What began as a potentially miserable experience turned out all right as we visited Inis Mor in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland near Galway.
In just a short walk from our car to the ferry, we were wet from top to bottom, thanks to a piercing, wind-driven and cold rain. Once on the boat, we were committed to spending six hours on the island. For a time, that seemed like it could be an eternity.
Forty minutes after departure, we left the ferry for more wet, windy conditions. Inis Mor, which greets visitors with its Aran Islands Sweater store was not looking so inviting.
Even the horse-drawn carts couldn't conjure up much excitement in such conditions. Who wants to sit in a wet seat and go plodding down the road to get even wetter, anywho?
Well, walking down a wet road probably isn't much better, but that's what we did, putting in about 5 miles on our round trip from "town" through the Inis Mor countryside while vans filled with 'turists" and wet bikers pedaling for all they were worth up one hill and down another passed us by.
At one point, I had to bury my camera beneath the second layer of jackets, as the moisture had begun to penetrate my rain jacket. Occasionally and very carefully, I'd dig it out to snap a photo.
Eventually, the rain stopped, and the magic switch for enjoying the Aran Islands flipped on. The change began as we approached the place where we had set out and walked into a restaurant for something to eat. Annie, who walks a lot faster than we do, had already started her lunch of Irish stew and had a spot with room for Bill and me.
It was there that we enjoyed good food, local color and a nice visit with some Rick Steve tourists. Our visit with these travelers began when I heard a lady at the table next to us utter the word "Idaho."
"Did you say 'Idaho'?" I asked. Sure enough she had. She lives in Boise where she and her husband are home contractors.
Our conversation lit up, as we got acquainted with Marlene from Boise, Linda, a retired nurse from Sacramento and Dara, the tour guide in training, who earned instant appreciation when he told us he was a Border Collie owner----a black one no less. Of course, we exchanged cell phone photos of our "beloveds."
Turns out on this 14-day tour through Ireland, the one and only Rick Steves was accompanying the group. He had taken yesterday off for some personal business. Apparently, he goes along occasionally to update material for his travel guides.
Once we left the restaurant, we spent some time strolling through the stores where the most famous wool sweaters in the world make up the majority of the merchandise.
The only problem with being in the midst of all this woolen wealth is that if you buy it, you have to carry it or have it mailed.
Neither were great options for us yesterday, so we just "looked' and wished.
Dowtown Inis Mor, which isn't very big, was alive with activity, especially along the beach below the stores. For the 41st time, kids had gathered for an annual festival. They had engaged in art contests in the morning, and during our visit were competing in the annual sand castle building competition.
There was a little adult help, but the kids were having a great time. One told me she was a repeat contestant. I also met the queen of the festival who, after being crowned the night before, was all prepared to hand out prizes.
In the midst of this activity, I spotted a beautiful Border Collie, weaving in and out of the beach activity. Upon approaching him, I could see that a comb or brush could be put to good use. He was a bit shy, but happy to have me snap his picture. Bill and I decided later that he must be the "town dog."
With nearly three hours left of our stay on the island, we decided to take a "hop and stop" tour in a van with an Irishman named Joe Gill. Joe's family has been on the island for 300 years. They're fishermen by trade. Joe fished for 42 years but now seems happy to drive "turists" around his homeland.
We did have to chastise Joe because he drove us to a spot where we could walk up and see the "fort."
Twenty minutes up and twenty minutes back, and I'll pick you up at 3:15, he told us. Well, when we left the van and Joe had left us, we looked at our watches.
3:04----hmm, that doesn't add up, we agreed.
So, we used the facilities where we saw Annie, who had rented a bike. She was headed back to town, and we were still scratching our heads, wondering if we should even try that walk if Joe was coming back in two minutes or so.
We finally decided that Joe must have meant 4:15, but when you have to catch a boat and you're more than three or four miles from the boat dock, on foot, you worry a bit.
Another driver called Joe, and he then verified "4:15." By that time, we decided to stay put and just wait for Joe. We gave him a rough time when he showed up at 4:16. He insisted he hadn't said 3:15, but both Bill and I had heard him.
Anyway, our chastisement was more joking than real, and Joe knew it. He worked extra hard on the drive back to town to stop wherever he thought I could take a nice picture. We liked Joe, and I think he liked us cuz he took us directly to the ferry and showed us his home across the bay.
Joe is heading out today to drive to Dublin, then fly to Boston where 35 other Irish family members will travel for a wedding. We wished him well, and he wished us safe travels as we said good bye.
We had five minutes to spare by the time we arrived back at the ferry, and a day which had started on a rather ominous note had turned out to be another wonderful experience in Ireland.
Irish/Gaelic is the mother tongue of the island where residents learn English as their second language and switch off and on, depending on the situation.
Go raibh maith agat/ thank you to Joe and to the island of Inis Mor for what turned out to be a memorable and positive experience on our visit to Ireland.
In a few hours we'll say good bye to our lovely home here near Clifden and head on to Dublin City for the next couple of days.
Again, just a heads up that blog posting could be hit and miss over the next few days as we wind up this trip.