We leave Waterford for Dublin at 8:30 AM. We arrive at about 10:30, I think. We try (and fail) to find blue hair dye for Caroline as her once super blue-turquoise locks have now faded to different shades of green. It doesn’t look too bad actually.
Our bus is set to leave for County Donegal at 11:30 and I buy a few post cards at the bus station.
Caroline and I never sit side by side on buses. We usually sit in window seats across from each other and try to resist the temptation to talk loudy across the aisle. A Romanian girl sits beside me and gossips on her phone. And a business man sits by Caroline. I lean my head on the window and fall into one of those attractive deep drooling sleeps. I stir a bit and the Romanian girl is gone. Caroline and the business man are sharing a sandwich he brought. It sounds like they’re talking about Swiss bank accounts and Harry Potter. I could have been dreaming. We make one pit stop and both Caroline and I buy chocolate. The bus arrives in Donegal at about 6 o’clock and we look around to see if anyone is waiting for us. Nope.
We walk to The Abbey hotel where we had arranged to meet. No one. We go inside to wait in the lobby because our backpacks are heavy though I am getting used to carrying mine. Finally.
Not too long after a stout guy in a grey hoodie walks up to us. His name is John. He has a strong Irish accent and speaks very quickly so our conversation is filled with a lot of laughing then “…wait what?”
He helps us put our bags in the car and we meet Annie (an Australian photographer). At first we think she volunteers at the hostel as well, but apparently she’s just a guest to the only other hostel in Glencolmcille. We ask her how long she has been there and she says six weeks. John says eight.
She is really “cheeky” and John is just plain hilarious. The drive to Gelcolmcille is supposed to take 45 minutes but ends up taking a little over an hour because we stop for Chinese food and petrol in a strip of about ten or so small shops. As we pull away from the Chinese restaurant Annie tells us to say goodbye to civilization. We wave at the small cluster of buildings trailing behind us.
The next stretch of road is filled with dark steep cliffs, thick fog, and sheep (sometimes in the road). The roads are just as narrow and windy as they are in the south and the people drive just as quickly. Annie says the music is more dramatic here compared to that which we heard in Southern Ireland because the energy of the landscape is more dramatic. She also says despite how rural it is not to worry because everyone is into crack. “They’re absolutely addicted to crack here. It’s ridiculous.” She scoffs. “They just live for the crack.”
“Yeah so what we like to have a bit of crack around here?! You’ve got to enjoy life you bloody Aussie!” John responds. They both laugh. Caroline and I stare wide-eyed at each other.
Oh, by the way crack is an Irish slang term for fun.
We turn a corner and a very small village with scattered Irish farm houses and smoking chimneys. Behind the village is the sea. We pull up to a white two story house in the center. It is the hostel where we will be living and volunteering for the next eleven days.
John takes us to our room. It has two beds (which is exciting enough) AND its own bathroom equipped with a hot-water-ready shower! It is actually more like a hotel than a hostel because there are no dormitory style rooms here.
*Also we get four euros a room for every room we clean after guests leave which is really nice and not typical of workaway exchanges. This combined with the tips we got to keep at the restaurant has allowed for me and Caroline to feed our ever-growing European chocolate addiction*
He says that the tourist season is over and we will be doing more maintenance than anything else. This sounds fine with me. He gives us a contract to sign which is basically just a list of common sense rules.
Caroline and I cannot stop gushing at the views of the village. We can also not stop talking about how much we miss Jamie. We get attacked by a swarm of gnats and remember how Jamie used to call them American drones. We take sad selfies holding each other and send them to Jamie because we know it will annoy him and annoying people is how we show affection.
We realize we are being ridiculous and we have to get over Jamie. Both of us. Seriously.
So we make an effort to socialize.. With the only other person at the hostel. A volunteer named Randal. Randal is from England. He was raised in the countryside which sounds a bit like rural Ireland. His father was a dairy farmer. He drinks a lot of tea. He likes eighties rock music and action movies. He can’t believe we haven’t seen 2 Fast 2 Furious.
The locals love to poke fun at Randal. John says the Irish love to poke fun at the British because historically Ireland has “taken a lot of shart (shit) from the damn British and oh ya we’ve forgiven ’em all right, but we’ll always mess wit em a bit.. Sort of our right I suppose. Especially people like Randal who are in love with the fecking monarchy.”
It is kind of true. I don’t know about the British-Irish bit, but about Randal and the monarchy. Randal talks a lot about conservative English politics (which to be fair I know almost nothing about). He says things I don’t know how to respond to, like that princess Diana tried to make the royal family too common. He also says it is well known that she slept around. I doubt that this is true. He talks about his family ancestry which is interesting. Apparently he is semi-closely related to the royal family. He is a friendly-conservative-English-farm-boy. He reminds me of people I went to high school with in Athens, Alabama. That’s all I really have to say about Randal.
