I was rather tired the morning I left Dublin, because I’d been out all night at a backpacker’s pub crawl. Before leaving the hostel, I stripped the bed, balled up the sheets, and double-checked that I hadn’t left anything. My hair dryer occupied the tiny wastebasket (the voltage was just too much for my American hairdryer…may she rest in peace). My backpack felt even heavier than my day of arrival, but I strapped it on and headed out the door.
As I flung open the brightly painted door, I saw what awaited me outside: a torrential downpour. I immediately shut the door, wondering what I was going to do. I hadn’t packed an umbrella. I didn’t bring a raincoat, let alone a coat. I decided that the only thing I could do was just forge ahead, rain and all. Within two minutes, I was completely soaked, raindrops trailing down my nose and my hair slicked to my head. I accidentally stomped in a puddle while hurrying along, soaking my trainers. By the time I made it to the bus centre, I was miserably hungry, tired, and soaking wet. After purchasing a ticket to Newry, I sat down at a cafe and devoured a small breakfast and sipped a gritty, bitter Americano.
The bus was comfortable, and included free wifi. I listened to Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s while watching fields of sheep graze, occasionally glancing around at the other passengers. The Newry bus centre wasn’t as nice, and the bus was dingy. The driver was a kind old man, though, and that’s what matters. He dropped me off directly in front of An Cuan (which means “The Habour”). I walked up to the old building, noticing a scattering of children’s toys, and a few parked cars. I opened the front door, but no one was in the hall. I called up the stairwell, but received no answer. After several minutes of wandering around, I grew fearful that I was stranded. I called my best friend back home, as well as the friend that recommended I stay at An Cuan. Finally, I ventured around the enormous house, and walked up to the backdoor. A little boy answered, and I asked for his mum. The lady, Jen, came and we quickly settled the confusion. She led to to my room, sparely finished but comfortable. The house was a hodge-podge maze of the original structure and additions made in the 80’s.
After settling in, I took a walk to Kilbroney Park, which is a beautiful forested park that houses the Claughman Rock, the Narnia Trail, and Fairy Glen. I walked through Fairy Glen, past storybook homes, and a gentle river. The sun was shining, and I felt truly at rest. I remember smiling to myself, feeling proud that I was brave enough to come to the middle of nowhere in Ireland. Upon arriving back at An Cuan, I decided to take a shower and go to bed early. The shower, while slightly bigger than the one in the Dublin hostel, had barely any water pressure, and trickled out lukewarm. After a long day of bus travel and getting caught in the rain, all I wanted was a decent shower. This trip has made me realise how spoiled I am back in the States. I appreciate how the inconveniences are developing patience and thankfulness within me. The tight spaces, limited options, and budget accommodations are helping me realise how little I truly need to be happy.
My second day at An Cuan, another American girl arrived at the base. We chatted on the couches after the community meal, and she then invited me out for dessert and coffee. We walked down the street to The Church, a lovely old church that was converted to a cafe. I cheated on my diet and indulged in a toffee pudding with ice cream and berries. I am dairy-free and usually attempt a vegan lifestyle, but I just decided to go for it. We chatted about our faith, our struggles with doubt, and a little bit about our lives back in the States. After a couple days of being alone, it was such a blessing to make a friend!
When I got back to my room, I popped a couple of Benadryl to counter the affects of my indulgence. The next morning I awoke with a terrible ache throughout my body, a sore throat, and what felt like an ear infection. I had planned on a day trip to Belfast, and decided that I wouldn’t allow being sick to keep me from exploring. I was also in desperate need of a warm coat. I rode two buses to Belfast, and by the time of my arrival I was terribly hungry, grumpy, and ill.
My guidebook suggested I visit Kelly’s, a three-hundred year old pub that once catered to Irish rebels. I walked in and sat down. No one served me, so after about fifteen uncomfortable minutes, I chose to move closer to the bar. After more uncomfortable minutes of waiting, I flagged down the bartender and asked if I could order. His accent was thick, so after a little difficulty, I was informed that they were serving only beef stew. I hate beef stew, and I didn’t want a drink, so I left.
I was then directed to a hip cafe, where I ordered “The Big Fish”. I assumed it was akin to fish and chips, plus that’s the title of my favourite Tim Burton movie, so I guessed it a safe bet. The waiter brought out a platter with a battered, deep fried fish the length of elbow to fingertip, with a serving of chips and mashed peas. It was an enormous amount of food. I ate everything though, because I was so hungry and past the point of caring.
After lunch I wandered around different shops in search of a coat. All the shops were featuring spring attire, so all I could find were paper-thin raincoats. It began to rain, so I popped out my umbrella that I purchased in the village for about three pounds. The heavy winds immediately folded my shield from the inside out, and I stopped to wage war on the cheap thing in front of a small cafe. After realising I was at a loss, I walked inside. “Having trouble with your umbrella, are you?” The comment came from a smiley barista with a red beard and vivid blue eyes. I laughed and replied yes, that I wanted to throw it in the trash. I ordered an Americano, and he hospitably told me to sit down and he’d bring it to me. I was relived to find a kind person. We chatted as I sipped on my coffee (which was delicious). He’d travelled through the Middle East on his own several years back, which I found impressive.
I told him I was in need of a coat, and he directed me to a TK Maxx (their version of the States’ TJ Maxx). After browsing, I chose a black down jacket. It was lightweight but warm, though not my style. After my jacket mission was complete, my desire to wander around Belfast died completely. I just wanted to go home to bed. I nearly cried multiple times, mostly from disappointment and feeling so poorly. I didn’t expect I’d have bad days while travelling; I thought that I would be so overjoyed and in awe that I would be immune to every difficulty.
When I returned to the base, I was feeling so ill that I just showered and went to bed. I awoke the next day fairly early for how sick I felt. I dressed for church, went on a walk to Kilbroney Park, and picked up some coffee before heading to the service. When I arrived, I saw a couple of girls from the base. I stood with them and chatted with the elderly. The service was beautiful, with various Scripture readings, organ-led hymns, and a celebration of the Trinity. I thoroughly enjoyed the traditional service, and felt so apart of the village community through the experience.
The next morning, I visited the local physician. As I had suspected, I had another ear infection. He prescribed the routine antibiotics, and told me not to fly for a bit. “That’s impossible…I have several flights that I cannot cancel!” He shook his head, but said to take care. I waited in a tiny pharmacy while the two women behind the counter gossiped and filled plastic bottles with various pills.
The remainder of my time in Rostrevor was spent resting, taking long walks, and chatting with locals. By the time the bus came to whisk me to another destination, I cried at the thought of leaving such a peaceful nest of a village.