FUNGIE and A Helluva Drive.

Day 35: Monday November 14th, 2011

After having delighted in the pubs and beer and company that Dingle has to offer by night, I was excited to see it by day. I made plans with Lorena for dinner at a pizza place Noel recommended that was doing 2 for 1 pizzas, and off I went.

I texted Dave and also searched in vain for the guy on facebook, hoping to take him up on his offer. I think, as usual, I just failed at dialing an international number. Normally, this would be a sad circumstance, but it led to sweet serendipity.

I walked around the cute little town, explored bookshops, cafes, saw old men drinking Guinness in the pubs I had been at less than 9 hours ago, and wandered the harbor and marina. I was determined to get out on the water because it was such a beautiful, sunny day (in November in Ireland, no less). The only thing running was a boat tour to see Fungie.

Who the fuck is Fungie? He’s a bottle nosed dolphin that has made Dingle harbor his home since 1983, becoming a beloved mascot for the town (Pierce Brosnan has come seen him!). Sadly, Fungie is the only dolphin in town, but he clearly doesn’t mind. The boat tour offers a full refund if you don’t see Fungie, meaning the dolphin delights in visiting and playing with the boat and its passengers everyday. The many websites devoted to Fungie estimate his lifespan to be around 40-50, and he’s clearly at least 28 and probably older, unless the Dingle peninsula immaculately conceived him. Either way, the story screams Hallmark movie or something.

I had some time before the tour started, so I found a bakery and had a wonderful pastry, a blackberry and apple tart. After that I went to the Dingle Bay Hotel for lunch at their restaurant and some wi-fi. I enjoyed bacon, melted brie and peppers on ciabatta with fries and a salad. I was loving Dingle.

It only gets better.

On the boat, I sit next to a girl that I had seen wandering Dingle that morning. In fine form, I told her “I feel like I’ve seen you a couple times today.” Instead of running away at that unintentional but undeniably creepy line, within a minute’s conversation, she intimated that she had a rental car and was going to do the Sleigh Head Drive, and I was welcome to join her.

Um, yes.

Meet Riley, a beautiful, funny, curly brown haired Portland native living in New York city who wants to make documentaries and works for Vimeo, a Youtube-esque website for videos and films where she spends much of her time ridding the site of child pornography. She also carries a Rick Steves guidebook and is traveling around Ireland and then Scotland for a couple weeks after photographing a friend’s wedding. Basically, she’s a stud. The backpacker Gods smiled on me that day.

On the tour, Fungie does indeed make his grand appearance, swimming around us, jumping and flipping, and playing hide and seek with us for a good hour. There was another boat with a couple that spend many a day playing with Fungie, and were able to direct him toward our boat. For most of it, I tried and failed to capture a legitimate picture of Fungie because my camera sucks (eventually I swear, pictures will be posted. I have thousands, most crap. Robin has all the good cameras and photography talent in the family).

Afterward, we hit the road. At first, we were rather quiet (we were strangers, after all) but gradually, with the help of a mind boggling landscape and some friendly cows, we opened up. She drove (fairly impressively for being the opposite side of the road), I read Rick Steves tidbits and attempted to keep us on course and also helped her film the scenery from her iphone (I taped it to the windshield). I also earned the nickname Andy Bunny, though I forget how.

The Sleigh Head Drive is essentially a 30 KM road around the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula, where you skirt the coast (it’s actually the closest European point to the Americas) and have incredible scenery throughout. National Geographic referred to it “the most beautiful place on earth.” So yeah. Plus Far and Away was filmed there (Tom Cruise flick)! All the while, it’s one of the few places in Ireland that has Irish as its official and main language (I learned that only Americans/foreigners refer to Irish as Gaelic).

The scenery is varied; not many places can boast mountainous crags, surfable sandy beaches, small villages, abandoned graveyards, rocky trails and crevices all at once. We walked up and down these trails, on beaches, sandstone cliffs, gaped at the Slieve Mish mountain range, graveyards, docks, tried to pet/feed said cows, taking in everything that Dingle has to offer and wanting more, more, and all the while making a new friend in the process.

Throughout the drive there were many little tourist stops, like the bee hives (4,000 year old rock huts), but we stopped where we wanted and not where we were dictated. This was also free.

Riley was hungry so we stopped for soup and coffee at a pottery place in late afternoon. I’m not blaming anyone, but when we got back to the car it was getting dark and we had missed the orgasmic sunset.

Night had fallen, but we stupidly stopped at one of those tourist stops in hopes that we could see a really old rock church. It had long since closed, but the old man took 2 euros from us and let us go nuts. We were there about 10 minutes before the pile of rocks and complete darkness creeped us out. We got a bit lost on the way back to Dingle because Garmin is no TomTom.

We met Lorena and Riley joined us for dinner at the Blue Zone, a blue-sy pizza joint without the blues. I had duck pizza and they had something unimportant. Around this time we realized we were all 23, all wanted a career in film in some sort of way, and it only got eerie when we compared birthdays. Mine was May 14th and Riley’s was just a day after. Weird coincidences in such random meetings to begin with.

Then we imitated the night before, going to three of the same bars from last night (Dick Mac’s, Foxy John’s and Curran’s). We spent a long time fascinated by the dart championships.

Riley was returning her rental car to Tralee the next morning en route to Dublin like me, and since it gave me a couple extra hours of sleep and gave her my esteemed company, I came back with her to her hostel. I wished Lorena luck and made plans to see her in Spain. She returns, briefly, on Day 52. Mark it.

Guess which hostel Riley was staying at? Paddy’s Palace in Arnascaul. I was supposed to be her roommate the night before. Just two days after I made fun of Lucia for her belief in fate, clearly I was going to bump into Riley no matter what. Poor girl.

Since I was paying for it anyways, I had no qualms “stealing” a bed for the night. We were the only two in the entire hostel that night, which was kind of spooky. And no, it wasn’t like that. This girl deserved more than a casual hook up in a dark hostel in the middle of nowhere (and I doubt she had any interest), and she had been so nice and awesome in inviting me on the drive and we had had so much fun, that I didn’t want to mar what had been a perfect day.

That was the end of Dingle. I know I failed completely in describing its magic and the people I shared it with, but trust me when I say that if you find yourself in Ireland, or hell, Europe, it belongs near the top of your list. If I had the money, after returning from the continent, I would beeline to Dingle to spend a month/year writing and drinking there. Alas.

But, I venture to say that this isn’t the last time I’ve seen its glittering waves and treacherous coast. At least, I hope not. And Fungie better still be alive.

Next: Last goodbye to Riley & Ireland.

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