Photography, Travel

The joy of wrong turns on vacation

My greatest irrational fear is of getting lost. All those road trips I take? Yeaaaaah, I map them out. I don’t want a wrong turn to lead me astray. One reason I take road trips is to face my fear. Someday I’ll have conquered it enough to head out with minimal prep. I’m not there quite yet.

Even with good preparation I still get lost sometimes. The worst time was on the National Road in Pennsylvania. An ill-marked detour left me driving in circles. My sons were with me, and they’ll tell you: dad was stressed.

Facing my fear of getting lost is one of the reasons I hit the road, even with good maps — or with GPS, as was the case as Margaret and I drove all over Ireland. My iPhone’s Google Maps app gave us great directions all over Ireland, except for this one time.

Among the rocks

Margaret is Irish; she has family in County Galway — family she’d never met before. A second cousin lives on an island in the county’s remote western region. It’s so far out there, and so few people live there, that all An Post needs to deliver her mail is her name, Lettermore, County Galway.

Among the rocks

Google Maps needed more detail than that, however, to find her house. We learned that she lives across the street from a business. We punched its name into Google Maps and glory be, there it was! Or so we thought. Because Google Maps brought us here.

Among the rocks

Nothing here but rocks! But it was a surprisingly compelling view. We lingered for several minutes to take it all in. We were glad to be misdirected; we would have missed this view otherwise. And although we were a little lost, just being with Margaret helped reduce my anxiety.

We went back the way we came and turned down the next road. Surely that’s what Google Maps meant? Nope. But at least there were some houses along that road. We stopped and Margaret knocked on someone’s door to ask. They knew Margaret’s cousin and gave us directions right to her front door. We had passed her house on the main road.

Margaret is a Joyce, and this is Joyce country. So is the entire Connemara region of County Galway, actually. There have been a lot of Joyces!

Margaret’s aunt was happy to meet us, and soon offered us a tour of the area. Margaret drove while her cousin navigated. One special place we saw was Inishbarra, a small island where Margaret’s grandfater was born and raised. We couldn’t drive to it; there’s no bridge, no ferry. I gather that at some times of the year the water is low enough you can wade out to it. Not that day, unfortunately. But at least we could see it from the road.

A view of Inishbarra

Here’s another view of the island, from a different vantage point. Margaret’s cousin pointed out the houses still standing on it and told us which of Margaret’s forbears lived in each one.

A view of Inishbarra

She then guided us to this church in nearby Lettermullan, where Margaret’s grandmother was baptized. This is maybe a mile from Inishbarra, but incredibly Margaret’s grandparents didn’t meet until both of them had emigrated to Chicago! It turns out that life on Inishbarra was self-contained. They grew most things they ate, and there was a school on the island. Until he emigrated, Margaret’s grandfather almost never left Inishbarra.

Church near Lettermullan

I was grateful for Margaret’s cousin guiding us down the narrow, winding coastal roads here, because I had no idea where I was or how to get out of here. The mobile signal was spotty at best this far out; Google Maps would be no help. Soon we were back on the main road, on which Margaret’s cousin lives. We soon bid our goodbyes and drove back the way we had come.

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