September 27, 2007

What's In A Name?

On my recent travels, I was surprised at how many questions I was asked about my name in almost every country I visited. It wasn't something I was prepared for really, not expecting to find people interested in it. Many of the South Americans seem to put a lot of emphasis on names and what they mean, so I duly went about researching the origins of my own name. Here's what I found out:
A google search of my surname "Moriarty" brought up quite a few pages. In Gaelic, it is O'Mhuircheartaigh - this much I knew - what I didn't know was that the Gaelic derivation of it means "The Navigator". This information appealed to me a lot, for obvious reasons. Other meanings of the name taken down from Gaelic are "noble", "illustrious", "great", "exalted".
Nothing bad so far!

So, what about the Moriartys? Well, going way back they come from County Kerry in the South-West of Ireland, the neighbouring county to where I now live. Here's some of what I found out about them.

The great Gaelic family Moriarty emerged in later years in county Kerry. This distinguished Irish Clann were descended from O'Muirtheataith, who was descended from Domhnall, King of Munster, and possessed the "Flock abounding Plain" of Aisde on the river Mang in that county. They also held Castlemaine Harbour. They lost much of their territories in the Anglo/Norman invasion of Strongbow in the year 1172 and they were ousted by the Fitzgeralds. They also branched to Kells in county Meath but this was also confiscated. The Moriartys were a strong ecclesiastical family and the Rev. David Moriarty was Bishop of Kerry, but many of them lost their right to preach under the Penal code of 1714. Notable amongst the family at this time was Father Thady McMoriarty

What really jumped out at me from the particular piece was the fact that the Moriartys were ousted by the Fitzgeralds. Interestingly, my mother is descended from the Fitzgerald clan, her own mother being a Fitzgerald! Anyway, I'm digressing there.

Our own Moriarty clan come from Sneem which is deep in the heart of Kerry - quite a remote and mountainous region. It's strange but both my brother and I are always drawn back to Kerry and its mercurial mountains, and he especially walks and knows these ranges very well. Genes are funny things. How do we know what traits and characteristics we carry down through the generations. Are there qualities that are inherent in any of our lineages? It's certainly thought provoking, and it's really got my interested in tracing my family tree sometime. I never cared about this stuff much in the past, but I'm start to really wonder about who I am, why I like certain things - is it simply because I'm a unique individual or am I "made up" a particular way?

Anyway, moving on to my first name....

I was born in 1979 and my parents decided to name me Evelyn Marie. I always liked my name, but was slightly disturbed when I found out that their inspiration had been the name of a boat that sank off the coast of DOnegal three years earlier, The Evelyn Marie.

A search on the name Evelyn brings up a few things. Wiki will tell you that it is in fact a French name, Aveline, meaning "little bird". Its Germanic origins lie in the name Ava meaning "desired". Other possibilities are from Hebrew meaning "light" and from Celtic meaning "life" or "life-giving". Being a Celt, I suppose the later applies to me.

So, Life-Giving Navigator - could be worse I suppose!

Apparently, there aren't many of us knocking around. The only one I could find was Marilyn Monroe's on-screen double. There's not much info out there on her though.

Anyway, if you've got the time to spare, it's pretty interesting just to do an internet search on your name and what it means. At least next time I'm in a foreign country and someone asks me about it, I can bore the pants off them! :-D

September 24, 2007

Leaving It To The Imagination

I'm reading a book at the moment called "Dark Star Safari" by my favourite travel writer, Paul Theroux. There are a million quotes one could pull from the book to get you thinking about various aspects of life, but this one really caught my attention. In Khartoum, he takes note of a man and wife walking to church, but the woman really captures his imagination. I just thought I'd share it.

"The woman was very attractive...., tall and black and slender in a gold-coloured gossamer veil whcih she parted with a toss of her head, giving me a glimpse of her face. Her figure was apparent in the sinuous movement of her gown, and she wore black high-heeled shoes. Part of her gown became entangled in one stiletto heel and as she stooped to disengage the wisp of silken cloth from the heel point with a gloved hand, lifting her gown a bit higher, I saw the filigree of dark henna all over her foot and her ankle and reaching up her leg, delicately painted, as though she were wearing the sexiest French tights. In addition to the pretty shoe and the naked foot, the principal fascination of this lovely painted leg was that it belonged to a woman who was veiled. The explicit fethishism of her feet, her only exposed flesh, left her hidden charms to the imagination. Nothing to me was more erotic."

September 13, 2007

Sun, Sea and Sessions

Well, it's Thursday, which of course means that tomorrow is Friday.
God, it's happening again - I'm morphing back into one of those people who counts down to every weekend. This is not how I want to live my life, wishing it away. Not good. One of the absolute best things about travelling around South America was not really ever paying attention to what day of the week it was - there was no need. One day just slipped easily into the next. When you're back in the 9-5 saddle though, the weekends become the focal point of every week, that time when you can actually live.

Last weekend was by far the best one since I got back. It wasn't so much a weekend really, as I managed to wangle Friday and the following Monday off work. Myself, my brother and two friends had organised a weekend in Donegal to attend a bodhran workshop and we were all looking forward to it immensely.

On Thursday evening I was in fantastic spirits leaving work - blue skies and glorious sunshine were heralding a great weekend! We left Limerick early on Friday morning with a quick stop in Galway to pick up Cian who had just flown in from Beijing the night before! The day was beautifully warm, and the further north we drove the more spectacular the scenery became. How had I forgotten how beautiful this part of the country is?!

Some frenzied grocery shopping was accomplished in Killybegs - supplies to tide us over for the few days. Where we were headed was out in the middle of nowhere so we thought we better stock up! We arrived in Glencolumcille at around 8:30 and raced to the Oideas Gael Centre to register. There we were met by a docile individual called Liam, who seemed slightly bemused by us all. I realised later that he just looks that way all the time. He told us to be in Biddy's Bar at 10pm to meet the rest of the group for a few drinks.

