From Portmagee, County Kerry, Ireland
06.24.2008 15 °C
Skellig Michael. What's this "skellig?" Read on!
How remote is Portmagee? Well, if you were to drive to the ends of the earth, you'd then have to ask for directions by saying "how much farther is it to Portmagee?" That's not a complaint, however, because this is an amazing place. To get here we've already driven the north part of the Ring of Kerry. This little one-road town is at the tip of the mainland. We're not even in town, but a kilometre down a single-lane road in a little semi-circle of holiday cottages. The horizon out our back window is the green hill several kilometres away.
Here's exactly where we were: Jenn, Sherry, Jaclyn, Julia, Anica
Portmagee has a bridge to Valencia Island, which is where the trans-Atlantic signals were first sent to Newfoundland in 1858. In other words, this is about as close to Canada as you can get if you don't want to cross an ocean.
The drive here took about six hours. Sherry followed our silver car the whole way. Or at least a silver car. Somehow we stuck together. We stopped in Adare for lunch and for the girls to run around a park. Adare is a "tidy town", whatever that means.
Tonight, our first night here, we had the turf fire going. There's a huge pile of turf in the backyard, so we've got all the "sods of turf" we'll need for the week. The weather doesn't look good. Boats won't go out to Skellig Rock if the sea's rough, and the rain is coming in. But the fire's going strong tonight.
Let us reflect upon Portmagee
Never give up on the weather in County Kerry. Not when there's eighteen hours of daylight. We watched it pour down rain from a unmoving grey sky until mid-afternoon. Finally, we drove over the bridge to Valencia Island and went to the (indoor) exhibition centre called "The Skellig Experience".
After learning about the Skellig Islands (which we hope to visit as soon as weather permits), the rain was easing off enough that we decided to drive the length of Valencia Island and check out what they call the "Tetrapod Trackway." Rocks by the shore bear the footprints of a 365 million year-old creature that was practically our first evolutionary ancestor to come out of the water. Sounds great, but it's not much to look at. It's no more exciting than seeing cat prints in concrete. Maybe less.
Is a tetrapod, like, three juice boxes?
By the time we drove back to the mainland, the sun was shining. Change of plans! We drove the Skellig Ring, a smaller route very close to Portmagee, with signs that say "No coaches." As in tour buses. We stopped for dinner in Waterville, parking near its inexplicable statue of Charlie Chaplin, before looping our way back to Portmagee to call it a day.
A,sigh, typical view on the Ring of Kerry or Skellig Ring drive
We went down to the pier this morning and talked to "Pat Joe," one of the boatmen who will take you to Skellig Michael. "Unless you're only here today," he advised, "you should wait until tomorrow or the next. It'll be pretty choppy and we may need to turn back." What else could we do but trust the captain? Fourteen hundred years have passed since the monastery was built out on Skellig Michael and it's still no easier to land there.
No, Anica! That's not the kind of ring they mean!
But the weather was good enough to drive the famous "Ring of Kerry." We made a beeline for Waterville, and picked up the road from there. As we made our way around the ring, I started to think that yes, this is indeed the most beautiful road we've followed anywhere in the world. Years ago, Jenn and I drove down Highway 1 in California, and there's some similarity to that, but the Ring of Kerry has more variety. At times you're down at sea-level, other times high above it. The road also cuts inland, and you see green valleys and majestic mountain gaps. The hills seem carpeted in green, all the way up and over the summits. There are all kinds of places to pull over and take in the view.
pre-Christian, ring-shaped Staigue Fort, seen on the Ring of Kerry drive
Now, on your left: a mountain gap, inland, the Ring of Kerry
Unfortunately, Anica was getting so overtired that she wasn't able to act reasonably. We said she had to either rest up or start behaving, or she'd miss out on the evening out in Portmagee. She couldn't manage either, so Jenn volunteered to stay at home with her. It was the first time in our whole year of traveling that it's come to that. Anica settled down once the decision was final, and probably had a nice time with her Mum and a good sleep.
Meanwhile, Sherry, Julia, Jaclyn and I went out to the Bridge Bar in Portmagee. It was "The Turas," or "Irish Night" in Portmagee. I didn't get that: isn't every night Irish night here? But it was a special mid-summer celebration in the tiny bar. There was music, dancing, singing, and most of it by local people who were enjoying the open mic. The girls all got invited to learn an Irish dance, but only Sherry was brave enough to accept. She wasn't expecting the dance she'd just been shown to go faster and faster, but she kept up. All the time, I'm urging Jaclyn: " take pictures! Take video!"
We were able to walk home from the bar, and didn't even need the flashlight even though it was after ten o'clock.
So glad we waited! Today was great weather for a trip to Skellig Michael. The ocean was calm, although still choppy enough that the girls squealed like it was an amusement park ride. At least, until Jenn, Anica and Jaclyn started to feel a little seasick. The island is, after all, eight miles out into the Atlantic.
The Skellig looms
When we docked at the towering rock, the next challenge was the climb. Six hundred and fifty steps. Jenn and Sherry's fear of heights had not vanished after conquering Diamond Hill last week. At first, we were distracted by the many puffins. They took off, landed and sat comfortably on the mossy-green sides of the island, just inches away from us.
