Today, we close the circle. Our travels through Ireland will conclude in 24 hours from now. Still, to this day, I’m not over the beauty. The thousands of shades of green. The incredible rich, vibrant colors of all the many flowers blooming as far as the eye can see. The hundreds of castles, churches and abbeys, holding the past inside their rocky, vine covered walls, like ancient time capsules. The bright smiles and chipper hellos from locals and travelers alike. The numerous small towns with their brightly painted buildings and historic pubs. I doubt that the memories will fade anytime soon.
I think the most interesting was hearing stories of the struggles of the proud, hard working Irish. The stories of sorrow and triumph. The strong, proud individuals that tried to make a difference for their countrymen in the time of need. The big men and women with large hands and kind hearts. The thick accents that change slightly as we traveled from county to county.
There were many times that I would be listening to our driver and I could envision the people he was talking about laughing and a dozen small children running around underfoot. The homes and land passed down through generations upon generations. The miles and miles of rock walls, the sheep dotting the green hillsides in white and pastel colors, splashed upon their backs showing ownership. The border collies running after them. Life, so simple and so hard.
When we started planning this journey we really had no idea of what we were setting ourselves up for. We’ve never driven a right hand drive stick shift on the left side of the road, first of all. Secondly, we’ve never driven an “over-sized rig” on narrow roads. So perhaps we can save you some scary unknowns.
I’ll first start off with the advice we were given by a local bus driver…hug the white line. That means claim your space. The white line is the middle line, hugging it means your left hand side mirror stays out of the brush covering the rock walls lining the luge run.
Second tip, stop if you are nervous to pass and let the vehicle coming at you pass you. The alternatives…Loosing your right hand mirror and a possible head on collision.
Third, don’t let the vehicles following you intimidate you. There is plenty of opportunities for you to pull over, safely, and allow them to pass. If they are in a big hurry, which most drivers here are not, then they can pass when the law allows. You just need to slow down and allow them to overtake you.
Forth, there are red roads, orange roads and blue roads on the maps. These seem to be the widest, most of the time, and perhaps a bit quicker. Once a bartender laughed at us by not wanting to take the fastest route. He said, “it’s okay girls…there’s less traffic.” Well we risked it and the road was pretty much a one lane country road with pull overs to allow for on-coming cars to pass. This means you must pay attention and look beyond the road straight ahead.
Lastly, have a co-pilot that can remind you to turn right and stay left and turn left and stay left. You may think, that’s not necessary… maybe so, but when you’re trying to drive thru a traffic circle, shift, operate your blinker and exit at the proper time, it helps.
So, these are what we have been challenged with. Hopefully these few tips might help if you plan to travel to a European country that does use the left side to drive in a right hand drive vehicle.
It’s been a good day except for the 2 hours of driving. The countryside is gorgeous. The famous rock walls are now covered in a thick coat of green.
The roads are narrow and the means to an end if you want to see the small towns and castle/church ruins dotting the landscape.
Our choice of a van, the same size as our old van, was a good one at the time. Our driving skills are good but to combine the small rural roads, driving on the side of the road unfamiliar to us, a right hand drive and a stick shift, and we are like fish out of water.
We made it! It seemed like a long haul. It’s not been a very good one for me so far. I managed to get the stomach bug going around and allowed myself to get dehydrated bad! I guess with the jet lag and brain fog, I didn’t put two and two together. Fever, the runs and three red eye flights don’t work well together.
The van we picked up has been used hard! Coming out of The Turtle, this will take a bit of getting used to. First off, she’s a right hand drive and a stick shift. We drive on the other side of the road than we are used to so everything just seems a bit backwards.
Last night was our first full night sleep in the van. We went to bed, exhausted and exasperated, at 9:30 and didn’t stir until noon. Check out was at noon but no one came around to kick us out. It took a bit to get our bearings and I was trying desperately to convince myself I was well.
The first thing that became apparent was the WiFi we rented doesn’t work. Now we don’t know about the stove or hot water. The WiFi was to be our guidance for point A to point B. There are round-a-bouts everywhere and it’s hard to know ahead of time where to exit out, plus you have to remember to go in to the left, not right as we are used to. We almost pulled out in front of a delivery truck because we naturally look left. Here we turn right, stay left and look both ways.
