Thursday, August 10, 2006

Aran Island for some

OK, so most people tell you amazing stories about the Aran Islands, and how they are the relatively untouched part of Ireland, where you hear Irish being spoken by the

locals, where the wool sweaters beckon you with their (wooly) aroma (stench?), and the rocky 700ft cliffs face the Atlantic waves with majesty and perseverance.

Yes we too heard the lore, and set out to capture it with our own senses. We made a perfect plan. Fly into Shannon airport, hire (rent) a car, drive through the scenic Burren area of the county Clare, then arrive at the tiny but authentically musical town of Doolin, spend an evening listening to Irish music, then head out to the Inish Mor on a Ferry the following morning.

Inish-mor is the largest (and farthest from Doolin) of all the islands. It is there where the medieval stone ring of Don Angus perches atop the 700ft cliffs, about 5km away from the harbor, making it a perfect bike adventure for a daytrip. Yes, yes, perfect adventure, nuances notwithstanding. For us, here were but a few nuances

- The ferry being cancelled the day of the planned trip due to rough seas (should that alarm anyone?)
- The ferry-crossing being being the longest (due to departing from Doolin)
- The ferry being the smallest of the Ferries (and the most expensive)
- 6ft waves
- motion sickness

That morning, we were prepared to take our jaunt on the hourlong ferry to the Inish-mor, and the sea looked much calmer than the day before, and the number of whitecaps were decidedly less. We quickly ate a plate of salmon scrambled eggs and some orange juice, and took the brisk walk, 3 minutes down to the end of the road and beginning of the sea.

There we paid our 35Euros, and waited along with throngs of french speaking tourists. With Laressas reframing help, I felt pretty good about managing this hourlong ferry ride without getting too seasick, thinking about all the ferries I had ridden and how I could manage some turbulence and this was a mind-over-matter opportunity.

The "Happy Hooker" pulled up into the pier. This was unlike any ferry I had imagined. It was much like any smallish commercial fishing boat, very happy to bounce on the suddenly impressive looking waves.

We marched on in the mass of french around us and onto the back of the 'ferry'. while most were filing inside to grab the 20 or so seats, We noted benches tucked on the sides of the cabin, facing the back of the boat, out in the open, in front of rows of blocks, but under a roof.

Perfect. as we sat down, we had the perfect back-ways view off the bow.

By the time everyone settled (or rather piled) in, our view was that of the armpit of a couple of Germans, and a not-so-newly shaven face of a lady.

The boat left the mooring, and we started to bob and weave past the harbor and into the sea.


It became apparent that the harbor's relative calm (which I had thought was anything but) had belied the actual sea's festive mood....


as the boat roared slowly to its cruising speed, the pitch and yaw and twist and waves began in the earnest....mind-over-matter....from the small openings in the claustrophobic wall of german tourism we were witnessing the dousing of the others with all their luggage as the waves would crash onto the side of the boat and spray accross the bow....mind-over-matter...mind-over-matter. I (mistakenly) took a peek around the side to see the see, as we bobbed in and out of the valleys of water, and I could make out the smallish 2m...yes..2meter squals (that suddely gave me panic visions of titanic proportions)

...mind-over-matter...oh please...mind-over-matter.

It took about 5 more minutes of this mind over matter exercise. In those 5 minutes, I began feeling very sweaty and warm, then very parched, and all this time being smothered by the germans who hung on the ceiling above my seat and bounced around 3 inches in front of my face.
A young man came bursting out of the cabin and off past the folks onto the side of the boat...


Within seconds, the green looking french woman to my left darted outward mumbling and then not mumbling whilst running for the edge


Next, it was Laressa my travelmate who bolted from my right around to the southern side of the boat, where the most splashing was happening....


Nope. I had to go.

I stood up. I looked at the sailor guy and said "I have to go"

"Not to that is wet"

"But my, my...."

"Your girlfriend? I'll get her to come around over."

No time to haggle over the title of my travel companion,

OUT of the way french man with camera,

OUT OF THE WAY Older french woman sitting on luggage sitting in Water,

OUT OF THE WAY old bald man looking as if I am a leper....


