August 13, Thursday
Ballyheigue -> Tralee
Night's Lodging: Drive In Hostel
Weather: Rain ''til noon; drizzly in afternoon, clear in evening
After leaving the bar last night, I retreated into my tent to read Eric Newby's 'Round Ireland in Low Gear. As a touring cyclist, I find it a captivating view of Ireland by bicycle. Some of his experiences closely mirror our own. He's done such a wonderful job of describing things, it makes me think, "why keep a journal? I'll just read his book." I feel terribly inadequate as I write about what I'm seeing.
I tossed and turned all night, my brain concentrating on the rain attacking the seams of my tent looking for any weakness in my seam sealing (little did I know how easy it would become to sleep during the rain - it was just "natural" after a few more nights when I no longer worried about my tent leaking). I was concerned about Jack in his tent; was it leaking? I heard Tracy return to camp about midnight, hopeful he had gathered useful information in the pub which attracted both locals and tourists.
At 8:30 a.m. we finally arose, bemoaning the unending rain throughout the night, and decided not to cook in camp over a wet stove; in fact we didn't even have much to cook. We commiserated and donned all available raingear.
Poor Jack, having to deal with this. He commented when we got up this morning, "This is a fine kettle of fish you've got me in." His tent leaked along the top seam.
I was discouraged. The gray sky had no obvious potential for clearing. We discussed making the 12 mile run down to a Tralee youth hostel.
Chilled to the bone, we hustled to the White Sands Hotel for tea and bought a newspaper to check on the weather - would it let up at all? It forecast continuous rain. A friendly woman in the hotel gave me phone numbers of hostels in Tralee. I began dialing.
We finished our tea and prowled town. The rain vacillated between drizzle and deluge. At noon we finally decided to "just do it"...take down our tents in the rain, and sprint to Tralee and see if we could get tickets - which we had been told were sold out - for the Siamsa Tire National Theatre, productions which are based on the music, dance, and folk tales of ancient Ireland. (A MUST SEE according to my Ireland-experienced friends).
Although it wasn't heavy rain, it was rain, and we were wet immediately, but not cold. We only had 11 miles from Ballyheigue to Tralee. But "wet is wet" when you are on a bicycle.
Everywhere along our route strong men with long-handled scythes vigorously whacked back wildly overgrown bushes lining the roads and outlining farm ownership.
En route to Tralee, we stopped at Ardford, about 5 miles down the road, and looked at a friary - Catholic Brothers-of-Somebody-or-Another - interesting old building. It was wet, and we couldn't get inside. We snooped around and pedaled on.
Biking along the hills, the pastures were lush and "Irish green;" where yesterday most were divided by stone walls, today they were divided by hedgerows.
The roads were good, the weather started clearing as we reached Tralee, and soon it was just cloudy. We wandered our way along, found the Tourist Information Office (TI), off the large town square, to the left of which is The Green, full of many hundred varieties of rose bushes in fragrant bloom. A sublime garden setting with Holy Cross Church and its tall spire looming in the background- a perfect place for our picnic dinner.
The crowded town of Tralee has narrow store-lined streets; a variety of pubs and other drinking establishments; and is fraught with "Buy Your Beleek China, your Waterford Crystal, your Aran Sweaters Here" signs. Food was expensive, £1.20/lb for bananas, cheese for £4/lb. Traffic snarled up and down Castle Avenue, the main street, with wall-to-wall dinged and dented cars parked within inches of one other.
Enchanting doors beckoned not only a friendly entry but photographs. Typical of what we've been seeing, these colorful doors were set off by window boxes full of flowers: red salvia, blue alyssum, pink and white geraniums, all cheerfully inviting. As in Seattle, there are flower pots hanging off the lamp posts, adding a nice touch to town.
At the theatre we were consigned to the if-someone-cancels list. The impressive building is what I, architecturally-challenged, would describe as Irish modern - with much stone building material, round stone walls and a round tower with a small glass and metal cupola on top, a modern version of the ancient tower seen yesterday, laid in a manner similar to fieldstone.
Our independent hostel (not a Hosteling International hostel) for the night was the hostel from hell. We were directed up a steep narrow staircase through a tightly designed door into a low-ceilinged co-ed loft, sleeping 8 or 9 people. If there were a fire, we all would have died. (My plan was to fling myself out the window and hope for the best.) There was one toilet and shower in a dingy cramped bathroom to service a hostel holding 15 people plus the campers out back in tents. "The other bathroom and shower [nowhere to be seen] is being re-tiled" explained the woman manager.
I asked Jack what he thought of the hostel. Actually I told him, leaning out of the second story window while he was draping his tent across apple tree branches in the yard - where other tents were pitched, people camping on the hostel grounds for £2 while we paid £4.50 to have no better accommodations than a tent certainly - "this is a pretty grisly hostel. One of the grislier ones we've been in in a very long time - in fact, - ever!" He replied, "good," - that had we told him that it was an acceptable place, he would have been terribly worried.
Two young men from Cork said they were in a tent up near Ballybunion last night not sleeping through the rain any better than I slept. They agreed that the storm from a couple of nights ago, the night we were in Ballybunnion, was the worst in a long time, a typical winter gale. Normally it was "shorts and t-shirt weather" in County Kerry, they asserted somewhat defensively.
"How did you get here?" I asked.
"I was tumming," he replied.
"Hmmm, er, how's that again?" said I, trying to tune my tin ear to his brogue.
"Tumming! I was tumming."
"Tumming?" I thought. "Oh dear, what do you suppose he means?"
"Oh. Right." I got it. "You thumbed. Hitchhiked."
We had dinner out of the local grocery store. Rick Steves, author of Europe Through the Back Door, would be proud. I spent £1.99 for my dinner of Cornish pasty, slice of ham, 2 apples, a carton of milk, finished with a Cadburry flake bar. Not the height of nutrition, but the price was right.
Tomorrow we were headed to the Dingle Peninsula. The weather over toward Dingle at 7:30pm looked nasty and menacing.
[As I write, the sky is awash in sun, -- maybe we will all dry out. However pearly black clouds look as if they are hanging out across our route tomorrow. I'm sitting here on the expansive green lawn at the National Theater waiting to go in. We were exceedingly fortunate to get tickets. I surmised that the woman moved our name "up" on the waiting list. We were originally about 20th in line, and yet when the man pulled out our tickets, our envelope was third in line. That was nice. Tracy maintained that it was just in alphabetical order. He was probably right.]