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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Adventure Travel

Jun 18, 2018

A Road Trip Up Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The below story is written by Dakota Arkin Cafourek, A published writer and editor who is dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts.

The Outdoor Journal, has published 3 of Dakota’s stories, and you can find links to each one at the bottom of this page.

*This article was previously published in Passion Passport.

The western Irish coast is glorious. With its music, fresh seafood, and lively landscapes, it is a place where celtic routes are heralded, where the soft and lyrical Irish language echoes from old men in tweed suits sipping tea, and where the Gaelic heritage is preserved through history.

Along this western coast lies Ireland’s famed scenic coastal route, the Wild Atlantic Way. It stretches from the country’s southernmost area along the Haven Coast onwards to the Northern Headlands, where the North Atlantic crashes at the feet of some of Europe’s tallest cliffs. A wedding invitation was cause for my winter visit to this island across the Atlantic, and thereby I left with a love for Ireland.

Doolin

Our journey up the Wild Atlantic Way begins in the coastal town of Doolin. Situated at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher and Burren National Park, Doolin is a small village, spectacularly set among cliffs that descend toward the shoreline. Doolin’s dominant thoroughfare is less a main street than a winding, narrow road dotted with bed and breakfasts, pubs, and a handful of shops with incredible views.

Famed as a music destination, Doolin offers several pubs where musicians take a table — instead of a stage — and sit around in a beautiful procession of flutes, guitars, violins, and the like, playing traditional Irish music all night. Listeners proceed with their pints, unquieted by the performance as though it’s the most natural thing — to see folks from very young to very old finding a tune together — and yet, in Ireland, it is.

Morning arrives with new weather.. The blue skies have moved north, as will my husband and I — he pilots our Dacia as we make our way across the moonlike topography of the Burren and past the famed Burren Smokehouse.

Occasionally, in the small towns we pass, we stop for a quick, cozy lunch of soup and brown soda bread.

“How are tings?”

“Oh good, tanks god.

“Godbless.”

This is the interaction we overhear again and again along Ireland’s west coast: a sweet humility and older way of speaking, comparable perhaps to the French spoken by the Quebecois.

Galway

Galway greets us in a bath of afternoon sunlight. The landscape is rugged, comprised of a beautiful green and sandy coastline on the edge of Galway Bay. River Corrib runs through the city, but is easily crossed by several pedestrian bridges.

Galway is small enough to be walkable, yet still robust with activity. Settlements date back to the Middle Ages, when the port city thrived as an international trade center, and like much of Ireland, the city suffered centuries of famine, war, and siege. But today, it is a vibrant cultural center and foodie destination. Many of its buildings offer windswept exteriors that appear unkempt, but hide world-class culinary and design destinations behind their doors, at once innovative and understated.

In the summer months, Galway’s boat yards swarm with activity, and the white-sand beaches just beyond the town center, which are accessible by bike path, lure swimmers and sunbathers alike. But now, in December, Christmas fills the air.

Heading northward, we explore deeper into Gaelic territory. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Irish-language radio station headquartered in County Galway, plays traditional Irish music and delivers news in the airy, sing-song mother tongue of Ireland.

At Bunowen Pier, we stop at the Connemara Smokehouse for a package of Gravadlax (smoked salmon marinated in sugar, salt, dill, and Irish whiskey), which comes with its own dill mustard sauce. We savor the smoked salmon with creme fraiche, mustard sauce, and grain bread from Dublin’s Avoca. It doesn’t taste like any lox I’ve had before; it has a fine texture and is incredibly gentle in flavor.

Onward, we continue along the undeveloped landscape and stop at Kylemore Abbey — which was built as a castle residence for a wealthy family in 1868 but has housed Benedictine nuns since 1920. Set among beautiful hills, forests, and a river that runs into the Atlantic, the area is rich with opportunities for adventures by foot, bike, or horse.

Further along the route, the Tavern Bar and Restaurant serves a late, warm lunch. The Tavern might not have the most unique name, but it’s easily recognized by its pink exterior on R335 past Murrisk. We sip delicious Achill Beer and sample local oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had. They’re Pacific oysters raised in nearby Murrisk — larger in size, but capturing an exquisite taste of the North Atlantic’s salty flavor. The pairing is brilliant.

Westport

The town of Westport in County Mayo is a splendid village built along the Carrowbeg River.

Quintessentially Georgian, it was designed in 1780 as a living space for workers and tenants of a nearby stately home of Earl-Lord-Viscount John Browne. Today, the historic Browne family Westport House is a museum and adventure park open to the public that overlooks Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill Island, Clare Island, and Croagh Patrick Mountain.

Several outdoor sporting stores line the town’s main streets, along with a Foxford Woolen Mills store, which carries beautiful Irish-made goods, as well as scarves and throws. We sit for a Yellow Spot whiskey at the the Old Grainstore, a delightful, wood-paneled pub with a coal fireplace. We then dine at An Port Mór, a restaurant featuring fresh catches from Clew Bay and Connemara, where a chef makes playful twists on the fresh ingredients local to Ireland’s western coast. We’re able to snag a hotel room at the Wyatt at the last-minute — a place that boasts a lively downstairs pub and is located on the octagonal square at the center of Westport, aptly named the “Octagon.”

Sligo

Taking a slight detour from the Wild Atlantic Way, we head toward Sligo and cross into Northern Ireland — not to be confused with the northern Republic of Ireland. A brief interlude across the border for a bite to eat means a change in currency (euros to pounds) and speed-limit measurements  (kilometers to miles) — though our Romanian-manufactured rental car only lists the latter.

As we approach Sligo, the landscape breathes. It’s dusk when we finally reach the ridges of Copes Mountain toward the Glasshouse Hotel, where we’ll be staying. The dramatic, steep cliffs look down on Glencar Lough below. The Atlantic pushes clouds inward off the coast, and floating billows conceal and unveil the landscape in a dance. In Ireland, it seems to never be completely cloudy or completely clear.

Located at the foot of the mountains, between Garavogue River and the estuary leading to Sligo Bay, Sligo is filled with natural beauty — the very force that has lured writers, hikers, and surfers to the county for generations.

Among the literary greats drawn to Sligo’s unique terrain was Nobel Laureate, W.B. Yeats. The Anglo-Irish poet, credited with driving the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spent his childhood holidays in County Sligo. Interestingly, the literary revival is also associated with Irish nationalism, the country’s renewed interest in its Gaelic heritage after centuries of invasion.

Donegal

While I’m the furthest thing from an expert in deciphering Irish accents, I can tell you that the ones heard in Donegal are the loveliest. With a cadence much like a song, there are few things more charming.

Alas, Christmas is upon us in the wild landscape of Donegal, the northernmost stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. The bar at the Lough Eske hotel is crowded with guests who sit and enjoy the music of guitar players and vocalists Paddy Malone and Ryan McCloskey, the latter of whom played in the Irish band, Little Hours. Cheerful and friendly, the musicians take requests throughout the night and engage in witty banter with the most arresting of Ireland’s accents.

Our trip up Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way comes to an end as we sip spirits made locally in Sliabh Liag, joining in with Paddy, Ryan, and the entire room to sing The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.”

And the bells are ringing out / For Christmas Day.

Dakota Arkin Cafourek is a published writer and editor. Dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts, she serves cultural institutions in New York City and East Hampton, NY.

The Outdoor Journal has published more of Dakota’s work, such as Living Small: A Road Trip Across America and Idyll in the Highland Mountains.

You can find more of Dakota’s work on her website (iamdakota.me) or follow her adventures on Instagram.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

Subscribe here: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/in/subscribe/

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