He told me about a man he knew long ago who was a desperate alcoholic. His wife was too. Dick prayed for him “Every day. Well, maybe not every day. But often, and whenever I went to mass.” Life took the friends in separate directions, but Dick continued to pray for him. Years later, he got a call from a stranger who said, “Do you know who this is?” It turns out it was this man and his wife had been sober for several years. “It really works.”

I could tell that Dick would the kind of person who would be a good friend, like one of those little black-and-white shepherd dogs. The kind of person who is faithful in prayer is the kind of person who is faithful in friendship. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he's at mass right now, saying a prayer for me.

We came to the place where Dick was heading in a different direction than where I needed to go. I shook his hand. He was a good man with a good handshake. I stepped out of the car.

“God bless, Dick!” I said as we parted ways.

'God, bless Dick.' I prayed as he turned and drove away.

I was near the outskirts of another small town. I suppose in Ireland, that's called an average-sized town. With only 6 million people to fill the country, it has kept it's small towns. They seem to be what keeps Ireland alive and charming. There was an auto body shop to my left, and as I walked past it, I pooped my pants as the guard dog suddenly started barking. I believe he was asking his owner to please let him have a piece of me. Thankfully, I could hear the owner telling him to be quiet. And no, I didn't actually poop my pants.

I stopped just past the last house in town, beside yet another green, open field and set my bags down. Several cars passed until a little blue hatch-back pulled up just beyond me. It was chock full of stuff. I saw a suit case, clothes and blankets piled up in the back seat. There was a lot of stuff on the passenger's seat to clear off.

The driver, a slim man in his late 60's asked me, sincerely, “Do you want to wait for another ride?” referencing the mess.

“Oh no,” I smiled, “This is fine!”

I climbed in and introduced myself to the bald man with glasses. “Robert,” he said. “Or Bob.”

Robert was pretty cool. Born and raised in Ireland, Bob had been married and raised children in this beautiful country, but had never really seen it for himself. He had never travelled. So, the widower decided to pack his things in his car and see this country of his.

And what a country it was.

My drive with Bob was one of the most beautiful I'd had yet, and that's saying a lot. We drove along hillsides into the mountainous regions of County Kerry. This country did not stop taking my breath away. I began to see the forty shades of green that our friend Johnny Cash sang about. Green turned to an earthy brown as hills became mountains. Stone fences rolled along the terrain and over distant peaks.

We came upon an open vista overlooking a green field with sheep, and the mountains in the distance. Bob pulled over to get some shots. He had an old-fashioned camera, one which actually used “film” to store pictures. He even had to place the viewfinder right up to his eye. I marvelled at this archaic technology. Bob was concerned about not just taking pictures, but getting the right shot.

"I could use this as a foreground,” he said as he motioned towards the old fence and field in front of him. “with those mountains in the back.”

“This is incredible,” I said. I surreptitiously switched my digital camera to video, and got the perfect shot of Bob trying to get the perfect shot.


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It really was incredible. Cottages and farm houses pierced the green here and there, as sheep grazed with their young through the farm land. I snapped a few more pics, and we got in the car and drove on.

Bob was a talker, too. He had some great stories. One of them involved driving down a back road in the middle of the night, in Australia, and crashing into a kangaroo. The car was undriveable, the 'roo did not live (sorry), and Bob had an adventure trying to get to the next town.

Robert took me as far as Annascaul, population 271. I waved good-bye, and Bob drove on to his next adventure.

God bless Bob.

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I walked past lonely shops, down the hill to the edge of town, across a bridge, and around a bend. Men chatted and smoked and laughed outside the local pub. I set my bags down by the side of the road, and remembered hunger.

“Sandwiches!” I thought. Carol-Anne had prepared some sandwiches for me that morning. I opened up my backpack and found the zip-locked bread. As I ate, I wondered how long it would be before my next ride.

Annascaul. A small town with not much traffic.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Cashel To Cromane: Part Two

“It's really friggin' cold,” I said to myself.

I had been standing outside at Moll's Gap for some time, hoping for a response to my outward-stuck thumb. Just then, a car with a couple in it pulled up. They slowed down. Hope rose within me. Then came the apologetic look on the young, bearded man's face. It said, “Sorry, we're just pulling into the parking area.”

Dang.

I remained standing as the couple walked past me and into the shop and cafe. We exchanged smiles. My backpack got heavier.

I stood for a few minutes more, with no takers. The cafe stood there, too. All nice, with its inside having no howling Irish wind whatsoever. The debate for a hitcher in this situation is always this: Do I go inside and warm up? It's so nice in there. But what if while I'm in there, the car of my dreams comes along, and I miss the all-important ride?

