birthright backpacking breakdown

I find statistics fascinating. Therefore:

DISTANCE
17,490 kilometers
-or-
10,868 miles

DESTINATIONS

16 countries

Ireland
Northern Ireland
Scotland
England
The Netherlands
Belgium
Luxembourg
Germany
Poland
Czech Republic
Austria
Switzerland
France
Denmark
Sweden
Norway

32 cities
Clara, Ireland
Loughrea, Ireland
Dungloe, Ireland
Gortin, Northern Ireland
Glasgow, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Felixkirk, England
London, England
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands
Brussels, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium
Gent, Belgium
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Berlin, Germany
Warsaw, Poland
Krakow, Poland
Prague, Czech Republic
Vienna, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Überlingen, Germany
Kandern, Germany
Lucerne, Switzerland
Bern, Switzerland
Pontcharra, France
Paris, France
Hamburg, Germany
Copenhagen, Denmark
Charlottenberg, Sweden
Ås, Norway
Bergen, Norway
Dublin, Ireland

DURATION
May 16, 2012 – September 5, 2012
16 weeks -or- 112 days

EXPENSES
total: $1,650

TRANSPORTATION

hitchhiking lifts
125 total
91 men
23 women
5 couples
2 police (ha!)
2 forgotten

planes
Orlando – Dublin
Bergen – London
Dublin – Orlando

trains
Amsterdam – Utrecht
Brno – Prague
Arna – Bergen
London – Dublin

ferries
Northern Ireland – Scotland
Germany – Denmark
somewhere in Norway – somewhere else in Norway
England – Ireland

buses
London – Amsterdam
Gortin – Omagh

rideshare
Paris – Utrecht


ACCOMMODATION

couchsurfing hosts
23 total
18 male
4 female
1 couple

helpx host
Charlottenberg, Sweden

friends
Glasgow, Scotland
London, England
Utrecht, Netherlands
Kandern, Germany
Lucerne, Switzerland
Pontcharra, France
Ås, Norway

hitchhiking lift
Felixkirk, England

ferry port
Larne, Northern Ireland

Burger King
Cologne, Germany

camping
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bruges, Belgium
Udevalla(ish), Sweden

 

1849

Andy had to work the next day, so we went on a walk. Down the road, through the gate, through a field, then a forest, then another field, until you get to the river. We spent most of the walk hanging out in a field of curious but hesitant sheep. When Andy returned he took us to his local where I was was likened to some Kendall related to the Kardashians and Valerie had her first Irish Guinness. We had take away (curry chips!) then retired once again to our own private bar.

The next day would be a bit of a challenge. It started with us on a school bus destined for Omagh. It figures that the first time I would set foot on a school bus would be in a foreign country at the age of twenty-two. From Omagh we walked a ways before thumbing. All in all it took us three and a half hours and three rides to get to the Giants Causeway. We were transported by a very east Londonly accented man, a non-talkative Lithuanian woman with meditative music and an incense scented car (admittedly I fell asleep during this particular leg of the journey), and an enthusiastic older couple. The couple insisted on taking us all the way to the Giants Causeway once they learned that was our destination. They drove us along the coastal road, stopped at the Bushmills distillery, and offered us a place for the night, should we need accomodation. They were such lovely people! We all wanted to take them up on their offer, but we already had too many destinations and too little time.

The information people at the Giants Causeway were also fabulously kind. As we unloaded our packs, a woman came and offered to keep an eye on them so we would have to carry them while sightseeing. She also insisted that ‘they (Northern Ireland) don’t have any rapists or murderers. Not like England!’ Alright then. We left our bags and walked the twenty minute path. I thought it was well worth seeing. We had lunch (well, Cliff bars) on the odd formations of stone. It was here that the decision was made to skip Belfast in addition to Derry. Our path today would be directly to Larne, where we were meant to catch the ferry.

