The three of us woke up before sunrise to drive down to the dock where we planned to meet the boat that would take us around two hours out to the sea, before reaching the Skellig Islands. We knew we had a long day ahead of us, so we packed our lunch to eat on the island as well as dramamine pills to help with sea sickness. Unlike the day before, we woke up to an overcast sky and the sure beginnings of a drizzle.
The Irish family we shared the boat with were quite interesting. They were from the village, but had been living in Singapore for the past decade or so, due to the husband's job. The children had essentially been brought up in Singapore and attended international school. But the family still visited Ireland each summer to catch up with extended family and provide exposure to Irish culture for the kids, no doubt. The three of us were especially taken by "Yoda Nan" as her grandkids affectionately called her, and I can see why. She had the wizened old character of someone who had been through a lot of turmoil, but took it all in stride. The boat ride was clear proof of that. It was raining and the waves were immensely choppy, but this granny didn't mention a word. She was so stoic and awe inspiring really. Yoda Nan, as it turned out, was the perfect nickname for granny, considering the fact that the new Star Wars movie shot some scenes here for Episode VII.
The entire boat ordeal was nightmarish. Thank goodness for the dramamine pills because I'm sure I would have been sick otherwise. The small boat took a good beating over some waves, and I felt like I was on water theme park ride, where everyone inevitably gets drenched. It was miserable. I closed my eyes for the most part and kept praying for the ride to be over. When I first saw one of the Skellig islands, I whooped for joy. I am definitely not cut out to be a sailor.
The owner of the boat had two dogs, and I was so afraid that they'd fall into the sea because they were so lightweight! But they managed to stay on board...and we finally were able to dock onto land.
We were told that there were no public restrooms on the island, and that we should practice the utmost caution when climbing up the stone hewn stairs, as there had been incidents of death from careless tourists in the past. Of those two statements, the first was more alarming. No bathroom?! I already had to go rather urgently and couldn't fathom enjoying my time on the island with a full bladder to worry about. Colleen and I were on the same page, actually. So, embarrassing confession: After picnicking, I made my way over to a crevice in the unique rock formations in search of a cave... and may have peed on some endangered peat moss. They should have told us there were no restrooms on the island beforehand! But even so, a full day out there and no restroom. That's tough. I suppose they want to keep the island from becoming overloaded with tourists, but still. Thankfully, no one noticed, and I felt so.much.better. Be warned: Make sure to use the bathroom plenty of times before going to the Skellig Islands and don't drink liquids.
I was very excited to spot puffins everywhere. They have got to be some of the cutest creatures out there. Their nests were buried in the delicate moss and alongside the rock formations, in the cracks.
Getting up to the settlement was another journey. It was rather windy and the steps were very steep. A lot of people would stop for breaks along the way. There were no handrails and hardly any changes had been made since the last family that occupied this island.
When we finally reached the top, we were able to learn about the unique rock structures that early settlers had assembled to keep themselves dry. Why anyone would want to live in such harsh conditions of their own volition is beyond me. So it doesn't surprise me that the settlement began as a monastery sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries. You've got to be a masochist to live out here. Or an ascetic. Or a combination of both. Ideal conditions for monks, wouldn't you say?
What shocked me was that after the monks left, there were cases of families living out here. The Butler family occupied the island until the 1820s. A young child died after catching a nasty cold. I believe this was a graveyard filled with unnamed stone markers. I overheard a guide telling a group that the Butler family tried to raise cows out here, but they didn't survive. I was still pretty incredulous that people would choose to live here at all. It's pretty remote (two hours out from the coast), and there's no electricity on the island. Just the stone structures. It would've been wet, drafty, and inconvenient in many ways. I will say that I was mighty impressed by the dedication to building the stone mounds. We were able to go inside them, and it was miraculously dry.
On our way back down, I spent some time trying to capture photos of the puffins in flight, and this was probably my best shot with a 50mm lens. Not the most ideal lens for an active shot, but it's what I had to work with. Their beaks are so colorful, and their eyes are so expressive!
Clouds continuing to gather ominously. It began to rain steadily on our trip back to the mainland. I was drenched to the bone and was so thankful to make it back to the village to change into dry clothes. I had an Irish coffee afterwards with bread pudding. That helped too. :-)
Aranka pondering the cliff formations. It's so funny to think that JJ Abrams would film here a few weeks later for some scenes of Star Wars Episode VII! We later read in the media that access to the islands proved to be rather restrictive due to the fragile ecosystem of the wildlife. But they managed to get some filming done, so I'm excited to see that when I go watch the movie.
The entire island just had the feeling of being untouched. And yonder in the distance lay Little Skellig, which I'm sure is even more wild and inaccessible. I'm not sure that anyone lived out there.
Despite the gloomy weather and the really turbulent and unpleasant boat ride over, I'd say that the magical puffins and amazing history of the island made it all worthwhile. I don't know that I'd visit again, though. Once is enough for me. ; )