And so another Irish summer begins, yet a hot water bottle is necessary every night and my evenings mainly consist of sitting by the fire wrapped in my poncho and pondering my choice of country in which to spend the “sunny season”. For the third year in a row – when will I learn? Or at least, when will I learn to bring extra pairs of socks and waterproof over-trousers?
It’s hard to plan for bad weather when you’re in Greece, knee deep in raki and zooming around on scooters in skirts.
There must be a reason I keep returning. Is it… The sheep? No, although they are pretty adorable. Even when they stop for a suckle at mothers teat in the middle of the main road, and simply expect you to stop and gaze upon them, as if they are what you were cycling furiously up the hill in the driving rain for.
I have to say, my humble abode for this season makes the bad weather more bearable. I come home, wet and bedraggled, like a wee hamster flushed down the toilet, and my cottage welcomes me with open arms. The shower pressure may be more ‘geriatric dribble’ than ‘power shower’, but i have learnt that if you sit awkwardly in the bath tub, fill it to a mid – bum cheek level, then turn on the hand held shower head and hold it over you, sloshing a bit of water around like a naughty baby, it’s a whole new bathing experience. It’s just a bit awkward when you need to wash your hair, because a girl only has so many hands, and you need at least one to grip the side of the tub to prevent a slippery death..
The open fire can really make or break a cosy night in. Now, having grown up with log fires, a turf and coal fire is a whole new challenge for me, and one I am so willing to accept. My first time trying to light the beast ended with me retiring to my bed, chilly, with only a hot water bottle and failure to accompany me. I have tried, several times now, but I cannot seem to get the ratio of firelighter: coal: turf correct. My housemate lights a mean fire, so tonight I watched over her shoulder as she lit it. Now I sit, regally, by the roaring fire, casually hiffing chunks of turf on the fire, swirling my red wine, gazing into the flames and remarking out loud to no one in particular, “By Jove! What splendid heat!”
In the morning I shall climb on my noble bicycle steed and begin the daily trek to work, come rain or shine, hail or gale. It’s character building stuff. (And I look ridiculously good in high visibility rain gear and men’s overtrousers).
Ahh, the Wild West of Ireland. It’s good to be back.
Many things have happened in the last month but I’m actually far too tired from all this WORK to tell you all of them, so I shall succinctly capture all of these experiences into a brief yet humorous blog post.
Today is my day off and I am still in bed at 3.21 pm, because this job is tres intense. For the record, I have been doing very important things from the safety and relative calm of my bed, such as sharing things on Facebook and teaching myself guitar chords from weird old men on YouTube.
Every day is a bit of a blur of cleaning, food prep, noisy dirty school children, giant vats of spaghetti bolognaise, dishwashers and dirty inside jokes. And Spanish. So much Spanish, I think I may be learning the language through osmosis.
There is a kind of Spanish squad, and they all understand each other very well but I often have a hard time making out the words. There are several Eastern European staff who are just so good and fast at cleaning things that I look very slow and inefficient in comparison. My personal favourite is Pavlina who works in the laundry and cleans rooms. She enjoys the song “I like big butts” and her favourite expression of distress is “faaacking heeeel”.
My first week here I felt as though I had stepped into a scene out of Orange is the New Black, where we all wear remarkably un-sexy red uniforms and every nationality has it’s ‘family’, and god help you if you offend someone in yo family, because then you ain’t got no one to back you up in a fist fight in the communal showers. Just kidding. No fist fights..
There are of course a lot of Irish people, several Scots, some Frenchies, and me, the token New Zealander, as usual. I secretly love it. Lindsay, my favourite Scottish lassie likes to imitate my New Zealand accent, and I find myself talking in the way that she talks when she’s imitating me, which is very confusing for us all.
My lodgings in the lodge are very comfortable and warm… At least, my room is. The communal areas only ever manage to stay clean for 1-2 hours and the rest of the time they look like someone has gone into a kicking rage, broken things, and smeared baked beans on all white surfaces. I wear flip flops in the shower to prevent catching foot aids. I avoid ever touching any of my bare body parts to the sticky shower curtain, but I still think I feel dirtier when I get OUT of the shower. The joys of sharing a house with approximately ten 20-something males. I made the foolish mistake of taking my shoes off at a lodge party the other night in order to allow the freedom to boogie, and I have had a small shard of glass wedged into my foot for the last 2 days. I have a mental image from that night of my housemate Bobby sitting me on the toilet and showering my feet to try and get through the dirt to the cut itself.
