Pages have always been my portal to faraway lands. This time, however, the journey is real – having commenced with the stamping of a passport in lieu of the opening of a spine. By transporting me 3,000 miles overseas to an island Far, Far Away, fate has placed me in a blank storybook and granted me free reign to write my very own tale (fittingly enough, in a country with no shortage of castles).
Traveling makes you see the world anew. All at once, you are spiraled into a time warp – simultaneously child and adult, stumbling upon wonder in every nook and cranny yet maturing rapidly by the moment.
In the past month, I’ve scaled mountains and sea cliffs only to gaze down upon villages whose populations boast more sheep than people. I’ve biked to medieval ruins in the pouring rain – speeding past donkeys, cows, and horses until the puddles in my sneakers rivaled those on the road beneath me. I’ve swum underneath cliff-side waterfalls, sheep-speckled emerald towering above me as far as the eye could see. I’ve bodysurfed County Clare’s world-famous waves and explored hidden sea caves along the Doolin Cliff Walk. Last weekend, I donned a caving helmet and voyaged through the subterranean wonders of the Burren, and this weekend, I’ll be diving into the unknown once more on a Connemara coasteering and sea cave kayaking trip – because what story is complete without a dash of adventure?
The changes that I notice in myself on a daily basis are infinite – from the minute to the monumental. My tea intake has skyrocketed to Boston Harbor-level quantities. I am more independent than ever before – there is inimitable satisfaction in every supermarket receipt, every “Table for one, please,” every successfully executed solo journey. I am the truest version of myself – more adventurous and connected to nature than ever before. There isn’t anything that can stop me from shimmying through caves, scaling subterranean waterfalls, or rising with the sun to ascend a 1,380-foot mountain. As a solo traveler, I heed nothing but my own two feet.
Now, having officially penned Part One of my greatest story to date, I’d like to take the time to flip back a few chapters and relive the adventures that fill my pages thus far.
Cong, Ireland. Population: 185…
“Looks like the backup bus won’t be here for another hour, folks.”
…er, make that Population: 215.
The tour guide shrugged sheepishly, gesturing toward the faulty bus door as if to remind our group of thirty where to direct any potential wrath.
While a handful of grumbling couples ducked into cafés to match their woes with pain au chocolat, I retraced my steps to Cong Woods – past the babbling brook, over the fisherman-dotted-bridge, and into the verdant forest – unable to believe my luck.
Overhead, mossy green bled into endless blue as treetops tickled the cloudless sky. Tilting my head back, I spun around slowly and inhaled the woodland air.
The sky was leaking.
It was the kind of rain that attacks from directions you didn’t even know existed, making staying dry an absolutely titanic feat (pun intended). And here I was: mountain biking on a remote island in the Atlantic while clothed in a Bright Plum, “Guaranteed Waterproof” bundle of lies.
Yet even the most relentless of downpours couldn’t wash away my smile, because after six hours of cycling the Aran Islands, I knew first-hand that sometimes, the most dazzling of silver linings are hidden behind a coat of mud.
That morning, after a slippery ascent to the peak of Dun Aengus, Inishmore’s prehistoric 328-foot fort, I had been greeted by the cliff-top sight of a pod of dolphins jumping through the churning Atlantic. Come afternoon, while lost in the island’s labyrinthine hilltop trails, I had braked to catch my breath, only to have it immediately taken away by the sea of mooing cows and thatched roofs below me.
Finally, just before nightfall – when I was utterly lost with no idea how to return to my B&B on the opposite side of the island – a white horse emerged from the fog. The only two for miles, we stood there, staring at one another through the rain, and I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes.
Two weekends ago, I trekked up north to the 250-person fishing village of Teelin, which is home to Slieve League: Europe’s highest accessible sea cliffs whose unapologetic cerulean surf and mossy, primordial 1,972-foot surface put the “wild” in Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
After two awe-inspiring, clear-skied days of hiking, swimming, and serendipitous sheep encounters, I ventured to the cliffs for one last visit, beckoned by the baa’s that had drifted through my window that morning.
Padding downstairs, I passed the living room, where the B&B owner shook his head in disbelief from his spot beside the roaring fire. “You’ll get soaked,” he warned, motioning toward the streaked windowpane.
Twenty minutes later, I stood on the Slieve League viewing platform in my once-Bright-but-now-Dark-Plum-raincoat and couldn’t help but laugh. Around me, befuddled tourists emerged from tour buses and stumbled blindly through the impenetrable fog, searching in vain for a glimpse of the here-today-gone-tomorrow cliffs.
Bidding the horizon farewell, I retraced my steps down the winding trail – past the bleating sheep, past the cottage at the bend in the road and its ever-spouting chimney, past the bright red tractor, past the barking sheepdog. Before me, the village waited.
I was going home.