It is not the winning of mind over matter, it is the triumph of SEA OVER MAN!

The next few moments, without getting into graphic details, were glorious. Glorious in relief despite the wretchedness. I was defeated by the sea and I welcomed it. You win Atlantic, You win. You can have it. you win.

FWHOOOOSH a faceful of power wave of the ocean as I leaned over the edge of the boat

"Yes" and there was relief in convulsive waves.

FWHOOOOSH, another wave to cover most of my torso and my pants

"Sea over man...sea over man"


And so it went for the following 5 minutes, until I could manage to step back to the side, and find a divet in the side wall as minor reprieve from the oncoming powerwash.

I banged my head on pipes, I torqued my thumb attempting to hold on, I felt numb, I thought about my "girlfriend", I looked through the window, past the dispondent looking person on the inside, through the other window, and onto the other side of the boat. I could see her head as she sat facing the ocean, face down, taking her punishment in wave after wave of gushing ocean water. I was dripping wet on my pants and jacket, and she was the one on the "wet" side.

And after 5 minutes I felt sick again, and weak, and wet. I thought about if it would help if I jumped off the boat. I thought about if it had been 67 hours. I thought about the fact that in 5 hours I had to make this journey again (or think about emmigrating to Inish-mor). I thought about how wet Laressa was. I thought about fainting. I thought about how thirsty I was, and how the salty water was not to be drunk. I thought about my water bottle in my pack, kept in care of the short french man somewhere away from all this water.

I thought about moby dick, and the movie perfect storm and poseidon adventure and titanic, and how I definitely must forget about space travel.

It took the ferry onoly 75 minutes to reach Inish-mor. By this time I was no longer able to walk straight, yet found my predicament quite funny if it weren't so painful. The sailor told me that this was not the largest of seas by any means, but the "northern chopper" was a devil to deal with especially if you got sick to start with. He recommended I eat up before I come back

"It helps, trust me, not that you won't be sick, but it helps", and I knew what he meant. and I wanted to wail thinking about 5 hours later when I had to go through this again.

We came off the boat, like beaten up wet kittens. I could not straighten my head or walk straight, and the solid ground wasn't rocking enough. Laressa was much wetter and colder than I, and much more coherent. Her feet and hands were numb, and her chin was quivering like a harpstring. We wandered like vagrants in oliver twist, begging for a place to lay down, a pair of pants to buy, or a room to rent, or anything. Finally, I collapsed on a bench outside the harbor, while she found a wool-sweater shop and purchased sweaters and socks. Amicably, we parted (temporarily) ways, while I sprawled on the bench like a drunkard, and she ventured off to the cafe she had scoped out to blowdry her pants, and warm up her limbs and spirits.

An hour later, after a blissful recovering nap in the sun that warmed my cheeks and dried up some of my clothes, I was able to actually walk and look for her. I was still acting a bit drunk, and couldn't find her, so I asked a minibus tourguide driver about a cafe near a convenience store

"What are you looking for?"

"Well I seem to have lost my.....(on with it) girlfriend"

"That's a problem for some and a blessing for others, but the SPAR store is yonderways"

I told him about our predicament and he told me about the cure being a shot of brandy and a shot of port, then he told me to find her and bring her so he could give us at least a driving tour of this island. I mentiioned to him about getting in a vehicle might not bode well for his upholstry, and he chuckled and waved me off.

I found Laressa tucked inside a cafe, with hands wrapped around a mug of hot tea and stomach filling with hot soup. We laughed.

This had become a humility crossed with survival test. We had come to terms with it.

No we were not about to do any sightseeing.
No we were not about to rent a bike or get on a pony driven "jaunting car".
No we would not wander much past the harbor

For us the Inish-mor was unlike all other tourists around us. It became about accepting our limitations, that for us the island was a wobbly harbor, a somewhat unaccommodating surrounding to our need for dryness and warmth, a sweater store, a sun-drenched bench, soup and tea in a cafĂ©, a shared shot of Brandy, and eagerly but apprehensively getting on the “HAPPY Hooker” to take us back.

…which is another story.