Overwhelmed by wild beauty, writer almost didn’t make trip

You know that iconic moment in the movie Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio stands in the prow of the ship

by Jessica McGale

You know that iconic moment in the movie Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio stands in the prow of the ship, throws his arms wide, and crows, “I’m the king of the world”? That is how it felt to stand two feet from the edge of the heart-stopping Cliffs of Moher.

I was skeptical about this landmark at first. I had seen many impressive pictures but wondered how great cliffs could be. I did not want to get my hopes up only to have them dashed to pieces on some puny little rocks masquerading as cliffs.

My first glimpse of the cliffs was through a thin drizzle and a stiff breeze, as is common here in Ireland. Even with that abbreviated view, I knew this was a special place. Then the sun tore through the clouds to crown the cliffs, to show them in all their undiluted glory, majestic, humbling. Ocean stretching off into forever, waves crashing 700 feet below, a rainbow fading into the water. It was a transformative experience, a sign of something, I’m sure.

To think, I almost didn’t make it there.

I have always wanted to travel. Growing up in small town Sylvan Lake and seeing the annual inundation of thousands of tourists, gave me a real sense of the size and scope of our world. It fostered a conviction that there was much to be seen, and I wanted to see it. But there were always excuses not to leave; I have to finish school, I don’t have the money, no one will come with me, what about my boyfriend?

It was not until after I graduated university and had been working for a while that I reached the tipping point. A conversation with my mom made me realize that I was the one throwing up those roadblocks, and if I really wanted to travel, I had to be the one to tear them down.

At that point, I got serious. I started saving money in earnest. I decided that if no one was going to come with me, I would go alone. Within a week, with the support of my family and my boyfriend, Bryan, I had made a plan, applied for an Irish working holiday visa, and booked flights.

This was going to happen.

The prospect of being away from home, alone, for six months was a daunting one. Everyone did their best to reassure me, but I remained anxious, sure I was making a huge mistake, I was going to miss home, miss Bryan, miss my family too much. I had not left yet and I was already longing for the sweet familiarity of my comfort zone.

I did miss everything. My trip got off to a rocky start with a flight cancellation in London, missing luggage, and a two week long illness. Though I was overjoyed to be in a country I had long dreamed of, I was accosted on a daily basis by near-paralyzing homesickness. Those first weeks were hellish. No matter what I did, all I could think about was how much I wanted to go home. I even went so far as to look up flights back to Canada. I was sure there was no way I was going to make it six weeks, let alone the whole six months.

I knew, though, that I had to give the trip a chance. I committed to staying at least two months, and threw myself into discovering the country. One of the first things I did was book my tour to the Cliffs. I picked Tuesday, then thought Wednesday sounded better. Thank God I did; on Tuesday, they closed the Cliffs early due to dangerously high winds. If I had chosen that day, I would not have seen them at all.

But there I was, on the Cliffs, overwhelmed by the wild beauty before me, nearly brought to my knees by a desire to become part of that old and magical landscape, to possess it or let it possess me. I knew then that everything was going to be fine. I had already learned so much about myself, and there is clearly a lot to be learned about Ireland. I am going to need at least six months to learn it. Maybe six years.

Standing there, ocean breeze in my face, close to the edge of the world, I felt really and truly free.

Jessica McGale spent her formative years (8-18) in Sylvan Lake before moving to Edmonton to pursue a degree in psychology. Following graduation last year, she started to save for a trip aboard “sometime in the future”. She left for Ireland mid- January 2013 and will return at the end of March.