Eyewitness Travel vs. The Locals

One of the first things I do when planning a big trip is pick up the Eyewitness Travel series book about my destination. Detailed, full of color photographs of the sites described, comprehensive and well-researched, I have found that this is the best series of travel books out there.

But there’s nothing like seeing a place through the eyes of a local. Day II on the West Coast found us zooming off through the countryside at 160 km / hr to a destination unknown; I had no idea what to expect and didn’t mind at all. E finally revealed a place called Loophead, and my immediate reaction was to feel I couldn’t wait to call someone a “Loophead” once home.

A pristine white lighthouse greeted us from a small meadow as we pulled into the lot. I foolishly thought that was all there was to see, but we began walking out into the fields and, eventually, reached yet another set of cliffs. I’d grown accustomed to sliding right up to the ledges and staring into the rocks below, but this section frightened me quite a bit. Slanted slightly downward and no wider than my body, surrounded by the remains of other ledges which had clearly given way, I felt the entire time like I was being pulled towards the ocean – as if it were finally going to take me as its victim. The flowers and birds and white-tipped waves disguised this precipice as peaceful and serene; however, the sensation was quite different. As I climbed back up, I felt a sense of accomplishment for being there at all:

We moved on across quite a rocky portion of the terrain. I remember that it was here where the first “red flag” emerged within my tour guide. Those before us had arranged the rocks into patters such as “M.T. ♥’s C.H.” or crosses, and E discussed with a certain anger in his tone turning those crosses into penises, frustrated by people’s intended conversion of him with their rock symbols. He questioned my religious affiliation when I got quiet, and I responded with a bit of my history and the summary that I tend to believe from multiple religions and respect that others believe differently. I believe we can’t truly know what comes after life until we’ve lived it. He seemed barely satisfied with this answer, responding that I should know that once we die, we are dead. There is nothing more. He said this in a tone both as if his was the only opinion and that he intended to upset me.

There was no room for darkness or tension in this place, however, as the rocks quickly broke into yet another arrangement of cliff. We hopped across a gap about two feet wide, spilling into the sea. It’s amazing what the mind does; if one were to come to a gap in the ground the same size, one would merely step over it. However, looking down into the immense depths and the even more immensely sharpened rocks stabbing from the sea, these small gaps feel like huge feats.

Before I knew it, I was perched atop what remained of a cliff wall, separated from the mainland by gaps and a small rock bridge and with a peak no wider than a couple steps. The wind was intense and threaded to spill me at my slightest move. This was likely the most daring thing I’d accomplished, and I was terrified. As E made his way back around to the mainland to take a photo, I stayed seated and clinging to the small patch of grass that surrounded me. As for standing on that small rock formation, I don’t remember the last time I shook so. As I posed for the picture I felt like I’d never feel fear, again.

Climbing to these places, facing these drops and these heights, began to feel like a drug. Invigorating, challenging, nearing a delusional level of beauty – I couldn’t wait to just keep going. To see more. I fell absolutely in love with Ireland and am already planning my return.

We hiked back to the lot and moved on to an area called the Bridges of Ross. An old man sat on a bench as we exited the car and spoke to us of the weather and the path, assuming from a glance at me that we were both tourists. He was adorable and had clearly lived his whole life here, displaying a pride in the land that one simply doesn’t see around Chicago. It’s… beautiful.

Once the site of three land bridges, two of the three have fallen into the sea, leaving only one spectacular arch from land to island. The gaps left by the remaining bridges, reached once one crosses the original, were captivating enough for us to spend nearly two hours staring over the edge at the utopia below. Turquoise, clear as glass water strokes the sea weed and rocks in a peaceful motion, creating a rhythm which is likely the source of the sweetest lullabies. As we laid in the sun basking on the rocks and staring over the cliff wall, I realized that this wasn’t the first time this trip I would have been content doing nothing more for days. This was utter relaxation, pure magic. And the only place where the photos I took do not even begin to match the experience of the place.

Time passed on, and our departure finally arrived. I could barely peel myself away; I breathed in a bit more of that sea air and attempted to hold it all the way back to the car.

We stopped at a few shops and made our way home with Chinese food. A movie, Abrir los Ojos, by the stove. A kiss. And a near-perfect Day II was complete. It was with deep regret that I remembered, at the end of this evening, that this vacation would have to end…


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