It wasn't much of a debate. I was very cold. Besides, what if I met my ride inside?

I walked up the steps and in through the glass doors. Oh my. It was so very inside in there. No wind. No cold. Only dresses and sweaters and trinkets to buy, and toilets to go pee in, and a cafe upstairs. I lugged my backpack and book bag upstairs, and stood at the counter.

Pies. Scones. Chocolate. Tasty things. All under glass, looking lovely. But what I really wanted was a nice, warm drink.

The cashier and I small-talked, while the couple that had apologetically passed me by sat with their goodies.

“I'm trying to get to Kenmare,” I said as I looked over the pies, “but no luck yet.”

“Well take some time to warm up here.”

“Yeah. You know, I think a hot chocolate sounds pretty good right now.”

While the Cafe Lady prepared my drink, I set my bags down at a table a short distance from the apologetic couple. Oh, the simple pleasure of setting down a heavy load.

I paid for my hot chocolate, and delicately carried her back to my table. I call this hot chocolate “her” because, in that moment, this was no ordinary hot chocolate. Tastefully poised with hunk of solid chocolate resting gracefully upon a bed of pure, white, whipped cream, she was a classy, tasty lady. Even the overflowing goodness running down her sides only made her more appealing.

I sat with a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys below. Thankfulness for my life and the fullness thereof rose to the surface. I reached into my book bag, and pulled out my Bible to read and re-read a psalm that took on more meaning for me with each passing day.

The 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze;
to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength.
You guide me along the right path
for the sake of your name.
Even though I walk through a dark valley,
I fear no harm for you are at my side;
your rod and staff give me courage.

You set a table before me
as my enemies watch;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overfl...

Tap, tap.

I look up over my shoulder and up at the apologetic lady. She spoke with an English accent and said, “Excuse me, did I hear you say you're trying to get to Kenmare?”

“Uhm... Yes. Yes I am.”

“Would you like a ride?”

“Sure! Are you going that way?”

“No, but we can take you there. It's only 10 K.”

“Thank-you!”

My cup overflows.

I walked with them to their little car, and climbed in the back seat. As we drove along, we began to get to know each other.

Mark and Carol-Ann were from London, and they were here in Ireland on vacation. They had fallen in love here 10 years ago, and were revisiting some of the places they had been. They were so warm and friendly. I was suspicious of something...

I told them about my journey so far, how I was getting around, the hostels I was staying at, and the conversation came around to what I did back home.

“I work with a group called Youth With A Mission...”

“Oh! YWAM!” came the response from the front seats.

I knew it. My suspicions were correct. These people were admitted Christians. They went on to tell me they had many friends who had been involved with YWAM.

We were now nearing Kenmare, and Carol-Ann seemed to be asking Mark something with her eyes. She seemed to get an answer.

“We're staying in a rented house just over in Dingle Bay,” she said somewhat tentatively, “It has four bedrooms and we're only using one. Would you like to stay with us tonight?”

“Does Johnny hate Jazz??? Of course I would you beautiful, crazy Brit!!!”

Well, I didn't quite say that. I said something like, “Um, well, I would not refuse a kindness. I'd love to!”

And so we drove through downtown Kenmare, the town I had thought was my destination, passing the hostels, where I might have stayed that night. We eventually came to the very small town, well, more like an ocean-side settlement of nice houses called Cromane.

We pulled into the driveway of the house. Palm trees swayed in the evening breeze. Yes, palm trees.

The car stopped, and the cool evening air greeted me as I climbed out from the back seat. Mark unlocked the side door, and we walked into the house. Oh my, it was nice. A great big, kitchen with a wood stove. A family room with a fireplace. A sitting room. And then, upstairs.

Bedrooms. A sitting room with a view of the bay. There was my bedroom. A great big Queen sized bed covered in an inviting white comforter sat across from a lovely, oh-so-private bathroom. I almost cried.

I showered and shaved while Mark and Carol-Ann prepared dinner. I put on some fresh clothes and came downstairs for dinner. I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine, and quietly rejoiced at the fact that though I was wearing my last clean pair of undies, there would be fresh ones waiting for me in the morning.

Supper smelled delicious, and tasted just as good. We laughed and told stories. Later we sat in the living room and got a little fire going. They told me about how they met in church, and then how they began to fall in love a few years later on a motorcycle trip through Ireland.

It was past midnight when we called it a night.

I slipped into my soft, warm bed. It was so soft, so warm, so... bed. I couldn't believe that all of what had happened today had in fact happened in a single day. From Cashel, to Killarney, to Kenmare and to Cromane, the Lord was my shepherd.

