PHOTO: RHODODENDRONS BLOOMING IN IRELAND
At the time I was in Britain, there was a bus service called the Slow Coach. It was also, unofficially, called the Backpackers Coach. This was a bus that had a circular route, stopping at all the important landmarks. The ticket was good for a year and the ticketee could get on and off any place they liked and for as long as they liked during that year. After I fell on a Cotswold Way stile, I decided to give my knee a rest and take the Slow Coach around Ireland.
I was excited to find myself going through Dublin’s Fair City– to see streets where the town houses were all the same except for the doors being painted different colors, to look out across green fields and see a real white painted stone Irish cottage with a thatch roof weighted down with rocks hanging from straps over the top of the roof, to see Galway Bay, the Cliffs of Moher, the Hill of Tara, and Newgrange–and of course, the Blarney Stone. NO, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone. I already had Original Blarney (!) a condition similar to Original Sin. Besides, I was in Ireland to rest my bones, not break my back bending over backwards.
One of the beauties of the country was that the rhododendrons were in bloom– an introduced species: Rhododendron ponticum. They had orchid colored blossoms that were spectacular against the Forty Shades of Green. I thought if they had been native to Ireland they would have been as revered as the shamrock. Unfortunately, they had become so invasive that the government was campaigning to destroy them, as St. Patrick did with the snakes, because they grew to tree size and shaded out native plants.
I spent three days on the west coast of Ireland at the little town of Clifden. One thing I found disconcerting about Ireland was that the rest rooms and hostels were bi-sexual. At the hostel where I stayed in Clifden, the women conspired and all occupied one room so no men could be booked in with them. I benefited from their complicity.
Also in Clifden I went day walking without my pack. It made my shoulders feel so light that I didn’t even mind walking in the rain. I heard great Irish music coming out of the open doors of pubs, but the cigarette smoke was so thick, I couldn’t push enough of it aside to get through the door. The Irish didn’t need to pay for cigarettes; they can just inhale the smoke in the air.