Monday, March 10, 2014

The Cliffs of Mohr, West Coast of Ireland

Our fortune continues. Irish luck this time, over Spring Break last week we were able to have list the Cliffs of Mohr on the west coast of Ireland. That's a major perk of studying abroad for a spring semester, your Spring Break allows you to jet off to Ireland for a few days. Following up one night in the town of Galway, a night that surely ended up being one of my favorites from our entire 10 day trip, we jumped out of bed early in the a.m. ready for the day ahead. We had booked a bus tour that included stops along the way to the Cliffs and ultimately ended at the wonder itself. The tour left at 10am from right beside our hostel but before heading off on the tour we headed into town for a quick breakfast. I say "into town" but our hostel was only around a ten minute walk to the center. However, in Ireland, every street crossing felt like the scene from "Dodgeball", scampering across the streets, dodging traffic that was coming the wrong way. It sounds basic, but we had only been on Ireland for less then a day and the traffic takes a second to get used to. We finally ended up at a place called "Cafe Express" located near the City center on the corner of Eyre Square. As Americans living in Italy for the past two and a half months, this place was a blessing in disguise. I usually pick places while abroad that seem busy with locals, a sure sign that the establishment is worth a visit. When we walked past, I observed that telling sign of locals and with a quick glance at the menu in the window, we headed in. The hostess told us to sit wherever, and so we sat. Serving up a nice American breakfast of bacon, sausage, omelets, pancakes and good coffee we were satisfied. Having read that the lunch stop on our tour was expensive and not too tasty, we made a last stop at Subway to grab sandwiches for the road and headed back to embark on our bus tour to the cliffs. A quick note on the tour (Galway Tour Company)... after searching through multiple travel sites and travel forums, I decided that a tour was probably the best option for our situation, meaning 3 college students with no way to rent a car, so 20 Euros later (student discount) the journey started and off we went.

From the start of the tour, our Irish guide exclaimed multiple times that, "you get to see the four seasons in one day up there on the cliffs." Except you almost couldn't understand it, a heavy Irish accent can be one of the hardest things to comprehend even if your fluent in English. Well he wasn't mistaken. We got our fair share of hail, rain, wind, sun, and take a look... a rainbow while there. I mention the weather because I was extremely anal about the weather leading up to this trip as I had heard that if you get enough rain you may not even be able to see the cliffs. We had just one day to take the tour, Monday, so if the weather was bad we were shit out of luck. For ten days beforehand I checked the weather religiously, even visiting multiple weather sites to get differing opinions about the "ever changing weather". I was getting borderline crazy about what weather we would have. In the end, with some luck of the Irish, we had a picture perfect day for the tour. A day which, according to our guide, "You just don't see that kind of weather out here very often, it itself." He liked to add that onto most phrases, "in itself" or "of itself." Must be an Irish thing. As we ended up with good weather, I was more relaxed, but my fears were certainly not misdirected and I was vindicated after our guide exclaimed that his work partner, "took about 7 or so journeys up to the Cliffs of Mohr before she actually got to see them in person due to the weather." It's worth noting this dude did quite a bit of talking. Though, he was friendly and informative, I would say he has a tough job, talking to a bus full of people for a good five or so hours while driving over roads so narrow that at some points of two way traffic, one vehicle has to stop, back up, and move to the side to let the other pass. During the tour, it's almost non-stop talking and lecturing for the guide, to the point that you might rather he just pipe down and let you enjoy the ride in your own thoughts. Well, enjoy the ride as much as you might be able to. The roads in west Ireland, the Burren as it's called, are quite hilly, quite narrow, and quite bumpy. This is all amplified of course by being in a bus that is moving a little faster than it probably should be. My friend exclaimed she was feeling car sick after only a half hour or so, and, "she never ever ever gets like this, it's so weird." Well so it goes, she got carsick. Getting to the cliffs takes over three hours, including stops.

Our bus popped up the parking lot after a rushed day in and out of some minor stops along the way to our final destination. After the guide announced we had exactly one hour 30 minutes at the cliffs, people quickly scurried off the coach to make the most of the precious time. Once up on this Cliffs, you get a very stunning view. Your first thought might be that, "Glad I came on the 5 hour tour bus for this" but after stretching out the legs and forgetting the carsickness, you can really start to take in the enormity of the cliffs. It's hard to imagine how the Earth managed to prop itself up hundreds of feet vertically from the ocean floor. Teutonic plates create some of the magnificent forms on the planet. Up on the cliffs, the wind was so fierce that it actually managed to drive some ocean water up the side of the cliff and over the edge, right into our faces. Mother nature is something special. Walking along the designated path, there is a 4 foot stone wall that bares you from going any further to the edge. However as you travel further only the coast, the wall ends and you enter some dangerous, or rather adventurous territory. There is no wall, and as you keep rising in elevation upon the cliffs, the wind gets even more fierce, if you had a bag or purse, you had to hold onto it at times. It's really something to be that high up, that close to the edge of the cliff.. with the waves pounding away, eroding the rock that will last long after I leave and long after a million new visitors come. These cliffs have withstood the test of time and will for the next thousand years. Incredible to think about. There was one jetted out rock a couple hundred feet from the actual cliff, and over years and years, the waves had actually carved a sort of panel into the rock through erosion. I'll post a picture below. Out in the ocean, you can spot the Aran Islands, home to some 400 Irish inhabitants that have lived there for hundreds of years and only starting getting electricity in the 1970s. The homes of the people are entirely on the side of the island that faces away from the Atlantic. This is to protect it from the ferocious waves and wind, so when looking from the coast, you see half the island completely deserted and rocky, and the other half dotted with small houses hidden away in the rocks. 

Ultimately, it's an adventure stop that was fulfilling and I'm very happy and thankful to have gone. My advice to anyone would probably be to rent your own car before taking a tour bus due to the rushed feeling that can stress you out a bit, as well as any carsickness you may get. If you have your own car, you can plan your own route (there are numerous suggestions on travel sites), take your time, and spend as much time as you want at each site. The major benefit of doing a tour is the guide accompanying you, but ours talked so much it was hard to decipher what was important from what was really just mumble jumble. That being said, I will say he did have some bright moments that were worth listening to throughout. As every bartender in Ireland says upon handing you a drink, Cheers.

Below are some pictures from my visit, followed up by a link to the travel company if you're interested.

This sign greets you before entering the area of the cliffs. "We were told to not get to close to the edge, might be the last picture you ever take if a good gust of wind comes along" -tour guide

Zoomed in look

Up on the Cliffs in some rain, close to the edge!

Storm blows over and woah, out comes the rainbow

Sun was out and the cliffs were looking fine.

The eroded rock I mentioned earlier. The waves have carved a little nook into the front, creating an almost shelf like rock.

Here is a link to the Tour Company we used: Galway Tour Company

I'd say they did a decent job. It was nice to stop off at other historic sights along the way to the cliffs. However, it does feel a bit rushed. You're talking 10-15 minutes per stop, that includes emptying out a bus full of tourists, milling around, snapping pictures, exploring, taking it in, etc. As i mentioned earlier, I'd say you're better off renting a car, if you can manage driving on the other side of the road that is.

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