Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not JUST rainy!

Most of you know that I left Nepal on June 28th to road trip with my friend Dave through Ireland, to end up in southern France to do a yatra (or spiritual walk) with teachers and several folks I know from India.

We started in England and Wales then took a ferry with Dave’s VW van over to Ireland.  As it turns out Dave and I are traveling through Ireland during the RAINIEST June in recorded history!!! Even the locals are a bit grumpy about this! But even cranky, Irish characters are among the friendliest, most laid back people I have ever met! Of course, one benefit of rain is that it brings beautiful lush green landscapes. We were told the human eye can detect 42 shades of green all of which can be observed throughout Ireland!  So the trip, as you can imagine, rain and all, has been stunning!

When we first started traveling, I was doing the typical North American thing, for example, I couldn’t stop saying, “Man, this is OLD!!!” And pointing out every ruin and old stone wall we passed. And they are EVERYWHERE! Visiting sites that are said to be 5,000 years old really puts our short term temporary status as individuals, as we tend to see ourselves, in perspective!!!

Because I haven’t had a chance to update my blog in a while it is going to be hard to try to summarize our amazing adventures but I will try! Traveling in England (starting South of London in Brighton and making our way to Wales) there are green rolling hills spotted with sheep, manicured farms and gardens, groomed hedges even along incredibly narrow, single lane, but two way country roads in which the van’s mirrors touch on both sides, small villages with beautiful stone cottages, churches and quaint local pubs.

Ireland is as beautiful and impressive as you likely imagine it. It has more undulating hills that evolve into rugged sometimes jagged mountains covered in thick green spongy grass (which they harvest into peat and burn as a fuel), dramatic cliffs against an ocean backdrop, picturesque fishing villages and numerous ruins explained by science alongside folk lore. There are charismatic people speaking English with brilliant accents that we often can’t understand. And, the music is out of this world!

As you have likely noticed following my blog, my greatest joy about traveling is interacting with the people and trying to learn more about the local culture. Our first day in Ireland my interest was piqued by an elderly man warning us not to hang out in town long or go to the local cemetery because there was an “Irish Traveler’s” funeral happening. We were told that Travelers have a nomadic life style, they mostly live in caravans and they don't care about the law. As I understood how it was explained to me, I would equate one prejudice (out of many) about them is having a reputation similar to Hells Angel members when they were most active and lawless.We were told that most towns will close down their bars when they know there is going to be a Traveler’s event. Of course Dave and I went directly to the cemetery after the funeral had ended. We were really taken aback first off by the ages on the tombstones; on average people had died very young including many children. And second, by the size, ornamentation and arrangements of the gravestones.

We were fascinated to learn that there is actually genetic evidence that indicates Irish Travelers' DNA is distinctive from the settled community in Ireland proving that they are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1,000 years ago.

Confirming what Dave and I observed at the cemetery, appalling statistics show that 80% of Travelers die before the age of 65! It appears that average life spans tend to be short due to genetic defects, addiction concerns and an exorbitant amount of fatal motor vehicle accidents.

Culturally, there are said to be very strict moral guidelines and life style choices, for instance travelers characteristically marry young starting at age 14 within their community only, they like to stay to themselves and they have their own language, children tend to stop school at age 11, and women typically remain housewives.  And they have elaborate celebrations for their weddings and first communions. I could go on... but it is quite likely that you may not be as intrigued by this topic as I am! But just in case, there are web sites to go to in order to learn more about their fascinating history and culture and there is a reality show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,” which one local referred to as  “porn” likely due to the sensationalized depiction of certain aspects of current Travelers’ culture. But to folks that are as intrigued as Dave and I became, it is an interesting way to glance at some of this culture’s customs.

On another note, a highlight very worth mentioning from this trip has included being in the right place at the right time and spotting, watching and eventually playing with Dusty, a wild dolphin that has taken to being with humans over hanging out with other dolphin friends. Be sure to watch the video Dave put together in the attached link at the beginning of my blog.

Out of laziness and ease, I will be using the photos and some of the descriptions that Dave posted in his blog, so I apologize to those of you that are following both.

We unenthusiastically leave Ireland today to take a 20 hour ferry to France. I am sad about leaving Ireland, even though the weather has been “pants” (I believe that translates to “shitty” from proper British lingo), but look forward to the next part of this adventure as well. This could possibly be my last blog entry unless I take the opportunity to summarize the last leg of the trip upon returning home in August. So just in case... thanks again for following along and providing so much love and support during this journey!

