A Travellerspoint blog

Nora does Naked

Returning home from Kerry marked a new phase in my life as a rambling rose. Let me explain. The intention behind my career break was to create a space to be more open to where life might be leading me. To have concrete plans would defeat the entire purpose of being open to going with the flow. So, while I wanted to walk the Camino and to do some Woofing, that was as far as I had allowed myself to plan. My hope was that many opportunities would unfold over the summer and that by Autumn, sure I´d have a long list of exciting things to choose from. As I drove home on September 17th I acknowledged how these wondrous new opportunities had somehow evaded me. I had no plans. Not a sausage. And so began a fortnight of day and night goggling which lead to a plan of Central America for the winter. That left six weeks with not much to do. Where could I go that was not too far away, affordable and warm? Spain it was.

Arriving from autumnal Ireland, the first thing that strikes you about Spain is the light. It has a clarity, sharpness and colour that is utterly different from the mellow, subdued, saturated heavy light of Ireland. It gave me a kick. I had planned to spend a couple of weeks on the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light, which runs westward from Malaga to the Portugese border and at a number of points is less than 10km away from the Moroccan coast. My first stop was wild and wonderful Tarifa. I have always associated Tarifa with a very moving song from the 80`s called Radio Africa. Over the years I have conjured up a very romantic notion of the place in my mind. I therefore laughed to read in my guidebook that until reasonably recently, Traifa had the highest suicide rate in Spain. They reckoned this was in account of the unrelenting Levante wind and high unemployment. With the invention of kite surfing, the unrelenting wind has transformed Tarifa into one of the top kite surfing places in Europe. Suddenly there are jobs and prospects and Tarifa drops from number 1 position. For me Tarifa had an amazing energy. The Atlantic oceon crashes into the Mediterranean sea a few metres from the town centre, Morocco is so close it looks as if you could touch it and boy oh boy does the wind blow. Walking anywhere near the seafront, your face is sandblasted within an inch of it´s life. It was all so wild and dramatic and exhilarating, but also bloody cold. So after a day I headed to Cadiz, a wonderful port city;exotic, friendly and home to the best freidurias (fried fish shops) in Spain. And then to my home for 10 days, the town of Conil de la Fronterra.

Conil is a small town and now resort famed for an 8 km stretch of untamed beach. I had a very simple plan in being there, to live a simple life and not do very much. Maybe a beach walk in the morning, a bit of meditation before lunch and some late afternoon snoozing on the beach. Perfecto. I managed to bag myself a rather run down but cheap, bright and airy apartment, one minutes walk from the beach and a few minutes walk into the old town. The neighbour was sweet and given it was out of season, quiet. Within minutes of arriving into my new home I had a brainwave. I was going to spend my time there naked. Simple as that. So even before my bag was unpacked, my clothes were ceremoniously removed and I began my new life in the buff. I have no doubt my urge to be naked was connected to not having my own private space for 6 months. But whatever it was about, I certainly took to the whole escapade like a duck to water. It seemed like the most natural thing on earth to be brushing the floor, cooking my meals and pottering around the apartment in a state of undress. The only time I felt slightly silly was in the evening time when I might sit on the sofa to read a book. Somehow it felt a bit awquard, like my boobs got in the way of my reading. Bizarre I know.

