Getting lost can actually be pretty awesome when you’re in good company.
I’ve always been a little different from most of the people around me. I guess if you needed to categorize it, I would be considered an introvert but by no means “antisocial.” I usually prefer reading, watching documentaries or researching anything and everything online instead of partying or going out. Don’t get me wrong – I’m social when I need to be, but for the most part I like doing my own thing.
Being a history nerd, I couldn’t wait to study abroad in Italy when I was in college. The program at my University arranged housing in Rome before the school year started for a crash course in the Italian language. Towards the end of the summer, I had become pretty close to two girls in particular – Katie and Megan. We became quite the trio, having so much in common. Our birthdays were all even within the same week.
Later in the year, we decided to spend a week in Ireland. One of our stops was Killarney, a town in the southwestern part of the country that sits outside of Killarney National Park. We had heard it was a beautiful place to hike and there was a waterfall to explore, but other than that, we really didn’t know much about the park. We checked into our hostel, which ended up being a cute little cabin right off one of the main roads.
We ventured out to explore the park and stopped by a tourist shop for a map. St. Patrick’s Day was only a few days away, so the shop was fully decked out with holiday items. Katie started trying on a couple leprechaun hats and laughed, “I’m totally getting one. We all should! We’d probably wear them in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day anyway.” We may have gotten a little carried away playing with all the hats and definitely forgot to buy the map.
We found a single path that led into the park. It was beautiful and quiet. Everything was a bright, vibrant green with not too many people around. The path we were on split a few times and at that point we remembered we had no idea where we were going. Not sure which way to go, we just chose a direction and figured it would be an adventure. Understatement of the day.
We made our way to a clearing with what appeared to be an old church or monastery with a graveyard outside of it. We thought about going inside the church but it was closed. Dark clouds started closing in, looking like it might rain at any moment. With no one in sight, the air cold, quiet and still, and the three of us standing in the middle of an eerie old cemetery (with graves dating back hundreds of years), it literally felt like we were in another time.
We wandered around for what seemed like an hour or so and started to hear people. We saw a castle in the distance and made our way towards it. It was Ross Castle, a 15th century keep at the edge of Lough Leane (a gorgeous lake). After admiring the scenery for a bit, we decided to move on because we still had a ways to go if we wanted to make it to the waterfall before dark.
As we neared the edge of the castle’s grounds, we were caught in a sudden downpour. I don’t mean just rain – it was like the clouds were water balloons that just popped. We had umbrellas, but were still getting completely soaked. Katie noticed a shed a few feet away. “Can we hide out in there until the rain lets up?”
We peered inside. It looked like storage, for the castle maybe? It was unlocked and we were drenched… seemed like a good idea at the time! Everyone stuck outside the castle scurried around to find cover. We waited in the shed for a while, getting a few giggles from people that walked past us. I guess three girls in leprechaun hats hiding out in an old shed outside a 15th century castle didn’t look normal.
Once the rain lightened up, we ventured out into the forest again. The path led us to a large, open meadow. The walk through it was filled with conversations about everything – life, school, events of the day thus far, what we wanted in the future, places we should see next… Having nothing around us aside from the green field and a single road set the perfect conditions for awesome conversation.
Along the edge of the road, there appeared to be an electric fence to contain horses. It only consisted of two single wires and the warning signs didn’t look very official.
“You think it has a charge? It would be a lot easier to cut across this field rather than follow the road all the way around,” Megan said, pointing to the edge of a forest we saw ahead. We assumed the waterfall was there.
“The signs say it does but it doesn’t really look like it,” I commented. The metal wires looked like any normal wire and we didn’t hear electricity emanating from it. Megan picked up a stick and threw it at the wires. Nothing.
“I don’t know guys, it’s blocked off for a reason. We probably shouldn’t mess with it,” Katie said. We used to make fun of her, calling her the grandma of the group. Always the responsible one.
