As our car enters what seems like a parking lot, we see him. He holds a pen and a paper clipped to a board and is gesturing to us.
Maybe just check with him if this is the right space to park, says my husband who is at the steering wheel.
It is an unusually clear and bright October day, and we have just arrived at the Gap of Dunloe. A glacial valley liberally sprinkled with five stunning lakes, and a ‘purple’ mountain, it has been on our list ever since we came to Valentia Island which is located off the Iveragh Peninsula on the southwest coast of County Kerry.
I get out of the car and head towards the man with the pen and the paper. He seems like he is in charge.
He flashes me a large smile: “I am Ryan (*name changed). I was just asking you to park the car a little further up but it’s okay. Here to see the Gap of Dunloe?”
“You can walk, or you can take a jaunting car. It’s 11 km from north to south,” he says while scribbling something down in his sheet.
“Can’t we drive all the way up,” I ask.
“No,” Ryan replies. “This is a protected area.”
I hesitate. It’s tempting to take the jaunting car – a two-wheeled carriage led by a single horse – but I know my husband’s dislike of riding an animal.
I go back to our car and fill my husband up on my conversation with Ryan.
“I am happy to walk,” I say to my husband.
“The last time we took a horse ride, it was in Bruges. Well, we could take one today,” he says.
I wonder if he is doing this just to please me.
“I know you don’t like rides like these, but perhaps this keeps the horses well fed and looked after. They earn their keep and their veterinary bills too.”
With that, the decision is made.
I head back towards Ryan and ask him what it would cost us.
“50 Euros one way,” he smiles.
“Do you take a card? We aren’t carrying cash.”
“I don’t, but I will get a card machine from a shop in the village. Don’t worry about that.”
I am unsure about the price he quotes but I have never been good at bargaining. Neither is my husband, but he tells me that it seems rather steep.
We follow Ryan to the back of a house where two horses are tethered to a pole. Ryan coaxes a nice-looking horse towards the wagon.
I think he calls her Sally. He harnesses her to the wagon and opens the door. “I will have the lady first,” he smiles, and offers his hand to ease me in.
Sally’s hooves hit the tar road soon.
I had forgotten what it felt like to be in a horse-led wagon. The coffee that I had for breakfast starts rumbling in my stomach.
We pass a group of young people, and they smile and wave. But soon a car overtakes us, and there’s another car on the opposite side of the road too!
Didn’t Ryan say we couldn’t drive up here?
My husband and I shoot each other quick glances. It doesn’t escape Ryan.
“A lot of people live beyond,” he says, as if reading our thoughts. “They have the right of way, the right to drive down to their homes.”
We don’t look very convinced but say nothing.
Soon, a lake appears and catches our attention. Its waters are dark and brooding. However, a shimmering blue sky hangs over its head like a canopy.
“This is the Black Lough,” informs Ryan.
We cross a quaint stone bridge, and another lake pops up. Ryan eases the wagon to a gentle stop and cups his hands.
“Helloooo,” he says to the lake and the mountains. The landscape, as if awakening from a slumber, comes alive and says hello back.
We carry on for some more distance, completely in awe of the landscape that lies around us. In one of the lakes, the light and shadows manipulate a heart-like shape in the waters, and I am spellbound.
After going further uphill, Ryan suddenly tells us that this as far as he can go. He takes a photograph of us, and we take some of him and Sally.
Before he makes his way down, I ask him if we should see him at the cottage when we get back.
To our surprise, he says no.
“So where do we come? You said you would have a card machine ready for us,” I ask.
“Well, actually I don’t.”
“No? Is there a cash machine nearby?”
Ryan shakes his head.
“How do we pay you then?” I ask, now clearly confused.
“I am going to write down my address for you. Once you reach Dublin, you can post the money to me. Just put it in an envelope.” With that, he tears down a piece from the sheet he has on his clipboard and writes down his address.
“Are you sure,” I ask, “is there no way we can pay around the village here?”
“No,” he smiles. “I trust you. And I will call you once I get the money.”
I look down at the sheet of paper he has given me.
“There’s no postcode here, Ryan.”
“You won’t need one. This much will do,” he says.
My husband and I look at each other and shake our heads. We don’t want to leave this way. Without paying the fare.
“Ryan,” I say, “Let me take a photograph of this address. We still have a day before we head back to Dublin, and I could lose this sheet of paper anywhere.”
“Ah, that’s a good idea. I knew it that I could trust you.” He grins and says to my husband: “I have great trust in this lady here.”
My husband scowls. He whispers to me in Gujarati, our mother tongue: “Does he mean to imply that I cannot be trusted?”
But aloud we just bade him goodbye.
There are very few people at the Gap of Dunloe and we have it almost to ourselves.
We spend three hours wandering, taking in the beauty of the lakes – Coosaun, Black Lake, Cushnavally, Auger and Black Lough. There’s also a river that slithers down like a snake, and we climb down to its moss-laden banks.
A bold sun lights up the purple mountain, called so because of sandstone particles of various sizes that give it its distinctive colour.
We feel like Alice in Wonderland.
When we drive back to Dublin the next evening, it all feels like a dream.
We come back home and get caught in multiple rounds of laundry and a hundred other chores. A week rolls by, and it is on the twelfth day that I realise that we are yet to post him the money.
When I rush out to post an envelope with a €50 note and a handwritten message, I wonder if Ryan has given up on us.
But three days later I receive a call from an unknown number.
“Hi there. It’s Ryan from Beaufort. I received your money today. Thank you. Take care and see you sometime again soon.”
When the call comes in, we have guests at home.
We tell them the story.
There’s a moment of silence. And then there are questions.
Were cars really not allowed up there? Does it seem like a reasonable price to pay for a one-way ride? And why did he trust you? And he didn’t even call to ask for his money in the 10 days after you returned to Dublin?
We sip on some gin and ponder.
It was true that there were cars, and we saw a taxi with some tourists near the echoing lake. However, there was also a board, which we came upon when we finished our walk and were scouting for cafés to have a quick lunch at. A board that we missed while we arrived at the Gap of Dunloe. It did say that the ways to explore the area were via walking, cycling, jaunting cars or a boat ride. It did not say anything about cars.
But after we came back, I tell our guests, I read a bit more on the subject. In some reviews, tourists have written that you can drive through the Gap of Dunloe, and it is indeed a public road. And to be wary of the jaunting car drivers as they don’t like cars plying the narrow route.
“Perhaps it is a bit of both. I read some tourist reviews which say that the fare for the jaunting car for the entire journey – going up and coming down – is about 80€. So, we may have paid a bit more. But it is also about an innate sense of trust,” I offer as an explanation. “He trusted us.”
“You could have posted 40€ and he wouldn’t really have done anything,” says my friend.
“But how could she; have you looked at that innocent face of hers!,” my husband teases me.
“In the end, it leaves me with a good feeling. It speaks something about the fact that most people Ryan may have met over the years have kept his trust. It is about the good in the world. And that goodness was also a part of him. He didn’t pester us with phone calls either, and although we were a week or so late, we couldn’t just not pay him, and his wonderful horse for their service,” I say.
Our guests ask to look at pictures.
We all ooh-and-ah together.
We must go to the Gap of Dunloe, they say. And we may take a jaunting car one way if the price is not steep, and we are allowed to post the money!