Basically, it’s the kind of house where you must wear shoes at all times. Maybe even to bed. Just in case.
But it’s grand! We have many shenanigans and spend a lot of time drinking tea, wearing woollen jumpers and silky pants, and talking shite.
We’ve done some trips to the beach, hiking, swimming, and cycling, and the past three weeks have been outrageously good weather. I’ve been doing yoga in the living room, surrounded by bottles, charity shop clothing, balls of fluff, bicycles, life jackets and kayaks. And occasionally boys sleeping on the couch with monobrows drawn onto their faces. It’s not really a meditative environment, but it’s all part of the challenge….
Every day I awake expecting rain and ireland just surprises me again! A late summer, and it will probably end soon, therefore I must seize each opportunity to get out and do activities.
I feel like I didn’t sleep for a week, doing all the things I’ve been meaning to do all summer, such as going out on Kevin’s fishing boat and lifting the lobster pots.
Don’t ask me why I chose to do this particular task on a day when I was atrociously hungover, after returning from the beach at 6am and rising at 7.30 for the breakfast shift.
Must have been that ‘seize the day’ attitude.
Let me paint a picture:
Very choppy sea
The stench of day old fish in the bait bucket, festering in it’s own juices
Kevin, his dad, Anke the German, little Cecilia from Taiwan and myself wearing the chunkiest life jacket known to mankind
Slippery boat floor
My task was to reach into the bait bucket (without falling over head first or suffocating myself in my life jacket), pick up a dead rancid fish, shove it into the netting in the pots, smush it’s little face in real good, then pass the pot to Kevin. I think everyone else enjoyed my hungover state far too much….
‘That one smells nice!’
‘Think of Patricks sweaty brown socks sweltering in the sunshine!’ ‘Deeeeeeep breath in there’
‘Shove it in HARDER Rosie, don’t be such a fussy girl!’ (normally I would have made a joke here but I hadn’t the gusto)..
Needless to say I spent a good hour in the corner leaning over the side, gazing at my reflection in the water and avoiding Kevin’s gleeful face as he watched me nearly be sick many a time. I’m sure it’s super fun usually, but whooooeeeeeeee. Dat stench. Anke’s life jacket nearly strangled her when she accidentally inflated, we lost the rope hook over the side, we nearly lost Cecilia between the two boats, and I became vommy. Not ideal.
That weekend we had a huge group of cyclists staying in the hostel, who had obviously been consuming too much fibre and were farting violently in the pub. I looked pointedly at the main culprit when he did it for the second time, and he just shrugged and said “old age and Guinness farts for ya love!”
Pretty sure getting old doesn’t excuse farting. At least TRY to conceal.
These cyclists were a bit mad and drank all of the alcohol in the pub. At 4 o’clock in the morning, when we thought we were the only ones left awake, we discovered a middle aged woman in the middle cubicle of the bathroom, pants off, slumped forward on the toilet with her face down in her knickers. We tried to stir her and she leapt to action, walking into the door which was actually the slot machine.
I think she overdid it. I felt very sensible and sober seeing that.
Now, working in the valley you do get used to the gaze of older men. But on my last night I received unwanted attention from an older woman, who is the sister of the valley regular. She must be approximately 65, and she “loves my way”. Also my bum, apparently.
A self esteem boost if nothing else.
So my last weekend on Achill was a strange old one, with minimal sleep, a tandem midnight cycle trip, beach parties, awesome weather, a Talking Heads revival, humorous hungover people, beach football, a hurling match, and a fair few tears.
It was a slightly weepy drive to Westport then down to Killary in Connemara, where I will be spending the next 2 months working at Killary Adventure Centre.
Jeananne and I are living in a house with I don’t know how many males, but you just know they are boys from the state of the place. I shall apply a woman’s touch.
We get all the activities for free (kayaking, Killary cruise, rock climbing, windsurfing, wake boarding, bungee jumping, and plenty more), and we also get FREE SEAWEED BATHS which was a deal clincher for me. All food and accommodation is provided plus monthly pay, and we work 8 hours daily with two days off per week. It’s like the Valley House on speed, and my body is struggling to keep up after a few months of relaxed Achill lifestyle, but I will get there.