We ended the day in a pub called Matt the Miller, a quaint little pub on the corner of the block on the waterfront. They have 3 pages dedicated to whiskeys alone. The burger I ordered was delicious and Chris ordered a pizza. A pint of Kilkenny for me and a Guinness for Chris. Live Irish music and the pubs decor just made for a pleasant end to an otherwise stressful day. Leaving the pub, the Kilkenny Castle was lit up and reflecting on the river. Beautiful. Cheers!
What is the one constant in everyone’s life? No matter black, white, brown, or green…no matter if you live comfortably with means, or are barely scraping by…no matter if you live north, south, east or west…animal, insect, plant or human, impermanence is at play in your life.
Over the last year, our lives have been greatly impacted by this often times unwelcome part of the life cycle. Everyday things change. Our likes and dislikes, our health, plants bloom and die, trees loose leaves, even as simple as outgrowing our favorite outfit, everything is in a constant state of living and dying…change. We live our lives as if we have a life-time of living to be had, fall through each day as if there will surely be another. Will there be? Are you sure?
In my Buddhist practice, my teachers and their teachers and right on back to the Buddha, have always talked about impermanence. Nothing is without change. It is not only about a physical human death, even that is not permanent, but more about the constant flux that is a naturally occurring part of everything, living and dead. Humans are the worst at accepting this phenomenon. We try hard to make sure things are as we like them, to be sure we are always comfortable. We diet to stay the same weight, facelifts to prevent the inevitable force of gravity, even engage in risky behaviors to slow the aging process. Western medicine is all about treating the diseased so that death can be cheated. We never even think about death. To speak of our death is considered taboo, macabre, not something accepted in a “normal” daily conversation.
I know that the hardest part of accepting death, is to realize that death is not the end, not a permanent condition. Yes, our physicality comes to an end, but there is so much more to all living things that just a failing vessel of blood and organs, all things are made of the most basic of matter, water and carbon, formed into a structure that can resemble many different things, from a tree to a worm, yes and the human body. The essence of which is held together by energy. This energy is universal, it exists in the chair you’re sitting on, the flowers blooming in the spring, and even the ancient old growth forests rotting on the forest floors.
OK, so you may be thinking, how do I stop or slow change? How can I accept something, death for example, that seems so final…so permanent? What happens to that life force when the vessel dies? Religions have been trying to pacify the panic and mourning that goes along with death with the promise of heaven and hell. Alchemist have been trying to find the secret of eternal youth since the beginning of time. No matter, impermanence is just a universal condition to be accepted and worked through on a daily basis. If you knew you were gonna die tomorrow, would you do anything in your power to stave off this inevitability? You are not alone. Why not live everyday as if it were your last?
If I told you that to slow, maybe even end the violence in the world, the pestilence, the hate, anger, and all the “man-made” destruction of the planet, all we have to do is live each day as if it were a gift, treat each other with kindness, show unconditional love and acceptance to our fellow human beings and stop harming even the smallest of insects, would you at least try? It is so much easier to find fault, to feel the anger and act without thinking, to pass judgement and spread gossip, to continue to pollute rivers and oceans as if they were an endless resource. To avoid change at all costs. What if we all just gave it a little effort? What if everything you said to someone, stranger or friend, ally or foe, went through three gates first. Is it true? Is it necessary? The hardest one, is it kind? What if you smiled at a stranger, held the door for someone, didn’t honk and yell at the driver you feel is being crazy or stupid. Could you make a pact to do one kind thing for someone or something everyday? Could we each start a pay it forward society just by one kind act? What if it were really that simple?
The world is suffering, we all are dying everyday, tomorrow is not for certain. Every where Chris and I go, we bring love and light into someone’s darkness, whether we know that person or not. We are not alone. It is never too late but it does take an army to move an anthill these days. I implore you to at least try, how can it hurt? We can’t stop change but we can influence it with just a few random kindnesses.