There was nothing I lacked.

From Cashel To Cromane, Part One

I am back in California now, and there are still plenty of stories to tell about Ireland. I would really like to get as many of them down as possible, but I know myself. If I set out to write out each day chronologically, I won't get far. So I'll tell them as they come to me. Some time later, my editor can arrange them. I'll be the best storyteller I can be.

I woke up in Cashel on a bright, Wednesday morning. I stayed in what was definitely the nicest hostel I'd been in. I said good-bye to Roger, a lonely Canadian man I'd met the night before. Of course, his story is another story. I attempted to give him a little Good News Gospel of Luke, but he bolted. "I'm not religious!" PING! (that was a bullet-like sound effect of him running.) I don't often attempt such blatant things, but I figured there's a time for it. Oh well. We're called not to succeed but to try.

I walked for perhaps thirty minutes through the small town of Cashel to the other side, where I was hoping I'd get a westbound lift in the direction of Killarney, perhaps through Tipperary. Whether it was a long way there would depend on my fortunes in thumbing. My goal was to reach the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful coastal range that everyone told me I had to see.

The last time I hitched, I had purchased a red marker that didn't really work, and made a little maple leaf on a piece of cardboard. It's good to let people know you're a visitor, and not just a local axe murderer.

I walked to a roundabout, and put out my thumb, with my maple leaf proudly displayed. Hmm.... Not... much... traffic... here. Maple leaves won't help the traffic pick up, will they. Well, I trust in the Lord, not traffic patterns, right? I thought I just felt like walking anyway, so I stuck out my thumb and walked.

Nuthin'.

Eventually I came to another roundabout, with a sign pointing in the direction of Tipperary. Aha. More traffic here. Very good.

Soon a little red car pulled over. As I approached the door, I noticed the driver grab a small, wooden stick from the back seat and put it next to him. It looked like a coffee table leg. Now, I would have been more concerned if not for remembering my friend Jimmy. This is exactly what he would have done. Safety first. This guy doesn't know if I'm a psycho.

Stephen turned out to be a good man. Serious, but friendly. I even noticed him cross himself quickly as we passed a church. We chatted, and he mentioned what almost every person who picked me up mentioned. "I used to hitch a lot." He got me as far Tipperary without beating me to death. It was not such a long way, after all.

After just a few minutes, a great, big lorry rolled up. "Sweet!" I was hoping I'd get a ride in a big rig some time. I climbed in and was greeted by a young man with a strong brogue named Eddy. We talked, and he took me to Limerick. Ah, Limerick. If only I'd known what would happen in Limerick just a few days later.

I climbed out of Eddy's truck, and walked to the other side of the roundabout, and under an overpass. I waited for about 20 minutes, holding my little cardboard maple leaf, standing by a big road sign, my finger pointed at "Killarney: 120 km".

A little van pulled over, and I hopped in. He was going all the way to Killarney. Thank-you, Lord.

David was a working man. His business was glass and glass installation. His company provided the windows for one of Ireland's major airports, and he received a few phone calls while we drove.

David's wife and daughter lived in Germany. Though the split was amicable, a split is still a split. We talked about hitching, and how few people do it anymore.

"Just ten years ago, you used to see people thumbing all the time, but now everybody's got their own car. No one does it anymore. The country's changed. People are more materialistic now. You gotta have the house and the car and all the nice things. All that gets you is a separation and a daughter in another country."

I had a really good time with David. We stopped at a petrol station, where he bought me a coffee and a chocolate bar. Later on we stopped at a lookout point to take a couple pictures.

We eventually pulled into Killarney, a place where Bing Crosby claims it is good to spend Christmas, and David asked a cabby where the tourist office was. He figured that would be the best place for me to find my way around from. I half wanted to invite him to hang out for a while, but he had a client he had to see. I stepped out of the van and grabbed my bags. A solid handshake later, David was pulling away.

I approached the tourist office to figure out where the heck I should go. I knew I needed to see the Ring of Kerry, but it's big and I didn't know where to begin. The girl at the desk pointed me in the direction of Kenmare, a small town at the edge of the Ring. There would be hostels there.

And so I was walking out of town again, thumb poised for a hitch. I stood next to a field where a lone horse casually ate his grass, and only gave me a passing glance. It took a while, but I was quite surprised when the person that decided to pick me up was a girl with a toddler in the back.

