Dingle Way, Day 3
4 July 2010
Fourth of July, which meant nothing since we were camped out in a kind stranger's back yard in Ireland, began in a cloud and settled on spitting mist heavy enough to rattle the fly on my tent. I would have liked to lie in and let the moist Irish morning burn off, but that wasn't really an option. We were in the rose garden, the cows were leaving the barn and clomping down the road and we didn't want to overstay our welcome. Also: one shouldn't pee in a stranger's backyard. So we got up, packed our tents up wet and huddled next to the shipping container that served as the backyard shed to half-heartedly make breakfast.
Maybe we were trying to look miserable. I didn't have to try too hard. The rain was starting up harder, it was blowing in my face, and I'd made a critical mistake with my fuel pump. See, I wanted to strap the fuel bottle to the outside of my pack. That makes sense because it reduced the risk of spilling gasoline inside my pack--on my clothes or my food or my dishes. I unscrewed the plastic fuel pump and figured that because it was fragile it needed to be protected, so I naively tucked it into my bowl--There! That'll keep it from getting smashed. And it did. My fuel pump was not smashed, but it leaked into my bowl. Petroleum distillates besides being disgusting are dangerous. Wind and rain in my face, every layer of clothes I owned, huddled up next to a rusty corrugated box, staring longingly into my fuel-flavored instant coffee I must have looked a sight and tugged the heart strings of the nice Irish lady doing her dishes at the kitchen sink.
The woman came out and told us that we were welcome to come inside and have breakfast and use her bathroom. I waved my hunk of soda bread at her and tried to convince her that we were really okay. She wasn't having it and told us to get inside. Twice was enough. We threw our packs in the shed and shed our outer layers at the door and padded into her kitchen.
We tried to have a conversation about Obama (they like him) and rashers (she was sorry there weren't any, she forgot to take them out of the freezer last night!) and the Dingle Way while the woman gave us tea and toast and honey and cookies (for breakfast!). She spoke Irish at our request and tried to explain how to pronounce the various dotted letters. I think her name was some variation of Katherine, but I had a very hard time understanding her accent. I did understand that she often offers her backyard to Dingle Way hikers, but we were the first she'd had that year. The economy, she figured.
Her kitchen reminded me of every farm house I've ever been in back home--warm and distinctly utilitarian despite the floral pattern of the dishes or the faded wooden plaque above the sink with Irish proverbs in pastel. We were at the table, the social hub next to the back door where folks come in and out, stamping their feet, removing their hats and looking towards the stove to see what's on after being out working hard on the tractor/bringing cows up/taking hay down.
After we'd had a few pieces of toast and I'd slurped down two cups of tea that didn't contain gasoline we headed out into the rain and down the trail.
The trail lead through a narrow gap between two hedgerows for about a half a mile. I was glad to have my gaiters. From there, we headed up a hill on a short road walk before turning north and traveling around the shoulder of Mount Eagle. This was the best walk of the whole trip. We walked through pastures along some wickedly steep inclines. Great Blasket Island and Dunmore Head grew in front of us and there were archeological ruins all around--the clochans, beehive huts and old stone walls were still being used in some places.
The rain had burnt off and the hills were greener than anything I'd ever seen against the turquoise ocean.
After a few miles skirting Mount Eagle we came down steeply onto a road at Slea Head and stopped at a cafe there for coffee. After we finished our coffee the Dingle Way took us along a gravel road for maybe another mile before we crossed a stream and headed back uphill towards the Great Blasket Centre outside of Dunquin.
It was warming up but we were still a big wet from the morning. We dropped our packs beside a stone wall and headed into the Museum. I think the admission was around 4 Euros, which is also what we were paying for a pint of Guinness, so it seemed reasonable. Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór in Irish) was inhabited by a small community of fishers and farmers and an inordinate amount of artists and writers until it was forcibly evacuated by the government in 1953 following a period of hardship. Now it's a ghost town of ruined cottages that can be accessed by ferry and explored on foot in the summer. Fred and I skipped the ferry ride over, but I wish we had gone.
We decided to do a big day to the base of Mt. Brandon on the following day so Dunquin was the end of the line for us on 4th of July. We were too early to check into youth hostel so we walked down into the small village of Dunquin to see if we could get a Guinness. The pub, with a plaque of James Joyce by the door, was closed so we hobbled a bit further up the road to kill some time first in the cemetery and then, tiring of that, with our feet in a small cold stream in someone's back yard.
The youth hostel was fine, it had books and games and a telephone that I managed to call home from but lacked internet. In the kitchen, we met a group of tough looking guys from Belgium. They weren't terribly friendly and we didn't chat or linger in the kitchen too long. I made my dinner and set my pot next to the sink while I went out into the dining room to eat. Within 2 minutes the lady of the house tracked me down to tell me to Get in there and cleanup after yourself! I humphed and did her bidding. I didn't so much appreciate the bossing but Fred and I DID get a whole 10-bed room to ourselves which almost made up for that. We stayed up late looking at old pictures on the iPad. It was still light out at 11 when I went to sleep.