A Northern Irish man, a German girl driving a car with the steering wheel on the right and her mother, a Chinese/Irish man, and a twenty-year-old Northern Irish were our means of getting to Larne. The German girl, a seasoned hitchhiker herself, insisted that we not say ‘thank you’ at the end, but merely pass it on – pick up a fellow hitchhiker. I like that philosophy. Our final ride, young Tim, turned out to be a first time hitching lift. Also, through our conversation we learned that he is involved with a local non-denominational church. I do believe this marks the first fellow christian I have met over here. He became our unquestionable favorite ride for the day. Tim drove us past the castle in his town, which he intends on invading for his twenty-first birthday in a few weeks. He also made a stop to show us his mate’s puppies. Puppies win.

We were dropped in the ferry port town of Larne, where we were meant to camp. Unfortunately, despite walking for what felt like ages in search of trees, we determined that Larne was thoroughly unforested. So we trudged back to the ferry port to set up a different sort of camp. Fortunately the ferry port employees proved as kind as the rest of the people we had encountered that day. They offered us cushioned benches in the closed, dark cafe rather than the red metal ones saturated in fluorescence. We had a decent night’s sleep before our early departure. Two hours across the ocean brought us to Scotland.

The first day hitching in Scotland compared poorly with our experiences in Ireland. After so much walking, a few hours of waiting, and surprisingly only two lifts, we did make it to our destination.

I was a burning tree

A tattooed and bald Brian pulled up and offered a loud greeting in a donned southern twang. I could tell immediately that this would be a very different experience from our serene stay in Loughrea. And I was quite right. Our (also delicious) meal was shepherd’s pie, and Brian speaks half in jest. He is an ex-marine, now tattoo artist, filled with what I imagine is an endless amount of energy. He lives with his nephew, Lee, who arrived around the time their neighbor, Chris, turned up. We spent the evening alternately conversing, and listening to Brian sing and play guitar. The party slowly dwindled. First Christy and Valerie went to bed, then Chris left, Lee made us tea before he, too retired. Brian and I stayed up discussing aliens, religion, and life. In the morning Brian prepared us a huge breakfast of seaweed omelet, potatoes, ham, and sausage. We lazed about into the afternoon before leaving to hitch to Gortin, in Northern Ireland. On the way we acquired a phone that Brian had arranged for us. Life would definitely be less of a hassle with the ability to actually contact people.

It took us three rides, including a lift in a taxi (something I had hopelessly hoped to accomplish) to arrive in Omagh, where we were to be collected. Our first under-forty host, Andy, arrived and took us to the supermarket to get pizza and Crabbies. Allow me to explain this greatness. We birthrighters have decided to eat pizza in every country we visit. Brilliant? Yes, I know. Also, since we are now officially in the UK, Crabbies seems to be readily available. Score! Andy is great. I think we all feel really at ease around him, and the evening proved immensely enjoyable. Andy lives in a bar. It is no longer functioning, but it still looks just like a bar. We found out he has also lived in a castle. Somehow being homeless seems a little bit less cool.

and a cumbersome object

Simon recommended our next two CS hosts to us. The first stop was Trevor in Co. Galway. It took us three and a half hours and four rides to get 87km. Our final lift, William, was the winner of the day. He squeezed us into his packed car because he was really bored. During the drive he decided he would visit a friend in Loughrea (our destination) rather than only taking us partway and continuing on to Galway city (his destination). Also we listened to Metric. Score!

Christy’s phone has no credit. Therefore, we can receive calls and texts, but not initiate them ourselves. We were meant to call Trevor upon our arrival in Loughrea. So we found a pub with wi-fi and settled ourselves and our packs into a corner. I tried sending him a text through Skype, to no avail. I also wrote to him through couchsurfing, just in case he checked. We made plans to call him through Skype at 6:00pm, when he was supposed to be finished working, but that failed as well. Curse app updates! All of the above worked fine until I downloaded the most recent Skype update. So we took refuge in Kinsella’s pub for four hours munching on trail mix until we finally asked to use somebody’s phone. We connected instantly and he agreed to retrieve us shortly.