The Killary Centre is right in front of Killary Fjord which makes for awesome views. Last night we went to Westport to pick up our bikes and cycle them back – such a sexy sunset.
From one spectacular place to another! I seem to be drawn to the places that are in the middle of nowhere….
Now I’m the newbie again. Right now they all think I’m normal….. They’re in for a shocker.
It’s very easy, when you know you have an entire summer in one place, to make epic plans to do things ‘this summer’, then get to your final weekend and realize you’ve done nothing but get drunk and talk shit all day.
Luckily, this past weekend I actually followed through on one of my whimsical moments, and we cycled our cycles from Jeananne’s parents house in Galway, all the way through Connemara and back to Westport.
Four days of cycling, two very sore bums and one very heavy jar of peanut butter later, we actually made it. I think Jeananne and I both felt mildly astonished that our tiny stumpy legs took us all that way… As one elderly man in a pub remarked;
‘You’ve got good, strong, MUSCULAR legs on you, girls’. I chose to take that as a compliment, because he looked like he meant it in that way.
Friday night we began our journey on the train from Westport to Ballymacward, where Jeananne’s parents live in a very rural area. We had a delightful stopover in Athlone, where we had cups of tea and I nearly trod on a maxi sanitary pad stuck to the pavement. Not the best introduction to a town that doesn’t have a great reputation in the first place..
Saturday we were up early for what we thought would be a pretty easy cycle into Galway City, but ended up taking us almost four hours due to head wind, and Rosie toppling sideways into a ditch and bending her wheel spoke. What can I say, I’m not used to cycling with that much junk in my trunk. It threw me off. (See what I did there).
Every animal that we passed made me think of Sminky Shorts, which I find deeply hilarious. Your brain drifts to strange places when you’re cycling in a repetitive motion all day. We also passed a small gypsy girl, aged approximately 4 years old, standing on the side of the road with a dog on a leash, wearing no pants and one golden hoop earring. She had a Beyonce stance and a bit of a perm, and she looked at us like ‘Yeah I ain’t wearing pants, wha chu gon do about it?’ Only in Ireland.
We had a whole day in Galway which was a food fiesta. There are so many awesome places to eat in Galway and we only had 24 hours, but I felt that we really did our best to pack it all in.
Galway has a food and crafts market every weekend, so we nabbed a sushi roll and sprawled in the Church garden, feeling dazed and amazed at all the people around us. That night we went to Boojum which does probably the best burrito bowls ever. Or maybe we were just so hungry that socks would have tasted good. Actually, everything tastes SO AMAZING when you’re outside cycling all day. Like, my gluten free bread turned to crumbs in my basket one day and so I just ate crumbs and bits of peanut butter and a very smushy banana and I was the happiest wee girl.
We crawled around some pubs Friday night (kind of literally, because our legs were floppy) then went to some kind of heaven in the form of a late night French restaurant that served buckwheat crepes. One goats cheese, honey and walnut crepe later and I was basically asleep on the couch in the restaurant. Happy days.
The next morning we went to Pura Vida for a fresh juice, then to the Jungle Café off Eyre Square which reminded me a lot of home – perhaps because of their serious attitude to coffee, their flat white on the menu, and the Fat Freddies playing on the sound system. It felt just like a Sunday brunch in Wellington. Aww.
We didn’t leave Galway until about 2.30 that afternoon after some last minute shopping. We again underestimated the strength of the coastal wind and it took us many hours to go 30km to the small town of Carraroe. We stopped a lot, including in a little seaside town called Spiddle. We met a French couple who were doing the same thing as us, and it was reassuring when they told us they had left two hours earlier than us and only got there two minutes before us. So we weren’t the slowest cyclists on the road. But almost..
