Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – Tubbercurry (tobercurry) Sligo, Derry Girls, Netflix, Bruges, and Sustainable Travel – 1995 (and 2022) BlogPt15

The organic farm in Tubbercurry (aka Tobercurry) Sligo was much better run than the biodynamic one in Inisglas, Wexford.

It was run by a German family, Volkmar, Claudia. I guess the German part is always a clue that efficiency may be on the cards. Besides, unlike Inisglas, these guys actually lived off the money they got from the farm so less time for poet yoghurt makers, like Stuart and ex-drug dealing chicken farmers on the run from the UK police.

Volkmar and Claudia had a very blonde boy and a girl. How this German family ended up in Tubbercurry, in the west of Ireland, I’m not sure. I think they said they saw an opportunity to buy a farm and went for it. I admire people like that, sometimes it seems we’re overwhelmed by choices to the point we are frozen with choice.

Which takes me to Derry Girls. It’s a TV series on Netflix if you haven’t heard of it. There are many choices of shows and movies to watch, most of which you really get the sense you’ve wasted part of the precious life you have after watching them, seems like we just have to fill our lives up with stuff, whatever that stuff is. I include myself in that and I find it difficult nowadays to just listen to a crow crow, or look at a flower, to be quiet and mindful of what is going on around me. But back to the tele, Derry Girls is set in Derry in Northern Ireland, which is also the setting for one of my previous blogs. I mean Northern Ireland, not Derry, which I have never visited.  It’s about these young Irish catholic women (Derry Girls, not my previous blog), and a wee English lad, growing up in the 1990s in Derry – or Londonderry as it’s also known as. I watched the show and cacked myself silly (cack is a way of saying poop). Which is pretty much irrelevant to this travel tale, except that after watching the show I decided I should try and visit Derry when my wife and I do our round-the-world trip in 2023 to celebrate my 50th birthday (hence the title of this blog if you hadn’t yet cottoned on).

I have already planned out our trip on a Google Sheet. After visiting South East Asia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia (which has its own Google Sheet) we are flying off to Vienna, down through Italy, including Sicily, and then, according to the Sheet (which is the 2nd Sheet in the 3 Sheet series covering our whole trip, the third being Mexico/ Latin America), we were going go fly from Palermo to Athens and then across to Turkey via the Greek Islands. There are many Greek Islands, so I’ll be a bit more specific. We were going to go to the island of Tinos then across to Ikaria and Samos before heading to Turkey to visit the Ancient Roman site of Ephesus. Ephesus gets a shout out in the bible, as Paul or John or someone writes letters to a church there or something. I’m not a regular church goer but my father-in-law passed away in Mexico last weekend so we went to church and there they mentioned Ephesus. It was a sad weekend, but I’ve taken a few days off of work and thought I’d write another blog post rather than watching more Netflix.

Back to the 50th birthday year travel plans, the Greek Islands were set, until I saw the crazy antics of those young women on Derry Girls – Orla, Erin, Michelle, Clare and James. I consulted my wife about my thoughts on changing plans to include a quick trip to Derry. She said, ‘if we’re going to Derry we have to also go to Bruges’. Bruges is in Belgium and was also the name of a Netflix movie which had a few Irish lads in it. By the way neither Netflix, nor the Irish tourism board, give me any money for promoting Irish-related viewing on my blog. I don’t even put ads on my blog. It seems inauthentic to me. And as a young person who was in his 20s for most of the 1990s, and who once even attended a Nirvana concert at Fisherman’s Wharf in 1992 on the Gold Coast, and who smoked so much hash on the way to the concert that I ended up lying down in a mud puddle the whole time and barely remembering more than one song, I was, and am all about authenticity – which sounds like something Rick from the Young Ones might say, sans le hash. I think you should only write for yourself and write as though nobody is reading this. Which, in this case could quite literally be true. Let’s face it, I’m no Patrick Leigh Fermor – author of a travel trilogy, of actual books with pages in them, rather than a trilogy of Google Sheets, or blogs – accounting for his walking trip across Europe and onto Constantinople in the early 1930s. Come to think of it, there’s still a bit at the end of the third book where he goes to Greece that I haven’t read. Well, he does go on a bit to be honest.

