My trip to County Sligo in the West of Ireland was by far one of my favorite experiences of the program. I traveled there by bus with about 30 other students. We stayed in an Eco Lodge, which I had heard much about from the previous groups that had gone and was so excited to stay there for myself. After stressful weeks of homework and writing essays for midterm papers, this is exactly what I needed. I had heard from one of my roommates about the bedroom at the top of the eco lodge, and she told me it would be worth my while to battle anyone in order to stay up there. The only problem was that there were only four beds…
The entire bus ride was I was a little bit on edge, plotting how I would dibs a bed up there. When we finally arrived to the eco lodge, I booked it, literally ran, inside and up a steep and narrow staircase to the top bedroom. The staircase was enclosed, in the center of a massive, open room that had beds built in to the walls. In the center, two steps down, there was a small, cozy area decorated with pillows and a fireplace/wood stove. I didn’t even notice this when I initially ran into the lodge – I had tunnel vision to get that upstairs bed. My will and determination succeeded, and I could not have been happier. This room was at the peak of the lodge, and had windows 360 degrees around, a view out to the inherently beautiful Irish countryside. One of the first things I did was climb out the windows onto the roof of the eco lodge. I barely noticed the bitter cold as I stared over the rolling hills being illuminated by the moon and millions of stars above. Eventually more people began trickling out onto the roof, and my friends and I layed up there for what mustve been an hour, hands behind our heads, legs crossed, gazing up at the most beautiful night sky we had ever seen. It was truly remarkable.
The next day, we woke up to a subtle Irish sun rising over the horizon. As the ascending sun lit up the green land below, it lit up and warmed our faces with it. I was one of the lucky ones who opened my eyes to a glass window rather than a wooden wall. A small group of us started our morning off with an hour and a half of yoga – a period of time to awaken our bodies concurrently with the awakening earth. After, I felt revitalized and ready for a day of hiking and surfing. Yes, that’s right, surfing in Ireland in November! It was every bit just as crazy as it sounds. And it just so happened that we were booked to surf on the windiest, coldest day possible. I am not lying when I say this day I experienced the coldest I have ever been in my entire life – and I live in Maine. As our bus approached the beach, I could hear the heavy pellets of rain hitting the windows. I saw massive waves crashing on the shore, and a ferocious tide. I began to second guess myself and considered opting out of surfing for the day in fear of 1) freezing to death and 2) drowning. Next thing I knew our surf guide was on the bus yelling for us to hurry, that if we didn’t go now then we wouldn’t have a chance to surf at all because the tide was coming in fast and eating up the beach. I had about a half second to decide what to do, and I soon found myself running upwind to the surf shop to get into a wet suit. The second I got off the bus the wind blew my jacket out of my hands into a massive puddle. I was struggling to run upwind; I felt as if I was attempting to run a marathon through water up to my waist. About a half hour later, the small group of brave souls who decided to surf that day was on the beach geared up in wetsuits, clutching our surfboards in a frenzy of fear and adrenaline. I was relieved to find that the water, which couldn’t have been more than 38 degrees Fahrenheit, was like getting into a hot tub. This nearly freezing cold water felt warm on my skin. That’s how cold I was. With the wind still ripping and the sky slowly getting darker and cloudier, I ventured out into waist deep water. They told us that any further would have been too dangerous. Once I selected my wave, I hiked my chest up onto my board, began paddling towards shore, and suddenly found myself successfully riding my first wave! I somehow got up the first time, but was not so successful a few times after that. The wind was so strong it knocked me off my board every time I could manage to get up.
Our trip to Sligo was one I will never forget. It was exhilarating, refreshing, peaceful, and a truly spiritual weekend where many of us got to get back in touch with our “hippy” roots. It was the most unplugged I have been this semester, and by no coincidence one of the happiest I have been here.