So off we went to find our hostel, Dooey Hostel, preceded by its reputation. My brother, Brian, had stayed here before and had warned us of what was in store, but NOTHING could have prepared you for what lay in wait at Dooey. This place is without a doubt THE most unique hostel I have stayed in to date, and that's saying something when you consider some of the places I found in South America! There is a sort of devil-may-care attitude to everything at Dooey, due in no small part to the indomitable Mary (70 yrs old) who glides around the place like some sort of spectre with fag-ash dropping as she goes, and her rogue of a son Leo. It can only be described as like staying at your granny's house but you're granny is a bit mad and smokes hash! They are an entirely lovable pair and totally laid back. Rules and regulations do not apply in this place!

After getting over the inital mind-warping experience of meeting Mary, we were shown to our rooms and told that a welcome cuppa was on the way. While we were sitting outside sipping our tea and taking in the truly awesome scenery all around us, various people from the hostel wandered over to talk to us. That evening we went down to Biddy's as planned in the hope of gettnig some live trad. As it turned out, it wasn't really that kind of place, but when we wandered in with our bodhrans and whistles a couple of local lads decided to treat us to a bit of a music. Myself and Shane picked up where they left off, more to practise for the following day than anything. Next we moved on to Roarty's pub where we ran into half the hostel along with..wait for it...The Columbia Three, who we found out later were apparently in town for some Cuban fundraiser evening. I remember saying to Mum back when all that stuff happened about great it would be to get their story, and here they were standing right by me in a tiny little pub in the back of beyonds in the north opf the country!!Anyway, it was a good evening, but it must have been the sea air or something, we all fell into bed and slept our brains out.

Slight panic ensued the next morning as we woke up to find that we were late for our first day of the workshop! With muggy heads, we rushed to get dressed and put a quick call in to say we'd be late. Not off to a great start really!When we arrived at the centre it wasn't hard to find where we were supposed to be - you just had to follow the sound of a bunch of people all lethering away on bodhrans. Holding court at the head of teh group was the closest thing to Santa I've ever seen. This was Paddy, who was to be our mentor for the next couple of days. We made our apologies for our tardiness and of course a bit of banter ensued about the pub the night before - this kind of broke the ice all around which was good :)

The first day was great. Paddy gave us lots of good tips for proper bodhran playing and it didnt matter that we were all crap really - it was just good fun. We were treated to tea and chocolate biscuits at 11 and this was a good way to get to know the rest of the group. There was about 15 of us in total - all sorts of people from all walks of life. It struck me a few times over the course of the weekend what good people you meet at these sort of things - genuine people just looking to broaden their horizons, learn something new. We met some nice folks and even swapped a fwe emails here and there. It was quite a long day but we all left that evening full of zeal for the bodhran. Back to the hostel for a couple of hours chill-out and some food. Myself and Shane got busy in the kitchen, cracked open a bottle of vino and whipped up a spag bol. Less than an hour later however Cian was in the bathroom throwing up. We figured it must have been the meal we'd just eaten. He stayed in the hostel while the rest of us went to the pub. In the space of another hour, my body was violently rejecting whatever I'd eaten. Ugh.I blame Shane :-D
Anyway, we were fine the next day and Brian and Shane remained unaffected...
Next morning, we were up again for another day of bodhran beating. This day was a lot of fun because Paddy just stuck on tunes and let us all play away to our heart's content with a few solos thrown in here and there. It was on this day that the group really started to loosen up a bit and it was pity that the course was so short because we were really only all getting to know each other. It was a short session, finishing at 2, but it left us the rest of the day to do a bit of exploring, so we piled ito the car and headed off to the little town of Ardara, a few kms over the mountains. We spent the late afternoon sitting on a deserted beach in Maghera playing our instruments and listening to the waves. As ever, it felt fantastic to be breathing in sea air and feeling the sand between my toes.

That night, a group from Dooey set off into the middle of nowhere to a little pub called The Rusty for a session proper given by Paddy and his friends. It was a great pub with a friendly atmosphere and we were all in the mood to make a bit of noise. Paddy had promised us the session to end all sessions. But things didn't go quite as he planned!! lol. When we arrived both the banjo player and the guitar player Sean were half-cut. As the night wore on, the guitar player Sean got worse and worse until he ended up slumped over his guitar with everyone shouting at him to play Lisdoonvarna. It was hilarious! There were one of two English tourists in the pub who just looked on in total incredulity!That was a pretty good evening. Had a great chat with Leo who plied us with alcohol and regaled us with his adventures from around the globe. We were doubled over in knots laughing at him most of the time. A total character!

It was with pangs of regret that we packed our bags the next morning, said goodbye to our new friends, Angela, Mary, Leo, Peter and set off home again, but not without some photographs to remember them all by. One thing is for sure, I will be paying Dooey Hostel a visit again and the next time I will stay for a longer time, do a bit of walking and really relax in this absolute gem of a village hidden away in the mountains of Donegal.

August 27, 2007

One Crazy Night in Clifden

It's Monday morning. As I type this I am still suffering the fall-out from the weekend's excesses. I could quite happily at this moment put my head down on this keyboard and drift away to the Land of Nod.  So, I type to stay awake.
On Saturday morning, I woke up and felt like being near the sea yet again, so I hopped in the car and headed off to Connemara. The weather was pretty changeable but I'm not one for sunbathing anyway. I really just wanted to go and feel the sand between my toes and let the sea air clean out some of the cobwebs.

Once I reached Galway I got a bit wayleighed. The TOur of Ireland Cycle Race was on which meant traffic delays, so I had to pull in by the side of the road and wait in anticipation with Galway's onlookers. A big colourful group of maniacal pedallers eventually whizzed by followed by cops on motorbikes, cars with bicycles attached to the roofs, pace-cars, more cops and then some straggling cyclists. After 5 mins of sitting there, it seemed like it would be okay to start the car up again - clear road, no more cyclists...or so I thought. Off I went down the road, gathering speed, rounded a bend and saw another bunch of cyclists approaching. A rather irate member of the Gardai zoomed up to me on his motorbike shouting at me to "Pull In Now!!!" I wasn't going to mess with him. I veered off the road a bit too quickly, hit a kerb and nearly took the front wheel off my car.