So, after consulting my wife, I consulted the appropriate Google Sheet for Europe and tried to work out how I could swap the Greek Island section for a trip to Derry, Ireland and Bruges, Belgium. But the thing is, if I go over to that part of Europe, I feel obliged to go try and visit my friend Elina in Paris. Obliged is the wrong term, I mean, there’s no way I would visit Paris without at least seeing if she was free for a coffee, as she was the only dhamma vipassana buddy from the mid-90s I still kept in contact with. We’re both doing what vipassana people do though – even though I have strayed from the path a bit – and we are growing old, constantly changing, and sooner or later going to simply pass away. Yes, coffee in Paris, when we’re in our 70s or 80s, could be the go.

Elina is an actress whom I met in 1995 at a Vipassana meditation centre in France (spoiler alert for a later blog post). She lives in Paris. Last time I visited Paris (you can read my account of that trip here) she was off filming something with her husband so I was unable to catch up, but I feel I’d be rude if I didn’t at least try and visit her if I was going to Bruges. She makes very weird films which I’m occasionally in the mood for once I realise most stuff on Netflix is a load of shit. Elina and I had been penpals (were we actually sent real letters and cards to each other) for some time in the 90s and early 2000s, when she lived mostly in New York, and we’ve kept in touch on and off since then. To be honest, my efforts are more than hers – though she always writes back when I write to her. I’ll see a film Elina’s in on SBS television and then I’ll send her a message and then we chat again for a few days. It’s always lovely and, for me, brings me back to those days in Ireland and Europe in the 90s, just as Derry Girls has. I always thought of her like some sort of past life soulmate. Though I don’t think I ever expressed that to her.

So, a trip to Derry would have to involve both Bruges and Paris. It’d also mean we’d need to spend at least a night or two in Dublin, on the way to Derry, as most planes tend to fly from Palermo to Dublin rather than Derry. And even if we didn’t travel by plane I haven’t been to Dublin since 1995 so I couldn’t go all that way without a visit to Temple Bar and a pint of Guinness. In the movie Bruges yer man says, ‘I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin’ and, ‘I’m still in fuckin’ Bruges’, and ‘Bruges is a shithole’. His words, not mine. But the things you do for love and a chance to visit Derry and Ireland again. The movie might actually be called In Bruges, but that’s not that important at the moment. The important thing is I had allocated 8-9 days on my Google Sheet to go from Palermo, Sicily, over to Athens and then across the above-mentioned Greek Islands, and then over to Selçuk, Turkey where we could visit the ancient city of Ephesus, the Roman Empire’s capital in Asia Minor, before heading up to Istanbul as our last European destination. They’re in Eurovision, so I’m going to say they’re European. Let’s park the debate on whether Australia can be considered part of Europe due to their inclusion in the song contest for now.

I’m committed to sustainability and wanted to limit our travels by air as much as possible, trying to instead use trains and boats. I know, until we have electric boats and 100% renewable energy powering the grid, it is a difficult calculation to make as to what form of transport wins out in terms of carbon emissions. Planes are definitely not the best though. And besides it’s much nicer spending time on a train than a plane. To get from Palermo to Paris by train takes the best part of 2 days, assuming you may want a stopover in somewhere like Milan on the way. Then we’d need at least 2 nights in Paris in the hope that Elina may be there to catch up for a coffee with my wife and I. To get from Paris to Bruges is not that bad, a couple of hours, easy enough. Then you need at least two nights in Bruges in order to ‘see things’.

So we’re up to 6 nights already. Then we could either spend another 2 days travelling from Bruges to Dublin across the UK – I did something similar back in 1995 from Dublin to Paris, which I’ll come to in a later blog – or you could fly from Bruges to Dublin, then spend the night there before taking a train and bus up to Derry where you’d also want to spend at least 2 nights, enough time at least to do some sort of Derry Girls tour of the place, before then flying back over to Selçuk, probably via Istanbul. What’s more is that all the accommodation in these places is like double the cost of those I’d found on the Greek Islands.

