As we sat in fuego’s apartment wrapping up supper and getting ready to leave on our trip, fuego said, “dang, we’ve still got a lot to do today.” With the plane leaving well after dark, it felt like we had an extra day’s worth of stuff to do, even after running around all day getting ready to travel. Soon we were on our way, however, lugging luggage through the metro system, spending an extra buck-fifty for the express airport bus (we weren’t quite sure the other bus was running that late on christmas eve), and losing a few toiletries to the new “no fluids” rule (MaK maintained that they were not fluid, so the security people produced illustrated cards prepared for just such an occasion, which of course did nothing to placate MaK, resulting in the entire check-in process grinding to a halt. This would have been a problem, but there were only thirteen passengers going through the security for that gate.), we were ready to fly.
I was a bit surprised to see the plane getting the de-ice treatment before takeoff, but I agreed with the pilot that it’s better safe than sorry. The only drawback was that if the plane was late reaching Cork we might not be able to score our rental car, which would complicate things greatly. The flight was uneventful, as flights usually are these days, and we made up for the lost time, went quickly through customs, and found the guy waiting for us at the car rental place. Thus armed with a four-door instrument of death with the steering wheel on the wring side, we made our way into Cork town proper. I was navigating, fuego was steering, and MaK was cowering in the back seat. Things went pretty smoothly, but as navigator I was a little dismayed that we didn’t have driving instructions to the hostel where we would be staying. What we had were walking instructions from the bus station.
Fortunately there are lots of arrows on the roads telling drivers which direction each lane is heading. fuego piloted well, although the windshield wipers got a good workout — the lever for the turn signals is on the other side of the steering wheel. Suddenly we discovered ourselves to be right next to the bus station. Bickety-bam, up and around on some narrow streets and there we were. We unpacked the car and as we were hauling all our crap into the hotel a kid loitering outside wished us a Merry Christmas. Loudly. We replied in kind (only more quietly), and I wondered if that was going to the last we were going to hear from him.
We checked in, and were informed that although the reservation was for three, it was actually for a double room and another bed in a dorm. Naturally married couple got the double room and I got pot luck. It didn’t bother me much; I could leave my stuff in the more secure room and just crash in the dorm. After a supper of bread and cheese (there was nothing open at that time on Christmas Eve, however MaK brought a variety of cheeses and breads so we were in no danger of starving) and the traditional Czech Slivovice Christmas toast, I made my way to my room. I figured I’d either be the jerk who comes in last and wakes everyone else up, or I’d be the first one there and all the other jerks would wake me up.
It turns out I was somewhere in the middle. I came in as quietly as I could, and there was enough light to see by so I found my bunk and settled in. As I lay in the darkness I heard a faint beeping from somewhere nearby, then heard someone listening to their voice mail. More beeping, and then the room fell silent once more, until a few minutes later when the same phone announced the arrival of a text message. Not long later another arrived, at which point at least the phone’s owner turned off the sound. There was then a short whispered conversation between the phone’s owner and her friend, and the two girls said goodnight. Across the room a male voice grunted a good night as well. The room fell silent. Outside I heard a nearby church chime the quarter hour and realized it was now officially Christmas.
“Faith,” whispered one of my roommates some time later, pronouncing the name as two syllables: Fae-aeth, “don’t forget the candle.” After a pause one of the girls that had whispered previously climbed off her bunk, which squeaked loudly, and blew out a candle on the windowsill. She returned to her bunk, was inspired to type out another message, and the room was quiet once more. It felt final.
Meanwhile, outside the window, Loud Merry Christmas Kid had been joined by several friends, and they continued laughing and bickering into the night.
I lay in the darkness, wondering if my roommates would be getting up as early as I did. I wondered what they looked like and I imagined the possibility of even talking to them. I imagined that this might be a good way for me to travel, to put myself into situations where conversation is nearly automatic. I thought about the breakfast room in the morning, and about how I might meet some of my fellow guests there.
I was relieved when the loud people outside finally fell silent. The pleasure was short-lived, however, when at least some of them came into my room. They tried to be quiet, but (presumably) drunk young folks still have things to whisper and giggle about, and it was a long time before things settled down once more. My fantasy about traveling from hostel to hostel, staying in the dorms, and writing about it was quickly eroding. Instead, I decided to let my alarm go off just a little longer than necessary in the morning. So much for conviviality.
The last person to arrive was the one sleeping in the bunk directly over mine. As with the others, he tried to be quiet, but the climb was difficult for him. Eventually he made it up and he settled in and quickly fell asleep. I know he was asleep because he was snoring. Twice I’ve been in a Hostel dorm, and both times it was my job to roll over and disturb the Snoring Guy whenever things got too loud.
Overall, the first night in Ireland was not a restful one; really just a layover between air and car travel, and not the true start of the adventure. Christmas morning came far too soon, and in the darkness I put myself together and went down for breakfast. By that point I had no illusions that any of my roommates would be showing themselves before we were long gone. Even had they been there I would not have been able to recognize them, except perhaps by voice. I will never meet Faith and her Irish friend, never speak with any of the others about adventures past and future. They are whispered voices in the night, formless, faceless, and fleeting. Not to mention annoying.