Saturday, April 26, 2008

From Cashel To Cromane, Part One

I am back in California now, and there are still plenty of stories to tell about Ireland. I would really like to get as many of them down as possible, but I know myself. If I set out to write out each day chronologically, I won't get far. So I'll tell them as they come to me. Some time later, my editor can arrange them. I'll be the best storyteller I can be.

I woke up in Cashel on a bright, Wednesday morning. I stayed in what was definitely the nicest hostel I'd been in. I said good-bye to Roger, a lonely Canadian man I'd met the night before. Of course, his story is another story. I attempted to give him a little Good News Gospel of Luke, but he bolted. "I'm not religious!" PING! (that was a bullet-like sound effect of him running.) I don't often attempt such blatant things, but I figured there's a time for it. Oh well. We're called not to succeed but to try.

I walked for perhaps thirty minutes through the small town of Cashel to the other side, where I was hoping I'd get a westbound lift in the direction of Killarney, perhaps through Tipperary. Whether it was a long way there would depend on my fortunes in thumbing. My goal was to reach the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful coastal range that everyone told me I had to see.

The last time I hitched, I had purchased a red marker that didn't really work, and made a little maple leaf on a piece of cardboard. It's good to let people know you're a visitor, and not just a local axe murderer.

I walked to a roundabout, and put out my thumb, with my maple leaf proudly displayed. Hmm.... Not... much... traffic... here. Maple leaves won't help the traffic pick up, will they. Well, I trust in the Lord, not traffic patterns, right? I thought I just felt like walking anyway, so I stuck out my thumb and walked.


Eventually I came to another roundabout, with a sign pointing in the direction of Tipperary. Aha. More traffic here. Very good.

Soon a little red car pulled over. As I approached the door, I noticed the driver grab a small, wooden stick from the back seat and put it next to him. It looked like a coffee table leg. Now, I would have been more concerned if not for remembering my friend Jimmy. This is exactly what he would have done. Safety first. This guy doesn't know if I'm a psycho.

Stephen turned out to be a good man. Serious, but friendly. I even noticed him cross himself quickly as we passed a church. We chatted, and he mentioned what almost every person who picked me up mentioned. "I used to hitch a lot." He got me as far Tipperary without beating me to death. It was not such a long way, after all.

After just a few minutes, a great, big lorry rolled up. "Sweet!" I was hoping I'd get a ride in a big rig some time. I climbed in and was greeted by a young man with a strong brogue named Eddy. We talked, and he took me to Limerick. Ah, Limerick. If only I'd known what would happen in Limerick just a few days later.

I climbed out of Eddy's truck, and walked to the other side of the roundabout, and under an overpass. I waited for about 20 minutes, holding my little cardboard maple leaf, standing by a big road sign, my finger pointed at "Killarney: 120 km".

A little van pulled over, and I hopped in. He was going all the way to Killarney. Thank-you, Lord.

David was a working man. His business was glass and glass installation. His company provided the windows for one of Ireland's major airports, and he received a few phone calls while we drove.

David's wife and daughter lived in Germany. Though the split was amicable, a split is still a split. We talked about hitching, and how few people do it anymore.

"Just ten years ago, you used to see people thumbing all the time, but now everybody's got their own car. No one does it anymore. The country's changed. People are more materialistic now. You gotta have the house and the car and all the nice things. All that gets you is a separation and a daughter in another country."

I had a really good time with David. We stopped at a petrol station, where he bought me a coffee and a chocolate bar. Later on we stopped at a lookout point to take a couple pictures.

We eventually pulled into Killarney, a place where Bing Crosby claims it is good to spend Christmas, and David asked a cabby where the tourist office was. He figured that would be the best place for me to find my way around from. I half wanted to invite him to hang out for a while, but he had a client he had to see. I stepped out of the van and grabbed my bags. A solid handshake later, David was pulling away.

I approached the tourist office to figure out where the heck I should go. I knew I needed to see the Ring of Kerry, but it's big and I didn't know where to begin. The girl at the desk pointed me in the direction of Kenmare, a small town at the edge of the Ring. There would be hostels there.

And so I was walking out of town again, thumb poised for a hitch. I stood next to a field where a lone horse casually ate his grass, and only gave me a passing glance. It took a while, but I was quite surprised when the person that decided to pick me up was a girl with a toddler in the back.

Sasha had done a lot of hitching, so she wasn't afraid of picking me up. We drove one of the windiest roads I'd been on, which is saying a lot. It was a breathtaking drive through thick trees, beside mountains, and next to rivers. Sasha and her son got me as far as Moll's Gap, a place on a mountain where the road divides.

It was very, very windy and cold.

I put the flaps down on my old newsies cap, stood by road, and hoped for the best.

Little did I know, that the best was yet to come.

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