In many ways it’d just be easier just to do a Patrick Leigh Fermor and walk around for years not worrying about all these schedules or the impact on the environment. I’d be tempted but for the fact I can only take 3 months off of work at the moment, and my wife has no interest in walking around Europe for years, even if it did include Bruges.

So, in the end, we’re going back to Plan A. No Derry, no Bruges, no Paris and just  flying from Palermo to Athens and then flying from Athens to Ikaria – skipping Tinos as I get very seasick and I couldn’t work out the ferry schedules – and onto Samos then over to Selçuk.

Back in 1995, life was far less complicated. I got my Willing Workers on Organic Farms guide book (more of a pamphlet than a book) out, I looked up farms in Tubbercurry, Ireland, where my grandmother was born, I rang up a place and arranged a time to come, then I stayed there for around 3 months, more or less. There was no Netflix, I didn’t even watch TV. There was no internet, I wrote a letter, or postcard,  home to my mum and family on occasions or made the occasional phone call. There were no websites to calculate the time you’d spend travelling between places. I just worked picking, planting and pulling out weeds during the day and at night I’d look at the stars, sit around smoking a cigarette chatting to Volkmar, or go out looking for hedgehogs with the very blonde boy. On the weekends I’d explore the countryside, picking mushrooms with a very blond boy, who seemed to know what he was doing to avoid being poisoned, and riding around country roads in between hedges visiting graveyards, abandoned churches and other things you find in the countryside.

I’d still write to Agatha, and she, from memory, wrote back a couple of times, though our letters were still tender and, for me, I was still hopeful that we might develop a romantic relationship through them. At one stage a young German woman who was riding around Ireland with her friends stayed on the farm for about a week. She was a nice woman and I had some attraction to her. She stayed in a separate part of the caravan with me and we’d watch the stars and search for hedgehogs together some night. I was still a horny young man, who hadn’t had sex since I was with Corrine the least year,  and I had thoughts of trying to get together with her, but I somehow still felt too connected to Agatha and felt it would be a betrayal to contemplate another woman. Instead I’d read a letter from Agatha and think of being with her.

I had some funny ideas back then. Looking back I didn’t owe anyone anything. And, as it turned out, my love for Agatha was, for reasons that are still mysterious to me, but which might have been as simple as she just wasn’t that into me, unrequited. Corrine was more straightforward, and even though I sent her a note or two when I was in Ireland, she was married.

So I spent the last warm days of Autumn hard at work on the farm, delivering fresh organic vegetables, like kale, even before it was fashionable, and herbs to hotels with Volkmar. There was one cool one that looked like a castle on a large estate with cute farm animals abounding. We also went to Sligo city on our regular stops. We’d stop for lunch every day on a nice table outside under a tree, to eat freshly made bread from Claudia, with home made cheese, gherkins and tomatoes from the green house and even some homemade chutneys and jam I think, as well as some pretty decent coffee.

It was largely an uneventful time there in Tubbercurry, but I was at peace. I was also, as I am now, committed to the idea of sustainability so I felt my farm labours meant something. I was also being rewarded for them I should say, getting 20 pounds a week extra and being able to save the whole of my dole check each fortnight. I had chosen to work on farms in Australia because I wanted to help mother Earth, or something like that. I mean sustainability has a much greater urgency and imperative now in the 2020s, bordering on desperation, but it’s nothing new, sustainability was big in the 70s, 80s, 90s, hell it dates back to Mayan civilisation, and cities like Palenque, in modern day Chiapas, Mexico which rose, flourished, and then declined and disappeared back into the jungle, due, in part to climate change, droughts, and unsustainable practices back in 226 BC to 799 AD.

Talking of decline, I tried to visit Agatha one more time in Dublin while I was in Sligo. I took the train across the wee country, I went to La Casa Chaparrita, but no-one was there. I tried calling into Agatha’s friend Bear place to find out where she was – at least I remember her name as Bear. Bear said I should have called ahead and that Agatha had visited some family north of Dublin where she’d work as some sort of nanny when she first came to Ireland. My grandmother had also worked as some sort of nanny when she emigrated to Australia when she was ten in the early 1900s. Agatha was on her way back to Barcelona soon. She let me stay at her house overnight. She was kind. I went back to Sligo the next day. I was sad.

