Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – Donegal (the greatest place on earth) in the Carrot Car, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean & Reflection on Gay Abandon – 1995 BlogPt13

donegal postcard 1995

In 2022, I’ve been reading a book called Jungle of Stone by William Carlsen. It’s about John Stephens’ and Frederick Catherwood’s journey into Central America in the 1800s to rediscover the great civilisations of the Maya at places like Copán in Honduras and Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico. I have my own stories about my visit to Palenque, on my first visit to Mexico, which you can read here, also one to Calakmul, another grand Mayan site in the jungles of southern Mexico not far from Guatemala. I thought it was a bit of a trek to both these sites, but nothing like in those days. I mean I was watching Mel Gibson dubbed into Spanish in the movie Get the Gringo on an air-conditioned ADO bus on one leg from Merida to Palenque while occasionally chatting to a few young women British backpackers who had seats by the toilet, and a British couple who were sitting just behind me. Meanwhile Stephens and Catherwood were held up by bandits and constantly attacked by nasty disease ridden insects. There are a few bandits about, but comparatively speaking I would say it’s a much safer trip now.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but it has already struck me that adventurers often have this sense of gay abandon. Decades before heading to Central America, Stephens’  tried to buy a house in Greece after visiting the great ancient sites there. He found they wouldn’t lend him money for it, nor were they that keen to sell a bit of their ancient country to an American. He shrugged it off and then jumped on a boat ‘at a whim’ and headed to Turkey. He wanted to visit Egypt but THE Plague was going around (yes THE Plague) and ports like Alexandria displayed red flags to say it was a no go zone. Stephens had to spend months in quarantine at several other ports in lazarettos, where even letters were treated as though they may be carrying plague and were allowed off of ships only by means of extraction with iron tongs, with the letters then placed in an iron box for their own quarantining period.

Nothing as exciting as that awaited us in our carrot car as we left Northern Ireland on the way to Donegal, Republic of Ireland. I just mention the Stephens experience as more of a reflection of the gay abandon I used to have in my twenties and the difficulties I have now to even contemplate such things, what with work, kids, a wife, bills and the like. Though the spread of diseases like COVID and Monkeypox are still ever present. And some years ago I did pop off to Mexico to visit some Mayan ruins in the jungle, plus a few Aztec, the archaeological site of Guachimontones not far from Guadalajara, oh and the ancient Purépecha site of Tzintzuntzan near Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, with my wife to be. I also visited the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, another lost civilisation north of Mexico City. So I haven’t done too bad. I also plan to take my wife to Italy and other places. Perhaps even Turkey and Greece on a whim, sometime during my 50th year – oh yeah the purpose of this blog! Even I get sidetracked sometimes as to why I’m writing this!

I can’t say Donegal left a great impression on me. It was nice and all. We went to the ‘smallest pub in Ireland’. But the one we’d been at in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh the night before was, in my opinion, even smaller. I’ve seen smaller ones down alleyways in Melbourne. And added disappointment was Agatha’s Spanish friend who turned out to be a bit annoying. I felt myself more of a traveller, something more like the Patrick Leigh Fermor ilk (Patrick walked from Holland to Constantinople and into Greece in the 1930s –  for those who haven’t read his stories or my earlier blogs), travelling along on less than  £15 a day (Patrick did it for considerably less, but it was the 1930s). My Spanish friend seemed like some wealthy spoilt tourist, whose parents probably supported Franco (I’ve gone too harsh there, she wasn’t that bad!). I abandoned the crew a bit and left them to do the touristy Donegal things while I just walked around by myself. It seemed a bit hilly from memory. You could see the ocean. I think. I just wasn’t that into it. We did get some postcards and wrote ourselves a note and sent it to la chaparrita in Dublin. That was fun. And cheap. It was the only note I now have from Agatha. A memory of  the last days I ever saw her, though I didn’t know that at the time.

On the postcard it said:

postcard from donegal 1995

It was the sort of thing you write in your 20s. Seems like Agatha’s friend was called Olga. She did predict that I would have kids in 15 years. Indeed I had a daughter and son by then, with my daughter having already turned 8 and my son 6.

I’m not sure where we stayed in Donegal. Some sort of backpacker place. I think we managed to get ourselves a room altogether again. Agatha and I might have even shared a bed again. I don’t know. We stayed one more night. Had some drinks, smoked some weed and the next day we were off to County Sligo.