Trevor, like Simon, is English. He moved to Ireland and built a self-sustainable house that runs on wind power, uses rain water, and has a (can I say luxurious?) compost toilet. And he is vegan. He gave us a tour of his beautiful and cozy home and made us a superb vegan meal.

On Saturday Trevor took us for a day trip around west Clare. Our first stop was a stretch of beach ‘where the mountains dip into the ocean’. Did I mention that Trevor routinely swims with a wild dolphin? He does. And he was taking us with him. He explained how she brings him gifts like bits of seaweed, a blue hat, or a large sheet of jagged glass. She plays games with him and knows him specifically. Unfortunately she didn’t show today, so we continued on our journey. We went to the cliffs of Moher. Finally, I suppose, for me. Five and change months in Ireland, three of them in Clare, and I had never gone. They were indeed gorgeous, but I was unenchanted with the slew of onlookers impeding my marvel. We also visited the surfing town of Lehinch, where there were about ten surfers on surfboards in a waveless sea. We stopped at a cafe splashed in bright oceanside colors. Other stops included the Burren perfumery, a dolmen, and Doolin. The last of which we were informed was currently host to the dolphin. We did see her, but Trevor does not swim with her in the harbor, so we merely watched from a distance.

The day closed with another phenomenal vegan meal as well as rounds and rounds of hearts, or chase the lady, if you prefer. We did not retire early, despite our early start the next morning for the daunting (to us newbie-ish hitchhikers) hitch to Donegal. Our time with Trevor was calm, inspiring, and all around quite pleasant. The bar is becoming high for CS hosts.

We started off at 8:30 on Sunday morning. Sundays, in my experience, are inoptimal for hitchhiking. And we had approximately 285km ahead of us. Trevor drove us nearly half an hour to a good hitching location, then we waited an hour for our first ride. It was a man, his father-in-law, and his two young daughters. They invited us to tea, but though tempted, we decided to continue on our journey.

The three of us made a bet for how many more rides it would take to arrive in Dungloe. Valerie claimed two, Christy three, and I called four. We waited for about fifteen minutes with our sign for Sligo before Valerie glanced behind us and asked ‘are they stopping for us?’ Indeed, there was a car stopped quite far off, that seemed to be slowly backing. I left my pack and jogged to the car. ‘Are you going to Sligo? We’re going to Donegal, but we can drop you there’. said the girl in the passenger seat. ‘We’re going to Donegal!’ I replied enthusiastically. Their names were Ruth and Donna, and this was their first time picking up hitchhikers. The atmosphere was jovial and lovely. I am pretty certain it will definitely be one of the best hitching experiences of the entire trip. Twenty or so minutes into driving we came across two horses in the middle of the four lane road. Donna has horses and couldn’t leave them to run about. So she and I jumped out of the car, as did an older man coming from the other direction, and we navigated them through a nearby gate. Things you won’t do when taking a bus, #24. Our drive to Donegal took about three hours. We stopped to stretch our legs and got ‘ninety-nine’s (aka ice cream cones). Apparently the first ninety-nine of the year marks the beginning of summer.

When our fabulous ride with Ruth and Donna concluded, Donna’s mother collected us and drove us to the road we needed to continue to Dungloe. Maybe ten or fifteen cars passed in the span of twenty or thirty minutes before a car stopped for us. He took us as far as Glenties, and lent us his phone to call Brian, our next host. An older couple out for a ride took us the remainder of the way to Dungloe.