The next issue to be sorted was the beach. As I`ve said before, Conil is blessed with a beautiful sandy beach which stretches away from the town. There are no sunbeds, no cafes, no anything really just a broad, pretty empty slice of sand battered by Atlantic breakers, sand which gets wilder and wilder the further you walk from the town. I had heard that the nudist area was a couple of kilometres from the town, so on day 2 I gamely set off to check it out. My reaction to other peoples nudity was very interesting. As I walked along the waters edge and the first naked person came on the horizon I looked straight ahead and pretended not to be looking, while of course desperately trying to get a good gawk. A trickle of men in their 60`s and 70`s came next, completely at ease with themselves. Once again I tried to get a good look without being caught. And so on and so forth. But when I happened upon a family, fully in the buff, playing a game of rounders, I knew it was time for Nora`s nudity to go public. Yes, it was time to get my kit off. I remember the first time I went topless. I was about twenty and on my first ever backpacking trip. I strategically placed myself behind a rock, removed my top, held my breath and lay very flat on the beach towel in an attempt to appear invisible. This time there was no one around me so it wasn`t such a big deal, but somehow it felt like I was chickening out. I knew instantly what I had to do. In Conil, like many a Mediterranean beach a regular pass time is to go for a walk along the water`s edge, to promenade. Because it was out of season there weren`t a huge number of people doing this, but their was a steady trickle of people, people in swim suits. Suddenly my life was divided into the clothed and unclothed. My task was to walk to the water, go for a swim and walk back out again, paying no attention to the clothed people strolling by. Now this was tough. I sat on my towel for at least thirty minutes trying to psyche myself up. No only was I in a tizz about exposing myself, I was sure I´d chicken out of getting into the water. I am not of hardy stock and hadn´t even been able to lower myself into the Southern Adriatic in May, never mind the blooming Atlantic in mid October. After quite a number of false starts I made a run for it and found myself in the water, battered by crashing waves. I was still wearing my watch and semi expensive sunglasses which in the excitement I had forgotten to take off. It was totally exhilarating and I was so proud of myself. As I walked through the clothed people and back to my towel I was surprised at feeling a sense of exhibitionism. I hadn´t been expecting that, but I liked it. Very quickly I became very at ease with being an unclothed person. My dash to the water was replaced by being at ease dandering along the beach for an hour or two each day. I was often amused at other peoples´reaction to me; they did exactly what I had done that first day, namely trying their damndest to look as if they weren´t looking.

Being naked did have one downside. This was related to one of the local Don Juans. On my first day he had hissed at me as I walked past, a rather annoying spanish way of getting your attention. I had said hello and walked on eager to avoid his attention. Although I have been traveling on my own since I was 18, the amount of unwanted male attention has risen exponentially since I hit 40. It is has no connection to me becoming more gorgeous as the years progress. It is the Shirley Valentine effect, minus the romance. Namely that men (sorry about the generalisation boys) assume if you are over 40 and alone on holiday then you must be number 1, desperate and hence number 2, willing to shag anyone, anything. Add a bit of nakedness into the pot and you know where I am heading. So, when I am lying on the beach that afternoon and feel a shadow come over me I know who it is. I delay sitting up and opening my eyes and when I do, there he is, Don Juan with his John Thomas dangling right in front of me. He starts to speak to me in Spanish. I tell him I don´t speak Spanish while averting my eyes. Back and forth this goes and I decide to begin giving him one of my death like stares. He decides to make one last stab at seduction. He points way behind him to his towel and using gestures and whistling noises, suggests that he bring it over to my towel. I start to laugh and can´t stop. He realises he has failed and scarpers. By the time I had stopped laughing he was no where to be seen. That was the comedy highlight of the trip. The rest of the time I lived a quiet low key existence. It was just what I needed.

Posted by noratheexplorer 11:58 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

WWOOFing- Take 2

-50 °C

My next WOOFing adventure took place near the beautiful town of Kenmare, in County Kerry. My host, who I shall call John was my age. He had worked as an engineer in Dublin before returning to Kenmare a few years back, taking over the family farm. He did a bit of everything to make ends meet. The farm's limited income came from selling firewood, a bit from sheep and a wee bit from selling vegetables. John kept his financial head above water by doing the odd stint as an enginner and by winning a lot of poker games, both online at at tournaments! John had a constant stream of WOOFers in his home. They served many purposes, not only labour on the farm. WOOFers cooked the meals, cleaned the house and in his own words, were good company and distraction for him. John was a real good guy and a kind and generous host. The kitchen was always fully stocked with grub. Goodies like chocolate, wine and beer were never far away and anything we asked for was delivered to the kitchen table by the next morning. I had the luxury of my own room with a comfy double bed, a wardrobe and a snuggly quilt. Furthermore thanks to a long line of industrious female WOOFers, the house was clean. Compared to the cess pit in County Cork, sure I was in WOOFing heaven.

It was just as well. At a physical level the work was really tough. At the end of a day of manual labour I needed a long hot shower and a snooze before I could face the evening. A lot of the work was in small areas of forest, planted 30 years ago by John's dad. Typically a day would go as follows. John would cut down selected trees with a chain saw after which we would use our hand saws and a small axe to remove all the branches (think big buggers, not spindly little ones) and strip it down till it was just a trunk. Tree after tree after tree. We would then load the trunks onto a wee mini tractor and trailer and off they would go the shed. To turn them into logs the trunks would be fed through a machine, or chopped using an axe ( an activity which I immediately excused myself from). After this the logs would be sorted into soft and hard wood and left to dry in big mounds. It was important to keep the air circulating in these mounds, hence I might spend a morning moving a mound of wood 3 times my height from one place in the shed to another place in the shed. The final activity in the cycle was to load the dry logs into mesh bags, ready for sale to the public. Intellectually stimulating, not. For years I have bought bags of logs from petrol stations, often bemoaning their cost at three or four pounds. I look at them differently now. A huge amount of labour is required for a product that has a very small price. If John had been paying us for the work, he would be making a loss. The work was deadly boring if you did it for more than a few hours. But at least it was dry in the shed.