Eventually I managed to clear Galway and was out on the open road heading into the wilds of beautiful Connemara. I miss it here. When I lived in Galway I used to often take a spin out to Spiddal in the evenings and just walk the strands. Today though, i was going further afield - off out to Carraroe in the Gaeltacht (an Irish-speaking district). Carraroe boasts a beautiful coral beach and crystal blue waters. When I got there, it was very overcast and starting to spit rain. I bundled up, brought the camera and set out for a walk. As I came around a headland, an unusual sight met my eyes. Out of the mist came a large group of handsome spinnaker sailboats, all reds and blues. Watching them from the beach below was a band of cows. It was one of those scenes that you like to think is unique to Ireland. It was a good photo op and I tried to take a few shots, but with the greyness of the day they dont look quite as impressive as they should. The quietness of the place and the postcard scene created by the sailboats was really lovely. I walked far out along the headland to the mouth of the inlet taking deep breaths of sea air and tasting the salt from the spray. There are few things I am sure about in this life, but one of them is that I have to live near the sea.

After Carraroe, I decided to drive on up to Clifden for dinner. This is a spectacular drive, one of the best in Ireland! I went to Fogerty's restaurant for some fish! YUM! By the time I was done eating, it was getting late and with the drive home being anohter 3-4 hours, I thought I might as well stay the night. Finding accommodation wasn't so easy though. Everywhere I tried was booked solidly for the night, EVEN THE HOTELS! I was beginning to think I'd have to drive all the way back to Limerick when I took one last shot and asked the lady who ran the restaruant. Sure enough, she knew of a place and an hour later I was checking in.

I had spotted a pub that had a sign outside saying "Trad session tonight - musicians welcome". I had the bodhran in the car, so I thought I might as well head up there and see what was going on. There were two fellas playing so I walked up and asked if they minded if I joined them. They were delighted to have a bodhran and set me up with a mike. What followed was a 3 hour session which was really enjoyable! We were joined by a man from Limerick with a fiddle, and another man jumped in with the spoons. We drew quite a big crowd, mainly Americans who loved it! Some of them got up and sang and danced. Quite a few of them wanted photos of me with the bodhran! 5 minute of fame people - don't knock til you've tried it. :D

After closing time, we had a lock in and I got chatting to the bar staff who were a really sound bunch. Despite loud protestations of me wanting to go to bed, they dragged me off to another shindig up the road. I met a lot of genuinely decent friendly local people. I'm not sure what time I got back to my bed, but it was late.

The downside to it all is the sore head the next day. I had plans to visit Kylemore Abbey nearby, but they went out of the window. Breakfast in the BB was a bit of a surreal experience, as Cathal (the owner) proceeded to spill his life story over tea and toast. His Indonesian wife had left him the year before, trying to take him for all he was worth, and later kidnapping their only son. I got all the gorey details about life-threatening texts and hiring security guards. The facts are a big blur at this stage. I wasn't really firing on all cyclinders while I was being treated to this drama. My head was swimming as I did my best to make the appropriate responses to such a story. After a few much needed cups of coffee i wished Cathal all the best and tottered off to my car to begin the long journey home.
I'm vowing to give up drink I think. It's just not worth it!

All in all a great night though - a spontaneous one too which made it all the more enjoyable. I got a big kick out of just wandering in and having a "jam" with a bunch of locals. I'll have to do it again sometime!

August 19, 2007

A Stolen Day

On Tuesday morning I woke up in some sort of funk. I got up at the same time I do every morning, got ready for work and left the house in my usual manner. Except, when I got to work, instead of parking the car, some strange impulse came over me and I just kept driving. I wasn't even sure where I was going, but I just decided to keep going. I'm not one for taking days off work usually, but I really just felt like I needed to break away for a day.

It felt quite nice to leave the congested traffic and the city behind as I headed out towards County Clare. It wasn't a particularly nice day - overcast and with the threat of rain - but it didn't really matter. I put on some music, more to drown out the niggling thoughts at the back of my head about my rash decision and how I was going to explain it away to my boss. As the car ate up the miles, I began to care less and less and decided to really make the most of this day to myself.

Initially, I thought I might head to Galway, Ireland's hub for the Arts and my former home. But the more I thought about it, the less I felt like heading to another busy city and dealing with parking hassles and throngs of tourists. So, I turned off after Gort into The Burren, one of the world's most unique landscapes.

This is one of my favourite places in Ireland, somewhere you can just go and be alone if you wish or equally find some of the most interesting company. I enjoyed the drive through the crazy winding roads which brought me to Kinvarra, a jewel of a little town nestled in a little cove. I hadn't had breakfast and my tummy was trying to communicate this to me, so I went down to a little cafe I know down on the harbour. I sat at a table overlooking the harbour with its colourful little fishing boats, ordered eggs on toast and some coffee and was joined by a companiable ginger cat, who wrapped himself in circles around my ankles. A couple of backpackers came in and sat near me. They were French I think. They looked totally pissed off with our Irish "summer" and settled down with their paperbacks and two hot chocolates. Sure enough, a soft drizzle had started to come down outside. Before long, it brought int a lot more tourists and the cafe had a bit of a buzz about it. I sat and read my book, aptly enough called "The Sea", by John Banville and ordered some more coffee. The smell of it was amazing, or maybe that's just because it was coffee in Kinvarra and not coffee from the office perculator.

Once the rain stopped, I decided to hike up to Kinvarra Castle, which sits on a promintory overlooking the town. When I got up there, there were a lot of other people who'd had the same idea. I walked around the perimter and took some photos and read a bit of the history of the place. Lots of people seemed to be gathered around a notice advertising a Medieval Banquet later that night.