Carraroe was a tiny town down on the South Coast of county Galway, where everyone speaks Irish, even the young people. It’s a little unnerving walking into a pub and not understanding your fellow youth.We walked into one of two pubs in the village and asked if anyone could recommend a camping spot – we immediately got offered a “cosy, warm double bed with an ensuite” in a local man’s house. He was actually a very nice boy and had we been later in our trip, we might have said yes, but we were so determined to use all of the tent and equipment we had carried, so we stubbornly erected our tent behind the school. We apparently missed the part where we were advised to camp in the opposite corner to the priest’s house, and instead set up camp right next to his backyard, so that he had a nice view into our sleeping quarters. He also, coincidentally, had a nice view onto the children’s playing field. So many jokes.
At one point I was wandering around camp with no pants on (as you do), and Mr Priest came out of his back door talking on the phone.
“Oh… here comes the priest… Oh.. I’m not wearing any pants.”
Not a sentence you say every day.
We were so excited to utilise our tiny gas stove, but after much fumbling, realised we had probably purchased the wrong sized gas canister and that actually we couldn’t cook our brown rice. Desperate times. Lucky we are so good at foraging in the wild…We found a chip shop.
The next day we used the bathroom in the “Bia Blasta” (Tasty Food) café far too much, drank two pots of tea then packed up our thangs and got on the road again for a rather long days cycling. We had to make up for the puney mileage the previous day, but first we had to shake the priest’s pet puppy who had attached himself to our sides and insisted on stealing all of our socks. He followed us one kilometer down the road then found another dog to play with, thank the lord (or the priest…)
That day we cycled about 8 hours, with regular stops for bum relief and refueling. We stopped in Maam Cross and Recess, then took the N59 up to Leenane. Our course plan changed several times over the course of the day, because we are so fun and spontaneous and also because we were tired. I think our favourite stop was in Recess, where we ate icecream and slices of cheese and basked in the sunshine. Only an Irish person would be capable of getting sunburnt in that measly sunlight, but Jeananne certainly managed a good lycra tan line.
The next part was a long, wet, blustery cycle along Lough Inagh and the Twelve Bens, which loomed over us from the right side of the road and reminded us how very small we were. It was a hard road and I personally could have smashed a flask of hot tea, but our 2 euro plastic flask failed to keep liquid hot. And to think I carried that thing all that way between my thighs! I felt deeply disappointed in the euro store, which I am sure many people have in their lifetimes.
That night, after cycling for about 8 hours (with snack stops), we camped at a hostel in Killary Harbour, with the most spectacular view, a downhill driveway and a shitload of midges. As we weren’t really planning to stay there initially, all we had left in our food bag was some brown rice, some corn, and a few slices of cheese. It was a little dry, to say the least, but a girls gotta eat. At least they had free tea at the hostel, which we made the absolute most of. It was very tempting to sleep on the couch inside, but again our pride got the better of us and we had to use our tent which we lugged all that way.
Our final day of cycling was to be a shorter one, so we took our time in the morning, cycled to the village of Leenane 5k down the road, and indulged ourselves in seafood chowder and a seaweed bath.
You basically take a steam room to open your pores, then go to your private room and lie in a bath of slimy seaweed for one hour. It sounds absolutely revolting and yeah… It kind of was. But also very good for you and your tired muscles.
I kept expecting little fish to stick their heads out of the seaweed and nibble me. I had a great time, draping pieces of seaweed over my bosom and imagining that I was the mermaid queen. Jeananne overheated and had to get out of her bath and lie naked on the tiles for ten minutes.
After all that, it was pretty hard to get back on the bikes for 3 hours, but we knew that red wine, pasta and Netflix awaited us in Westport, and it was actually a relatively easy cycle, with lots of downhill and only one downpour.
My shower that night was heavenly, and I found small pieces of seaweed in all my nooks and crannies. Such fun.
It may be the worst thing in the world, getting sick when you are far far away from mummy and home comforts. Where is mumsie to make you hot water bottles and cold flannels for your brow?
It is, at least, a lesson in harden the f**k up. But it isn’t fun. Especially when you share a bathroom with 10 other travellers, many of whom also have the illness, and when said bathroom is a solid 30 metres away.
You know it’s bad when you wake up curled around the base of the dubiously cleaned toilet, and you don’t even have the strength to be scared of the spiders minxing about in the corners.
I was lucky enough to have my darling Irish friend take me into her home and feed me soup and electrolytes, and let me use her bathroom and sleep in her bed. You know they’re a good friend when they give up their bed for you, whilst they sleep in the tent in the backyard.
