Thursday, July 07, 2016

Day 16: Skellig Michael

We had been debating a trip to the Skelligs for days.  The price tag to go out is now at €60 because of the recent Star Wars filming.  Not long ago, it was only €30.  €60 is pretty steep.  The other problem was weather.  We found the direct contact information to one of the boatman online.  An actually good website, it was a shock!  He told us when we called days before that weather had cancelled that day and the next day wasn't looking promising.  We called him again last night and he said there was a possibility and he did have 2 seats available.  If we wanted to start our drive from Cork, he would call about 8AM when he received the official weather report.  There would be no food or toilets, so plan accordingly.

We left our BnB about 6:30AM.  We needed to stop along the way to get cash.  The boatman didn't tell us that, but I had a hunch - never ignore a hunch.  The boat leaves at 10AM.  Best to be at the docks by 9:30.  The drive to Portmagee would be 2 hours and 45 minutes at least.

On the road, the sky would be beautiful one minute and raining the next.  We truly did not know whether the weather would cooperate or not.  We had decided that if the boats couldn't go out today, we would be close to other things we could see anyway.  The drive would not be a loss.  At 8:02, our boatman called and told us the trip was a go!  Even with this news, our trip could be beautifully sunny or light rain and cloudy.  Either way, we were going.

I stopped at a bank with two ATMs so we didn't even have to wait on each other.  We arrived with snacks in our backpacks, binoculars ready to see birds, and €60 safely stuffed into pockets with zippers.  Once at the dock, the boatmen were preparing their boats and slowly gathering their patrons.  Each boat was a 12 person boat and there were maybe 10 of them.  This is the total number of people who can go to the island each day.  The OPW guides on the island told us there was an annual number permitted, so once the numbers are reached, no matter how good the weather, that's it.  I can't find a confirmation of that, but the reasoning was to preserve the site.
Tiny 12 person ferry.  Gwyndolyn is a happy camper!
I hate dramamine.  Even in half dose, it makes me too tired and makes my head furry.  Gwyndolyn had brought some anti-nausea medication instead.  Being a healthy, otherwise law-abiding, non-drug taking person, I accepted a dose of this stuff.

The water was choppy, and it's always choppier going out than coming into shore...  because that's how waves work.  There was no standing at the front of the boat here, and even if you could have, you would have been SOAKED.  The first 15 minutes of the ride were quite nice.  I enjoyed being on the side of the boat that I could see things and watch the birds.  The second 15 minutes were still ok, but bordering on enough.  The last 15 minutes were a delicate lace of torture.  Both of us kept our breakfast, but many on other boats did not.  I just kept telling myself, we will be there any minute....  how many more minutes....  not sure how many more minutes I can stand...  If I decide I can't make it, how would one hold onto the side of this small boat without smacking your chest into the guard rail?  I was definitely concerned.  When we finally got to the dock, we had to climb stairs that were insanely steep even for a normal day.  The first couple of steps, I was not sure I was going to make it.  It was with a sheer will of the mind that I forced what strength I had left to take the dozen or so steps up to the flat part of the dock.  Then we sat on the concrete dock until a bit of color returned to our faces.  It wasn't too long, and we really didn't want to waste the short amount of time we had.  It was now 10:50 and the boat would leave at 2:15.

Off we go, still slightly wobbly from the boat ride.  We walked around to where the mighty upward journey begins.  The guide at the bottom explained in great detail how to manage the stone steps.  He included a physical demonstration.  And he went over these instructions over, and over, and ooooover, and OOOOVER....  I thought a few people in front of us were going to plow him down.  I think he was stalling to give the group ahead more space, and hold us wobbly people down here until we were less wobbly.  Smart all around, I suppose.  In 2009, there were 2 separate deadly falls.  Caution, watch your feet, and stop any time you need to.

Up 150 steps.  Stop for a photo.
Look at that SKY!  Gorgeous day...  what luck!
Up 125 steps.  Stop for another photo.
Natural stone.  Uneven height and depth.
Up 100 steps.  Oh my goodness, look how tiny the boats are getting.
There is a boat in this photo.  A very tiny boat.
Oh!  A group of young women were looking at something under one of the steps.  One of them held her camera over the edge into the den of a PUFFIN!  She showed me the photo.  The scene wasn't quite as dangerous as it sounds, but I saw the photo and that was good enough.
Nothing to stop you if you fall!
Up 150 steps.  A chain rail is installed at one point which is definitely helpful, but doesn't last very long.
See that tiny path? Those are stone steps about 3 feet wide.

Up 145 steps.  And, we're THERE!  The ancient monastic site with numerous beehive shaped stacked stone structures.
Skellig Michael monastic site dating to 600AD.
Beehive shaped dry stacked stone structures.
When we got to the ruins, the guide was finishing up her talk with the first group.  We wandered and took photos and I sat down for the next talk.  I sat just outside the doorway to one of the beehive shaped huts.  I could hear baby bird chirp.  I went inside and searched.  Searched and searched.  A stone stack construction hut has a million potential bird houses.  I found them with the flashlight of my phone.  Storm petrels.  They were old enough to look like adults in the face.  Most adult birds go hunting by day and will return in the evening.  We were told we might see a puffin or two, but if we don't, that's why.

I got antsy and wanted to go look for puffins.  Gwyndolyn didn't seem to mind following me in my search.  We started the descent.  As we came around a corner, one flew over!  A PUFFIN!  I was so excited, but remembered the caution our guide had explained.  We carefully made it down to the next rest area and sat watching a couple of puffins fly by and land for photos.

Those are PUFFINS on that rock just to the right of center in the photo.
Our boatman, who had apparently hiked to the top passed us on the way down and pointed out a puffin nest under a huge rock.  It was too dark to get a photo, but I could see the little guy.

The ride back to the mainland started with a circling of the Little Skellig.  This island is one great big huge home to Gannets.  In fact, this is the largest Gannet colony in the world.  Seeing the birds covering every rocky top was incredible.  Gannets are beautiful birds, by the way.  My photos don't do them or the puffins justice.  Look them up!

Little Skellig, home to a gazillion gannets.
The ride back was only slightly better than the ride out.  We made it to shore by 3PM.  The boatman paused the boat before docking to gather the fees.  CASH!  Toilets in the local pub, and then a sit on the curb with some pretzels had me feeling a bit better fairly quickly.  Not feeling quite settled enough for a real meal, we started our way back to Cork.

We stopped for dinner at O'Sullibhean's Tower Inn.  I had another bowl of seafood chowder that was ALMOST as good as my favorite one in Letterkenny.  A dog kept wandering in and out of the pub.  No one seemed to even notice the dog.  I was only disappointed that he wouldn't come hang out with us or at least let me get a better photo.

Pub dog.
We had an A+ tourist day.

To be continued.

1 comment:

Gwyndolyn said...

Because that's how waves work! Haha. Love you, Abby. This was truly a magical day.