It’s interesting – at the end of the day I am always grateful that things turned out just as they did. Like in Tuam, I thought we should have taken up the offer for tea. But in hindsight, if we had, we’d have missed out on a lovely and convenient three hour ride. It always works out better than I would know to plan.

beyond the expiry

Annie deposited Clara and myself at the bus stop in Bantry, and with that we were off to Cork. We had lunch by the river before she boarded her train and I boarded my bus. I only went as far as Portlaoise, but that was still a 3+ hour journey. I walked along the road to Clara and chose a suitable hitching location. Clara is where I was scheduled to meet my CS host for the next few days. I scored a ride within minutes with a man who was ‘only going to Tullamore’. Surprisingly to him, Clara was quite close to Tullamore. He did drive 8km out of his way to drop me in Clara rather than Kilbeggan, which I was very thankful for.

Clara proved an issue for me. I was meant to find the rail station, but it was completely unmarked. Only youths roamed the street, as far as saw, so I asked one after another for directions, as well as a slightly-younger-than-me petrol station attendant. When I followed the directions of the final aforementioned director, I found myself leaving Clara. No one was in sight. So I started flagging down cars. One stopped, and I queried the driver for the direction of the rail station. The one in Tullamore? No, the one in Clara. She didn’t know of such, but she had me get in and turned her car around to help me find it. She had to ask two separate people for directions as well, before we finally found the station. She lent me her phone to call Simon and wished me well.

Simon arrived within minutes and whisked me away to his abode. I had known for months that I would feel entirely comfortable with Simon. I’ve seen him in various places on couchsurfing and come across his profile more than once. I had determined to stay with him pretty immediately after entering Ireland again, and here I am now. My expectations were correct. We had tea, he made stew, and we spent the evening conversing companionably.

12am rolled around amidst music videos and conversation, and Simon and I had a celebratory toast to my thank-you-for-screwing-me-Ireland, ditto* status.

The following day I slept in. We had a late breakfast and went for a walk around the town. Clara is known for its bog, but since showers kept leaking sporadically from the sky, we went to the visitor’s center which had a small museum dedicated to the bog. The following day we had a walk through said bog. I collected wild garlic, and upon our return home I made creamy pasta with caramelized onions, mushrooms, wild garlic, and nettle. We shared music and watched a film, and that concluded my second day of couchsurfing peacefulness.

Christy Lu and Valerie were to arrive on Wednesday via the train. After yet another chillax morning, I walked to the rail station to collect them. I was running a bit late, and I wasn’t entirely sure they would arrive on the 1:45 train. But lo and behold, as the doors of the tiny Clara station opened before me, the doors across the room followed suit and a strangely familiar face entered my vision. Valerie walked in, followed by Christy, and we had a joyous reunion. Simon left for Belgium early on Thursday morning. We slept in. Our decision for the day was to hitchhike to anywhere – no stress, all fun. We got a ride with to twenty-something guys to the next town, Tullamore. We thought to continue on to Kildare, but little did we know that Tullamore is birthplace of Satan, Mecca of slugs, center of all evility. Nobody gave us a ride, we didn’t even get the typical polite-like Irish driver gestures. We just got ignored. Tullamore is apparently a weirdo non-Irish section of Ireland. So we decided to walk the twelveish kilometers back to Clara. Fourish kilometers later – a ways past the depraved border of Tullamore – we weren’t even trying to hitch when we glanced behind us to find a legitimate bus stopping for us. After an exchange of confused glances, we approached the open doors. The driver told us to get in, and we gladly obeyed. There were [presumably] paying passengers already onboard, but apparently it was alright. He dropped us right in Clara, where we proceeded to have a blissfully uneventful evening.

*to be explained at a later date.

a couchsurfing preface to upcoming travels

I’ve been enjoying the steadily growing cast of the birthright trip. People from our first few countries have been sending loads of invitations for hosting, guiding us around their city, or simply meeting up. The list is diverse – people in their forties and teens, men and women, foreigners and natives, students and business professionals, artists and scientists, introverts and people who cannot sit still. The only common thread is that they are okay with letting strangers sleep in their home, they are okay with breaching their lines of comfort, and they love meeting all of the aforementioned diverse people.

