Rest day in Doolin
Mileage: 0 miles Elevation gain: 0′
Total mileage so far: 477.7 miles Total elevation gain so far: 25,374′
This morning is starting out with a 2 km walk from my hostel to the Doolin Harbor. I stop to pet every dappled grey horse along the way, convinced that they have fallen in love with me as much as I am in love with them. It’s overcast and windy but not raining.
Yesterday when I cycled past the Cliffs of Moher (perhaps more importantly known as the Cliffs of Insanity! to geeks the world over) they were socked in with a fog so thick and I could barely tell I was anywhere near the ocean. So today I have the brilliant plan of taking a ferry ride to the first of the Aran Islands, Inisheer. The tour will swing past the cliffs on our return trip giving me a to-die-for view of the very spot where Wesley inconceivably kept up with Fezzik (who was carrying Princess Buttercup, Vizzini and Inigo) just before the best choreographed duel of all time. But I digress…
Never mind that I’m a Pisces and the daughter of a sailor—I’m afraid of boats and drowning. Like a lot afraid. Yet I understand the importance of regularly doing things that scare us. The winds are strong this morning and the sea is churning. Still in the harbor our small ferryboat is banging and clanging into the others and I feel seasick before the gangplank is even released from the dock.
Heading out to sea I do my best to keep my eyes on the horizon as the waves bob us up and down six to eight feet at a time. I don’t have the mental fortitude to release my white knuckled grip on the seat in front of me. As if when the boat capsizes I’ll be able to save myself by simply not letting go. Rockin’ and rollin’ on the high seas, we are in this together. When the ocean comes crashing over the front of our boat the whole crowd screams in unison and when we slide down the backside of a particularly high wave we all groan in tune.
My glasses are smeared with salt. The wind is fierce, the sea unrelenting but Inisheer is getting closer. It’s a good thing I didn’t eat much for breakfast.
The harbor to this tiny island is like the entrance to an old world filled with horse drawn carriages and dogs running underfoot.
Everyone is hiring a carriage driver or renting a bicycle but I’m happy to take off walking. Within minutes I’m in the midst of a maze of rock walls lining the paved road. They twist and turn to create small animal paddocks and pathways to the houses on the hill.
The rock walls go on forever. I can’t begin to imagine how long it took people to build them there are so many. At first glance the rocks look haphazard but somehow there is a pattern to them and the walls are sturdy, enduring harsh weather conditions and standing for centuries. In less than an hour the clouds and wind have cleared to reveal a perfect summer day. Ponies trot quickly past me. I feel like I’m in a fairytale.
On the far side of the island is the Plassey shipwreck, an entire boat wedged into the rocks and completely rusted through.
A carriage driver is stopped nearby and I walk over to say hello. He was born on this 3 km X 3 km island and has lived here all his life with the other 260 residents. His first language is Irish and he has one eye stuck in a permanent squint. He rolls a cigarette as we chat. “You’re here for the beauty, right? A lot different than New York, eh?”
I can take the road down to the lighthouse, the only road to the lighthouse, cross over the rocks and then look for the path to the castle. This is what he says to me without a trace of facetiousness or self-deprecation. And this is exactly what I do.
Out past the shipwreck seagulls chatter on the beach paying me no mind as I make my way to the lighthouse. On the rock path I’m reminded again of the difference between pictures and what we see in real life, stories we read vs. experiences we have.
The path to the castle makes me wish I were a little kid. Oh how my imagination would soar and I’d want to live here forever! The rock walls continue but there is no more pavement on the ground. The now grass lined paths are narrower, flushed with flowers and vines. I stroll happily in the sun… scratch that… I frolic. I skip wistfully up and down rolling hills through this never-ending maze of indescribable beauty.
When I come down the hill from the castle I happen upon a calf being born in a paddock. The mother cow is lying on her side, the baby’s feet are out and a farmer is gently pulling him as the mother pushes. I suppose even cows sometimes need midwives.
For half an hour I am transfixed. I can hardly believe I’m bearing witness to this. The baby comes out quickly and the mother immediately stands up and gets to licking him clean. He’s already mooing and figuring out how to stand and walk. We always think we’re smarter than animals but this guy’s got something figured out in twenty minutes that it takes us a year to learn.
It never occurs to me to pull out my phone to take pictures. I just rest my chin on my forearms on the top of the paddock wall and take it in. Stories vs. experiences.
With the sun out, the water on the beach by the harbor has turned aquamarine. For a short stretch it looks like the small cove is a tropical paradise. The water couldn’t be any warmer than it was this morning yet there are swimmers in the deep and children splashing at the water’s edge. Young boys are taking turns jumping from the sea wall, which now, with the tide out, hovers fifteen feet above the surface.
The boat for the return trip is much bigger and more powerful than the one we took to get here. We surge into enormous waves and skim along the surface at high speed. Children rush to the sides, squealing as they get sprayed by the salty water.
And yes we stop to take in the majestic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s #2 most popular tourist destination just behind the Guinness factory tour. And yes they are beautiful. But all my pictures contain the heads and iPhones of tourists duking it out for the best shot. And besides, I’ll gladly go out on a limb and say they don’t hold a candle to my day on Inisheer.
Back in the Doolin harbor, captains zip the ferries around like cars, parallel parking them along the dock. I am grateful to be back on the mainland, as the Irish call it, but even more grateful for my dreamlike walk in the sun.
I’d been told there’d be nothing to do in Doolin and I wholeheartedly disagree. The town is full of restaurants and artist’s shops. There are walking trails, castle ruins and a babbling river. I love it here. This has been my favorite day off so far.