Not before a quick drive north of the town of Donegal though. Now that I remember, if not vaguely. I’m not sure why we drove north of Donegal, or even whether it was north. It may have been Westish, but there doesn’t seem much West of Donegal. Perhaps it was North-Westish, but I’m sure not south.

We drove along one of Ireland’s coast roads. With no GPS we just went with the flow. We saw a farm that faced the Atlantic. It was a nice day. A sunny day. Mild. We drove along the road for a while until we decided we were lost. Not panicky lost. Just not knowing where we were lost. It didn’t matter. It was a nice road. With sheep, green grass, the wind, incomprehensible farmers who you think are speaking Gaelic but who just have that really thick Irish West coast accent. Majestic views of the ocean which stretched to Iceland, if you could see that far.

We stopped for a bit. Perhaps we had a sandwich. I’m amazed I can barely recall eating in Ireland in those days given my obsession with food now, but that was way back then in 1995. I wasn’t much of a foodie then.

I remember the first time I tried carnitas in Mexico though. It was on the way to the archaeological site of Tzintzuntzan near Lake Pátzcuaro. My wife was a vegetarian at the time but she insisted I try tacos carnitas – a slowed cooked pork delicacy. The man who gave me my first one ended up being featured on the Netflix show the Taco Chronicles. I thought I would definitely get food poisoning as the pork had been sitting out in the sun on a wooden bench with ZERO refrigeration for hours. I didn’t. And carnitas have become my second favourite taco type just behind tacos pastor, which is pork cooked with chilies, spices, pineapple, and achiote paste. Que rico!

Back in Donegal. I think we may have had some nice bread and a bit of cheese now that I strain my brain. With the Spanish adding some ham. I was vegetarian at the time, so cheese was my kind of go to protein source. We stopped by a little rocky outcrop which had a narrow path to the sea with Irish green grass lining both sides of it, which led down to a small beach with some fairly safe looking waves coming in.

It was warm for Ireland. I felt like a swim. Spanish woman stayed up by the car eating her jamón because she didn’t want to get sand in her shoes. German carrot car owner (I think I tried naming her in earlier blog posts. I liked her, I wish I was more confident of her name), Agatha and I went down to the beach. They sat on the beach smoking cigarettes. I stripped down and waded into the water. I didn’t go further than waist deep. I grew up by the beach and was always respectful of the ocean’s power, especially if I didn’t know the area. I spent about 15 or 20 minutes in the Atlantic Ocean. I put my head under a few times just to get my body temperature adjusted. It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t freezing either. It was almost approaching the Goldilocks zone, though more on the side of slightly invigorating. The Atlantic Ocean felt smooth and clean on my naked body. I felt alone. I wanted to be alone. I came out of the water and sat for a few minutes naked with the girls, smoking a cigarette before dressing and heading back up to the carrot car.

I had the feeling this may be the first and only time I would ever swim in the Atlantic Ocean. It could always be the last time you swim in the Atlantic Ocean. It could always be the last time you do anything.

Later we drove back along the same road, along the coast, then past Donegal and towards Sligo.

Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in the Carrot Car 1995 BlogPt12

Agatha’s friend from Spain was staying at la Chaparrita. Ines was away with her boyfriend, so there was a spare bed in the girls’ room. The Irish guy was away so I was sleeping in his bed.

In the middle of the night Agatha decided to come down and get into my bed. We hugged and chatted and caressed a little. I ended up with an erection that felt like the size of my forearm, as hard as a stick.

‘Is it ok if I take my pants off?’ I asked Agatha.

‘Sure’ she said.

We played around a bit more, kissing a little.

‘I can’t’, she said.

‘That’s fine’, I said, and we just held each other. We continued to hold each other the rest of the night, my erection pressing into her back until early morning, just before dawn, when Agatha jumped up out of bed.

She said something like, ‘I have to get up for the quiet hour.’ I’m not sure if it was the quiet hour, or the silent hour or something similar. We’d watched some French film set in the French countryside where they were really into the time of the day right at the end of the night, but just before dawn, where the night sounds cease and the morning sounds of birds and the such, has yet to begin. It wasn’t really an hour, more like 5 minutes, but because of the silence it felt like an hour. It was an arty sort of film.

It was meant to be an especially quiet time of day though, this quiet hour or whatever they called it. They may have called it something much cooler than the quiet hour, but for the life of me I can’t remember.