While the temperature had warmed considerably since July, each day brought almost monsoon like rain. It meant the forest was often a quagmire of mud and muck. Despite wearing waterproofs, we could be very quickly drenched to the skin. Our other job in the forest was to prune the trees of their lower branches, again with a handsaw or machette. There was something about this activity which I found calming and therapeutic. But it was also exhausting. My upper body and arms were not used to such sustained usage and would turn to heavy lumps of lead in a rapid fashion. I have an image of myself doing this activity. My left hand is leaning on the trunk, my right hand is sawing furiously. An observor might assume I had adopted this position in order to be more fluid and efficient in my work. In reality I was leaning on the truck to prevent myself from cowping over with exhaustation. My fellow Woofer at the time was a very determined and serious French girl. When I asked, she always denied she was tired and seemed to constantly be on task. I can say with pride that after a week working with me she was a changed woman. When John was focused on his chain sawing we would down tools and have a rest. When sent off to trim the trees we would find a place to hide and have a natter. She even learnt to roll her eyes and make exaggerated yawns when we were designated our forestry tasks for the day. Like I said before, I am proud of myself.

There was ocassional respite however. How about a morning of clearing a ditch of brambles. An afternoon of breaking old concrete with a mattock, sledge hammer and pick axe (lads, are you impressed at my knowledge of heavy duty tools?), followed maybe by a bit of fench erection and then laying some concrete ( I swear). Boy oh boy farming is a varied profession. If I had been physically stronger and better at problem solving then I think the farmers life might have been for me. Well maybe not. Although I certainly enjoyed strolling around Kenmare town in my welly boots, smiling at all the tourists. But like I said before, I wasn´t strong or fit enough for the heavy work. A lovely memory I have is of walking back to the house after an exhausting day; head bowed and knuckles almost dragging on the ground. Coming the other direction was Brendan; a character, a purveyor of all things to do with Sheep and a laugh. Brendan took one look at me, threw me over his shoulder and carried me back to the house. That´s the sort of place it was.

And so, onto sheep. My favourite bit of life as a farmerette. The readership will now divide into those of you who know about sheep dipping and those of you who don´t. What I knew of sheep dipping came from my favourite episode of Shaun the Sheep, a British kids´ cartoon about a very clever and (in my opinion) hilarious sheep. This is a disgrace given I had lived on the Cooley Pennisula for ten years, an area famous for lamb. That was all to change. Three to four hundred sheep at a time had to be dipped and it was time for me to prove my worth. The actual event of ´dipping´ sounds simple enough. It involves chucking the sheep into a tank of foul smelling chemical laden water. The chemicals kill any maggots growing in the wool which if left to grow, would eat into and under the skin and mutilate or kill the animal, I think. But it is getting to the point of dunking that is the problem. Firstly sheep have to be brought in from the fields and seperated into ewes, rams and lambs. Once separated each group has then to be moved to another pen on the other side of the farm. Once in the pen, they have to be funnelled towards the submerged trough containing the solution. In visualising the above, the following points should be held in mind. Firstly, sheep are animals and do not follow instructions. Secondly, they have a strong herding instinct which means they follow the sheep in front of them. That means if one runs off into the vegetable beds, the whole lot of them do. Correspondingly if one of them refuses to move, all of them refuse to move. Finally and this is important, sheep don´t like water, not even getting their feet wet. You can imagine they will do their damnest to avoid going for a swim. I hear you all cry, "get on with it Jane, what the hell are you trying tell us?" What I am clumsily trying to describe is utter chaos. Sheep doing exactly what you don´t want them to do. Us all running round waving our arms and making whoosing noises, grabbing the buggers by the horns or by anything you can get hold of and hauling them to where they are supposed to be. Followed by them escaping, often running straight at you and sometimes knocking you over. When twenty were done, the same rigmarole had to be followed for the next twenty. And the next......... and the next. Actually, I loved it.

