There and Back Again: A Hobbit's Tale
[Just Kidding. I'm Not a Hobbit.]
After seeing the Cliffs of Moher, I was hooked. I could not live the rest of my life without having on-the-ground experience with the western coast of Ireland. After some intense google-ing, I discovered Hillwalk Tours and booked a solo "slackpacking" hike along the Dingle Way, from Annascaul to Feohanagh. Slackpacking is a perfect choice for people who appreciate a good hike, but have a deep love for a hot shower and a comfy bed, and who also have an irrational fear of contracting an amoeba-based disease from an insect crawling into their mouth while sleeping in a tent. This is me. I am people.
Hillwalk Tours sent me an in-depth packet with step-by-step directions for the hike, booked all of my bed and breakfasts along the trail, and arranged for someone to transfer my luggage to each night's accommodation. I only had to carry the supplies I needed for my hike each day. After 3 days, 45 miles, rain, a sinus infection, two Star Wars filming location detours, and two significant "I wasn't looking close enough at my map" detours, I completed a large part of The Dingle Way. This trip took some grit, but it was one of my favorites.
The most frequent, and probably my favorite, feedback that I get on my blog posts is, "I felt like I was right there with you!" So, in the spirit of bringing you along on this adventure, I will be including excerpts from my daily journal entries, as well as poorly-edited video diaries along the way. Also, I have far more to say about this trip than a single blog post will allow, so I'm turning it into a series. You may regret wanting to come along on this one, friends...
Starting my Journey in Annascaul, Ireland
After a quick stopover in London, I set off for the Kerry County Airport. At one time in my life, I believed that the Little Rock, Arkansas airport was small. I was wrong. The Kerry airport has two gates that share one small seating area and a café. That's it. I had been panicking about navigating the airport to catch the bus in time, but that was silly for two reasons. First, I got off the plane, through Ireland's immigration, and to the front of the airport in about 0.5 seconds. Second, the Irish buses show up when they're good and ready, so you might as well throw your timetable out the window, son. It's always interesting to learn which country's public transportation will activate my sleeper-agent trust issues.
After three slightly-confusing bus transfers, I finally arrived in Annascaul, a tiny town on the southern edge of Ireland's Dingle peninsula where I immediately stopped at the South Pole Inn for a hearty meal of seafood chowder. Also, because I was feeling a little sniffly, I decided to order a hot toddy without the hot water, honey, or lemon. It's important to take care of oneself. The South Pole Inn was originally opened by Annascaul native, Tom Crean. Tom was a crewman on three Antarctic expeditions in the early 1900s. I highly recommend his biography, An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor by Michael Smith. It's a fantastic book to read if you're ever feeling too uppity. Because unless you've spent years in subzero temperatures, sailed a small boat across a weather-torn, Antarctic sea, or traversed an unexplored, mountainous island to save the lives of your comrades, maybe you haven't accomplished as much as you thought. Before I read this book, I thought I was pretty tough, but it has now been proven that I am as soft as vanilla ice cream on a Spanish summer day. The hardships that Crean endured in the face of overwhelming odds is nothing short of miraculous. He was a man of astounding endurance and resilience- very Irish, indeed.
After my hearty dinner, I headed to my first night's stay: Annascaul House Bed and Breakfast. The owners, Noell and Moira, introduced me to their children, and their daughter showed me some of her Gaelic schoolwork of which I understood zero percent. The Dingle Peninsula is one of the few Gaeltacht areas left in Ireland. A Gaeltacht is a place where Irish Gaelic is still considered the first language. Everywhere else in Ireland basically had English relentlessly smashed into their brains while they were still controlled by the British crown.
A little later, Noell headed out for a pint at Hanafin's, a fourth-generation family-owned pub. They were having a live music night, and he kindly offered for me to tag along. In my journal later that night, I wrote, "I initially refused because of this plague/sickness I'm battling, but then I thought, 'Um, YOLO?' Opportunity to mingle with the locals before tourist season hits? Yes." I threw on a sweater and headed down the street to the pub where I spent the evening enjoying live music and getting to know locals, fellow travelers, and even a Spaniard working at the pub for the year through the Workaway program. After a wonderful evening, I wrote, "It truly was like a movie. Just another reminder to DO THINGS. Even when you're tired and sicky. You'll rarely regret it."
I got a solid night's sleep, ate a fabulous Irish breakfast made by Moira the next morning, and excitedly marched outside to begin my hike... in the pouring rain.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Hopping Stiles from Annascaul to Dingle.
Because I do research on my posts now, and citing sources makes me appear super, freaking sophisticated...
[map]“The Dingle Way.” Ireland's Dingle Peninsula Corca Dhuibhne, Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance, https://www.dingle-peninsula.ie/attractions-on-the-dingle-peninsula-co-kerry/walking-and-hiking-on-the-dingle-peninsula/30-attractions-on-the-dingle-peninsula/walking-hiking-on-the-dingle-peninsula/107-the-dingle-way.html.
Smith, Michael. An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean: Antarctic Survivor. The Collins Press, 2010.