Anyway, I didnt have time to stick around for banquets, so I hopped back in the car bound for the beautiful harbour of Ballyvaughan next. It was about 30miles away. On the way, I saw an interesting looking sign for an art gallery. It meant turning right off the route I was on with no indication of how far it might be, but I made a snap decision to go and check it out. I was so glad I did. I almost drove past it, so inconspicuous was it. Situated in a renovated old mill building just back off the road, it would be easy to miss it. The sign outside said Open but it seemed as if there was no around. Nevertheless, I pushed open the door. An unseen bell announced my arrival. Still, there was no sign of anyone. With an inward shrug, I thought I might as well look around. What a beautiful little gallery it was, and deceptively quite big. I saw some amazing paintings, one in particular by a local artist - an abstract of the burren with the most arresting mix of colours. The price tag was a heartstopping €7,000. I could only absorb it and move on. Eventually, I heard some stirrings from the bowels of the building followed by footsteps. A very pleasant looking man poked his head around a doorframe, bade me hello and then left me to my own devices again which I loved. It's rfreshing to be just left to mosey around instead of being watched with an eagle eye from the cash desk. I picked up a great book of short stories, some beautiful local jewellery and some prints. When I was ready to go I peeped into an inner room and the owner was in there with his hands covered in clay. Beaming at me, he said he'd be right with me. Well to cut what's beomcing a long story short, we had a lovely chat for about an hour about all sorts of things - travel, tourists, planning permission in the Irish countryside, wine, name it! We covered it! His name was Andy, and a lovely lovely man he was. I told him if I win the Lotto I'm coming back for "that painting".

It's funny how the briefest of interactions with other people can brighten your day. I enjoyed talking to him so much. He promised to invite me to their next gallery evening and if he does I will go, despite the distance. Glowing, I hopped back into the Micra and hit the road once again. I passed a lot of unknown territory to me - miles of beautiful rugged coastline, beautiful even in the day's gloomy light. I came around a bend in the road and saw a Martello town on the horizon.

I parked again, and walked along a rough shingle beach towards it. Rain was falling softly again and the silence of the place was impressive. There seemed to be no-one around for miles. This was exactly what I needed. The tower was an imposing grey structure with a forbidding sort of air about it. There wasnt much to do or see once you arrived it. It just seemed like a good spot to walk to.

About a half an hour later, I was cozily ensconsed in a Ballyvaughan cafe, sipping some green tea and indulging in the next chapter of the book. Ballyvaughan seemed very subdued this particular day, due I suppose to the inclement weather. I was really looking forward to the next section of the drive which would bring me through some of the most rugged parts of the Burren along the coast. Revived by my tea, yet again I was back behind the wheel. Now, on a fine day this drive is absolutely stunning with a clear view of the Aran Islands on one side and the rocky crags of the Burren on the other. Today, it was less spectacular its true, but enjoyable nonetheless. As the road wound its way along the cliffs, I could just make out Inisheer on the horizon - in the dense mist, it looked like a big black whale sitting just off shore. I had it in mind to stop at the Cliffs of Moher; however, by the time I reached them it was POURING, so much so that I could barely keep my windscreen clear! To make matters work, the air system in my car is on the fritz and so I couldnt clear the steamy windows very well. Rubbing the screen frantically with the sleeve of my jumper and at the same time navigating the crazy bumpy roads with the other hand, my heart went out to the poors poncho-clad tourists who habitually had to jump off the road into the heather to avoid being soaked, or even worse mowed down!

Anyway, after an hour's driving in those conditions I thought I'd stop and have some food again. Doolin was the next stop. Doolin is a trad music mecca tucked away in the ass-end of Co. Clare and hence a great spot!! I ran from my car in the pelting rain to the Magnetic Music Cafe. It's in an old whitewash cottage with stone floors and its half a cafe, half music store. It does great pizza slices and so I hopped up on a stool at the counter and ordered pizza and a "Blonde Biddie", which is a local brew :D It's run by two very affable Germans who are devotees of Irish trad music. I chatted away to one of them, mainly about the state of Irish weather. I was looking for a good cd of bodhran music and they were able to recommend some good ones. I stayed there for quite a while, just soaking up the atmosphere and feeling a million miles from work. The thing about West Clare is that it has that feel to it - you really feel cut off from "civilization" out there I think.

Eventually towards late afternoon I reluctantly headed back in the direction of home. My spirits were high after such an enjoyable day, having met such friendly and interesting characters. Since I have been away, I really have a new appreciation of what Ireland has to offer. Aside from the cost of it, being a tourist in Ireland must be great fun! It's something I'm going to do much more often.

At the start of September I am going to a bodhran workshop in County Donegal which will be a real treat. Donegal is another spectacular culture-rich part of Ireland and somewhere I havent been to since I was a teenager. It will take place over three days, and I'm looking forward to it immensly - just playing music with other people and staying in a hostel again!

August 9, 2007

Twists & Turns

I realized with a pang today that, had the rest of my recent travels gone to plan, I would be flying out to Borneo today to climb Mount Kinabalu and kick it with some oranutangs.
Instead, I am looking out at little rivulets of rain chasing each other down the window. Later, I will watch TV with my mother or maybe go completely wild and have a bath! I suppose I could go for a walk in the rain.
No. I know what I'll do. I'll take out my LP to South East Asia and actually do some reading on Sabah to remind me of what I am missing and give me something to look forward to for next year. Some days I still find myself surprised to be home. It happened so suddenly in the end.Well, it's a long story...better saved for another day.
I suppose I should have cancelled my flights. Someone else could have used the seat. But at least, whoever is sitting in the one next to mine will have some elbow room. I take some consolation in knowing this. Sarcastic
Meanwhile, life continues at its steady pace here at home. For all the fact that I go a little crazy sometimes with the monotony of it, in some ways it can provide its own comfort . Occasionally, there is some assuagement to be found in the quotidien. Unfortunately, that feeling never lasts very long, for me anyway. I don't seem to have the ability to sit still.
There are two ways one could feel I suppose: a) continually excited and inspired b) utterly exhausted. I'm glad to say the former is true for me. One thing is for sure, whether it's the solid grind of 9 to 5, or swinging from the vines in an equatorial jungle, life doesn't ever have to be dull. It can be as exciting as you allow it to be.
So, with this in mind, I will look forward to this week that should have been spent in Sabah and await what it might bring........

July 15, 2007

The Art of Juggling

I'm home a month today. The weeks have flown by but I've had a nice long rest and taken some time to get used to being back. Tomorrow, I start a new job - a six month contract which will take me up to the end of the year, which works out perfectly for what I have planned next. And what's that, you might ask?
Well, I was never going to be happy to come back home and settle down straight away without having seen a bit more of the world, and while it has been nice to be back, I have the travel bug bad, and nothing will do me now but to get back travelling again as soon as possible. This time around, I'm thinking of about a year travelling, the only challenge being getting the cash together to do that in six short months! That's going to be a feat.
If anyone has any get rich quick schemes they'd like to share, I'm ALL EARS!
Thursday saw me in Cork hashing out some new travel plans with the nice people at Trailfinders. I was hoping for some good news re a cheap ticket, but because I want to take in a few out of the way spots, they are quoting an approximate figure of €3000. OUCH! Ugh. Not sure how I'm going to work it all out.