Life in the house was good too. I guess it was like any farm in that it had a constant stream of visitors; family, friends and people helping out or doing work. Obviously, cups of tea were required for all these people. Given I was at least 20 years older than any of the other Woofers and also a ´native´i.e able to talk and understand blarney, I quickly took on the role of the mammy of the house. Initially this role was quite simple; namely to ensure the teapot was always full, that plates were loaded with cake (baked by Maria, a German Woofer) and to keep the craic going. It was good simple fun which we all looked forward to. Not having had a family of my own, I often struggle with the quietness of my home and the lack of comings and goings. Kenmare gave me a ready made family for a few weeks; a family in which I was the mammy, but without the responsibility of having to bake cakes, pick up dirty socks or make sure the children have a bath once a week. The role was soon to diversify. It began by one of the men sensitively taking me aside. He wanted me to know, in confidence, about something that was going on for one of the other men. A few days later a different one approached me, again in confidence. I was told a wee bit about the psychological makeup of one of the others, in order that I might watch out for him a bit. At this point I thought that maybe this was a bit of a joke. Maybe they were testing me out, given they had recently found out what job I used to do. But no, this was deadly serious. And so it continued. Within 3 weeks, without asking a single question, I knew a fair bit about the dark sides of the 3 main men on the farm. It was heavy enough stuff and a fascinating insight into male mental health. I was glad however that I wasn´t going to be hanging around for too long. My career break was a lot to do with taking a break from other peoples dark sides, so mid September I packed my bags ad headed home.

Posted by noratheexplorer 11:48 Archived in Ireland Tagged ireland kerry woof Comments (0)

The Dingle Way

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The Dingle Way is a 180 km footpath which curls its way around the beautiful Dingle peninsula in County Kerry. Ireland is full of these way marked footpaths, but probably you’ve only heard of the Wicklow Way or maybe the Kerry Way which follows the Iveragh peninsula.

Last June I walked the lesser known Beara Way with my now pal Sarina. Before we started I was a tad nervous; it was pre-Camino and I had never walked for 20km with a rucsac on my back, never mind spending a week with a girl I had met a sum total of once (for about 5 hours maximum). I had an absolute ball of course; the scenery was awe inspiring, the weather phenomenal and Sarina and I, whilst scrapping on a near hourly basis, got on like a house on fire.

So 13 months, two texts and a phone call later I sat in a guesthouse in a village called Camp, waiting for the next episode of ‘Jane and Sarina go walking’ to begin. We had six days together and I had made a rough plan, completely open to being changed, covering about 20km a day. Last year I learnt that Sarina and I are probably the slowest walkers in the world which I blamed on Sarina’s inability to stop talking for more than 3 minutes at a time. Nonetheless I reckoned we could have a sleep in every morning, walk the 20 km in 6 to 7 hours and still have time in the evening to enjoy the craic wherever we were staying. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. The other background information to be aware of is that while I might be described as a ‘bit of a character’, multiply that by 2 zillion and you might get a sense of Sarina. I have never met anyone quite like her before.

And so day 1 begins, it’s lashing out of the heavens as it has done for days. Despite planning to begin at eleven o’clock, Sarina arrives at 1.20p.m and then promptly disappears for another 50 minutes. This is hard to do given the village consists of a pub and a petrol station. Steam is coming out of my ears at a rate of knots. As I have now been waiting in the pub for about two hours, I phone her and ask her if she has fallen down a bog hole. She is sitting in her car at the petrol station. The petrol station is next door to the pub. Aaarrrrggghhh. A cup of tea and some deep breaths later we head off. It is only ten to three. Aaarrrrggghhh.

And so our ramble began. It was a dark and gloomy day and after about an hour we missed our turn off and headed off in the wrong direction. I blamed Sarina for it (sure isn’t she the one with a sense of direction, I am clueless). She blamed me (for being incompetent in all matters). We laughed out loud at ourselves and continued on our merry way. Soon my favourite drug, the drug of being out in the wild began to work it’s magic. Calm and serenity descended. The path was reasonably flat and despite the intense black clouds, the rain never got worse than a heavy drizzle. A few hours later we were on the coast in beautiful Inch, beside one of my favourite beaches in the world. A funky café has opened up close to the beach and we gorged ourselves on homemade rhubarb crumble, apple pie, scones and pots of tea. Oh the utter pleasure of home baking and hot tea.