I am thinking of all the folks in Colorado affected by the devastating fires and am sending loving thoughts and prayers your way! Please keep me updated on how you all are doing!

Much love to you all!

VIDEO!! Jen and Dusty the Dolphin. (Click below or here to play the video.)

Fishing from the high cliffs, County Clare. (Map)

Some of our angelic hosts, top-left and around: Jane (who was my roommate on  the meditation retreat) makes us dinner; Janie (who we met at the leprosy volunteer project this year) invited us to a village fest celebrating the Queen's 60th year in office; Keith (Dave's friend), and my friend Lynn's (who I know from Portland and now lives in Dublin, Ireland.) son Lucca.

Stonehenge! Really old standing rocks!

The famous 2,000 year-old Roman baths in Bath, England. (wiki article) We met lovely Rosie in line and she quickly invited us to visit her when we came to Ireland, which we did! She lives just south of Belfast on a farm.

Grave-diggers at the cemetery from the Traveler's funeral who we had an awesome conversation with. The man who died was 35 years old and died from a car crash after being chased by the police.

This grave, according to our sources, cost over $200,000.

The van is peeking out behind the trees. We spent the night at a beautiful abbey, and the caretaker took care of us, made us tea, and talked our ears off. Delightful.

These mounds are part of the 5,000 year-old Newgrange site, making it 500 years older the pyramids of Giza and 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.

This is the internal passage at the mound in Knowth, just next to Newgrange. Some of the original passages haven't been modified at all since they were built. Wow.

Rosie, who we met in Bath, took us to the local parade. We're now in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., unlike the Republic of Ireland, which is decidedly not. Most of this area was in the grips of the "troubles" as they're called, the long fight between factions wanting to remain part of the U.K. and others (like the IRA) wanting a united Ireland. These bands are all Protestant (while the Republic is largely Catholic) and have a controversial history, which you can read about here. Rosie showed us buildings that had been bombed back in the day, and talked about the death threats her father received, both against him and his oldest son, who was expected to take over his businesses.

Near Giant's Causeway, this bridge was originally used by salmon fishermen.

The beautiful and rugged coastline near Giant's Causeway.

This lovely red-haired blue-eyed beauty was filming a music video at the Giant's Causeway. Unfortunately we didn't get her name.

Another view of the Causeway.

Further down the coast, a stunning ruin of a castle.

Dave and I never get tired of these rugged cliffs along the coast.

Drama! We took the ferry from here to small Arranmore island and spent a few hours poking around.

More rugged beauty on Arranmore.

The amazing Slieve League area, where we wild camped for the night.

Our first night of looking for Irish pub music - in the city of Galway, County Galway.

Famous houses in Galway.

This is called Poulnabrone dolmen, known as a portal tomb, and is 4,000 to 5,000 years old. More info here.

Near the portal tomb, and in this entire area, crazy rock formations have weathered over the millenia to leave this rocky landscape.

Dave and I home cooking! Note the difference in comfort! He is 17 inches taller!

Just a ruin. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along...

Hanging out over the Cliffs of Moher.

Sven, from Germany, and me are laying flat on a cliff that is literally straight down, about 700 feet. Sven rode his bike here from Germany, and is on his way, by bike, to Norway. He's already ridden on one trip to Pakistan, and another, for two years, through Africa to the Ivory Coast. Hard core.

You'd have time to think about it if you fell off. How long does it take to fall 700 feet??

More of Moher.

Dave and I camped about 100 yards from here. In the morning we were so excited to see a dolphin swimming in the little bay where the ferries dock, and it just got better. This wild dolphin, named Dusty, is a female that loves human contact. She only comes when people are around, and when there's different groups trying to get her attention, she makes sure everyone gets some of her time. She even plays with toys, including two bottles attached with a piece of rope that she'll retrieve like a Labrador Retriever. I took a video of Jen petting her and playing fetch with her. So cool!

These are all pictures of places we've wild camped in Ireland. In 1 month in Ireland, we've only stayed in campgrounds two nights. It is actually amazing how laid back people are about letting you camp wherever you want. It would never go over in the states! The cops would be moving you on in no time at all. We camped in gale winds at the beach, riverside parks, monuments, just above the cliffs, and down country roads where the road was wide enough. Some people stop, but just to ask, "are you enjoying your holidays," with authentic curiosity and cheerfulness! Once on the edge of a farmer's property, he came to check the scene out and shortly invited us to explore his many acres of land and stay as long as we would like.

Here's a rough map of what we've driven so far. You can click this link for the interactive map: http://goo.gl/maps/yLfY. (Since Dave posted this we have completed a full loop).

(The End)