Hardest Day of our Life

Trip Start Sep 02, 2009
Trip End Sep 17, 2009

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Where I stayed
Dunquin Town Hostel

Flag of Ireland  , County Kerry,
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today was the coolest day in my opinion of all the days we have been here.

Today we visited number two of my top three. Today we did something that when it is all said and done we did something truly amazing. Now let this be said, before I tell the story that we decided that we were not going to do, because we were pressed for time and wanted to see everything!

So last night at the hostel and nice young gentleman who is \named Patrick told us other wise. He grew up in this part we are in and said we can not miss it. So to continue with the story we decided we were going to go to Skellig Michael. In Gaelic Skelligs means splinters. This is rightfully so as they poke out of the sea like splinters.

The back story on this island before I tell you our tale is this. This is the Holy Grail of Irish monastic island settlements. Skellig Michael rises more than 700 feet tall and a mile around. This island was first inhabited by sixth-century Christian monks. They sought the purity of isolation to get closer to God. They lasted through Viking raids and winter storms. They built a half dozen small igloo-like dwellings. The huts are connected to the sea, 600 feet below, by an amazing rock staircase.

Viking Olav Trygvasson , who later became the King of Norway and introduced Christianity to his country, was baptized here in 956. The monks lived here for more the 500 years before moving there holy community ashore to Ballinskelligs in the 1100’s. They lived off of fish and birds and would trade with passers by for cereal, candles and animal hides. On the island there are “park workers” who live there from April to October when the tourism is high. They help rebuild certain parts as well as maintain the beauty of the Island. So now on to our tail of what will go down in the history books.

The morning started at 6:30 am getting ready because as they say here half of 7 (7:30) we had to call the boat captain that was going to take us to the island. The reason for this is to let us know if the seas are calm enough to take us safely to the island. So diligently at half of 7 I called Patrick Murphy, who I envision as sitting at his coffee table and answering the phone then looking out his window and saying, “yep looks like we will be able to go today“.

So we were off it was a two hour drive just to the port where we were to take off from. Patrick gave us a deadline to be there by 10 am, show up at the pier and just ask for him. I went zipping along the roads ready to tackle what we had in store for us today. We made it to Portmagee by the skin of our teeth in time to catch the boat. This due to those damn tourists who don’t know how to drive on the left side of the road and go slow… (I am not one of them).

Once at the port Trish located Patrick within a second and directed us to his boat to get on. We were among a group to go out and the boat was full. The Island is 8 miles off the coast and takes an hour to get to via boat. We braced ourselves for the trip and we were off. The boat ride was uneventful however very cool.

When we arrived at the island, we approached the “dock” and soon found out that it is a little like jumping off of a trampoline onto an ice rink… No joke thought were weren’t going to make it. Once on the dock I was rearing to go for the first 30 seconds then Trish wanted to sit down…. Slowly I began to realize why. The nausea set in and then my legs started quivering. We sat for a minute, then we were off on the journey to find the stairs up the 600 feet and over a 1000 stairs.

Now mind you as we were pulling up to the Island and the sheer height and steepness of it, I said “ Just so you know, Trish I don’t think were going to be climbing the stairs” She looked and me and said “ Ya think!”.

After a path that led us to the base of the stairs we noticed them going up the face of the Island and we were still apprehensive about it. Then we saw people climbing them with no problems…. So we decided we would go up them a little ways and see how bad it was. That was 1000 stairs ago…. We made it to the top with some struggle but Trish will tell you about that. We encountered the burial sites for the Monks as well as their homes it was awe inspiring, to think of people living up there for 500 years with no means other then what was provided to them on the Island.

The way down I would have to say is a bit trickier and riskier. Just this April a American Girl fell and died on these very steps. We tackled to first set of steps down, I said, “Come on Trish” and thought she was right behind me. I was focused and made it down the first leg. Only to turn around and see that she was not there! I looked up and she was sitting on the top of the steps…. The steepness got the best of her. However she finally pushed forward and realized it was the only way down.

We made it down without incident or should I say I made it without incident. About 200 feet from the bottom a woman passed Trish, on the outside. The rocks at this part were slippery as they were wet. The gal slipped and barely caught her foot on a ledge, right in front of Trish. Trish was sitting down, allowing this couple to pass. SCARY! I will leave the rest to Trish and to fill in any blanks I have left out.

So, guys, the great part is that Rachael is a local driver now. She was drinking coffee, shifting on the left and passing people that were driving too slow. Too slow, being used loosely as these roads could be used to make a video game. They take the curves and bushes, scenery and locals and tack on tourists driving on the left for the first time, put them on a road not really wide enough for two vehicles and then why not throw in a walker or biker?? Why not? For that matter a tractor or 20.

We did make it to the island safe and sound and I would completely concur with Rachael that we didn’t think that we were going to make it to the top. We took it stretch by stretch and made it. It was truly exhilarating. And to think we almost didn’t go…It was all for the cute guy, Patrick that said it was an absolute MUST. Of course we had to listen to eyes that blue. J

I gotta say that there was a bit of pride that went into making it to the top because and we are huffing and puffing along, there are old people and pregnant ladies trekking it right past us. Not to mention a true believer doing it barefoot, as the monks would have done. Every time we would stop and say this is good, we would get passed up by someone that we didn’t think that we should have been passed up by. Pride, oh pride.

My pride got handed to me on my way down. I got to a certain part where the stairs went straight down and my brain got the better of me. There was a gentleman that passed me that stated, “When heading up if you fall, you fall forward. If you fall when heading down, you just keep going….” I wanted to punch him in the face but then remembered what the monks would have done and just sat down and then couldn’t move. I’m ok now (insert cheesy grin and me feeling like a big baby).

On the way down we met one of these gentlemen that lives on the island for all those months. He asked us if we wanted to stay with them…..we said, no thank you. J But we did talk with him for a bit and found him quite interesting. Not to live with but interesting, nonetheless.

We cooked our first meal in the hostel tonight. Rachael made spaghetti. It was tasty. This environment is a different way to look at the country and its travelers. We have met people from all over and mostly just gone about our ways but here we are connecting with some. We are giving to travelers from Israel a ride down the road in the am. Super sweet couple, lets pray we don’t die.

Talk to you soon
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