That night we get settled in. The wifi is steady here which is nice. The shower is a push-button-set-temperature-shower to conserve water which is typical of Irish hostels. As excited as I was to take a hot shower, the water here is scalding hot. It is uncomfortable and burns my scalp when I wash my hair. Be careful what you wish for I guess.
Caroline and I plan to go to bed early but end up staying up until past two AM.
We wake up around ten and eat bagels and avocado for breakfast. Randal has never seen or eaten an avocado before. He has also never had Mexican food. Geographically this makes sense, but it is still mind-boggling for me because in the states we eat a lot of Mexican food. Like a lot, a lot.
Our job today is to start painting the wall trimmings in the guest rooms. It is fun and easy work. We complete only one room which takes maybe two hours and Randal says we are done for the day. Caroline and I both feel uncomfortable almost at how little work they expect from us considering how accommodating they are, but that just seems to be the nature of this village so…
He takes us on a hike from the hostel up the mountain behind it. There is an old watchtower at the top that looks over the ocean. Randal manages to stack rocks and hoist himself up to the window into the tower. Caroline and I are too scared to do this. We walk down the other side of the mountain and along the high cliffs of the mountains beside it. We watch the waves crash against the cliffs below and it is wild and beautiful. There are no trails so you feel very alone and primitive by the cliffs of Glencolmcille. It is awe inspiring and exciting to be here. The village has a very tight knit community and everyone knows everyone’s name. It feels like a home away from home, and I quickly learn that tourists have a hard time leaving this place. The prime example being Annie whom only planned on staying for a week and has been here for over two months. I also meet an older French man who has been a tour guide at Mont Saint Michel for the past twenty years. He has just retired and was supposed to check out the day we arrived but now plans to stay for at least another week. Everyone you meet who is not a local expresses a sort of surprise at how hard it is to leave this peninsula of Ireland. It has a sort of magic to it that I can’t accurately describe.
For dinner John makes us chili over rice and we wash up after. Randal wants to watch a movie in the common room. We let him pick. We end up watching The Devil Inside. Caroline nods off several times and I play on my phone discreetly because the movie is kind of horrible.
We again go to bed too late but still earlier than everyone else.
Two German middle aged backpackers check in as well as a nice Canadian couple. Randal handles the check-ins. John says our job today is to give the kitchen a proper scrub down and to organize the cabinets. We introduce Randal to Outkast and again finish work in about two hours. We are done for the day which is crazy. John drives us up to Slieve League and we hike for about four hours along the tallest cliffs in Europe. I’m sure your sick of my sappy posts about the beautiful nature here, but seriously. So freaking beautiful.
He picks us up around 6:30 and drives us back to the hostel stopping several times to let sheep cross the road and to let Caroline “baa” at them. The sheep look at Caroline with mild curiosity whenever she does this and we decide that they must just not understand her accent.
After burgers and chips for dinner Cliff takes us up to the only other hostel in Glencolmcille. It is with in walking distance and it is sort of famous in these parts. It is run by a woman named Mary and her son Leo. (Those are their real names)
Mary has the strong accent of the Northern Irish and curses like a sailor. She forces us to drink tea and eat biscuits (which is the term for the bland cookies served with tea here). She is 77 years old. The Dooley hostel which she runs is built into a rock. The roof is topped with grass for insulation and the rock walls inside are decorated with random photos and knickknacks Mary has collected throughout the years. Needless to say this place has character. There are burning fireplaces in the common rooms which are closed off to preserve the heat and it feels quite like a hobbit hole. She invites us into her personal sitting room to chat which is filled with smoke despite the fact that there is no smoking allowed in the hostel because she says she “doesn’t give a fuck about the damn rules.”
We stay at the Dooley hostel with Mary for a little over an hour as she tells us stories (most of which are pretty risqué) and.. Well here is a sample of the conversation:
“Whatcha got there Mary?” John asked gesturing to a very ornate wooden chest in the center of the room.
“Well, it’s my fuckin casket isn’t it..” Mary replied matter of factly.
“Yeah but what’s it bloody well sittin’ out here for?” Cliff exclaims.
“Well I’ll be settlin’ down in there one of these days. It’s nice and lined.. Should be quite comfortable. Just make sure I have my smokes and a lighter when I go. Will probably get quite damp down there,” she points at the ground, “too damp for matches. Don’t forget me fuckin’ lighter and I’ll be alright.”
“You’re a crazy bitch ain’t ya Mary! Better watch out for this one girls!”
Both John and Mary explode into laughter.
Caroline and I laugh uncomfortably.
When we get back to the hostel we are properly exhausted.. And finally turn in at a decent hour.
BUT I had to wake up early this morning and help with Irish breakfast so I am quite literally delirious. I have no idea if any of the words above this make actual sense or if it’s interesting.
At least we’re quite caught up to events now.
Until next time…