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We eventually hit the road again, back up into the mountains and headed inland towards Annascaul. I think it was about ten to ten by the time we arrived. Some of you might say that was a tad late, well it is. And if this fact was mentioned to a member of the die hard hill waking fraternity, I have no doubt I would be banned from the mountains of Ireland for ever and ever amen. But this is Sarina and I. On our first day last year, I think it was twenty past ten when the BnB owner (following on from a SOS call from myself) came to pick us up in her car. For the previous two hours I had been obsessing about where I would find food that night and like a proper two year old, had a proper meltdown involving shouting at Sarina and storming up the road to secretly make the SOS call. On that occasion our gracious host in Eyeries not only picked us up but kindly offered sandwiches and fruit cake and pots of tea. In comparison I’m afraid Annascaul failed miserably. The BnB suggested I try the pubs for food, pub number 1 send me to Pub number 2, Pub 2 sent me to Pub 3 (The North Pole Inn of Tom Crean fame) who, thanks be to Jehovah ,were able to offer me a cheese and onion toastie and a pint. I was a happy Bunny again.

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Next morning we had our sleep in and a lovely breakfast. Followed by Sarina borrowing a pair of scissors from the kitchen and wacking about 5 inches off her hair, just like that. She was a pleased as punch. She cuts her own hair once a year, so that was the hassle over till next summer! Like I said before and will say again, she’s a character. And so we headed off into another dark and brooding dark, with a weather forecast that would scare the beejaysus out of you. At this point I must mention another one of Sarina’s talents, namely her ability to bring the sunshine with her. I think one of our first ever conversations lead from her hearing me say that when I went walking, the rain always followed me. Which it does. She bragged that she always brought the sunshine. While I could accept that a person might ‘often’ bring the sun, I scowled in disdain at the her confidence that it always came with her. So as I drove down to Cork in Monsoon like conditions last June, I knew her goddam cocky assurances would be put to the test. It rained solidly from my departure in County Louth to my destination in County Kerry, seven hours later. When Sarina arrived that night it was still bucketing down, indeed it did not let up all night. The next day, the rain had stopped by the time we had driven to our departure point for the week and by 6pm it had brightened up no end. And so it continued. By day 4 we had dazzling sunshine and temperatures in the high seventies, which continued all week. For the first time in my life in Ireland I wore shorts when walking and best of all, came home with a set of bronzed calf muscles to die for. It was a truly glorious week of weather. The morning after Sarina departed the rain began and didn’t stop for a week. I swear to God. So I now officially worship at the alter of Sarina, Godness of Sunshine.

But despite my utter belief in her skill, I wondered how she was going to work her magic on the absolute disaster of the Irish summer this 2012. What happened was very interesting. Despite the appalling weather we somehow we managed to avoid getting saturated. A few hours after leaving Annascaul we stopped for a sandwich at a shop in Lispole. When we said we’d walked there the owner looked at us incredulously. There had been a series of flash floods all morning, had we not seen them? We hadn’t , No. And so the pattern was established, some how we managed to miss, day after day, quite severe localised weather and only get a bit wet and only for a wee bit. When we arrived at the chosen guesthouse each evening we would be surveyed. Had we not been out in that weather all day, how come we were dry? Praise be to Saint Sarina of the Sunshine

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Now it’s not to say that the walking conditions were good. The above photo gives a wee indication of how ‘wet under foot’ some of the paths and boreens were. The situation was always worse when a load of cattle had been through before you, the ground would be completely mashed up. If I hadn’t of being wearing my sturdy leather walking boots I would have been in trouble, anything lighter and your feet would be wet within ten minutes. However the downside was that my feet and ankles were killing me. Road walking is surprisingly sore on the feet, especially when you are wearing heavy boots and by the time I arrived in Dingle on night two, my normally dainty right ankle was swollen up like a melon. It just goes to show you. 6 weeks walking the Camino, carrying a 10kg backpack left me with1 blister. 2 days walking with a 5 kilo backpack and I have an ankle like a honeydew melon and the soles of feet feel like I’ve used a grater to massage them.

