So, what's the craic? You may hear the students asking you this new phrase when they return. That last word is pronounced "crack", and no it's not a drug. Hear in Ireland it means news or information. So hear is the craic on our latest adventures.
For the last two days we have been pretty much in places where getting out the craic was a bit difficult and definitely places where you would not normally take most electronics unless they were really waterproof. We started Monday at in Portaferry at the Exploris aquarium. This is a unique aquarium as far as they go as it focuses only on the local marine wildlife and exposes the people to what is under the waters where they live. That includes quite a bit! Because of the "warmer" currents along this coastal area you can get everything from starfish to sea anenomes. The aquarium also acts as a seal rescue center, dealing with many orphan seals each year.
After learning about the local marine environment, it was time to experience it. We crossed in the fairy to Strangford and traveled to the Clearsky Adventure Center for our next experience. A the center we offloaded our gear, donned wetsuits and buoyancy compensators (their word for life jackets), loaded clothes into waterproof bags and sleeping gear. These we put into canoes and sea kayaks to begin our paddle to Salt Island, a small sheep-inhabited island in Strangford Lough. We started in the partly cloudy conditions, but finished with a rare Irish thunderstorm bearing down on us by the time we reached the island. Thank goodness for wetsuits!
On the island we set up our camp in the island's bothy - a shepherd's cabin with no running water or electricity. Fortunately, there is a wood stove and we got it nice and toasty inside to warm up a and dry out a little by the time we headed for bed. We had a great Barbeque with a great selection of adventure stories from our guide Eddie. I'll let the students tell you about Eddie!
The rain cleared enough for a nice sunset walk on the island and then a cup of tea and more stories before crawling wearily into bed for the night. Of course, this was not your normal sleeping arrangements as we wee all laid out on boxes in the bothy with the guys "sardined" on one side of the bothy and the gals on the other. It was a bit crowded, but warm!
Tuesday morning saw us all up pretty early, getting breakfast, packing our gear back into dry bags, loading up our canoes and kayaks and beginning the paddle back to our starting point. Again, praise The Lord for wetsuits, as it rained the entire way back, with the wind in our faces. A difficult and a it cold paddle. By the time we arrived back the students were a bit cold and tired, but the adventure was far from finished!
Lunch, heaters and a bit of a breather helped revive us somewhat. Still in wetsuits, an additional layer and helmets, we loaded up on to the center's bus and headed down the coast to the cliffs of the Irish Sea for a bit of what they call coasteering in this part of the world. Coasteering is one part exploring, one part cliff bouldering (climbing horizontally along a cliff face) and one part cliff jumping. The staff of the center are all experts in this and maintain very high safety standards as the do this with younger children too.
In the cliffs the sun began to poke out of the clouds, giving us a bit of warmth. The adrenalin also kicked in, giving a bit more heat, and the excitement helped us forget about the long paddle of earlier in the day. We climbed down to the water's edge and boulder end across the rocks. Of course if you fell, it was just into the water right below your feet, so a soft, wet landing! Along the cliffs we also were able to observe some of the animals from the aquarium, as little pools in the cliffs held limpets, barnacles and even sea anenomes. The experience was fabulous!
But wait, we were still not done! After coasteering, we headed back to the center for nice hot showers, a change into dry clothing and then a trip out on the center's Sea Safari boat to view the wildlife from the surface of the lough. This included nice close views of the Sea Gem, a tidal generator that can power 1000 homes, even though it is just at demonstration model. We also saw seals, arctic terns, guillimonts, an a host of other wildlife that make this lough their home. After a full day of adventure we moved just up the street from the center's headquarters to house in a 1800s game keepers cottage that has been converted to a bunkhouse. A hot dinner of chili and a celebration of Whitney's birthday (and what a birthday to remember) finished off the day. Wednesday we are headed into Belfast for a slower day before our last two days of exploring in this beautiful island.