Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ireland Day Three: WherethehellamI?

Yeah, the updates for Days Two and Three may be posted somewhere around Day Four. Right now, I’m in Portmagee. The little information booklet in my room informs me that the nearest internet access is in the next town. Our guide told us we had “a couple” of choices for dinner – by which he meant two. What I’m saying here is: Portmagee = not very big.

Our guide, by the way, is no longer ROB RANKIN of VAGABOND TOURS (he who regularly googles himself). Some rather annoying rules in Ireland restrict drivers to no more than five days in a row – since we’re on a 7-day tour, we have to swap out guides partway through. Rob concluded that it’s better to swap out guides near the start of the tour rather than near the end – you know, because you don’t want to mess with a five-day-long Guide/Tour Group bonding experience. As it is, we’d grown surprisingly attached to Rob. I reckon we’ll work out a different but equally good dynamic with Sam, but it is weird how Sam now seems like the Odd Man Out in our group of 13. (And that’s counting the guy who doesn’t speak much English.) I was actually hoping to catch Sam tonight in the pub (one of our two dinner choices) – I owe him a pint (more on that later) and was looking forward to buying it, even if just to loosen his tongue a bit so we can get a better read on him. So far, it seems like he’s got a ton of information at his fingertips, but we sort of have to ask for it. He doesn’t give you an “on your left is...” sort of narration when driving along (as Rob did) – but if we ask, “Hey, what’s that thing on our left?” he has quite a bit of info to share.

I’m getting ahead of myself again. (And I’m a bit drunk. More on that later, too.)

Morning started a bit late today, so Kathy and I grabbed a late breakfast and hit the shops in Kenmare – where Kathy managed to spot an item on my shopping list. One gift down, about six to go.

There was really only one event on schedule for today – another “walk over a hill.” We greeted this announcement with the proper level of cynicism it deserved, but Rob assured us that it wasn’t nearly as taxing as yesterday’s hike. (Yesterday’s walk was, in fact, upgraded to “hike” status. Then again, he first called today’s walk a “stroll.” Rob has different definitions of these things than most people. I think I heard someone say Rob was a triathlete. This would explain a lot.)

I hadn’t really wanted another walk so soon after the last one, but it was the only real thing we were doing today, and – quite contrary to how I am when I’m not on vacation – I sorta craved some level of activity.

The long and short of this walk: Not as taxing as yesterday’s? Yes. Not as long as yesterday’s? No. It wasn’t nearly as steep, but once we got over the hill, the valley on the other side seemed to go on forever until we got to the pick-up point. Truth be told, we actually took longer on this one than we did on the last one. Then again, we stopped for more photos (rather than to just catch our breath), and there was a place where a few of us needed a hand in climbing across some rocks across a stream, so it was a bit more of a team effort. (Again, more of that group bonding business.) We said our goodbyes to Rob in front of the hill, and it was Sam who picked us up on the other side.

From there, we picked up the non-walker, took a few scenic photos, 

stopped for lunch, and started the drive down around the Ring of Kerry. (We passed many tourist busses and felt quite superior to them in our little Land Rover. This feeling continued as we turned off the road and went down into a valley where big coaches fear to tread.)

Much more driving, and it now started to rain. Sam was tearing down the road at a fast clip – we had the windows open, and, at one point, the windows shaved the nearby bushes a bit. All of a sudden, little bits of greenery came flying into our laps – much amusement. We eventually stopped at – fuck it, I’ve no idea where we stopped. It was some house of historical significance. You could choose to walk down to the beach (in the wind and rain – pass) or to the house and gardens. The house actually charged an admission fee, but the grounds were free – as were (as I discovered, in order) the toilets, the attached chapel, and the cute little (heated) tea room. I did a little private stroll of the gardens, then ran into Kathy, and spent twenty minutes in the warm tea room, tossing back tea until we had to go back to the vehicle. No photos of the gardens. (1. They weren’t all that impressive; and 2. Sometimes you just need to crank up your mp3 player, walk around someplace alone, and get a bit more centered. Well, at least I do.)

We then completed the drive over to Portmagee. Now, I believe I mentioned the Lack of Bigness to Portmagee – this includes the B&B in which we are staying. When Kathy and I had originally booked this tour, we booked to share a room – I only decided to switch to two singles on the first day of the tour. Well, this B&B was fully booked tonight – I could either stay here and share the room with Kathy or stay in a B&B in another town. (Admittedly, I idly wondered if the B&B in the other town had internet access. But still, everyone else was staying here, and Rob had billed this as one the best B&B’s in Ireland, so I wasn’t looking forward to skipping it.)

So, Sam is talking about all of us staying here, and I ask Sam if there’s room here for me too, or if I’ve gotta be at the place in the next town. Sam says there’s room for all of us, and he’ll “take one for the team” and try out the other B&B. I am grateful for this. (Hence: owe Sam a drink.) It actually got much more complicated – the hotel initially did not have room for me after all (Sam thought I was still sharing with Kathy) but it turned out that a room magically appeared – a last-minute cancellation, I guess. So one couple got upgraded to a really sweet room (with jacuzzi!) and I ended up in their (now vacated) double. Poor Sam was all alone in the B&B in the next town. He said he’d come back to Portmagee for dinner, but we didn’t see him. :(

Kathy and I met for dinner in the pub. (The choice being “pub grub” or a more gourmet “but more expensive” restaurant.) I order a glass of cider. (Cider = the one alcoholic drink I affirmatively like the taste of. I recognize that this fact may get me in trouble. Yet, I also recognize that I’m not driving.) Our food comes, but our drinks don’t. We eventually remind the waitress and she comes back with a pint of cider (for the “glass” price) with apologies.

That’s … a lot of cider.

We linger over dinner, and dessert (and the trivia question which had stumped me in the Land Rover earlier – we were trying to come up with a song title for each day of the week, but couldn’t think of any song with “Thursday” in the title – damn you, lack of internet access!) – I kept hoping Sam would show up to collect on his Guinness – but he never did. (Perhaps the B&B in the other town is so nice, he decided to stay. Somehow I doubt this.)

In any event, the time was spent attempting to consume enough of the cider so I wouldn’t seem ungrateful for my free upgrade. (Kathy deemed me “more drunk than she’d ever seen me,” although that isn’t necessarily saying much. Then again, it just took me three tries to type “necessarily.”)

We’re not exactly sure what’s on tap for tomorrow. The bulk of the group signed up for a ferry over to the Skellig Islands. Neither me nor Kathy was up for this. Ironically, the ocean might not be either – it is anticipated that the swells will be too high to go (leftovers from Atlantic storm systems), in which case the entire group will be doing whatever Kathy and I will be doing. (Unfortunately, not one person in our group remembers what Rob said the alternative was, when he told us about it on the first day, and we somehow neglected to ask Sam before we sent him off to the lousy B&B up the road.) Personally, I’m hoping for a day at leisure in a town with free wi-fi; shops selling exactly the gifts I need to buy; and a masseuse.

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