Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rock Sailing with Giants

Anyone who has ever taken a vacation knows how hard it is to see and do all the things on the adventure list. This is true when living abroad for a year. There are so many places and experiences. The longer you stay, the longer the list gets. And this has been the dilemma Zach and I find ourselves in with 360 days of our year spent.

One place we really really really wanted to go all along was Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Varying factors kept us away (butt-loads of homework, a disparaging neighbor who swore that it was total shite and not worth the trip, etc etc). But finally, we looked at our bucket-list and asked ourselves, what would be honestly regret not doing (besides not visiting Connemara?) and the answer was: experiencing the Causeway. So we booked same-day train and bus tickets and fled early one morning while the streets were still dark.

We went even though the weather report predicted horrible downpours and thunderstorms (with red lightning according to icons)! We went even though it meant more than ten hours in transit. We went because  some places just call to you from afar. You see pictures in magazines or in those extra-luscious, extra-large coffee table books and your heart and fingertips purr with the thought of traveling there. Giant's Causeway certainly called to me, and Zach is always the eager explorer or anywhere strange, unusual, and stunning.

We arrived almost awake after snoozing on the myriad trains and buses. The sun was shining. Not from behind a vast bank of clouds which is usually the case for a "sunny" day in Ireland, but actually shining clear of obstruction. (And there was certainly no red lightning anywhere in sight.) The sky was blue...not gray. The ocean was a jewel. And the Causeway was amazing! We trekked up and down the stair-step octagonal stones columns marveling at how a gush of volcanic goo could solidify into something that really looked man-made. It really made us stop and think about all the odd things stone does in Ireland. From the melted rock landscapes of the Burren to the dash-marked pillars of the ogham stones now mostly confined to museums--rocks are the most amazing yet most underrated spectacle of the whole island!

Even though we were dressed for freezing monsoons, we stripped down or folded up as best we could to play away the day in the hot sun. Zach went so far as to climb some of the taller columns. He lost his grip at one point and came sliding down fast. It gave me quite a scare, but he was not seriously injured. He managed to keep leaning forward and land on his feet, rather than topple back on to the craggy carpet below. Whew!

After that, we marched up winding cliff-side paths to take our picture under the towering columns known as the Organ Pipes. We set out on trails which meandered the very tip-tops of the rugged cliffs, where very few tourists actually go. We stood on the very edge of a cliff, clasped hands, and threw our arms in the air, letting the breezes blow us back, and in that whooshing moment, we stared all the way out to the horizon and pretended our promontory was the helm of a mighty ship, sailing fast and sure over the tossing and tumbling seas.

The illusion was fantastic and no doubt aided by our over-active writers' imaginations! We backed away from the edge of the cliff feeling breathless and exhilarated.

It was only after all this adrenaline and wonderment wore off did we realize that Zach's back had suffered a bit of twisting spasm during his fall. His sciatic nerve was awakened and roaring like the dragon you expect to find roaming the rocks at the Causeway (led on a leash by a Giant, perhaps). Fortunately it was time to go, so he could at least spend the next five or six hours resting up on one wheeled vehicle or another, but it was a long wait before he could get home to a hot shower and a soothing back rub à la Jenny.     

In the end we were so glad we went! No, more than that. We were plum tickled! Sure, there were still places to on our must-see list that weren't getting checked off, but we knew we could and would see them "one day" just as we saw the Causeway one day.