I’ve broken up this narrative of my trip into two separate entries for length’s sake; it turned out to be much longer and more detailed than I thought it would be when I started typing. Part 1 today, part 2 tomorrow — it’s already written so this won’t turn out to be another of my (in)famous cliffhangers.
I’ve been back from Westport two full days now and have spent the time mostly cleaning my place and doing laundry, getting ready for next week when I’ll start my new job. It was an amazing three and a half days away. I met some really great people, learned the difference between a vacation and travel, and left Mayo with a renewed zest for life. That last one may sound like hyperbole, but let me explain.
I left Dublin on Monday feeling drained. Due to my poor planning, I found myself lugging a small rolling suitcase, a backpack, and my dog across the city an hour and twenty minutes to get to the dog sitter’s house. By the time it was all said and done, we had walked 5 miles and I was sweating and swearing from tripping over the dog underfoot one too many times. I made it to the train station just in time to buy my ticket and board before we rolled out of Heuston station toward the west.
It was nearly 6 pm when I arrived in Westport and a light rain was falling. The town charmed me straight away; the narrow streets were lined with colorful buildings and shops of all kinds.
I navigated my way to the hostel and was greeted by the receptionist, Morena, whose somewhat gruff and sarcastic manner I liked immediately. She showed me to my room where I changed clothes and headed to a pub called Cosy Joe’s per her recommendation.
The pub was modern and less than half full. I took a seat at the bar in the back where it was empty. After ordering my food and a Guinness, I noticed the Ireland v. Wales World Cup qualifier match was starting. Soon, more people filed into the back area where there was a large, wall-mounted TV. I was joined by an older couple from Kerry who sat next to me. The husband was particularly chatty and asked me about everything from my views on living in Dublin, Trump, and America’s healthcare. I kept it light and tried to explain everything objectively, while throwing in my personal opinion from time to time. Luckily, he was just sincerely curious and the conversation didn’t turn ugly as it usually does when non-Americans want to talk politics. Once the match had ended, almost the entire bar cleared out. I got to talking with the bartender, a young guy from the area, while I had another beer. Finally, when he was nearing closing, I was directed across the street to the sister pub, Matt Molloy’s, where I caught the end of a live music set. It was just a guitarist/singer and a guy on banjo but the banjo player was phenomenal. I left for my hostel after their set, content from a nice first evening.
I had planned to wake up early the next day, grab breakfast, then catch the only bus out of town to Croagh Patrick at 10:30 am.
When I woke up around 9, still a little groggy from the Guinness of the night before, I decided to catch some more zzz’s. Three hours later, the only one left in the room, I figured I should get up and get moving before the entire day was wasted. I went across the street to a little restaurant and café called Sheila’s Food Emporium intent on getting the breakfast I had seen advertised online as served all day. When I got there though, I was informed that they no longer did that. A bit dejected, I opted for lasagna and a cup of tea.
I sat on a stool by the window, gazing out the rain-streaked plate glass and felt both anxious and disappointment. But it wasn’t disappointment from myself. I wasn’t upset that I had decided to sleep in, no, it was a disappointment being projected onto myself, by me, but from nowhere or no one. No one was going to care that I had broken my itinerary. Even though I had hyped up my scheduled activities in my own head, I didn’t feel particularly bad I wasn’t following it. I picked up my pen and journal and decided to write it all down so I could understand it.
Now, this may not be a particular revelation to anyone else, but I came to understand the difference, as it pertained to my life, between a vacation and travel. A vacation was what I was on. I had left Dublin stressed and fed up; I needed a complete reset and clarity of perspective. Travel is what you do when you want to explore, when your sole purpose is to pack in all the sights and sounds you can process within a specific timeframe. The mindsets that come with each of these are completely different and if you are not aware which one you’re in when you set out on either of these paths, you’re bound to run into some cognitive dissonance, much like I was experiencing. I ended up sitting in Sheila’s for two hours, writing, drinking tea, staring out into nothing. By the time I left, I knew exactly where I stood in the midst of the trip and felt free of any guilt or anxiety.
I spent the next 45 minutes in a bookstore in town, browsing aimlessly but with the intent to buy. One of my supervisors at the library had graciously given me a parting gift in the form of book tokens redeemable nationwide. There just so happened to be an eligible shop in Westport. With it, I got a Zadie Smith novel, Swing Time, and a novel by an Irish author named Lisa McInerney called Glorious Heresies. I chose both by reading through the first ten pages or so. From there, I walked leisurely on a road out of town until I saw a sign for Westport Harbour. It had begun to drizzle but I continued on for 20 minutes until I reached it.
After a short stroll around the area, I went into a pub on the waterfront called The Helm and ordered a Guinness. There I sat for about an hour reading one of my new books. Later on, I had dinner at a pizza place in town, Woodfire, and picked up a cheap bottle of Merlot on the way back to the hostel. Determined to turn in early, I stuck around the empty common room, reading and sipping a glass of wine until a little past 10.
The next morning, I rose at 9, got dressed, laced up my hiking boots and once again went back to Sheila’s for that breakfast I missed the day before. I foolishly left my phone to charge in the room, thinking I could gauge the time on my own. But anyone who knows me would laugh at the very thought of this. When I got back to the hostel, I noticed another of the girls who worked there putting a kitten down onto a towel on the floor. She had found him meowing outside the hostel door that morning and was trying to figure out what to do with him. We talked for maybe ten minutes at most before I asked her the time. It was 10:28. There was no way I’d make the bus.
Part two tomorrow: hitchhiking, new friends, and a pub older than Guinness itself