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My First Steps, or Welcome to Ireland

Since I started my blog about a month after my trip actually started, I have decided to do some recapping on the countries we’ve visited so far, so I will start from the beginning…
The more I look back on it, the more I loved Ireland. It did rain almost every single day we were there, it was cold, and we weren’t exactly prepared for that, but nonetheless, that made it all the more Irish, I guess. Our first days were spent in small town Ennis recuperating from the red eye flight, adjusting to our new hostel lifestyle, and experiencing our first bit of Irish culture: pubs, traditional music, food, etc. Ireland is just as green and beautiful as you can imagine. Old churches and castles, thatched-roof houses, stone walls, and sheep are prevalent throughout the countryside. After two days in Ennis, Saul, our HelpX host, picked us up and drove us to his home in even-smaller-town Feakle for the next week. HelpExchange is an online community where you can find host families all the the world who will house you and feed you in exchange for a few hours of work each day. This turned out to be quite the adventure we had no idea was coming.

Saul is a natural builder, and he is actually very natural himself. He built his house and most of his furniture and lives with his partner Dahmnait, her two young kids, Ishka and Grainne (pronounced Gran-ya), and his teenage son, Liam. Janie termed them “Irish hippies”. Before moving in with Saul, Dahmnait lived for seven years and birthed her children in a tent! In their natural house, there is no flush toilet, just a bucket compost toilet. They actually told us that it would be best if we could just pee outside as much as possible. Hot water is an uncommon commodity so showers are few and short and washing dishes is a pain. They also have no refrigerator which, as you can imagine, really limits the foods they eat. Actually we would just go out to their garden before a meal, pick vegetables and prepare them alongside rice, lentils, or pasta. Saul was actually an excellent cook, and the food was really fresh, healthy, and delicious. It would have been perfect if there was only bit more protein (they were vegetarians and we missed our meat). We slept in “the shed” which was a small building separate from the house. It was nice to have our own private area at night but it was not heated so it was freezing at night and our beds basically consisted of some boards with a thin pad laid across.

Saul and Dahmnait were extremely kind and welcoming and made us fit right in. Saul put us right to work the day we arrived and throughout the week we stripped bark from logs, helped build a wood shed, harvested potatoes, cooked lunches, mulched the garden and various other chores. We worked hard for five to six hours each day in rain or shine, but I didn’t mind. Actually it is amazing how much more quickly you feel comfortable in someone’s home when they are willing to order you around and put you to work. The formality of someone not letting you lift a finger when they are hosting you in their home makes you me feel so out of place and awkward.

One of my favorite things about Ireland was the music. It is so much apart of the culture there. There is live music nearly every night in the pubs. Everyone plays some instrument, even eight year old Grainne could play the Irish whistle and Saul was teaching Ishka to play the fiddle. Some nights after dinner they would all just pull out their instruments: fiddle, guitar, whistle, etc. and just have a little music session. It was so fun. It happened to be Saul’s birthday while we were there so he brought us to a party that night in the middle of the woods. There were several other “Irish hippies” there making pizza in a wood-burning oven Saul had constructed a couple years ago and enjoying a campfire. Later in the evening, everyone pulled out their instruments they all brought along and someone started up a song. Everyone who knew the song would join in and those who didn’t would quickly pick up the tune after a few lines and join in too. Some people just sang beautiful songs in Irish. We were there late into the night until things were getting a little too crazy for the youngin’s (that birch tree wine must have been pretty strong) and we headed home. It was quite a unique experience.

After leaving Saul’s we spent time in Galway, and Lisdoonvarna, home of “Europe’s largest singles event!”, the Matchmaking Festival, which as it turns out is more popular with the older crowd then young singles. We also visited the Cliffs of Moher in the Burren which were dangerously amazing. Actually three people had died there in the last five weeks from being blown over the edge by the strong winds. Rather exhilarating, but don’t worry we did our handstands a safe distance from the edge.

After our first two weeks in Ireland, it was kind of sad to leave. I began to feel comfortable there and I couldn’t believe we were only just starting the trip with still ten more countries to go (make that eleven). I was really going to miss our Irish family but it got me excited for HelpXing in other countries. Ireland was the perfect place for transitioning into our travel life: still English-speaking, only half the time in a hostel, still eating some home-cooked food, no big cities, etc. and it is still one of my top places we have visited so far.

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