Here it is! My absolutely favorite day in Ireland which was consequently my favorite country visited during our Eurotrip 2014. So basically this was the best day ever.
Biking Inis Mor, the Aran Islands
We woke up early to catch a bus from our hostel in Galway to the ferry that would be taking us to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. Thankfully we had opted out of the pub crawl the night before and were well rested for the long day ahead. Our Australian tour mates were not so lucky and looked absolutely miserable. I felt kind of bad but was excited to rent bikes and explore the island with our group. Biking is my favorite way to explore any destination! But you know this already.
I slept for the entire bus ride and ferry ride (wow I am now a pro at public transport sleeping) and once we docked on the island we followed our group and the other Shamrockers group to the bike shop. We picked up some snazzy bikes (mine had a basket!) and rode the short distance to the local grocery store. It was time to pick up picnic supplies!
At the store we picked up some deli meat, cheese, apples, chocolate and water, only the necessities of course. We also deemed it entirely necessary to order a couple espressos from the coffees shop next door. We needed CAFFEINE. Best decision ever.
Once everybody had their bikes stuffed awkwardly with food, we set off down the road after our Shamrocker guides, Dave and Rachel. We had just met Rachel and her tour group which we would be joining the next day while Dave took most of our group back to Dublin.
Our mismatched group of about 30 people comically pedaled along a coastal road, wobbling around while adjusting our bikes and exasperating many local drivers as they tried to pass us. It was a disaster just waiting to happen. Ten minutes later, Dave veered off the main road and began pedaling frantically up a steep hill. The pavement soon disappeared, becoming a path of loose gravel and dirt. Everybody struggled to stay upright as we maneuvered the uneven ground and gradual incline. The skinny tires of my road bike slipped over the rugged surface made the climb even more challenging. But I was enjoying myself. A lot! Towards the top of the hill, we gave up and walked the rest of the way, sweating under the increasingly hot sun.
At the top of the hill, we breathed a sigh of relief as the ground evened out and the road came to an end.
Peeling off layers of clothing, we stacked our bikes along a stone wall and grabbed our bags of food before walking towards the edge of the island. We were on yet another Burren landscape, a flat limestone terrain with crisscrossing cracks that stretched on for miles before abruptly dropping off into the sea as dramatically as the Cliffs of Moher.
Of course we took a path right along the cliff, making me nervous all over again. Why do people like to tempt fate? Yes it is a thrill but I prefer not falling into nothingness thank you very much.
From our vantage point, we could see the landscape covered in an endless patchwork of ancient stone walls. In the past, these walls were constructed along limestone fault lines to create small chunks of farmable land. People cleared the land of stone and built walls from the excess. They filled any cracks in the land with crushed stone before layering everything with sand and seaweed. Imported topsoil was then spread on top of the limestone to create land suitable for crops or grazing. Today, these intricate stone walls are protected as the cultural heritage of the Aran Islands and are reminder of its past .
Look who I found creeping around the stones!
After maneuvering around endless walls, Dave and Rachel finally stopped at a stunning spot overlooking a lagoon of sorts for our picnic. I was busy taking photographs and almost had a heart attack when I turned around and saw Carina sitting on the edge. Eyes wild with fear, I walked forward, determined to drag her away from her impending fall till I noticed that her feet were actually resting safely on a lower ledge. She turned around and laughed at me, knowing that I would freak out at this optical illusion.
Thankfully fear works up quite an appetite so I joined her on the ledge to enjoy our picnic. Snacking on our apples and cheese rolled with deli meat, we watched the waves crash into the cliffs and the seagulls ride the wind.
Look mom no hands!
When we were done eating, we continued our walk along the cliff after Dave who was leading part of our group towards an ancient stone fort. We had stopped sweating from our intense bike ride and were now chilled from the cool sea breeze. It was time to start moving. Maybe even run? I almost ran in the wrong direction and off the side of the cliff but came to my senses just in time. Phew.
Passing by more stone walls, we came upon an impossibly large wall at the end of a cliff. Rounding the corner, we discovered the rest of our group lounging inside the ancient fortress before a stunning view of the coastline. Shielded by the thick stones, we sat in the coarse grass and soaked up the sunshine. It was wonderful.
Friends! Carina with Mizuki, Annie, and Andrew. We had a great time with these guys.
The Aran Islands are magical. Guinness grows here.
Sadly it was time to leave this magical place and head back to town. We said our goodbyes to the cliffs and made walked back over the rugged landscape to our bikes. This time we walked down the slippery gravel path, only mounting our bikes once we reached the paved road. Remember that first big hill from the ride up? Well this time Carina and I were coming down the hill behind a group of girls descending at an incredibly slow pace. Suddenly, Carina took off, speeding down the hill and past the girls in a blur! The girls gasped in surprise and I started laughing uncontrollably as I watched Carina speed away along the coast. Her impatience and unexpected descent was absolutely hilarious. As a matter of fact, I’m crying from laugher as I type this.
Oh dear. Moving on.
We met up with everyone in front of a pub to relax (and grab a few pints of course). Some of our group decided to stay at the pub while the rest of us continued biking along the other coast. This is when I almost died coming down a steep turn and was this close to crashing headfirst into a fence. Somehow I maintained control and braked at the last moment, silently thanking my grandpas for looking out for me. That was a close one!
We pedaled along the relatively flat and smooth road as the landscape opened up before us, revealing miles of farmland and few lazy sheep. A few times we stopped to hang out by the ocean where we saw seals popping their heads out of the water! They kept a safe distance from shore but incessant bobbing was hilarious to watch.
Most of the time our group pedaled in pleasant silence, stopping every once in a while to take a few pictures of cows and farmhouses. The grass was so green and the sun felt so good on our faces. Almost too good. At this point it was pretty warm and I could feel my face starting to burn. Uhoh. Did we put on any sunscreen? Nope. This is Ireland after all, the land of perpetual rain (famous last words).
After pedaling around for a few hours, we were bummed when we had to turn around to catch the last ferry off the island. Back on the ferry, we hung out on the upper deck, not wanting to miss a thing. We were exhausted but happy. It had been an amazing and unforgettable day.
Having the Craic in Galway
Back in Galway after a hilarious bus ride (don’t ask), we tore up our hostel getting ready for a group dinner in only half and hour. Our room of 6 people only had one shower and one mirror and everybody was dirty and badly sunburnt. Getting ready was a crazy circus act but we managed to make it downstairs in time. My hair was dirty and my face was beet red from the sun but nobody else seemed to fare any better.
We had our group dinner at an awkwardly long table and afterwards most people went back to the hostel to rest. But I was determined to hear more Irish music in Galway! Dave kept his promise and took our little group of friends to a pub with a banjo player, guitarist and fiddler rocking out with complex harmonies and fingers flying. My mind was blown! BOOM.
We were pretty reserved for most of the show until the last song when we all ended up dancing in a frenzy of limbs. Of course that’s when the music ended so we walked to another pub, sitting in the corner and ordering more pints. Funniest part of the night was when Dave read our palms and a couple of Irish guys came over to ask what we were doing. I responded,”We’re doing the Safety Dance” which had the men confused and Carina laughing hysterically. I guess the Irish don’t know that song too well (“Everybody look at your hands…”). Get it?
It was an epic night out in Galway and we definitely had the Craic, maybe even a Craic 90. But not a Craic 91. There was no funny business going on, just some amazing Irish music, a lot of pints and some good laughs.
Best day ever. I love Ireland.