If I’m looking on the bright side (which I usually am), I suppose it was my body’s way of telling me it needed 5 days of sleeping, free of alcohol, coffee and pretty much all food. I shall view it as a detox, and promptly get back on the wine wagon.
Having recovered from a sprained ankle, a damaged wrist, a vommy bug and some nasty hangovers, I have a new found appreciation for my health. And my appetite. Food tastes so good.
So what have I even been doing this past month? Not writing blog posts, that’s for sure. I’m sliding off the face of the earth on this island. My day goes roughly like this:
Wake up at 10am. Perhaps do some yoga, perhaps go back to sleep for an hour.
Eat a strange assortment of breakfast foods from the Helpers kitchen. We’re a healthy bunch this year, so the foods in demand seem to be flaxseeds, oats, soy milk and honey. Get em while you can!
Make a variety of glutenous pastries that I cannot eat due to intolerance but I would like to smush my face into, such as lemon meringue pies and buttermilk scones.
Get flour all over my clothing, get flustered if I receive more than one order at a time in the cafe, basically make it up as I go.
Squeal with glee over tip money that equates to one drinkie.
Finish work at 6pm. Occasionally go for a walk, a run, or most likely a nap.
Shower myself, or at least dry shampoo my head.
Sit in pub talking shit with various people. Increase my bar tab. Stay up too late. Go to bed at 3am. Tell myself I will get up early tomorrow and do activities. Secretly know that I will sleep for as long as possible.
It’s a whirlwind of activity, and the days slide by far too quickly.
A couple of weeks ago my homegirl Jeananne and I took a trip to Clare Island, moseyed around, drank a lot of tea, did some naps in the ditch and got rained on far too many times.
This weekend I’m running away for a few days to do a cycle trip, which will include party time in Galway and then cycling through Connemara, wild camping and cooking food on a tiny camper stove. I’m very excited, and hoping that the heavens will not unleash their rainy fury on me too regularly. I don’t think my Primark raincoat would be able to handle it.
We have sporks, so I think we are pretty prepared.
When I return I promise to write a marvellous post of all our adventures. There will probably be a lot of pictures of me, sodden and downtrodden, regretting the decision to go camping and cycling in Ireland.
I shall leave you with these images of me and my compadres, drinking to excess and having a tremendous time.
Two months, one sprained ankle, half a munted wrist, 237 midgie bites and 6 unidentifiable bruises later….
I’m still alive. Just. Achill is doing it’s best to break me, or maybe I’m just a bit stupid.
Things I’ve learnt over the past two months, or rather, things I should have learnt but continue to ignore in the spirit of good craic.
1. Don’t wear flip flops to Achill Head, seediest and slipperiest nightclub I’ve visited in Ireland (that’s saying something). You will fall over. At least thrice.
2. A beverage titled ‘Green Poison’ is not for the consumption of little girls. The name fits.
3. Bicycling at 2am is not a good idea, even when sober.
4. It’s especially not good when there are as many potholes as there are on Achill.
5. You also should not choose a bike with no brakes. This is just a general life rule that we should all abide by.
6. Swimming on an Irish beach in the middle of the night is going to be cold. Fripply, even.
7. It’s going to be colder if you don’t wear any clothes.
8. When you live in a hostel, it’s impossible to escape people. They will be there when you try to dash from the shower to your room in only a towel. They will laugh and point. You will probably drop your knickers.
9. Showers are either very cold or they are satan water. It’s like roulette. There is no such thing as warm. Or maybe that’s just the Valley House..
10. Bedtime is 2am, no earlier. If you go to bed earlier, it will be an amazing night and you will have missed out.
11. Beach parties make your hair and clothes smell like fire for days. Baking soda does not remove this smell.
12. Holey clothes are okay so long as the holes are not in naughty places.
13. Yoga with a sprained ankle and bung wrist is a challenge, and one that I am willing to accept.
14. Old men like to watch young women do yoga.
14. French people don’t lock the toilet door when they are doing number twos. Even when in a hostel.
15. Kids smell and leave a lot of crumbs.
16. Midgies will follow you to bed and try to get in there with you. You do not want to sleep with midgies.
17. It’s perfectly acceptable to order vegetable soup everywhere you go, because it is always the cheapest thing on the menu.
