The Adventures of Frick and Frack
The planning for my family's visit started way back in February, when I compiled a list of places they might like to see along with a suggested itinerary. It takes at least an hour to get just about anywhere interesting (with the exception of Gougane, which is just up the road) and I was careful about mixing up the days so that they didn't feel they were spending all day, every day in the car.
Along with the usual suspects like the Ring of Kerry and the Lakes of Killarney, I included what is reported to be the most magical and amazing place of all: Skellig Michael, which is a monastery carved into the top of a jagged rock island sticking up out of the Atlantic, about 8 miles off the coast of West Kerry. How can you read that description and not want to see it? It has everything I look for in a traveling destination - remote and practically inaccessible location, amazing scenery, a boat ride, and historical importance. (Important in that it was built nearly 1,500 years ago and has survived pretty much intact since then.) Peter and I tried to visit the Skelligs twice last year and were shut out by the weather.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did warn my family about the dangers and discomforts involved in visiting Skellig Michael. From the PDF I sent them: A WOW sort of place, but it's very difficult to get to. No facilities (inc. bathrooms) on island. The boat ride can be dangerous and uncomfortable, not for the faint of heart. Lots of steps on island, might have difficulty getting on/off boat depending on tide.
The only person to read that description and think "oh boy, I've got to go there!" was my dad, he of the ticking heart and recently wonky knee. Over the last year or two, he's developed a condition in his knee whereby it fills with blood and has to be drained. He and his doctors have decided that it's time for arthroscopic surgery, which has been scheduled for June. He had a flare up shortly before the trip, so the knee was drained and he got a cortisone shot, which made him feel good as new.
Peter and I had had several discussions about whether or not it was safe for my dad to go to a place with such steep steps and possibly dangerous terrain. I was leaning toward the more conservative no-way-nuh-huh approach and Peter was advocating a more measured give-it-a-try option. Since no one else wanted to go, the Skelligs were shelved as a possible destination. I found out that the Skellig Experience, an interpretive centre near Portmagee, does boat trips around the island. You don't get off the boat, but you at least get to see it. This sounded like a good compromise so I added it as a stop on the Ring of Kerry tour, which we did on Monday.
We arrived at the Skellig Experience in the late morning only to find that the boat trip wouldn't happen until about 3pm. Calling the place an 'experience' is a bit grandiose. I suppose the best description is a glorified gift shop with a few exhibits about the island. The highlight was a 15-minute movie, which presented an historical and ecological overview. The images were stunning and I was ready to jump in a boat and go.
After my dad saw the movie, he was wide-eyed with excitement and was also ready to jump in a boat and go. I asked him if the boat ride around the island would be enough to make him happy, but he was a man who was willing to except no substitutes. I looked at him and a plan was hatched. A few texts later, Peter and my dad were provisionally booked to go on Wednesday, when the weather was excepted to be amenable. (One of my aunts also was booked, but later decided she'd give it a miss because of seasickness concerns.)
We did not tell my mother, because she would worry and possibly kick up a fuss. Operating under the universal code of teenagers, It's Easier to Get Forgiveness than Permission, we secretly plotted and schemed. It was to be a photo safari, with Peter taking my dad to picturesque places near the Ring of Kerry. We said that they were going to make a day of it. All of this was technically true, but missing key details. I was sweating having to lie to my mom, but she never asked a question that couldn't be handled with precise and Clintoneque usage of the English language.
I stayed behind with my mom and aunts, since my going would essentially strand them at the house. We had a nice Girls Day Out, which mostly involved running errands and having a nice lunch at the cafe in Gougane. I was quite worried and concerned about the intrepid travelers, especially about my dad. Peter sent me texts to let me know they were on the boat, then to let me know they were on their way home.
The boys arrived back in the late afternoon, all buzzing with excitement and tales of adventure. My dad asked me quietly if my mother knew, and I told him that she didn't. Somehow, we'd all managed to get through the day without slipping up or blurting out the secret. My dad decided to let his pictures do talking for him, showing my mother a couple of the best pictures. The second time she asked where they'd been, he had no choice but to finally reveal the secret.
To her credit, my mom took it quite well. The shadow of a thunderstorm passed over her face as she processed the information. Since they'd arrived home safely, it was a case of no harm, no foul, but there was a risk of causing offense, since everyone else had been in on the plan. But my mom weighed it all up and decided to let it pass, understanding that we hadn't wanted her to worry. We had a great time seeing the pictures and hearing their tale of adventure, including hustling back down the steps to make it back to the boat in time.
Every so often, my mom would drop little hints that she was slightly annoyed to have been left in the dark. When she christened the escapade "The Adventures of Frick and Frack," we all that she was calling it the adventures of fricking... and we waited for the last word. I haven't quite decided which one is Frick and which one is Frack, but I'm happy that they had such an excellent adventure.