Sasha had done a lot of hitching, so she wasn't afraid of picking me up. We drove one of the windiest roads I'd been on, which is saying a lot. It was a breathtaking drive through thick trees, beside mountains, and next to rivers. Sasha and her son got me as far as Moll's Gap, a place on a mountain where the road divides.

It was very, very windy and cold.

I put the flaps down on my old newsies cap, stood by road, and hoped for the best.

Little did I know, that the best was yet to come.

Shepherding



So I've been in lovely Glendolough for a couple days. I did some work for them, and they gave me a free bed. It's an amazing place. But that's another blog.

Yesterday, I went to a small mass in a small church, and a lovely young Irish woman sang the 23rd Psalm, and I nearly cried. But again, that's another story.

After mass, I walked back to the hostel, gathered up my things and said good-bye to Trish, Tara and Pam. I walked up to the crossroads, stuck my thumb out and then the second car picked me up. And really, it was the first viable car, as the first one was a single lady. Pretty cool. Mick, a white-haired Irishman with a smallish black dog in the back, drove me for 45 minutes or so, and we had good conversation and enjoyed the scenery.

Next, I waited near a gas station for 20 minutes before Eddie picked me up. Divorced father of 7, his oldest son was 22 when he died. Drowned, and had been missing for 10 days. Murder is suspected. He's in court to try to see his other children. Nice guy.

Eddie dropped me off, and then I had the longest wait in my hitching career. It was probably at least an hour or more. It started off very nice and sunny and I was standing by a green field with lambs scampering about. Then the rain came, and they sky darkened. I don't expect cars with women or children to stop, but single guys? Come on! Help a brother out! I was not despairing, but I was starting to figure out what I needed to do if it got too dark and I was stranded. There was a farmhouse whose door I could knock on. "Just tell me what to do, Lord." "Stick your thumb out."

A young guy in a working-mans sporty car drove by. Then I heard a beep. There he was. God's Servant in a blue sports car. I hopped in and Djyann gave me a ride. I actually have little idea what his name was. His accent was so thick, I couldn't quite get it when I tried to repeat it back. It could be Dan, or Dean, or Dirty Diana for all I know. Anyway, he was a nice guy. He let me off in the next town, where I found a washroom in a gas station and bought a cup of coffee. The sun was out again.

I looked out from a hillside view of the beautiful small town and its big, old, stone church just across the way. I sipped my coffee and smiled. After 15 minutes or so, a nice little grey car pulled up, and I jumped in. David, as I later learned his name, was a well-kept man. Actually, he looked a bit like Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, but pleasant and without the weird bleeding-tears thing. We talked, and I told him all about my work back home, my friends, and my life. He took me all the way to Kilkenny.

As we're pulling into town, he asks, "Would you like something to eat? My treat?"

So we went to a nice old hotel in Kilkenny, and I had fish and chips. Steady conversation for a long time, and then desert and before I could say a word, an Irish coffee. Mmm. We walked out of the hotel and into the street, and found a pub. I was starting to think of what I might need to say if this got weird. He was being really nice to me. That being said, I wasn't overly concerned. I really wasn't getting any kind of off-setting vibe from him. I know when someone's a big weirdo or starting to get creepy. I think he was truly just nice, and probably a little fascinated by my story.

Anyway, he took me to Kyteler's pub and bought me a pint, while a lively Irish, middle-aged trio sang folk songs loudly. One of the musicians said about me, "And over here is Colin Farrel!"

I finished my pint, we walked back to his car, and he drove me to a hostel just down the street. I checked in, and when I came back out to get my bags, he and all my luggage was gone. Just kidding. I got my bags, and he handed me a folded-up Euro and said "This is just a little something." I only had time to say thank-you, and he was waving good-bye. I checked the Euro's he gave me. Two fifties. No kiddin'.

I checked in to the hostel, and brought my bags upstairs. While I was very thankful for the Irish coffee, I knew it would be some time before I'd be able to sleep. So, I headed out the door and walked for a minute back down to Kyteler's. The band was playing, and I had a Smithwicks ("Smithicks").

Did you ever have a dream come true that you didn't even know you had?

They sang some American tunes, and when they began Ring of Fire, the singer called me up to sing. So I sang Johnny Cash in a pub, with a folk band, in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Folks, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Afterwards, I stood outside the pub smoking my pipe. The fellow from the band that called me up paid me the highest compliment as he walked away. "You should be an Irishman!"

I came back to the hostel, and as I lay in bed (for what turned out to be hours. thanks, Irish coffee.), I literally could not stop smiling. I started the day not knowing where I would be or how I would get there, and ended it singing Ring of Fire in a pub in Kilkenny.

Truly, He restoreth my soul.