I was too tired to get up so I just rolled over. I started to think why Agatha ‘couldn’t’. Was she married like Corrine? Or did she have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend? Was she a man? She didn’t feel like a man. Was she not into men? Not into me? Did she have her period? Or was she just not in the mood. I never asked though, so now in 2022, I still wonder why. It was all pretty cool anyway, I was, and still am, just interested. I wanted sex, but I had had a year without it. After Corrine’s visit to the Brock’s farm, and our trip travelling around AustraliaI’d pretty much lived the life of a celibate monk. Working, meditating, working, sleeping.  (Like I mentioned in an earlier post a fictionalised version of this affair is here – one of the main fictions being I didn’t mention we’d met at a train station and we didn’t travel together with my Bulgarian mate Kosio, much of the rest is pretty much true).

Of course I masturbated most nights when I was on the farm having no sex, just as I took the opportunity to do when Agatha had popped out of bed in the early hours of the Dublin morning. But I had no love interest and no sex or girlfriend for over a year.

About 45 minutes later Agatha returned, looking a bit guilty.

‘I wrote something on the wall’ she said.

‘Oh’, I said.

I got up and peeped through the curtain. Across the road on the wall was scrawled in uneven purple spray paint was the words: ‘The Quiet Hour’.


The next day we got into the German girls car and headed to Northern Ireland. The car was a light green with stencilled carrots all over it. We therefore called it the carrot car.

When we reached the border with Northern Ireland we had to show our passports to the British army guys there with big deadly looking guns and berets. They made us drive the carrot car into this big thick concrete barrier place in case they needed to blow the car and the 4 occupants up.

After satisfying themselves we were just some beatnik hippy types rather than provisional IRA, they waved us through. They didn’t smile. This was still a time of The Troubles, with sporadic violence still part of their recent history. It seemed to be getting better though, and nothing like the 70s & 80s. The Troubles were on the way to being not so much a trouble with a capital T.

The weather turned depressing as soon as we crossed the border. Dark, cloudy and miserable. Worse than I’d ever seen in Dublin in the few months I’d been visiting there. We drove down streets lined with houses where people displayed their Union Jacks proudly. Then we’d see some IRA inspired art on some walls and Irish flags waving.

Agatha said she knew some place on a lake near the town of Enniskillen that had cheap accommodation. It was in an old nunnery or something.

Part of my best friend from Palm Beach Currumbin High School Christophe’s family came from Enniskillen. They were protestants. His grandfather, whom he lived with growing up, still called Catholics ‘Micks’.  Enniskillen is in County Fermanagh, which borders my Grandmother Bee’s birthplace of County Sligo, which was more of a Catholic place.

We found the place in Enniskillen after a few hours drive through Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is pretty small, especially compared to Australia – you can fit all or Ireland just in Tasmania. It was a creepy, dark manor that we found in Enniskillen. Quiet. Very Quiet. Quiet enough to murder us all and not be noticed all that much as long as you could dispose of the carrot car and our bodies. We entered what seemed to be the main entrance of the manor building. It seemed all but deserted. We tried to find someone but couldn’t see anyone. All of a sudden this guy appears. He looks like Lurch from the Addams family, a creepy loner, even creepier than the creepy manor. The type who might mail bombs to people. He wasn’t much help. We all got the Heebie Jeebies and decided to split, just like Scooby Doo and the gang might do on one of their misadventures, after Velma or one of the gang ‘had a bad feeling about this’.

We instead found a room at a hotel in Enniskillen town itself. It had 2 singles beds and a double.

After dumping our bags we went to a very, very small pub which seemed mainly frequented by locals who didn’t really want a bar of some suspicious looking foreign types.

The German girl – I guess I should name her, let’s call her Hilda – and Agatha’s friend from Spain took the single beds and Agatha and I shared the double. There didn’t seem to be any discussion about it, it just happened. Agatha and I were the mum and dad, and the Hilda and the Spanish woman were the kids they joked.

Agatha and I hugged again most of the night. I loved having her body next to mine.

Nothing much happened in Northern Ireland, it was basically a drive through. I’m sure it’s nice in parts and as we were leaving the weather did improve a bit with a few breaks in the dark clouds and a bit of sunshine. All up our Northern Ireland adventure was not even two whole days. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, mainly because there’s a million other places to go, but you never know, I might make my way there another day, maybe check out the craic of Belfast or the far north coast.

Northern Ireland out of our system we made our way to Donegal. Which back then seemed like a long way away, but looking at Google maps is just a 48 minute drive.

I might start with Donegal next post though.