The weather was starting to get colder and more miserable. When I got back to the train station closest to the farm in Tubbercurry it was drizzly. I had to wait an hour for Claudia to come and collect me. I must have looked like a sad wet puppy.

One day in Late September/ October I think, the warm weather just stopped. I said to Volkmar and Claudia that I’d move on in another week or two after finishing helping with the end of their summer and autumn cropping before the real cold set in. They thanked me and I made plans for my next journey. This time to France to stay at another Vipassana meditation centre, I thought I might even be able to make it down to Barcelona to try and visit Agatha one more time. But first things first.

Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker Zen Cleaning Robot, fiestas, mas drama y thinking of moving to County Sligo 1995/2022 BlogPt11


I haven’t focussed on why I started this blog for a while, that is planning for my 50th birthday world trip. It turns out planning a 50th trip is a lot more complicated than planning a 22 year-old trip. When I was 22, in 1995 – for most of the year at least, I turned 23 in December – I didn’t think about jobs, kids, any wives, retirement savings or anything like that. I was like a bird that could just fly off and sit in a tree for a while when the desire took me. A simple life. I could just pack my blue backpack with a few things and hit the road.

Now, I research guidebooks, try and find the best time to travel to fit in with plans to move back to my hometown of the Gold Coast in Queensland, while maintaining a job here in Canberra where I’ve worked for various departments of the Australian government for the last 15 1/2 years. Thinking, should I quit my job, get a payout, travel around the world and then return and try and find another job, or should I try and keep my Canberra job, use up all my Long Service Leave and Annual leave, travel the world, visiting my wife’s family in Mexico, and having a 50th birthday party, on the way, then return to the Gold Coast and find another job, hopefully with enough savings to live off until I do.

Life was much simpler in 1995 when I was 22 and 2022 was some freakishly high number I could hardly fathom, where the Zen Cleaning Robots had taken over all the mundane jobs of the world leaving us humans to just run around having fun in free houses, rather than post-pandemic fears, rising housing prices, and, just to keep it interesting, part II of the 1850s Crimean War where Russia fought the West (and Turkey) for control of Sevastopol and other such strategic places on the Black Sea, which has also managed to drive up the price of lettuces here in Australia to $10 a head.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people need to learn history, how often seemingly forgotten events from hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago can affect us and influence the current era.

But back to 1995.


I returned to Wexford one summer’s afternoon, after visiting Agatha, Ines and the girls in Dublin. I think for once I got the train back to Wexford, as I’d managed to save a small amount of money over the last months and I couldn’t be bothered trying to hitch. When I arrived back in Wexford I had to walk from Wexford town out to Inisglas, in The Deeps, around 14-15 kms.

About halfway back the blackest of black clouds covered the sky which, moments earlier, had been clear blue and sunny. It was a most ominous sight. It came out of nowhere. Maybe not nowhere, it seemed to be from the direction of the Irish Sea. The elements erupted. A gale started blowing. Rain started pouring from the sky. The world turned black. Black as the night’s sky. Then the lightning started. Lighting strikes came down every 3-4 steps. 1,2,3 then a thunderous thunder clap. 1,2,3 and the ground shook like an electric bomb, and then another, and then some more. So loud. Whipping down from the heavens with a crack so intense it made my spine shiver, my hands shake. So terrified. I didn’t dare look up to see where the lighting was landing. It was close. Metres away close. No gap between the light and sound. No time to count to 1. How close to death I was, any step now I thought. I walked closer to the trees hoping they might take the brunt of any lighting strike, pulling my chin to keep the rain from my chest. No escaping it though. I kept walking. 20 terrifying minutes or so later,  looking at my feet, drenched with rain. It was gone. Quiet. Just for the sounds of the water dropping from the leaves of the trees.