I read an article on couchsurfing recently, clearly written by a woman who thinks couchsurfing is merely a free alternative to hotels and the like. She proudly listed all of the bizarre people she had chosen not to stay with. People with admittedly strange hobbies or characteristics, but people who would be completely fascinating to meet. I would be delighted to stay with most of the people she condescendingly discarded.

Personally, I’m so excited about seeing our hosts transform from text-and-picture profiles into complex and unique human beings with whom I have the privilege of interacting. What a blessing it is to arrive in a foreign city where you know nobody, and have a kind friend waiting to welcome you.

Some hosts are simply expecting us to arrive on a specific date, with others I’ve had relatively extensive discourse. I feel so much more capable of handling this journey with the knowledge that we’ll have these people coming alongside of us.

the worth waiting for

Returning to Annie’s was a great, albeit last minute decision. It’s wonderful to see her again, and to be able to once more experience her Wwoofing atmosphere. My first night, after a brief introduction to the other Wwoofers, Annie and I had tea and dinner together while catching up. I also had a look at the second wall that my gang left incomplete. It is finished now, and it’s nearly my height! It’s so interesting returning and seeing all of the changes that have been made. Our first wall looked, as Annie put it, as if it had always been there. As I said – returning was a good choice.

My co-Wwoofers are Clara from France, and a South African family consisting of Andreas and Jeanine, teenagers Sebastian and Matthieu, as well as toddlers Thor and Evelyn.

At the end of Wednesday as Matthieu was teaching me to chop wood, I tried unsuccessfully to pull some nailed wood apart, and succeeded instead in causing a major flair of pain in my thumb. What is it with my fingers and Wwoofing? I retired from wood chopping duty. Half an hour later I decided that since using my thumb made me feel slightly about to vomit, probably something was wrong. I sought Annie. She gave me comfrey lotion and ice. Fast forward to socializing in little house. I had to have Andreas open a bottle because the pain in my thumb interfered with stupidly simple capabilities. ‘Let me see.’ said Andreas, who opened the bottle for me. ‘I’m a doctor.’ he assured me a moment later. He took my hand and immediately said ‘ah, right.’ He pressed and pulled a bit, he moved his hands around some force field just off my hand, and then he snapped it softly back into place. Alternative medicine. Within an hour the pain from my dislocated thumb was gone, just an off sort of feeling left. Their whole family is fascinating.

The work at Annie’s this time included digging and leveling a section of earth from a hillside and using the space to plant various fruit plants. Also pulling out brambles by the river, weeding and preparing a spot for rhubarb and strawberries, and building frames for beans and peas.

I had forgotten that staying with Annie means partaking in extraordinary vegetarian meals. Andreas also made dinner for us a few evenings, and his food was fabulous as well. We watched some movies, played some games, socialized. I attempted to sort out my passport issues, but to no avail. Instead I spent the day in Bantry with the South Africans. We went to the market, the library, a well-known pub called Ma Murphy’s – where they had Crabbie’s. Upon said discovery we went and bought four bottles to split between the residents. We had a bits and bobs meal with our ginger beer to celebrate Jeanine’s official residency in Ireland. After which Annie, Clara, Sebastian, Matthieu and I spent the evening in Baltimore. We had tea while watching the sunset, followed by pizza. Pizza and Crabbie’s in the same day?! Yes, please very much.

Saturday I spent remaining calm about my unresolved and nearly expired legal issues. I helped Annie clean with the help of several cups of tea. Then she took us young folk on a car trip. We went to Priest’s Leap, and the weather was nice enough that we actually had a decent view of Cork and Kerry. We jumped a cemetery wall to visit a stone formation, took a walk through Bonane where we saw a ring fort, ruins of a famine cottage, a stone circle, and other such things. Finally we stopped by Glengariff on our way home. It was Clara’s and my last meal. Annie made a mushroom and camembert starter, salmon and spinach quiche, several salads, and cheesecake. Clara also made crepes for us. It was a delicious event. At the end of the evening we watched somebody’s paper lantern glow softly across the sky.