A lone puffin contemplates its takeoff
"Don't worry 'bout a thing." Three little Puffin birds on Skellig Michael
Eventually, all six of us made it to the top. We even did it with a fair amount of style, as we saw whole families crawling, rather than walking, up the irregular stone steps, which were laid by monks in the early Christian period of Ireland. Many others were dropped off by boats, and then just looked around the island down by sea-level without climbing a single step.
The purpose of climbing to the top, other than to enjoy the views, is to see a remarkably well-preserved monastery from about the 6th century. How did they built it? How did they not starve? The island is so inhospitable, and so far from the mainland, that it boggles the mind.
Monk's eye view of Little Skellig
What's left are the "beehive huts," made of stone and so named for their shape. You can step inside, and imagine what it would be like to live or pray or cook inside them. There's also a stone cross (talk about the "old rugged cross"....), cisterns, what looks like a graveyard, and the walls that enclose this sky-terrace. I love the combination of a stunning natural setting and history. Other than Petra, the "Skellig Michael" trip was probably my favourite place in the world that we've visited.
The boat trip on the way back didn't seem as rough, and nobody felt queasy. Just sleepy. We passed close to "Little Skellig," an equally jagged island of rock just covered by birds. It's a massive gannet colony: a black rock covered by white birds and white bird poo. We could smell it from the boat.
Pop quiz: why are those rocks white?
We once again ate at the Bridges Bar in Portmagee, once again walking there from our cottage, with Sherry and I once again enjoying our Guiness. At 10:30 tonight there was the pinkest sunset I've ever seen. Ireland has definitely been one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. It softens the soul, hardens the arteries, loosens the tongue, and expands the mind. What more could a traveller want?
Sherry and Rob: two pints of Guinness goodness
Today we said our goodbyes to Sherry, Julia and Jaclyn. They're driving part of the way back to Dublin tonight, since their flight's in the morning. All of us drove to Tralee, and spent the afternoon there, which put them an hour closer to Dublin and wherever they might stop for the night. One of the very best things about this trip, and something you just can't plan, is how we've made good friends in one part of the world, and then seen them again somewhere else. We've been blessed with that experience both with Fred & Irith's family and with Sherry & her girls. Both families are wonderful, kind people and we've loved our time with them.
Tralee, by the way, does indeed have roses. It's like they took the song lyric literally and decided to live up to it. We walked through the rose gardens, let the girls exhaust themselves in the playground, and spent time in a town square listening to a pipe band competition. You might associate bagpipes and kilts with Scotland, but there's quite a tradition of it in Ireland, apparently.
For dinner, we couldn't resist going to a fancy Mexican restaurant. What is it about Mexican restaurants on this trip? I guess it's usually a change from the local cuisine, like it was in Chengdu, China. This one in Tralee was pretty good, too.
There were hugs goodbye in the parking lot, and we tried to point Sherry in the right direction. In all the excitement and picture-taking, our camera got knocked to the ground and is broken. We'll use Anica's for the last two weeks instead of trying to replace it right away. Just two weeks left! Are we getting careless? I lost my watch last week, so I hope we're not falling apart just before the finish line!
Today we went to Skellig Experience. It's a exibhition all about Skellig Michael. I liked the movies and dioramas about people building the monastary and the birds. The pictures about the Vikings were cool too. We then went to Tetrapod Trail. The only thing I liked was walking and the sea. We then walked back to our car and drove around the ocean and Skellig. We stopped at a chocolate factory and played girls Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in Waterville before having dinner. Went home, played Nintendo, had my shower, storytime, G.N.
Today we drove around a lot. We went from viewpoint-viewpoint-fort-lunch-Muckross house-home! The viewpoints were cool but windy, the fort was so cool. At lunch we had 1 cheeseburger for Jaclyn, 1 chickenburger for Julia, and a quarterpounder for me. Muckross House - we only saw the gardens! We then drove all the way back to Cahirceveen from Killarney to get our grocireis at Eurospar. Then we went home. D, J, J, S went to the bar, M, me - soup, Pringles. Found an earwig in my toothbrush container that had gone poop on my toothbrush, G.N.!
Today we went to Skellig Michael. We went by boat and there was lots of waves but even though I was having fun and I had took my gravol pill I was motion sick. I was very happy and so was Jaclyn and Julia because all the way up the 600 stairs we saw puffins. Cute, little puffins. It was very tiring so when we got to the top we didn't look at the monastary much we just sat and talked with a 8 year old girl called Lizzie. We ate snacks and rode to Little Skellig where we stayed on the boat but saw birds. Went back home, played nintendos and drew, had dinner, went home, played barbies, played boggle, played barbies, G.N.!
"Last Day Together"
Today at home me and Julia and Jaclyn played nintendoes. But something happened and I lost my kittys Abigail, Andrea and Anniya who were my pets on PurrPals But we bought the same kind and called Abigail with different markings. We then played barbies, had lunch and went to Tralee. We watched bands, went to a playground. Had dinner, our camera (not mine) dropped, had a very sad goodbye, went home, G.N.!