It was more than a year ago when I decided to quit my pretty decent paying but unbearably frustrating job and travel.
Sounds familiar? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But that’s a story for another day. Today, the story is about a small island in Ireland that left a big impact on me.
After about two months of traveling around Europe with a friend, we parted ways for a few weeks, and I embarked on my first ever solo trip.
It was exciting, just a little bit scary and frankly, a relief as as much as I love my travel companion, my introverted soul was in desperate need of some space. And thus I flew from Berlin, where my solo trip started a few days earlier, to the Republic of Ireland.
As the pilot announced our arrival at the land famous for its tale of magical creatures and folklore, I looked out the tiny window to see a rainbow (no, really) minus pots of gold and leprechauns, unfortunately.
A good start all in all.
There were some setbacks, wasted time and money along the way, as it was bound to happen when one does not plan one’s trip, but this lack of planning also led me to the Aran Islands.
There are three islands that makes up the Aran Islands, but I only visited the largest of the islands – Inis Mór. Needless to say, it was breathtakingly beautiful. The dramatic landscape, animals that any city dweller will be impressed by and the very air seemed to hold some kind of magic.
So, ignoring the many tourist vans that were offering travelers a ride from the ferries to all the attractions on the island for 10 Euros, I began my walk armed with only a map. It was a cold and rainy day but I decided to brave the weather as I did not want to miss interesting things that I may pass along the way.
Not 10 minutes into my walk, one of the vans stopped and the driver offered me a ride. He said it was free. Being the skeptic I am, I declined the first time. But soon after, he passed me again (he had stopped at one of the stores in town before, so it’s not as creepy as it sounds) and repeated his offer. He was going home as the ferry I’d arrived on was the only one for the day and he did not get any passengers.
As he drove, he started to talk to me about life on the island. He spoke about how there used to be farmers who reared animals on what looked like beautiful but abandoned plots of lands that we passed, about young people leaving the island for better lives, and tourism being the only industry keeping the island going.
The conversation was not all grim, however. The driver also pointed out the spot where sea lions are often spotted, about other must-see attractions and Ireland in general.
As he dropped me off near Dun Aonghasa, a dramatic 300-feet cliff edge, I passed him some money. It wasn’t much as I was travelling on budget, but it was the least I could do in return for his kindness. He hesitated for a moment and asked if I was sure. As dramatic as it sounds, I could see the struggle in his eyes. He needed the money and yet he did not offer the ride expecting anything in return. I just smiled, thanked him and walked towards my destination.
That was only my first taste of the island’s hospitality and kindness.
The rain had gotten heavier by the end if the ride, so I decided to stop for some food and something hot to drink. It was one of the best meals I had during my trip.
Surrounded by Christmas decoration, sitting by a fireplace – an exciting experience for someone from a country where it is summer all year long – and simply enjoying my Guinness beef stew and coffee put me in a sunny mood. But outside, the weather was not as bright.
I didn’t have much time as the last ferry for the day left at 4.30p.m and it was already after noon. And so I asked the cafe owner where I dined if I could buy an umbrella nearby. The lady just said nope, and handed me one saying I could keep it. I was once again amazed by the kindness shown towards a complete stranger, but took the umbrella with a thanks and the intention to return it.
Armed with the umbrella, which turned out to not be much of a match for the wind that was blowing in, I finally reached Dun Aonghasa after passing a tiny museum that told the history of the cliff.
The cliff was everything it was promised to be. Scenic, dramatic and somehow calming.
I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details, but after some time appreciating the view and just being, I headed towards yet another attraction known as the “wormhole”.
What would a story be without some drama, right? This is where you get it. As I was walking, I ran into a dog. I am generally afraid of dogs. They have fangs and jaws that could crush you so my fears are totally justified. (You there, stop judging.)
Anyway, the dog didn’t look any happier to see me than I did seeing it. The problem was, I had to walk past it to get to the “wormhole” but the relatively large dog was barking at me with its fangs showing and its fur standing on end (tell me that won’t scare even the most devout of dog lovers!)
After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting past the dog and consulting the map in my hand for alternative routes, I had almost given up on seeing the wormhole. But yet again a resident of the island came to my aid.
The only car that I had seen in at least 20 minutes stopped to ask me what was up. And as I asked for directions without revealing my fear of the dog (one should always maintain macho), he moved some boxes off his front seat and asked me to hop in. Again, I was skeptical and said I only needed directions but relented when he asked the second time.
The ride was just as fun as my first with talks of the “wormhole”, the popularity it gained following Redbull’s annual diving event and a warning to leave soon as a storm was expected on the day.
By this time I had realised what a bad idea it was not to just hire one of the tourist vans, but it was too late for regrets. So, with the decision to make the “wormhole” my last stop for the day, I walked back towards the jetty.
There are two routes to get to and from the jetty. I decided to take the route that I hadn’t taken before. My intention was to see as much of the island as possible in the short time I had.
The decision paid off in that I passed some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. But it also turned out to be the path less taken, and for good reasons too. It was the longer route back, the storm was nearing, and the ferry was leaving in less than 30 minutes.
Every step I took without passing any vehicles or human beings, my anxiety increased. I had no clothes with me, no idea if I would be able to find a place to stay or if the rented car I parked on the mainland will be safe if left there overnight.
As I was resigning myself to staying on the island till the next day, a car passed and…you guessed right, stopped. I don’t know whether it was because the residents on the island were used to stubborn tourists like myself or my destination was obvious considering the time of the day – the woman driving the car just wound down her window and asked me to hop in.
She told me that it was lucky she found me as all ferry rides to and from the island was to be halted starting the next day. Nobody knew how bad the storm was going to be or how long it were to last.
A small part of me hoped I would miss the ferry. I have always been fascinated by the cliffs and raging seas. The island seemed like a great place to be stuck in for a few days. But in the end, I made it just in time to grab a hot cup of coffee and get onto the ferry.
The rest of the journey was quite uneventful.
Even after all these months, the memory of my day in Aran Island always brings a smile to my face. More than the amazing landscape of the island, I will always remember the friendliness and kindness shown by the locals to me.
If you are ever near Galway or Doolin, do spend at least a day on the islands, support local businesses and soak in the island’s beauty.