Now, of course, I've got the niggling at the back of my head. Am I just being nutty? Shouldn't I just get a good job now, buy a house and start making some money for real. I mean, I AM NEARLY THIRTY!! Being at home again, it's so easy to get THE FEAR. Most of my contemporaries from school and university are set up and firmly focused on their careers. It's difficult not to feel uneasy about my choices at this time in my life. But then, I just stop and think about last year, being away, the freedom, the lack of pressure, the realization that what you are doing is fantastic and right and just where you want to be, and that there's still oodles of time to invest in your future. The way i feel about it now is that I'd rather be living my life now while I have my youth rather than investing lots of money in my retirement. That's important too, but I'm trying to get some balance in it all.

That's achieveable I think. You've just got to get really good at juggling.

June 29, 2007

An Unexpected Turn of Events

A bit unexpectedly, it has to be said, I find myself back in my hometown in Ireland. Initially, it was with very mixed feelings that I made the journey home, but after a lot of soul searching and mental grappling, I decided that it was what I needed to do. Now, two weeks later, I am starting to adjust to being here again, and it feels good to be back. I love Ireland and the warmth of its people, and I will soak it up for as long as I am here.

So, what happened?? Primarily, my brother Brian is soon to head off on his own travels for probably 1-2 years. Having been away for 18 months already myself, I wanted to come home and spend some time with him before he goes. That, coupled with the fact that I just had enough of Auckland and not wanting to get into too much debt to travel in Asia, swung the compass needle in the direction of home, and I made a snap decision to reroute my Asia flights. Once I had bitten the bullet, I couldnt wait to see everyone and chose to fly flat out with no stopovers to Dublin.

Needless to say, that was a BEAST of a journey. I had a 10hr layover at Sydney which was a bit bizarre due to the fact that once you are a transiting passenger, there is absolutely no way for you to get outside the airport for fresh air!! You are TRAPPED! So I wandered around the transit lounge and shops like a zombie for most of that time. My British Airways flight to Bangkok left Sydney in the late afternoon. A few hours later, as we flew over the Northern Territory towards Sumatra, I looked down over an expanse of blackness. All that could be seen were occasional bright red worm-like lines in the dark that glowed like lava. I stared at them for a long time trying to figure out what they could be, feeling sure that there were no volcanos in Australia. It eventually occurred to me that what I might have been looking at were coral reefs glowing in the dark. Whatever they were, it was an incredibly beautiful sight from high in the air.
We had to disembark at Bangkok for about an hour, at which point I had got second wind from somwhere. I changed my clothes and washed in the airport, feeling a bit less grotty. Bangkok airport is like something out of a sci-fi movie. Bird music is piped through the building, giving it an eery feeling. The heat, even in the airconditioned buildings, was suffocating having come from a wintery NZ. Lots of new bronzed young backpackers boarded our flight, obviously on their way home from seeing Asia. Looking at them, I realized that, as much as I want to travel there, right then and there I was glad to be going home for a while.

I got into my PJs (and was greeted by some odd looks) for this leg of the journey. I got as cosy as you can in economy class and just watched movies until I eventually konked out. I woke up a few hrs later with a stiff neck, which I forgot about immediately upon raising the shutter on my window. The sun was just beginning to rise and the horizon was an indescribale mix of inky blue and glowing red with flashes of yellow. My camera, unfortunately, was packed away and unreachable. Below us lay the brown endlessdeserts of Afghanistan. Home still felt a long way away.

We arrived late into London and it was a bit of a scramble to get through the long lines at security and rush to the gate for my connecting flight to Dublin. The weather in Heathrow was sunny and warm, and I was glad to be arriving home in the middle of the summer. Upon landing in Dubiln though, we were met with low grey clouds and rain splashing off the tarmac. WHAT ELSE IN NEW!!I really coulnd't have cared at that point though, and all I cared about was seeing Brian who I knew was waiting in the Arrivals Hall for me.

After the initial high of seeing him and exchanging hellos, we headed into Dublin City to O'Donoghue's pub on the Green to meet a friend for lunch. A group of musicians were playing live trad and, even though the rain was hopping off the cobblestones, I had a warm feeling all over to be back. A few toasted specials and pints of Guinness later, we were back on the road to Limerick.I hadnt told my parents I was coming back, so I was met with stunned silence by both of them. LOL. I managed to stay up as late as possible to try and get my body used to the time change. I didnt surface for almost 36 hrs though, and I was disorientated until the end of last week, waking at 4 in the morning.

It's strange being back after being gone for a year and a half. At first glances, things dont seem to have changed much, but there are telltale signs of the progress the country has made in the time I have been gone. For the first few days, I felt out of place and quite low. As the days passed, however, I am being re-assimilated into my old way of life here. It's comforting because I know now what my plans are for the foreseeable future. Asia is certainly still very much on the cards, and I'm considering a move to London for further study. Trying to coordinate and fund it all is the challenge, but one I welcome. Life is full of exciting choices right now, and where better to be for the time being than back at home with friends and family while I'm dreaming up the next chapters!

May 10, 2007

That Old Familiar Feeling

I bought my flights to Borneo today. It was the high point of my day really. It's somewhere I've been looking forward to visiting since the beginning of this trip, without even knowing if I would really make it this far.
Early in August I'll be flying from Kuala Lumpur out to the Malaysian province of Sabah to its capital, Kota Kinabalu. From there, I hope to climb Mount Kinabalu, SE Asia's highest peak, to watch the sun rise. It's going to be tough, by all accounts, and I'm not sure I have the same level of fitness that I did when I tackled the Inca Trail, but I'm not going to let that deter me! I'm going to try it! I'm also hoping to pay a visit to Poring Hot Springs and maybe visit some orangutangs.
Then I plan to travel down through Brunei (if I can get a visa and it's not going to relieve me of too much money) into the province of Sarawak. High on the agenda is a trip down the river to stay with a local tribal family. 2 weeks later I fly from Kuching back to Kuala Lumpur.
I can tell you, it feels good to be planning this next stage of the trip. My friend Hien who lives in K.L. is going to my tour guide while I'm there, which I'm really looking forward to, and he may even make the trip out to Borneo to try and summit Mount Kinabalu with me.
The best bit was that my return flights cost me just 40 euro with Air Asia, which seems to be SE Asia's answer to Ryan Air. Pretty sweet!
Not long to go now.......