“Yeah, to keep the horses in. We haven’t seen anyone for over an hour. It probably wouldn’t be a big deal.” Megan threw the stick at it again. Still nothing. She gave me “the look” – the mischievous one that meant she was going to do something to try to scare Katie. We tended to do that to her too (a lot), being the grandma of the group and all.
Megan reached out to grab the wire, shook it and screamed, pretending to be electrocuted. While she was in the midst of fake screaming, her facial expression changed, she let out a real scream and jumped back. She then fell to the ground and started laughing hysterically. As soon as I realized she was okay, I started cracking up to the point of not being able to breathe.
“What the hell are you guys doing?!” Katie yelled. I almost couldn’t speak and was choking to get anything out. “Oh my god. Megan was trying to scare you by making it seem like she was being electrocuted, but she actually was!”
Megan was still on the ground laughing. “Yeah, major fail.”
Katie laughed. “See?? This is why you should’ve listened to me. And that’s what you get for playing pranks on me all the time.” I honestly can’t articulate how ridiculously funny it was and we still laugh about it to this day.
We finally reached the edge of the meadow and were led into the forest again. We heard crashing water in the distance, so the waterfall must have been close. We hoped so – we had been walking for about 4 hours already and it was starting to get dark. On the side of the path, we saw an opening on this small hill that looked like a mini cave. It dropped down, kind of looking like the rabbit hole Alice fell into in Alice in Wonderland.
People had told us that Killarney was known for fairy myths; that they were seen in the park. “You think there are any fairies in there?” I asked jokingly. If there was any truth to these tales, this would be the place.
We looked down into the cave; it was large enough for a person to climb through. “No way, not going in there,” Katie shook her head. “Look what happened the last time we tried to do something weird,” she laughed.
“Shhh, listen!” I hushed. It was quiet, the all of a sudden we heard a rustle in the cave and freaked out. All three of us screamed and ran away, leprechaun hats and all. I don’t even know what we were running from.
We found the waterfall, making it just before dusk. Even though it wasn’t a big waterfall, we felt accomplished to have found it without a map. After taking a few photos, we continued down our original road to head back to town.
There was a building down the road that looked like some kind of mansion or museum (it turned out to be Muckross House). We thought we could catch a cab there, but it was 6pm and a woman told us it was too late for taxis to come into the park – the roads closed for cars an hour earlier. Crap. We were about 6km to town and didn’t exactly remember our tracks coming in, let alone in the dark.
As we were trying to figure out what to do, an old man rode by us on a buggy pulled by a horse. “You girls need a lift to town?”
We weren’t sure what to make of it; he was definitely a character with a tweed cap, very traditional Irish clothing, he must’ve been in his late 70s or early 80s, and was missing a few teeth. He had a sweet charm to him and seemed genuine. We graciously accepted considering we had no other options and it ended up being a perfect end to an unexpected day.
He told us stories about the area and that his family lived there for generations. It was great to hear some of the local tales from a true native, even if he never saw any of the fabled fairies 😉 Riding a horse and buggy through the park back into town, just as the moon came out was surreal. We offered him some money as a thank you for the ride, but he refused to take it. He smiled and told us to enjoy Ireland – so amazing.
“We need some Guinness after today,” Katie said as we walked up to a lively bar. After the 6-hour adventure we just had, it was a great idea and the best way to end the day. We found a booth in the corner of the bar and there happened to be a Green Day cover band playing.
“This couldn’t be more perfect right now,” Megan smiled as the server dropped off three pints of Guinness (I’m normally not a fan of Guinness, but it’s MUCH better in Ireland) at our table. The lead singer of the band bounced around a few other tables and when he got to our table he sang into the mic, “Are you ladies from America?” We nodded, and he serenaded us for the rest of the song.
We didn’t know how we expected the day to go when we left that morning, but it’s a day we won’t forget. An originally intended simple hike turned into a crazy day of mishaps that made for a great story, but it also solidified a strong friendship for years to come. It’s almost as if we found pieces of ourselves in each other; a rarity most people are unable to find. Years have passed and our friendship has of course had its low and high points, but we will always remember the day we got lost in Killarney National Park.
*Names have been changed.