Of course we don’t know each other well yet, and still we plunge almost immediately into deep discussions of lives past and present sprinkled with hopes and dreams. Olive asks me what I’d most like to see while in Ireland, and blinks only almost imperceptibly when I name what must be the second largest tourist attraction in the country after the Blarney Stone, the Cliffs of Moher. In a stroke of luck there’s a bank holiday, those European Mondays off that surely have been created to boost the travel industry, and Olive agrees to accompany us if we’ll agree to a morning lie-in first. I’ll let you look that one up.
At the Irish crack of dawn (11 AM), we pile into the car and head for the ferry to cross the Shannon Estuary from County Kerry to County Clare, fingers tickling the rails and hair in gleeful windswept swirls like three Aphrodites just emerging from our shells and blissfully open to the unknown. Olive has assured us the drive through County Clare to the cliffs is 90 minutes at most. Five hours later we arrive at Moher, the reason being that we travel like girls.
Look at that field of wildflowers! — could we pull over for 23 photos? Look at those sheep — I LOVE sheep! Let’s picnic by this stream with the paddle boats and castle ruin! I’ve never seen this lane, and look, there’s a strip of grass growing up the middle of it — let’s see where it goes! Oh a beach, fancy an hour of shell gathering? It’s a blissful day where cares are abandoned and we simply spend it frolicking here and there according to our pleasures.
And girls again we are, crouched for the best photograph of an unfamiliar flower growing through a crack in the path, tracing what could easily be ancient languages that paint hieroglyphic circles on even older limestone, marveling at the landscape of rock and sea and wind, bright yellow snail shells, acres of black rock with glistening strands of lime green seaweed trails, and always the sea, always the breeze, like constant companions holding our hands and whispering “don’t forget who you are, never forget.”
And yet we do make it to the cliffs on a brilliant afternoon with a sprinkling of visitors. In a few words, they are breathtaking, in a gasping, jaw dropping, wide-eyed deer in the headlights kind of way. Reaching a height of 702 feet (see the tiny people on top?), they span eight miles of the Wild Atlantic Way, and support habitats that include puffins (Eek! Puffins!) and 40,000 (literally) other birds that include 29 species. The cliffs of sandstone, siltstone and shale are dated at a mere 320 million years. Gasp indeed. We gaze and snap and imagine and wonder, walk a bit of the burren trail along the opposite peaks, sure we’ll be okay because Olive is wearing her Dorothy shoes, and we’ll always be able to get safely home.
They say the journey is the thing rather than the destination, a truth we all forget over and over and over, but in Ireland the journey is everywhere and being present is as easy as opening your eyes. That little gasp will let you know you’ve got it.