May 9, 2007

Ignorance is Bliss!

Saturday was a lovely autumnal day. I was up bright and early, ready to head into the city for my appointment with The Travel Doctor. I thought, when I had had my travel consultation back in Ireland, that I was covered vaccination wise for all of my trip and that I wouldn't really be needing any more, and so I really just wanted to have a chat to the doctor about options for malaria medication.
Basically, when I got up that morning, I wasn't exactly preparing myself to be stuck in the arm with lots of needles again.
So, after a long chat with the doc, it turns out that I will be needing a course of Japanese Encephalitis injections at $135 EACH for three. She also stressed that I shoudl really consider the rabies vaccination at $145 each for three. I also need Polio at $55. Then we got to chatting about malaria meds. Lots of expensive options. We agreed on a four month course for $80! Then there was the consultation fee - another $80!!!
After having "pencilled me in" for all these horrendous jabs, she dispatched me off to the nurse clutching a big bundle of leaflets outlining the terrors of contracting rabies, malaria and dengue fever. Lovely.
The nurse was devoid of any sort of tender touch and rammed two needles, one after another into my poor arm. First time ever I felt faint from jabs. She was a goodly sort though and distracted me by giving me a sucky sweet and asking me all about my TYPHOID EXPERIENCE in Peru. She went on to underline everything the doctor had said, going into great detail about the possible diseases and viruses that lay in wait for me in SE Asia. She painted a not so lovely picture of me being chased by rabid dogs, monkeys and bats, water snails multiplying under my skin, mosquitos sucking on my blood, and general merriment and feasting on my body by all manner of ticks, insects and bedbugs!
One's grand vision of one's trip never really includes this sort of stuff. But I suppose it's better to do your best to ward it off nevertheless. So, I signed myself up for the works! I have a few more rendezvous with said nurse before the fun is over!
The depressing part is none of these vaccinations are 100% proof, as I discovered in Peru. So, all you can do is hope you escape! You think it's better to be an informed traveller, but sometimes really ignorance is bliss!

May 1, 2007

A Little Piece of Home

I've been missing home just a little bit in recent weeks. Maybe that's what prompted me to leave work early yesterday, brave the driving wind and rain and make my way into the city to apply for a new passport. That, and the fact that my current one will be out of date soon! I was bold and skipped off work early. It was lovely to get away before everyone else and miss the rush hour traffic and crowds.
I found the Irish Consulate pretty easily, and immediately upon walking into the tiny office I felt like I was at home. A sat in a cozy armchair as I waited to be served. On the floor, there was a bundle of the Irish Times with familiar faces like Enda Kenny and Bertie winking back at me. I browsed through a Bord Failte brochure and firmly resolved to be more of a tourist in my own land when I return.
A soft Midland's accent rose me from my little reverie. The girl I dealt with was called....what else?......Mary! She was so friendly in that easy going way that I have almost forgetten Irish people to have. In my job here, I deal with quite a lot of sugar-coated receptionists and forceful demanding medical professionals. Mary was just so warm and welcoming. She even let me have the Times with Bertie on the cover.
So, pleasantries out of the way and me having quelled my almost irrestible urge to give Mary a hug, we set about the business of hooking me up with some new travel documents. Mary threw her eye over my application form. Happy enough. Then, I handed her my photos which caused her to purse her lips at me.
"Oh no.", shaking her head. "Those won't do now at all. You're too small". Seriously, Mary was just ASKING for a bearhug. "Well, that's always good to hear", says I with a little titter. Mary beamed a big Athlone grin at me before dispatching me down the street to a little Chinese man who sorted me out with 8 photos of me looking fairly enormous. Apparently, 70% of the photo had to be my head.
I preferred the one where I looked small.
Anyway, back I went, forked out $145 for a new passport and told them I'd be in to collect it in a few weeks. I really wanted to sit and hang out there for a while and just read the paper and listen to Mary's lilting tones, but I'd have looked like a weirdo, so off i trotted, umbrella in hand back out into the rain and the wind, feeling a little warmer than I was when I came in, and a little closer to home.

April 27, 2007

Stuck in a Travel Rut

When you are travelling for quite a while, you realize that with the highs come the lows, and there's nothing for it but to ride them out. It's either that or just stop what you're doing and move on. Today is one of those days. I've been having a few of them recently, and I think I've just gotten stuck in a bit of a rut really.
In order to fund the next leg of Le Grand Voyage, I have had to down tools (or backpack, even) for a while and earn some money. In doing this, the backpacker is faced with a bit of a dilemma. Do you opt for a "proper" job i.e. 9-5, salaried - no fun involved - but lots of saving potential? OR.... Do you head for the nearest backpacker's hub, get a mix of odd jobs (barwork, waitressing, fruitpicking) with minimum commitment - guaranteed fun - but earn just enough to keep the party going.
On arriving in Auckland last August , there wasn't shortage of jobs, and before I knew it really I was back behind a desk without having even really considered what I really want to do. At the time, I was optimistic about my saving power, and thought that by April I could have put away enough to fund the Asia leg, allowing me to head down south to Queenstown for the next ski season. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way, and now I have a choice. I could throw caution to the wind, wave goodbye to my horrible desk job, pack my things and go south for the winter, ultimately arriving back to Ireland up to my earlobes in DEBT! OR.....I can slog it out here (13 weeks to go), save as much as I can, plan my four months in Asia, and arrive back in Ireland in the black.
It's a tough one people.
The problem with this kind of lifestyle, and the reason why I think so many people find it hard to settle down to normality again, is that you get addicted to having fun. I've been on a gradual come down from South America, and right now I think I'm at the bottom. I'm giddy at the thought of getting back on the road again. I've decided to revise the itinerary a bit and added another month on. I've 13 weeks to go and this is what I have to look forward to:
  • Sydney
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Borneo & Brunei
  • Thailand
  • Myanmar
  • Laos
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • China
  • Tibet
  • Hong Kong

The calendar on my desk is the focal point of my day. When you say 13 weeks, it doesn't sound like much. 3 MONTHS sounds like forever!!!!