Our days had a certain rhythm to them. Get up late, stuff our faces over breakfast, loiter too long at the BnB gassing with the owner and then taking off into the day. Promises would be made that we’d be focused and keep a good pace and sure we’d be at the BnB by six or seven at the latest. Each day by six or seven we would be miles and miles from where we supposed to be. I would blame Sarina for being so bloody distracted by everything, she could hardly walk 5 paces without gadding off somewhere for a look or a conversation. Sarina blamed me for being a slow walker and a big city sissy. And then we’d laugh. However by 8.30pm my stomach would have taken control of my rationality I would descend into being a foul human being; like a toddler building up to a huge hissy fit “are we there yet, are we there yet”. Food was on my mind. More specifically, where the hell I was going to find some. Rather sensibly Sarina would keep out of my way. On day 3 we didn’t get to Dunquin till ten to ten, dinner was a donated slice of wheaten bread and some cheese. On Day 4 we managed to arrive by 9pm, thanks to the kindness of a woman who took pity on us and drove us the last mile or so. Our accommodation was in the middle of nowhere and once again I had to ask my host (with pleading eyes) for sustenance. Dinner was, you guessed it, a cheese sandwich and biscuits.

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We had been warned that the next day of our journey would be a tough one, we faced a stiff climb over the shoulder of Mount Brandon, right slap bang in the middle of the 25km. Given our track record, I was a tad nervous about making it out alive. The weather was poor and the whole area surrounding Mount Brandon was obscured in cloud as we headed towards it. Then we were on it. The ground was absolutely saturated with water and it was heavy, boggy, exhausting walking with poor views. It was then that St. Sarina of the Sunshine performed her best miracle ever. Yes, you guessed it, the clouds parted and drifted away and within ten minutes we had a clear panoramic view of the surrounding kingdom including the magnificent Ballydavid Head and the Three Sisters. It was breathtaking. About an hour later we reached the top and were treated to a completely different landscape, that of Brandon Bay. It was bloody fantastic. But what goes up must come down and hours later we were still a long way from our final resting place for the day. Nearly as soon as we hit a road with cars on it we knew what we had to do, we stuck our thumbs out. Two minutes later a car stopped and drove us to home for the evening. It was only about seven. Hooray. After a quick shower I downed a pint and then hit the restaurant for, as we say in the North, ‘ a big feed’. A ‘feed’ that did not involve either bread or cheese. Fandabbydossey

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Our final day was a gentle one, mainly flat and for a fair distance along Fermoyle Strand. We could take it easy now and sat and supped tea from our flask on the beach. It even got warm enough to take off my fleece and shock/horror, put on my shorts (I had my bronzed Camino legs to show off). When we got to Castlegregory, we only had another 9km to walk to bring us back to our starting point Camp, thus completing our circle. Did we walk it? To hell we did.

Posted by noratheexplorer 13:09 Archived in Ireland Tagged walking ireland kerry dingle_way Comments (0)

Where are Aggie and Kim when you need them?

Let me give you a brief tour of my home. First come through the back door and into the kitchen. The kitchen is piled sky high with dirty dishes. I’m not talking about a few cups, plates and messy saucepans, I’m talking about up to 3 days worth of everything a ‘family’ of 5 might use. You can imagine the fly situation. This pile up is not about laziness, it’s just the way things are done. When you need a cup or saucepan, sure just give it a rinse under the cold tap. Cold water was the order of the day. Sometimes I’d secretly switch on the immersion when Jen was away and try to make a dent in the dishes. When I got caught I was told off, in quite an unpleasant manner. I need not mention what the fridge was like.

The kitchen opens up into a small living room, containing the table at which we ate, a sofa and a small window. On the floor, dense with dog hair, was a litter tray for 2 little kittens. It wasn’t a proper tray, nor proper litter, so when the kittens attempt to bury their poo the litter was scattered all over the floor. The poo (if it wasn’t eaten by one of the dogs) sat on top for days on end. The kittens were prone to wee-ing in inappropriate places; the sofa (matted with dog hair), on the chairs, behind books or just on the floor. Rarely was any of the above noticed (and certainly not cleaned up) by the owners. And so the pungent aroma of cat pee and poo almost always hung in the air, adding a different accent to the odour of dog. For me the worst time was undoubtedly first thing in the morning. I would descend downstairs for breakfast, full of hope for the new day. Then bam, knocked flying by the aroma of stewed cat wee. As for the wet patches, I took to wearing my waterproof work trousers around the house, just incase.

But worst of all were the flies. A huge swarm of flies, at least 60 or 70 constantly hovered about the table. My hosts occasionally wondered why there were so many flies. That says it all really. As the swarm were at head height, I always made sure to keeping my mouth closed when I passed through, honestly. Eating underneath them was another matter. The photograph below shows one of their attempts to tackle the fly situation. What you see was the carnage after 1 day, but more just came to take their place.

