We have arrived in Belfast. But it wasn’t that easy. This place signals the end of our Irish extravaganza. Last night was the worst nights sleep any of us had ever had. Only Jag and Taryn remain for this night of hellish terror. But I’ll get back to all that particular drama in a few paragraphs.
Our travels lead us to Kilarney in the South West. Purely from word of mouth advice we arrive in this small town in hope of finding the true heart of Ireland. What we find is a tiny 20 bed hostel with a homey feel, open fire and complimentary loan guitars for your playing pleasure. Finally we had found a place that allows us to forget that we are living out of a campervan and running out of money. Kilarney has a population of roughly 14,000 but scores highly with around 221 places in the area to sink a cold pint.
The Sugan hostel boasts a comical host. Pa as he is well known throughout the county is one hell of a talker. He has an effortless energy that puts most to shame, but makes most feel at ease. He smiles as he openly tells story after story to a group of travelers, stopping for a moment to mention his recent absence from the hostel due to his wife’s diagnosis with cancer. Nonetheless he continues spinning honest yarns from history and from times recently past with relentless enthusiasm to open weary ears. Story telling is a fading tradition here, that in time has been replaced by other modern entertainment like Television, of which there is no sign in this cosy hostel, but that goes unnoticed or unquestioned.
Flashback to London, on one very random night Lee hooks up with a cute young lass from the states. To put it bluntly, he fell pretty damn hard, pretty damn quickly.
We decide to stay in Kilarney for an extra couple of days, the plans change and so do Lee’s. Soon he’s boarding a bus bound for Belfast to meet his girl as previously planned.
JAG and I decide to hire some bikes and get out amongst the fresh air of Kilarney National Park. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, but still we are somewhat perturbed not to have our mate with us. Ahead of us on the track Taryn rides with a Canadian couple keen for some time away from our cameras.
The track winds through amazing Irish countryside fields, tiny bridges over rivers leading into silver lakes towered by mountains that surround the landscape.
After a day of riding, it had finally become time to leave. JAG, Taryn and I pile into our van and reluctantly head North. At a leisurely pace it takes us two days to reach Belfast. A leisurely pace is not quite accurate, as our two-day journey was fraught with van breakdowns and problems of a mechanical nature. In this most frustrating of times, where was our only friend with a mechanical aptitude? In Belfast Casanovering his head off, that’s where.
We had a flat tire, a set of loose wires, a buggered fan-belt and a flat battery. However in this great Island we have experienced niceness of the highest order. As JAG mentioned earlier, at every problematic moment a guardian angel of sorts appears from a shadow to help out. The friendliness of people here is on a totally different scale to those in grumpy Central London, which is refreshing to know as we begin to lose all power on the outskirts of West Belfast.
I switch off the headlights and switch on VanDamme’s hazards. The engine splutters a last burst of power as we coast stealthily along unfamiliar roads and finally into a service station. The van is silent. My patience comes to an end. This night no guardian angel will come. There was nothing else to do but sleep this off and sort this out in the morning. But there is a certain unease around our home that the night.
All night we were woken by Belfast teenagers yelling and smashing bottles, driving circle work and even trying to break in to our van. Needless to say there was little sleep had and many nerves tested. Visions of rioting teenagers burning our van to the ground swept through our heads. Soon morning came and although we could have chosen a better part of town to sleep in, we soon found out that it was school breakup that had brought the drunken reveling students to front door.
This is the place that your Mum and Dad ask you to be careful in. This is that place the media has depicted as violent, rioting separated communities. It was true. Once. It has begun to heal and develop into a livable city over the last six or so years. At first it can be quite daunting and overpowering with all the shuttered shop fronts and armored police cars. But it’s not long before you begin to realise that this place is not as scary as it has been made out to be, and the majority of the people here are friendly and welcoming like the rest of Ireland.
A little further down the track, we manage to organise a tow through the exceptionally quiet Sunday streets of Belfast from our new “guardian angel” this time a friendly hostel employee in his own car.
Soon Lee will return from his romantic sightseeing of the North. Ireland has been the most welcoming of all places and it’s because of this that I’ll miss it very much. This leg of the journey has seen many ups and downs, so quickly I am missing home, family and friends. We need to settle soon and start to make some money. Without trying to be too dramatic, things will soon be relatively desperate soon and the ups will begin to diminish.