April 24, 2007

28 - A Journey to Spirit Leaping Rock

Another year has slipped past and what a year this one has been! I spent my birthday this year somewhat differently to last year's - at work. It didnt have the quite the carefree feel as my 27th which was spent basking in the Santiago sun. No, this year I had to WORK but that's life. The 5th fell just before Good Friday this year which meant that I had a long weekend to look forward to, so it wasn't all bad.
I got up that morning to a pancake breakfast which was a treat! Pretty nice start to the day. I had a phonecall from my Mum and grandmother too. When I got to work the girls there were some chocolates and a card. Just before lunchtime, I had a delivery of a large bunch of beautiful sunflowers from Joff which was a lovely surprise! The rest of the day dragged out as I waited for 4 o'clock to roll around. Finished work earlier than usual and went for a quick drink with my workmates before racing home to get changed. Joff and I were going to Orbit, the revolving restaurant at the top of Auckland's SkyTower. The restaurant itself is pretty cheesy but the view from the top is fantastic and the food was fab! You can barely feel the restaurant turning - it's very gradual - and it's nice that the view changes constantly. The icing on the cake was a birthday gift from Joff of a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb!!! Now, that I'm going to look forward to!!!
Next morning, we set off for New Zealand's Northland, somewhere I hadn't really explored before. The traffic leaving Auckland for Easter Wknd was at more or less a standstill for two hours, and it took us five hours to reach Whangarei. Still, the sun was shining and we weren't in any hurry, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the drive. Whangarei was dead when we arrived, being GoodFriday, and so we just sat on the grass by the Town Basin and had some tea and chocolate - fuel for the rest of the journey to Paihia. This was my second time in Whangarei, and both times it was lifeless. I wonder if anythign ever happens there.
We arrived in Paihia just as the sun was going down and found our hostel The Pickled Parrot easily enough. It's been a while since I've been "roughing it" and I was really looking forward to it again. The Pickled Parrot is a really cool hostel - very clean with comfy beds. The atmosphere there is spoiled slightly by the gestapoesque owner who marches around ordering people to bed at 11pm. I mean, I'm all for a nice quiet hostel but he was a bit over the top.
Once we parked and dumped our bags, we headed down the road to the waterfront to see what was open. Paihia is a picturesque little town situated at the mouth of the Bay of Islands. It was quite lively given the solemn day that was in it. We found a great little bar which was full of backpackers and had the best fish&chips I've ever had!! MELT IN THE MOUTH TERHAKI! Yum. Both pretty beat after the long drive, we headed back to the hostel and got an early night.
Next morning, we were up early to book a cruise of the Bay of Islands. After a fine breakfast (courtesy of the Pickled Parrot), we checked out of the hostel and made our way down to the pier. It was cloudy and didn't look like very promising weather. We set off from Paihia and made a stop across the harbour at the little town of Russell, which was once upon a time known as "the hell hole of the South Pacific" for its lawlessness and rampant prostitution. These days, its a sleepy little port and it certainly doesn't look in any way hellish!
The weather picked up immensely, and after about an hour of cruising, we came upon a large pod of dolphins, leading to a lot of excitement on the boat! They raced along with the boat for about 20 mins, performing and showing off to the gawping passengers. It would have been cool to get in swimming with them! We reluctantly left the playful dolphins behind and cruised on until we came to The Hole in the Rock, which as the name suggests, is indeed.....a hole in a rock. Still, we paused to observe it and ooh and aaagh, and there was a little buzz to be got when the captain revved the engines and hurried us through it sideways and out the other end. More ooohing. Also on the tour we got to see Bird Shit Rock (you guessed it, a rock covered in bird poo) with one sunbathing seal lounging on it, staring back at us. Along with this, the captain pointed out "The Lady of the Rocks" to us, whereupon we all intently studied a cliff face with our most interested looks on until the image dawned on us, some more slowly than others....:D. Heading back to Paihia, we navigated through the water channels between the islands and the captain pointed out various places of historical interest. All in all, it was a nice way to spend the morning.
We got back to Paihia around midday, grabbed some lunch before heading to the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a bit of a history lesson. That was pretty interesting, and it put a lot of things into perspective about New Zealand. One thing that really strikes me here is how "at peace" they are with their British "connection". It doesn't seem to affect them much, and they are perfectly happy, from what I can see, to be a Commonwealth country. I got a little bit peeved when I read the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared the Queen of England to also be Queen of Ireland. Hmph.
Anyway, the grounds are beautiful and hug the cliffs of the Bay of Islands. Probably the most interesting thing there was the Millenium War Canoe which is a sight to behold!
An hour and a can of coke later we were back on the road again, bound for Ahipara at the base of Ninety Mile Beach. Woo-hoo! I'd been looking forward to this for WEEKS! We made a quick pit stop at the little township of Kawakawa to see the famous Hundertwasser Toilets.
We arrived in Ahipara just in time for a walk on the beach to watch the sun going down. Our hostel Endless Summer Lodge was a treat and it was like staying at your granny's house! Huge comfy beds, freshly washed towels, a spotless kitchen with everything you could need to cook, and fresh flowers. I could easily have spent a few days here. Our hostess was about the same age as ourselves and was originally from Germany. She was immediately friendly and welcoming, and she sorted everything out for our trip to the Cape the next morning.
We woke to bright sunshine and the smell of the sea, and it almost felt as it I was back in Ireland again. The one thing I truly miss when I am away from home is the west of Ireland and the smell of the Atlantic Ocean. We had to drive to the nearby town of Kaitaia to connect with our tourbus. Part of me was thinking, why dont we just drive to the cape ourselves, but it is generally advised against driving on Ninety Mile Beach. Even though it is officially a state highway, there are numerous stories of cars braving the beach at the wrong time, getting bogged down in the shifting sands and being lost to the Tasman Sea forever. As it turned out, the tour was an inspired choice. We had a great tourguide who sang for most of the journey and, being a local Maori himself, was ginned up on all the local history. I don't think there was a moment during the day where we had a chance to be bored.
We travelled through some of the most remote land in the country, stopping to see the ancient buried Kauri forest and the redundant gum fields. There is a feeling up here of being cut off from the rest of the country somehow. The local schoolchildren even have to travel for 2 hours by bus to get to school back in Kaitaia. But it wasn't always so. When the gumfields were a lucrative source, the area was a bustling place, but once it ran out people started to move to the towns and cities and away from the area. The further north we travelled, the fewer houses we saw and the wilder the countryside became. Anticipation was building the closer we got to the Cape. The weather was amazing, and I just couldnt wait to see it.
Cape Reinga is the most northerly tip of NZ and has a very special place in Maori culture. Maori legend has it that when a person dies, their spirit travels north to the rock at the Cape Reinga, and from there their spirit leaps and says goodbye to this world. Leaping Spirit Rock is a beautiful spot and stands just below the lighthouse. A single gnarled Pohutakawa tree clings stubbornly to one side. Whether it's reading about the significance of this place to the Maoris or just being there, there is special feeling in this place where the two oceans meet (the Tasman and the Pacific). I imagine it would be a pretty dramatic picture in the middle of the storm with the waters clashing together. On this day, there was a gentle turbulence in the waters below. To the left of the cape lies Cape Maria Van Diemen with its inviting long golden sands. I just wished we'd had the time to climb down and do some exploring, but we were herded back on to the bus again just half an hour after arriving.
A few minutes down the road, our bus driver stopped at a beautiful secluded beach for lunch. You would never happen upon this place if you were travelling by yourself, and we had our lunches just sitting looking out at the blue blue sea of the Pacific. Absolute least, as long as youre not camping there! According to our bus driver, this beach boasts mosquitos "the size of sparrows!"
Next up, SANDBOARDING!! This was brilliant fun, except for me huffing and puffing up the giant dunes with my plastic board flapping around in the wind and hitting me on the ass. I can't believe how unfit I am these days! Did I really do the Inca Trail just a year ago!! I need to get energized before I hit Asia!!!!!
Anyway....sandboarding was hilarious. A brilliant buzz. Got sand stuck in every possible orifice and pocket of course!
And to end the day we began the long drive down Ninety Mile Beach. Everyone was quite tired by this stage, and I just enjoyed spacing out the window watching the bus racing the tide. I love being near the sea. It makes me feel more alive somehow, and you never sleep quite so soundly as you do after a day breathing the sea air. After a fantastic feed of local fish in Kaitaia, we drove back to Ahipara and konked out.
I went for one final run around on the beach the next morning before we left. Back in the hostel's kitchen, another hosteller was gutting fish which he'd just caught, and some others were planning a day's surfing. I felt reluctant to leave really.We stopped one final time in Kaitaia for some avocado & bacon bagels and coffee before starting the LONG journey back to Auckland. For the sake of variety, and to avoid some of the heavy holiday traffic going down the east coast, we decided to take the less travelled and more remote route down the west. We weren't even really sure of where we were going but just thought we'd wing it. That proved to be a great choice. NO traffic! We had to take a little car ferry to the village of Rawene at one point which was a nice interlude on the journey. We stopped at a great coffeehouse called The Boatman (I think) in Rawene. There's was an artist's gallery attached, and naturally I couldn't leave there without some money parting from my fist. :D (Some things just dont change...). Further down the road, we came upon a beautiful Kauri forest which has the largest living Kauri tree in NZ. Had to stop there. It was just a short 5 min walk off the road, although was completely hidden among the surrounding trees. It was HUGE! Not as nig as the sequoia trees in CAlifornia, but still just HUGE! And it looked exactly like the walking trees in the Lord of the Rings (or, at least, I liked to think so anyway.)
The final leg of the journey back home was a little stressful with cop cars around every corner trying to bust poor holidayers for speed. It's hard for a girl with a bit of a lead foot, but I think I foiled em all! And I had Joff as my voice of reason beside me "What speed are you doin' there Irish...?"
We stopped at the pretty little town of Warkworth, not far from Auckland, for some wedges and a drink, and recalled the excellent wknd we'd just had. Now, there's only two things left that I want to do before I leave here in August - the Tongariro Crossing and skiing at The Remarkables!