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For the first week I morphed into a Stepford wife, desperately and secretly trying to clean and tidy where I could. I knew I wore a constant grimace on my face, their were just so many hygiene horrors to face (and I am by no means a clean freak). But then I gave up fighting it and then I began to cope better. The fact was I was living in a shit hole, I had chosen to remain in the shit hole rather than flee, so get the hell on with it Jane. Rather ironically my smelly bedroom became my refuge. A thick sleeping bag donated by a visiting friend protected me from the attacking bed springs, kept me warmer at night and provided another layer of protection against the pongey duvet. The Ritz it wasn’t, but it would do.

The other big issue was the food. Or the lack of it. I won’t go into the detail, you already have had to endure my rants about the hygiene. Just lets say that while at times we were fed well, many more times we were very hungry. I lost a fair amount of weight in the first week. I was outraged and attempted to broach the subject with Jen, suggesting that if she bought some pasta, tins of tomatoes, lentils etc at her next shop, I would be very willing to knock a few things up myself. Surprise surprise, she returned empty handed. My Co-WOOFer Vincent had seen it all before. One of his regular evening meals in a previous placement was an omelette made with one egg, whipped up and cooked in the oven to puff it up. As we waited and waited for sustenance one evening, Vincent suggested we might need to raid the compost heap. I wept with laughter for ten minutes.

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So what kept me there? As I said previously, I loved the work. During the day I was often as happy as Larry. My fellow Woofers Vincent and Rachael were darlings, pure dotes and helped keep me sane. It was ironic that after slagging the French nation throughout my Camino, I was being saved from insanity by two very sorted Frenchies, full of wit and wisdom at the ripe old age of 21 and 23 respectively. Another factor was the animals, despite the mess they created, it was wonderful being around the dogs and cats. Although I've never been a fan of cats, those wee kittens were such a delight to be around. Pure joy. But I guess that what saved me was that I knew I was there for only a short time and if things got really bad I could just walk away. And when I did speed away on July 31st I knew the only way was up. And it was... thank God.

Posted by noratheexplorer 02:21 Archived in Ireland Tagged ireland cork woof Comments (0)

Green fingers in County Cork

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And so I headed to County Cork. And yes, even going to Cork evoked the “watch yourself” farewells. I wondered what I had to ‘watch myself’ about there. Was it the funny sing-songey accents or the cute hoors? Who knows? My plan was to WWOOF for a while. For those of you not in the know, WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, a worldwide scheme that has been on the go for fifty years or so. When you WWOOF you work for around 25 hours a week and in return are given food and lodgings. In Ireland it seems that most WWOOFers are European and in their very early twenties; WOOFing for a few months over the summer is a cheap way to spend time in a country and improve their English. My reasons were very different. Over the past few years I have been growing vegetables with not huge degrees of success and I really wanted to get proper hands on experience with people who knew what they were doing. WWOOFing would give me the opportunity to be in nature and to learn lots about gardening, as well as hopefully having a very cheap existence for a couple of months. Getting to live down in Cork and Kerry for the summer was really huge too. Sure it could only be a win win situation.

My first stop was a farm in the middle of nowhere, not quite in glorious West Cork, but very close to it. I knew they intensively produced all kinds of salads and vegetables without the use of chemicals. That sounded good. They also promised a single room in the main house. That sounded even better. I knew that many hosts accommodated their WWOOFers in caravans and tents and that would not do for Nora the Explorer.

I must admit that I was a bit nervous when I pulled up to the farm, after all I would be living and working in close proximity with these people for almost a month. What if I didn’t like them? What if they didn’t like me? Yikes. After some awkward hellos I was brought to my room to settle in. Sure it was very small and sure it smelt of damp, but I could survive that. It was then I noticed the limp duvet and pillow on the bed, both stained the colour of marmalade with constant use and an absence of washing. I was horrified, smelly bed linen is joint top of my list of household horrors, sharing the position with a mouse or rat running loose in my bedroom. When ever I stay away from home, the first thing I have to do is to sniff the bed linen.

