All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Friday, July 19, 2013

Leg #2 - Bushmills, The Giant's Causeway and Derry

So I headed into rural Northern Ireland. I don't know if you know this or not? But it's like super beautiful. My first stop to the North was in the town of Bushmills, yes, of the whiskey. It was quite rural and tiny little town but very 'quaint' (I hate that word but it fits). Unlike Belfast, walking around with a big backpack gets you noticed but that doesn't make the people any less nice. I got off the bus and was starving so I stopped into a little cafe and had a quick bite. I asked if they knew where my hostel was and it turned out I had gotten off the bus way too soon. My hostel was closer to the Causeway. So I got back on the bus and headed into even more rural Northern Ireland. But I tell SOON as we turned this one corner and I saw the North Atlantic coastline, it took my breath away. It's been quite a while since I've seen an ocean and I was mesmerized. The bus drove us along the coast and we stopped at the base of the Giant's Causeway and I checked in. The hostel was a tiny little house with max capacity of about 20 people. But all the facilities were brand new and it was perfect. I settled in and had a cup of coffee and was soon joined by an elderly American woman who was making dinner for her and her son, whom she was traveling with. They were from the Chicago area but had taken a year to travel the world together. Thought that was the sweetest. Her son, Michael, soon joined us and we all chatted. They were planning on walking up to the Causeway to watch the sunset and asked me to join them. I happily accepted. 
So what is the Giant's Causeway? It is a natural phenomenon in Northern Ireland on the coast.



Some 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillar-like structures, which are also fractured horizontally into "biscuits". In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called "ball and socket" joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools. The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today. The basalts were originally part of a great volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau which formed during the Paleogene period.


Engraving of Susanna Drury's A View of the Giant's Causeway: East Prospect
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than him. Fionn's wife, Úna, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.

It was honestly one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

Keep in mind, these photos are taken at about 10:30 at night. The sun goes down after 11:00pm. Very strange.
I got a good night's sleep and my American friends left the next morning. In fact, EVERYONE left the next morning. I asked the hostel girl if I was the only one there and she laughed and said "you sure are." Wow! There were still a few people working so I wasn't completely alone but I sure had that solitude I was craving. 
After some breakfast, I caught a bus back into Bushmills and headed to the Distillery to see how Bushmills whiskey is made. It was a pretty fascinating tour and at the end I got to sample some 12 year old whiskey. Not the biggest whiskey fan, persay, but I sure have had my share on this trip.
Bushmills Stream

The Distillery
Afterwards I hunted down some lunch. I figured it was time I had some fish and chips. It was so good. I don't think I would ever eat this meal in the U.S. but here for some reason, it just tastes good.

I headed back to the hostel and took a little nap and then wanted to go back to the Causeway. The night before I had walked around the top rim but I wanted to hike the bottom so i could climb on the stones. Yeah...I hiked...on a difficult trail for 6KM. I'll give y'all a minute...
All right?
OK. So I got out to the stones and there were a bunch of people climbing and bouncing around on them. It was really bizarre and cool and peaceful. I was walking toward the end and this lady said "Hi honey, do you want me to take your photo?" I kind of laughed and said sure.
She told me to pose and she took my photo.

Add caption

This is what all the stones look like.

I thanked her and we started talking. Her name was Olga, from Finland and she was 72 (!!!). Her friend that she was with, Kieran, was 52 and he was from Northern Ireland. They had just been sitting there talking all day. So I joined them. And the 3 of us sat on the edge of the country looking at the ocean for 3 hours just discussing life and adventures and family and friends and philosophy and religion, you name it. And somehow in the middle of all that, all the rest of the tourists disappeared and we had the place to ourselves. Olga said the three of us were all at Crossroads in our lives and yet here we sat sitting together for a peaceful afternoon. It was magical. Olga drifts around the world teaching English and usually finds a place to camp so that she can just enjoy nature and time to herself. I recommended my hostel since there was no one there.Finally, they decided to move on and said their goodbyes. I sat there for a while longer and enjoyed my private viewing of the Causeway until more tourists showed up. I scrounged up some dinner back at the hostel and went to bed early. I woke up the next morning to get some breakfast before I had to head out and Olga was sitting there. She had decided to stay there but didn't want to disturb me when they told her I had gone to sleep. (Sweetest lady)
So we sat in the little nook and looked out over the Causeway and had breakfast. She was heading on to Scotland to continue her adventures so we said our goodbyes. I doubt I will ever hear from her again, but she will always remain an inspiration. Just little encounters such as these are what make this trip the best.
I caught a bus a few hours later to Derry in County Donegal. Derry is the city of the 1972 massacre, Bloody Sunday. Turns out, it's more than just a U2 song.
Derry was an interesting town and very easy to get accustomed to. I found my new hostel with ease and checked in. The lovely woman gave me a city map and pointed out some tourist attractions. I wandered down and saw the city walls. I think Derry is the San Francisco of Ireland. SO many hills. Walked up and walked around the top of the city walls for a spectacular view of the city.

I found a little Japanese place within the city walls and treated myself to some sushi rolls and some curry. Oh to have spicy foods again, hallelujah!
I found a movie theatre. I wanted to see Pacific Rim because my dear friend, Johnny, was the special effects producer on it. The movie was okay. I mean the dialogue and acting left a lot to be desired but the special effects were awesome. So the movie ended and I was just sitting there. The two ushers waiting to clean the theatre finally asked me if everything was okay. I told them that my friend was in the credits and I wanted to see his name. They asked what he did and I told them he was in the 3D effects biz. They were super excited and sat down next to me. One friend texted his other friend who was apparently working and 2 more ushers came in and sat with me as we waited. When Johnny's name appeared I said "There!" And they all jumped up and cheered. It was surreal. Nope, this isn't LA folks. A movie cred is a pretty big deal here. They took a photo of the credit and then a photo with me (on their phone, unfortunately). But it made me giggle.
I don't know what it was but I just didn't feel good. My throat was scratchy and I was just physically tired. Maybe I'm not used to being on the move this much. I went back to the hostel around 7:00pm and passed out. Quite an Irish partier, aren't I?
The next morning I woke up and felt a little bit better. My throat was still sore. I took my temperature again and it had dropped from 101 to 99 so that was good. Sure didn't want to lie around nursing the flu for a few days. I meandered over to the Museum of Free Derry and learned about the political history of Derry and the conflicts. I signed up for a tour at 12:00noon. When my tour guide, John, arrived, I was surprised that I was the only one on the tour so I had a private one on one tour through the streets. I later learned, that not only was John a local, but his brother was one of the victims of Bloody Sunday. I was stunned. I asked a lot of questions and he sat and recounted that day. I was filled with emotion and cried a little. I guess you hear those words all your life "Bloody Sunday" but to hear the real story and from someone who was not only there but lost a brother, I was just overwhelmed.

A mural to the Bloody Sunday victims.

A mural tribute to the civil rights campaign that started it all.

The Bloody Sunday monument.

The names of the victims. My tour guide's brother was William McKinney.

Me and my tour guide, John McKinney.

Standing on the site where the first shootings of Bloody Sunday took place.
Still not feeling well, I headed back to the hostel for a nap. Hostels are nice during the day, nobody is around! I woke up and was hungry so I found a Mexican place (if you can believe it) for dinner and had a burrito. It wasn't horrible, it wasn't great, but it was a burrito.
I had a good night's sleep and woke up early to catch the 4 hour bus to Dublin. The bus system here is really nice. Leather seats, wi-fi, the works. 
I just arrived in Dublin...the adventure continues...

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