18. Avocados and hummus are the holy grail of helpx. They will only last one day. Feast.
19. Despite best intentions, you will probably not get up at 7.30am to do yoga and drink green smoothies when you’re living on Achill.
20. It’s very alarming when you leave Achill and re enter normal society. People are loud and look at you like you’re homeless, especially when you pay for everything with tip money.
21. You probably DO need to shower. A sea swim probably doesn’t count.
22. Sun is rare. When it comes, take off most of your clothes and bask.
23. The island wakes at 11am.
24. Time really flies when you don’t wake until 11am.
25. Even really ugly Irish people are babes. I LOVE THEM ALL.
One month in Achill and I’m not quite sure what I’ve achieved in that time… I’ve definitely put some new holes in my clothes. One large hole in my finger too, which will be a cute reminder of that time I was actually doing some work and I got all flustered and tore my index finger open on a door (don’t ask how).
This month has been a bit of a blur of dirty jokes, beaches, friendly faces, bonfires, parties, cheese with wine inside (I KNOW) and the occasional wander to the beach to reflect on all of the above. Mostly on the cheese.
I’m very balanced. ….
I drink red wine at night, and green tea in the morning.
I stay up late, and I sleep a bit later to compensate.
I go for walks…. To the pub.
I do yoga, then have a nap during savasana.
I eat a sausage, but I eat it with some vegetables.
I wash myself regularly, but not my hair…..
Achill island has a weird effect on most people that come here. Several people who have turned up to stay at the hostel have ended up staying for longer, because they love it so much and don’t want to go home. (Or maybe it’s because I am here, and I am like the sun).
At the moment we have a French language camp at the hostel, which comprises of 5 delightful Irish kids learning French in the morning then doing adventure activities in the afternoon. I tagged along on a kayaking excursion the other day, and enjoyed a tandem kayak session through the wilds of the bog and the never ending lake in Keel. We beached ourselves several times, which is obviously all part of the fun. You must thrust aggressively to shift the weight of the kayak, much to the delight of everyone around us.
Last week on my days off I cycled to the beach with a friend, went swimming, did yoga in the sand (easier said than done – I got sand EVERYWHERE), then went to The Cottage and ate some seafood which may have been some of the best I’ve ever tasted. All the seafood is local and we could not stop talking about dat mackerel, mmmhmmmmmm.
Last Monday was bonfire night, which is an annual event involving everyone on the island hauling all of their rubbish and old furniture down to beach bonfires and setting them alight. Then we all stand around and drink things whilst watching shit burn. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and really brought out my inner cave woman. I sat on a couch that may or may not have been riddled with fleas, and witnessed some fisticuffs between a young boy and a drunkard who was insulted when told to “go home to his mammy”. Scandal at the bonfire. Things escalated when we began to drink whiskey from the bottle, and the next morning I found myself hanging out on the beach accompanied by several stray hounds and no toothbrush.
I had the last two days off, so we took a trip to Westport to catch up with friends. I saw my friend Izzy who I HelpXed with in France (my naked yoga buddy) and we exchanged hair washing stories over a glass of red wine and some enthusiastic banjo playing. Her hair looks like Rapunzel’s, whereas mine looks more like “Rumpelstiltskin”, but I have resigned myself to this. Tuesday may have been the sunniest day I’ve ever experienced in Ireland, so we moved our beds outside and got a small bit naked in the sun, much to the delight of the male flatmates (both called Kevin, because that’s all that anyone is called here).
“Um, can we take photos?”
Then we went to eat some salads and took a trip to the beach. Once in the water we decided to go topless and wear our brassieres over our shoulders as handbags. We frolicked for a while and it was remarkably warm amongst the seaweeds. We almost floated about on our backs then realised our flotation devices would emerge from the water, which might have been a shock for the small children nearby.
So I’ve gone a bit feral once more, and I very much enjoy it. Whilst talking to mother dearest the other week, we observed that both of her children have gone wild. All of the snapchats I receive from my brother are something along the lines of, “yo just slept in a container and ate carrots for dinner now I’m going into the mountains with my beard”, and I reply with “yo just poured vinegar on my hair now I’m off to the beach on my bike with no gears to do some yoga and swim naked with the tickly fish”.