I can’t remember many times I felt so close to death than those 20 minutes. Apart from the time the Thai Airways’s plane’s engines had failed – twice – after coming out of Bangkok a few months earlier. Or that time Luke had boiled up a whole bag of magic mushrooms that Matt had picked on his birthday and put in the freezer in the house we shared in Newcastle and given me a whole glass without alerting me to the phenomenal mind-fucking strength he’d made it. I mean most people just put in 3 or 4 mushrooms. That’s more than enough! What psycho puts a whole fucking kilo or something in? I ended up at a pizza shop that night asking a waiter to call an ambulance because I’d OD on mushies. But as I waited I saw a dog and started feeling better and decided to follow the dog to Sydney or somewhere.

Inisglas was also changing. The Buddha went on about change all the time. I would hear it everyday in my Vipassana mediation courses. Change, change. Everything’s always changing. If you get attached to things without recognising they will sooner or later change, you will be miserable.

I wasn’t feeling that miserable at the time, so perhaps I wasn’t that attached. But there were certainly changes afoot.

Nora and Stuart hooked up. Because Nora and Stuart hooked up, Frankie and I were now sharing the little space above or near the flour mill near Anthony and Eve’s house as Nora had moved to the main house. Frankie wasn’t too happy about the whole thing but he accepted it with sad dignity and continued to tend to the vegetable garden, even though most of the community, including myself, weren’t pulling their weight in that respect. Mind you I did continue to help Frankie out, picking veggies, mounding up potatoes, but it was more like a part time thing.

I also kept helping Stuart with the cow milking and yoghurt and quark making from time to time. Frankie helped me once when I drank a bunch of fresh unpasteurised milk straight from the milk bucket and ended up throwing up. He was a really nice guy. I think I’d discovered that day I might have also been intolerant to milk and asked Eve whether we could buy some soy milk during the weekly shopping run. Anthony, already upset that we had a freezer full of a dead cow that nobody was eating as we always made vegetarian meals, rolled his eyes in regards to the idea of milk intolerances. He also said Plato was dead set against people eating beans because it ruined their philosophical capacity or some crap like that. Sorry, but if the Buddha and Plato were in a fight the Buddha would shit on Plato and his beans any day, even when he was in his unhealthy self-deprivation period before he found the middle path.

Nora’s hooking up with Stuart meant Stuart’s son was getting more attention and being slightly less feral and pooing on the front lawn much less. But it meant Nora’s son getting a bit upset as he obviously as less attention was being given to him.

The kids in general were like community farm kids, roaming about like free range chickens most of the day and occasionally getting into trouble. One morning they all came in screaming and yelling and us adults all sprung into action wondering what the heck was going on. After more screaming it transpired that apparently they’d all been down to the beehives and  decided to whack the sides of the beehives with sticks, which the bees objected to. They were covered in bee stings. I think the homoeopathic vet had some lotion to put on the hundreds of stings. They all survived.

The homoeopathic vet also gave a cow that had eaten too much clover, and was thus getting bloated, some plain old dishwashing detergent. She held her nostrils and poured it down her throat. You’d probably charge someone £50 for that.

Then there was Jay. Jay had bought himself a donkey, and a cart, and was making plans with Anushka, or whatever the quiet German girl’s name was, to travel around Ireland picking winkles and smoking grass, while kipping on the cart. He was going to leave in a few weeks. Just at the start of Autumn. Not that I had any idea at the time as I hadn’t read or seen Lord of the Rings, but it sounded a bit like something a hobbit would do.

Michael from Denmark was getting tired of Ireland. He was planning to go back to Denmark I think, or perhaps go work with the other Danish people at the disabled home, where, I think, his ex-girlfriend was still working, but where he’d also get a real wage, which was not forthcoming at Inisglas due to its philosophy of not really making money from the farm despite it’s great potential.

Tron was looking into some biodynamic program somewhere else in Ireland or Scotland or Norway or something, so was soon leaving the place.

Ross, being on the run from the UK police, was happy to keep low and remain in place with his chickens, baconers and porkers.

And I, well I had saved a little money, but I wanted to save more, so I started looking into WWOOFing opportunities elsewhere in Ireland where all my food and board was included, so I could save all my dole. I had found a place in my granny’s home County Sligo, in fact around the area of her home town Tubbercurry, also spelt Tobercurry on occasions. I was going there in a few weeks so I was getting ready for that.

But there would be one big event before that move happened.

