Which is the most beautiful country you have visited? Which is your favorite country in the world? What’s the most fun trip you have had? Which is the one country you would go back again to? These are the usual questions when people look at my photographs, or even over random conversations when I preen about my new-found “avid traveler” status. 😀 But strangely the one question that nobody has ever asked me is ..”Which has been your happiest trip?”
It seems like such an obvious question to me. I mean, travel is a soul transforming experience – but not every trip comes with a steady dose of happiness. There’s joy, there’s fun, there’s discomfort; there’s hardship, there’s the highs of achievement, there’s peace, and there’s the steady satisfaction of going through new experiences. But happiness? Was happiness just an amalgam of all that we just mentioned?
I am not so sure. After all the journeys I have had, there are three which come to my mind as ones where I was completely, mindbogglingly happy, and of course, totally unaware of how happy I was. One was a impromptu trip to Wayanad, a good decade back with R. The second one was a trip to the Himalayas with the hubby when we were just getting to know each other. And the third one was a two week trip to Ireland with the girls.
And what was so special about it?
Again, I am not so sure. Yes, Ireland was spectacular. It has the kind of stark beautiful landscape that makes your heart sing with joy and your eyes well up with tears. Huge sheer cliffs hugging a wild wild sea, vast intense moors that make you feel like you are the only one in the universe, woods and lakes that are as friendly and warm the people there. Of course, I know all that, I was there.
It was all of that, and yet a bit more. I don’t think I have ever felt as welcome in any other place. Everybody, and I mean, everybody welcomed us, with the kind of sincerity you just cant close your heart to. Our first stay was in a B&B in Wicklow, barely 2 hours away from Dublin. As charmed as we were with the beautiful scenery, we were more overwhelmed with the hospitality. Our host, Seamus, was a huge burly old man, with a thick silver mane, a ready smile, and a penchant for becoming the knight in armor for three damsels who had lost their way on a trip. It was obvious that Seamus loved his land, and that he was an important pillar of the local community. As soon as he realized that we were really interested in his place, he took us around in his jeep, and told us stories about the his childhood and the land. Later one evening, as we sat in the village pub, he bought us our first mugs of Guinness, as we chatted up and flirted with his old friends. He was wonderful. And so was Wicklow.
And the story continued. As we moved from Wicklow, to Recess, to the Burrens, and finally to Dingle, we were treated to the most different, and to the most unusual scenery in the world. And of course, the most spectacular too. And the people were kind too. When we got lost on the Blackhead Loop trek, a farmer lady rescued us and called our B&B owner, who then came and picked us up, even though we were quite far from the B&B. In Dingle, our land lady helped us plan all our hikes and it really helped to have a local give her perspective.
And it was not just the kindness from people whom we were scheduled to meet. Random strangers were sweet. Really sweet. The girl at the Dingle bus stop who helped us get a pickup when we didn’t have a phone; the Polish lady at Wicklow who allowed us to use her computer when our ferry was cancelled, and we had to re-book our trip; the staff at the ferry counter who were constantly being hassled by a bunch of Indian girls, but who patiently helped us with all our queries, and let us wait at the terminal lobby for hours; the taxi driver who realized how much we admired his country, and who made a few unscheduled stops, so that we could breathe in the scenery for a few additional minutes. Kindness.
And then there was us of course. L, R and me. Three of us had traveled together for so many trips, and over so many years. More importantly, we had lived together as room mates for a decade. And as with people with strong likes, and even stronger opinions, we had our own individual favorite moments. R and L had always known that travel was in their destiny; Me, I had kind of tagged along and grown to love it. And yet even with the common interest of discovering the world, we had our shares of battles and the scars to show for it. This time it was different. Ireland was one place where we couldn’t seem to go wrong. Every choice, every decision, every move, was made with the kind of consensus that required no compromise. More importantly, every moment was laced with laughter and camaraderie – whether it was teasing each other over Irish men; or getting drenched in the Irish moors in Recess and huddling around the fireplace; or helping each other on narrow cliff walks as the sea battered the rocks below.
Ireland is supposed to have 28 shades of green in its landscape. But that’s not what I remember when i think of Ireland. I remember my last day in Wicklow, me walking ahead of R and L, wearing my trusted capris and sneakers, the sun warm in my face, the sky gloriously blue, the woods around us laced with wild flowers and the scent of summer; I remember the slight ache in my calf muscles, the faint conversation from R and L as they walked behind me; most importantly, I remember me slow down my walk, and skip suddenly, as I felt this sense of joy fill me up.
If you know me personally, you probably also know that I am quite the prosaic thing. So for me to show an impromptu, physical expression of joy, that’s something 🙂 And that’s why Ireland was my happiest trip. That moment. That and a million others which made my heart feel joyous. And loved. And free.