When things don’t go as planned. Back in 2014 Joel and I spent a month exploring Cuba. When we stepped off the plane in Havana the first thing our new friend Tony Maas (guide) said to us was: When things don’t go as planned is when the adventure begins. We never forgot that.
So fast-forward four years and we’re sitting in the Galway bus terminal waiting for our tour of Connemara, Ireland to board. We arrived at 9:40 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. departure (we’re ALWAYS early— and it saves us a lot of unnecessary anxiety). Things can always go wrong so leaving yourself a buffer is wise.
Finally the tour representative approached us with a chagrined and apologetic look on his face. We immediately recognised that look—something wasn’t going as planned. We had booked our tour the previous morning with Lally Tours who we had used for the Cliffs of Moher tour which had been great. Turns out the reason we were waiting was because we were the only two people who showed up for the tour (it’s off-season in Ireland).
With hat-in-hand he explained that it wasn’t financially feasible to operate a 40 passenger bus for just two people—duh. However, if we were willing, he had arranged to fold us into an almost identical tour with Galway Tours located about five feet away from us (same cost, same time with most of the same stops). We joined the group of seven (making it a group of nine) and boarded the same kind of 40 passenger bus—we had plenty of room. We were only about five minutes late in pulling out of the station. He was much more worried about it than we were, probably from having dealt with entitled Americans before.
Actually this tour sounded more to our liking because it included a stop in the small town of Cong (County Mayo) where the 1951 John Ford movie The Quiet Man (with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara) was filmed. I’ve seen this classic film several times over the years and its always been a favourite of mine—one of Wayne’s better films. The weather forecast was promising with a temperature of 8°C/46°F (wind of 12 mph ) and partly cloudy skies (which hopefully meant partly sunny skies as well). Our driver turned out to be a really cool guy with a good (if not twisted-Irish) sense of humour.
Tony Maas (our Cuban friend and guide) taught us early on to stay flexible and open to new possibilities when travelling—probably the best travel advice we’ve ever received (and we use it often). Though our Connemara tour started off a little rocky it was shaping up nicely: a great driver, good weather, more interesting stops and a small group). Serendipity once again bestowed its blessings upon us. Our bus pulled out of the Galway terminal under sunny skies and the driver’s good-natured but lousy jokes started coming over the bus PA system. The Irish love their stories.
Our first stop was the ruin of Ross Errilly Friary (Circa 1460) near the town of Headford in Connemara (County Galway). The once sunny skies were already giving way to increasing cloudiness that added a bit of gloom (and drama) to the abandoned ruin. Thankfully there was enough contrast in the sky to lend some interest and it wasn’t totally blown-out grey overcast (death to any photo). With only nine of us in the group I was able to get some shots without people swarming all over and around it. I was the only who made his way into the mucky pasture to get a shot but it was worth it.
On the way to Leenane (and Killary Fjord) we drove along Loch Na Fooey separating Counties Galway and Mayo and we passed through steep canyon walls studded with grazing sheep. The cloud cover continued to deepen and the threat of rain became more imminent as we continued our travels. The sheep were interesting in that most of them had been spray painted blue, pink or a combination of blue & pink. The sheep are raised for food these days and the wool is no longer collected due to cost. The paint is a brand identifying the various ranchers and each rancher has their own spot on the sheep to be painted.
Our final stop of the day, before heading back to Galway, was Kylemore Abbey (formerly Kylemore Castle). *Please note: I did not take the above photo of the abbey, it is being completely renovated and is currently surrounded by scaffolding but I wanted you to see what it looks like because it’s beautiful. The abbey is situated on 13,000 acres and includes a large Victorian walled garden. Unfortunately, the garden is dormant during the winter and looked pretty bleak—the best time to visit is in the spring & summer but it will be horribly crowded during peak season.
It was a two-hour stop and we used every minute to explore the grounds, skipping our afternoon meal in the process. But it was worth the sacrifice and we just decided to grab a quick dinner by the bus terminal when we got back to Galway in the evening—and that’s what we did. Remember—stay flexible and roll with the punches (no one ever starved to death by skipping one meal). By late afternoon it started raining for real and we both got a little damp along with my camera. It’s times like that makes me appreciate my heavily weather-sealed pro-level gear.
Our last stop at the abbey was the Kylemore Abbey Neo-Gothic Church. It’s a small little church situated (on the lake) about a ten-minute walk from the main abbey. You can see in the photo above that the sky is totally overcast (raining) and totally blown-out, the photographer’s nightmare. Although we never got much sun (or blue sky) at least I had contrasty, dark & brooding clouds for most of the day creating some atmosphere and interest. Totally white skies suck—ask any photographer. So things didn’t go exactly as originally planned but we had a nice adventure nonetheless. Thank you Tony for your advice.
Field Notes: When planning for this tour I debated whether I should carry a second lens (my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom) along with my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM ultra wide-angle zoom. I decided against it and didn’t miss it all. At Kylemore Abbey we were exposed to some moderate rainfall and my kit held up just fine. Both my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR and 16-35mm zoom are heavily weather-sealed throughout (and rival the Canon EOS 1Dx Mark II in that regard) and functioned perfectly. My old 5D Mark II would have been more of a worry. SFD