March 1, 2007

Changing Locations

"Variety is the spice of life" so they say, so with that in mind I am preparing this weekend to put my bundle of my back once again and move to greener pastures. For the last six months I've been lucky enough to live in a really nice part of Auckland City called Mount Eden. For the most part, I've been pretty happy there - not too far from the centre, not too far "out in the wops", as the Kiwis themselves say! Living beside the rugby grounds meant that there was always something happening nearby, but in general the area had a sleepy, easy-going vibe to it that I really liked.
Still, it's nice to be embracing change again and living in a different area. This move works out quite well for me because I'll be living right beside work and I can just walk in every morning instead of sitting in the constipated city traffic for an hour! There's going to be more of a gender balance in this house too which I will REALLY welcome, I can tell you!
Not looking forward to packing though. Ugh! It's never a nice job. You'd think for a backpacker, that I'd have...well...just my backpack. But noooo. My belongings seem to have tripled in size since I arrived. Time for some pruning again!
Today is the first day of Autumn and you can feel it in the air. The leaves are starting to fall now and it almost feels as if I'm back in Ireland some days. Autumn has always been my favourite time of year and I'm looking forward to doing some treks here once it cools down. One big thing on my list of NZ Must Dos is the Tonagriro Crossing, so I"m going to have to try and wangle a day off work to accomplish that. At Easter Weekend, myself and Joff are heading North for a few days which i just can't wait for. Auckland is just dull, sorry Auckland, but it's true. The real attractions of NZ lie outside its towns and cities (for me anyway).
So, now it's off home to get stuck into cleaning and dusting and packing.......