Inisglas’ main manor house was in disrepair, and since the farm barely made any money, there was no way to fix it. So Stuart had the idea of organising a music festival where we could sell tickets and put the proceeds towards fixing the place.

He turned out to be quite the organiser and got a few local bands to play at the event for free. He even managed to get his friends from a band called Elephant Walk, or some name like that, a folk/ world music outfit who’d played at Glastonbury. So we had a pretty good line up. To add to that, the guys at Inisglas decide to perform a few songs ourselves. We decided on Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton, and two other songs I can’t remember. I was only singing choruses in those so I didn’t pay as much attention to them.

We decided for our performance we’d dress up like women. There was Frankie, Michael, Stuart and I, plus some googley-eyed German who’d recently arrived on the farm as a part of some farm stay thing he’d organised to learn biodynamic techniques. Tron was happy as he finally had someone on the biodynamic farm, besides Anthony and Eve who started the community, who was actually interested in biodynamics.

I liked Googly-eyed Person, but wasn’t there long enough to remember his name. He seemed like a good person.

We practised our songs for weeks and learnt all the words to Tears in Heaven which are still in my head somewhere today I’m sure. We did up posters, and put them up around town. Stuart got a spot on the local radio station to promote the event and after a few weeks, concert day was here.

It was a beautiful sunny day, though another summer storm threatened in the evening.

We decided that they Inisglas crew would start the event, so we donned our dresses like brides on a wedding day and made our way out for our big performance. Stuart had a nice slim dress which was in 1920s’ style. He even had a bit of lippy from Nora. Frankie, Michael and Googly-eyed German guy also had nice dresses. I was very happy with my dress, it was a lilac number, kind of thing you might see a Mexican woman wear on her sweet 15. I had really long hair, and the face of my great-grandmother from Sligo, so I think many in the crowd were thinking I might be the real deal, if it wasn’t for the obviously hairy legged men besides me. After Tears we had a more upbeat number and I went wild swinging my hair about. We had a ball.

The crowd was good and I think in the end we had a few hundred come along. We’d tried to get a liquor licence but were refused because we were holding the event on a Sunday, which was a harder day to get official permission to serve drinks given it was the Lord’s day. We got around the ‘law’ by having a game where you threw darts at a dart board, and if you hit a particular number we’d give you a free beer. It cost £3 to enter. After some confusion people realised the special number was any number, and even if you couldn’t hit the board we’d still give you a beer to console you. We kept making people throw the darts though as it was funny.

I’m sure if the liquor licensing people had come our whole scheme would have quickly fallen apart.

We also had sandwiches made with bread Michael and I had baked, some cheesy buns, also made at Inisglas, and home made cordial. Michael and I were the main bread makers at the time as Jay had moved more into beekeeping at that point and was prepping for his donkey-cart tour.

The rest of the real bands played throughout the evening and much craic was had by all. It did rain for a bit in the late afternoon and many of the families with young kids went off, leaving the harder core revellers. We ended up finishing up late into the evening smoking weed and drinking beers and wine by a big bonfire. It was like one of those wistful scenes at the end of some coming of age movie.

It was, really, the craic.

I decided to end on this high note, and in the days after, packed my bag and hitched up to Dublin to spend a few days with Agatha before heading to Sligo.

As it happened, Agatha had a friend who was coming to visit from Spain, so they’d organised a little trip through Northern Ireland and Donegal and were happy to drop me off at Tubbercurry, Sligo on the way back. So the universe was once again providing.

But just as change was happening at Inisglas, change was also happening at the Chaparrita in Dublin, and for me, most importantly, a change in my relationship with Agatha.

More of that in the next blog post though, I think finishing up Inisglas after a few months is also a nice spot to finish up this post.

P.s The Zen Cleaning Robot is a concept I came up with Rob Skelton at RMIT later in the nineties. I think it was for a school project on writing for the internet that started with a drunken night of wine and indoor soccer where I ended up sleeping at a house in Saint Kilda with the friend of a classmate who was growing a super awesome little weed plant grown from a seed form Holland.

I would have hoped Zen Cleaning Robots would be being manufactured by now.