August 6 2011 Trip: Day 4 Ireland — The Aran Islands Part 2

So the title for these Aran Islands entries was just getting way too long! The Aran Islands are still The Most Beautiful Place on Earth, of course. But they eschew titles. When you’re that beautiful, you just don’t need to go around advertising it. I was going to say that they’re like the Giselle of islands, but I think she advertises it, if you know what I mean.

Besides, if rideblog were a Victorian novel, this chapter would be entitled:

In Which My Co-Worker and I Have Several Serious Talks.

After enjoying the first half of our day on Inishmore, we were ready to see even more ancient ruins. The kids were exploring the island on their own, so we could go see whatever we liked, without consideration for the teenage attention span. The stone fort we’d just seen, Dun Eochla, had raised our expectations. “Let’s go find another one!” I said, and he assented.

It wasn’t hard to do. If people live on a nearly flat island, they build forts on hills, which makes these forts unsurprisingly easy to find from the road. As soon as we were down from the hill on which Dun Eochla had been built, we spotted our next destination: Dun Aonghosa.

Along the way, we passed a cemetery where I snapped a quick photo of one of the Celtic crosses placed there. Ireland abounds in these things. One can buy innumerable kitschy postcards of Celtic crosses against dramatic cloudy skies… and who am I to rise above the riffraff?

Here’s one from our first day that I haven’t published yet:

And here’s the one I photographed on the Aran Islands:

Hard to resist, aren’t they?

Our next stop was the gift store at the bottom of the hill, where my Co-Worker eyed a t-shirt for his son, until he asked how much they cost. The kid wound up with a postcard instead (not of a Celtic cross). We parked our bikes in the ample bike racks and worked our way through the small, but informative visitor’s center. Three Euros each, and we were heading up the steep hill to the fort.

On the way, I decided to have our first Serious Talk. It was inevitable that we would have this particular Talk, I figured, given that we’re obviously not married to each other, and we are, you know, of opposite genders. The Sweet Guy Who Loves Me is not prone to jealousy. “When you want to travel for ten days alone with him, then I’ll worry about it,” he told me. But not everyone is like that. And as my Co-Worker’s wife will be working with us next year, I guess I wanted to find out one essential thing: would this be our last trip together? I would understand if he wanted to do trips only with her, of course, but it would sadden me. I have had many passionate love affairs in my life. Probably a few too many, in fact. But I have had very few passionate friendships, and I really value those I have.

Being that my Co-Worker is a guy, this was perhaps not as fruitful a conversation as I would have liked. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think she’s jealous. I could do another trip, I guess… propose a cool one and we’ll see.”

Men!

Anyway, Dun Aonghosa is like the Giselle of stone forts: big boned, fully developed and almost unnaturally beautiful. Fine, I’ll stop with the supermodel analogies. Perhaps a photo instead:

The fort is essentially a semi-circle built on the edge of a sheer, 300 foot cliff. Probably, it was once fully circular and erosion has taken one side, but no one knows. The fort is older than Dun Eochla, but still built during the Iron Age, which means it’s been around for close to 2000 years.

There are no records of why it exists, obviously, but since there are substantial defenses still around it, someone clearly thought it would protect them.

Anyone want to try riding a horse through that bunch of poke-y stones?

At any rate, it would be nearly impossible to sneak up on someone when the views are like this:

My Co-Worker and I walked through the inner circle and climbed up onto the large stone slab that sits in the center of the fort. The height of the cliff was simply dizzying.

In the US, this would probably be roped-off, but no such caution exists in Ireland. “Think they get any jumpers?” my Co-Worker asked, as we lay down to put our heads over the edge. To be honest, the trouble of getting all the way out there just to jump off the cliff seems to me to preclude most suicide attempts, but one certainly could jump off, should one so desire.

Before I lay down, I carefully tucked my camera into the back pocket of my cycling jacket. Just lying there was brave enough, never mind taking a photo of the drop! I’m not afraid of heights, but this was pushing the envelope of rational fears. Below us, the water was relatively calm. There were no dramatic crashing breakers. Instead, the waves surged forward in swirling eddies like fingerprints, slipping up against the cliffs and withdrawing slowly in pools of concentric circles. “Wonder what it’s like down there?” I asked, thinking of those wonderful aquarium displays where tidal surges are dumped on schools of glittering fish right at eye level.

“I’m not really willing to find out,” my Co-Worker replied. “It would be really cold, even if you survived the fall, which you wouldn’t.” His mind was clearly not on aquariums. “Whenever I’m somewhere like this,” he said, looking up from the waves to meet my gaze, “I start thinking about what would happen to my family if I died.”

Definitely not on aquariums.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought about it,” he continued. “But having a kid changes that.” I agreed, though I was hardly a daredevil before my child was born. Significantly lower testosterone, you know. He then noted that if something were to happen to his wife, he didn’t know how he’d make it. Having been divorced after eleven years of marriage, I have a less romantic, more practical view of such things. I’m absolutely certain I can get along just fine on my own. But my mind was now also taking a melodramatic turn, watching the water slip between the rocks so far below me. “I worry about losing my child,” I said. So then we spent some time on that cheerful subject.

Strangely, I developed vertigo at this point and needed to stand up.