What lay in front of me did not need sniffing, indeed if it had stood up on two legs and walked out of the room I would not have been surprised. My host, who I shall call Jen told me I could get a duvet cover and pillow case in the bathroom and apologised that the room was a bit cold, pointing out a sleeping bag and what looked like a fake fur rug on a chair. Both stunk to high heaven of pungent dog. O mercy me, I would not be going near those again. I used 2 duvet covers and pillow cases to cover the offending items and to attempt to fool myself into thinking that the ‘eau du human’ would be a few extra millimetres away when I went to sleep. I then unloaded my car, doused the entire room with litres of various strong smelling aromatherapy oils and went down for supper. We had to be up at for harvesting at 6.30a.m the next morning, so I made my excuses and went to bed early. With great trepidation I climbed into bed. I was fully clothed so that none of my flesh was exposed to whatever lurked in the bed and I kept my nose high in the air to avoid the pong assaulting my delicate senses. It was then the first mattress spring stuck into me. I gingerly turned the other way, where spring number 2 was waiting to do its damage. And so on and so forth. I could have wept.

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Three or four hours later I still hadn’t slept. The mattress was unbearably uncomfortable and I was absolutely freezing, despite having got up a number of times to put on extra clothing. I knew what I had to do; smelly dog blankets it was. So they went on top, but at a distance from my nose and yes, the extra weight and warmth made a difference and I managed to get off to sleep. The next thing I knew there was a loud pounding and thudding at the door, it frightened the life out of me. It took a few moments to remember that one of the dogs might be trying to get in, the previous Woofer had allowed them to sleep on the bed. Simple you might think, just ignore the thudding. The problem was the door to the bedroom had no handle or lock, so the only defence between myself and the irate dog was my laptop and a heavy enough bag which I had previously propped up against the door. Within a few seconds this gave way and I had a large, hairy dog on top of me, a large pungent hairy dog who would not get off the bed. So I scrambled out of bed, turned on the lights and with huge effort and difficulty, eventually managed to get him off the bed. Then the process began of dragging him along the floor and out the door. He was a goddamn stubborn dog as well as being goddamn heavy. I’m sure it took five minutes. I was not amused.

Then it was 6.30 a.m and time to get up for work. The farm sells its produce to a variety of shops and restaurants in the area. To ensure everything is a fresh as possible most crops are harvested either the night before they are delivered, or in terms of salads and herbs, that morning. And so at the very crack of dawn, there was I wrapped up in a couple of fleeces and a raincoat, sitting on a wee stool cutting the outer leaves off beautiful succulent lettuce plants. All five of us (the 2 other Woofers and the 2 owners) were engaged in the same activity as the pressure is on to get the lettuce cut before the sun comes up fully. I am laughing as I write this some three months later. The weather in Cork that July was so appalling. It was cold and constantly raining. For a number of days we were enclosed in a thick sea fog which meant you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. I hardly think it was the sun we needed to worry about. Anyway, I digress. After the salads were done the rest of the orders were harvested; broad beans, runner beans, mange tout and sugar snap peas. Carrots, broccoli, beetroot, potatoes, oriental greens, basil, corriander and Calendula flowers! And loads more too, but I won’t bore you. After that we weighed and packaged the vegetables so that they looked nice and then boxed off the orders. At about 11.30 all was done and Jen would drive off in her little van to do the deliveries.

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I suppose harvesting is the sexy bit of growing vegetables. But there is constant hard graft behind it; a constant cycle of seed sowing, transplanting, weeding, watering and fertilising, harvesting to keep the plant productive, pulling up the old plants, composting them, transplanting the new seedlings and so on. I loved it all. Although some of the jobs were tedious, I always had a great sense of calm about me as I worked. My favourite times were the early morning harvests, when you felt the world was just waking up and you were privileged to be outside and in nature and with nature. My other favourite time was harvesting the green beans in the polytunnels. I would perch on my wee stool and face an army of plants laden down with their produce. Thousands of beans needed to be harvested and the only way to do it was one by one by one. So in the warm, calm, quiet of the polytunnel I would slowly slowly work my way through each plant, each snip with the scissors brought one more bean in my basket and a progressively calmer Jane. It definitely was a meditative type experience. The fertility in the polytunnels was amazing, it showed me what a difference heat makes to how quickly a plant can grow. A bean seed planted on a Monday would have sprouted, broken through the ground and be a few inches high by the following Monday. A mangetout plant shorn of it’s fruit on a Tuesday would have a new collection of crisp pods to eat by the following Friday. Wow. As I have already said, I really loved the work. The same could not be said for life outside work.

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Posted by noratheexplorer 02:00 Archived in Ireland Tagged ireland cork woof Comments (0)

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