As we walked out of the fort, we talked more about the people we left at home. I was definitely missing The Man Who Buys Me Snapples. “I can’t remember the last time I looked at another woman,” my Co-Worker said wistfully. This made me want to laugh, as I was standing three feet away and I am definitely female, but I appreciated the sweetness inherent in what he said. If his wife is jealous, well… I don’t know what to say. I’ve met few people as in love with their spouses as he is. Even if I weren’t crazy about My Handsome Guy, I don’t think I could do much damage there. My Co-Worker wouldn’t even notice if I tried!

All the smooshy talk was cut short, in the end, by the arrival of our three hell-bent-for-leather teenage boys. There are few ways to more rapidly smother all talk of love than to introduce the subject around sixteen year-old males. They had been to the top of the island, and decided to come back and see the fort. “They asked us if we had teachers with us at the visitor’s center, and we said ‘no,’ and they let us in anyway!” they recounted breathlessly. Ha. Like we did any good.

That’s my Co-Worker sitting at the edge with two of the boys. Here’s the third one:

That ledge is actually wider than it looks, but still. This is what my Co-Worker meant, right, about not doing stupid stuff once you’re a parent? When I was done half-freaking-out, half-taking-pictures, I turned around to see this:

Think the group testosterone level just rose a bit? At this point, Mama was DONE. “That’s enough! Everyone get off the edge!” I shrieked, and herded them back toward the entrance to the fort. To be fair, there was no wind, and everyone inched carefully out to where they were, so unless one deliberately tipped forward and toppled off, there wasn’t really much danger. I’m all for encouraging a bit of independence when the kids are this age, but at some point, I have to ensure that no one falls off the 300 foot cliff, you know? Especially the grown-up.

Instead, there was talk of tossing rocks off the edge, but when my Co-Worker picked up a pebble, he was sternly instructed by a mysteriously newly-materialized guard to “Put back the stone, Sir.”

“Oh, yeah, sure!” squeaked my brave companion, and carefully retraced his steps to set the tiny rock back exactly where he found it. So I guess one can hurl oneself off the edge of the 300 foot cliff, but not a possibly anthropologically-significant pebble.

On the way back down, the boys stopped to explore this guard hole, but were stopped by the strong odor of urine.

Anthropologically (I just like using that word), I bet it smelled like that 2000 years ago, too.

The boys abandoned us again as we left the fort, preferring to ride a bit more before dinner. My Co-Worker and I set off back into town to check on ferry tickets for the next morning. Since we were done with Serious Talks, this was a pretty fast and easy ride.

This is a Seal Colony Look Out Point, as well as a Drinks and Sweet Shop. Yes, there were seals, way out there. They’re the brownish blobs in the tideline.

I was rather unimpressed. After you’ve rounded a beach point on the wildest part of the California coast, hundreds of miles from a cell phone signal, let alone civilization, and found yourself caught between a sheer rock wall and a colony of thirty territorial Steller sea lions… well, ain’t no seal on Earth going to impress me. Been there, seen something twice as big and ten times as scary. We rode on.

The morning ferry turned out to need no additional attention from us. “The chances the 8:15 will be booked solid with 245 people? None,” the tourist bureau lady laughed at me.

“I’m going to go back to the hostel, lay down on my bed, and text my wife,” my Co-Worker said firmly. “I’m done for the day.”

Well, I wasn’t. I’m not normally above some screen time (hello, have you seen these blog entries?), but when I’m on vacation, I’m of the “you can sleep at home!” school of travel. So I let him go be smooshy, and I set off to explore more of the island by myself.

The kids, as it turned out, had a great time in each of their independent activities. The three boys saw most of the island, though they were traveling at the speed of light as they did it, so how much they actually saw is debatable. Two of the girls and the fourth boy sat around in the hostel watching YouTube videos on their phones all day (why? Because they’re teenagers), and the third girl read her book and shopped for sweaters. I’ve taught many kids in the last ten years, but this group were the mellowest, most easy-going kids I’ve ever worked with. I pondered what trouble I would have gotten up to at sixteen if given five hours to play on an Irish island without grown-ups… and realized I probably would have done the same thing I ended up doing anyway: taking photos and touring forts. Teenagers, for the most part, are pretty cool humans, just like the rest of us.

Left alone, I was melancholy. Last year, when we went to London, I didn’t experience much homesickness. The trip was incredibly busy, and we had what we now refer to only as “The Incident,” which involved teenagers behaving less nicely (and with their chaperones just two feet away, of course). I had no time to be lonely… but in this wild place, after talking about them all day, I was missing my family. “I’ll just take more pictures!” I thought.

So I did. Soon to come in Part 3: the most beautiful photos yet… Yeah, it’s going to be the Giselle of Aran Islands posts.

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5 Responses to August 6 2011 Trip: Day 4 Ireland — The Aran Islands Part 2

  1. gl. says:

    oh, i am SO wondering about The Incident…

  2. rideblog says:

    Wonder on, gl. I’m not allowed to discuss it, officially :). It was rather scary at the time, but everyone recovered or was appropriately punished. It was quite a test of my Co-Worker’s and my own leadership, but I think we did well. Our group bonded over it, actually, and had an even better time traveling Britain because we were so close.

  3. monk says:

    I was hoping you’d take some Celtic cross photos. Beautiful!

  4. gl. says:

    yikes! i had a scary experience on a trip to england once with an academic group and it brought us closer together, too. but it happened at picadilly circus TO us, rather than being a threat from within.

  5. rideblog says:

    We quickly got rid of the threat from within :).

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