An uruguayan in the good ol' Ireland

Ireland Travel Blog

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An Uruguayan in Ireland

During long time I was interested in New Zealand. As a farmer, I thought New Zealand should be a dreamed place to have a practical experience working. I graze cattle for beef, and use some low-cost technologies, like electric fences and daily parcels, both of them originally developed in that country. The "kiwi" farmers are famous for the incredibly tight management of the grass.
So I spent many hours in an cyber-cafe seeking for working opportunities. Actually those hours became into years. Although immigration system in New Zealand is open to receive foreigners workers in the areas the country has a shortage of skilled hands, the main problem was to find a placement not being physically in the country. Most of the positions are in the milking industry, and in second place the sheep industry. The first one is not my favorite, and about sheep there was always a requirement: to have a couple of trained dogs. I have no dogs, much less trained ones. The third obstacle is those shortages are not the same everywhere in the country. So I found some position in an area close to Auckland, where there was not shortage, so the employer had not permission to hire a foreigner.
Still searching, I found a website from England, and taking a look to, I read a position posted by an Irish farmer, looking for somebody to give a hand in a farm run for his family and himself. They worked with cattle and sheep. I said to myself why not Ireland? So I sent an email to Shane asking if they would consider a foreigner to fill that position. The answer was yes, asking me for my resume.
I'd send it, ...... and not answer in the next 3 weeks. So I forgot the subject thinking I didn't meet the profile they were looking for. But then after another week or so, an email from Shane was in my inbox: if I was still interested in the position, the job was mine. That was around December 2005. I had lots of work at my own farm, and to organize everything for a trip to work abroad it'd take some months. So I was very honest and clear with Shane; I'd love to have the chance to work with them, but I could do it just at the end of the summer here in south hemisphere, so if he was needing somebody urgently, I was not his man.
Shane answered me they could manage the winter in the way they were working, and told me actually he was planning a long 6 weeks vacations, so I'd be his replacement during that time, and he was flexible with date to have that vacations. Finally we agreed I'd arrive beginning of march, he would stay a couple of weeks to show me the work, and allow me to get used to the routine before he'd leave for his vacations. I'd work 10 weeks and later I'd take a couple of weeks to visit friends in Germany and Switzerland.
I worked hard that summer to get my farm ready to face autumn and beginning of winter without me, leaving my cattle in charge of my brother, Pablo. I bought my plane ticket to arrive on march 8th to Dublin, flying by Iberia (don't recommend this airline) from Montevideo to Madrid, and from there to Dublin.

I must be honest and tell I knew almost nothing about Ireland, so I bought a little book to know some basic facts. The history of Ireland is very similar to many other countries, where third countries tried to conquer and destroy the native culture, including religion and language. Like a southamerican I was very used to read about the awful and despicable deeds of the conquerors, in our case basically from Spain, and therefore from catholic people. They destroyed ancient cultures in name of God and their religion (I'm a believer, and I'm sure these people is gonna punish the atrocities they did in God's name), which is so faaaaaaar away from the heart of the real message of Christ.
But there in Ireland the persecuted were the catholic, by the English people, once more thinking they were the chosen ones and the owners of truth. Of course in both cases, the religion was just an inadmissible excuse to get the wealth of the conquered nations. Cursed covetousness and cursed ambition.
The English conquerors tried still to erase the Irish language, same they tried to do with Welsh language. Luckily bigger is the opposition, bigger is the resistance, and nowadays the Irish is taught in schools and is also official language of the country.

I arrived to Dublin airport at noon, on a typical Irish day: rainy! Heather, Shane's sister, was waiting for me at the airport. Going to the parking lot I realized I was in a different country, not only for the language and the accent, also for the traffic way! Heather pointed her Peugeot 407, and I headed to the right side to open the front door, when Heather said, "I drive...". Only then I realized how different would be this experience! After apologize, I seated at the left, and I almost got crazy trying to push the inexistent brakes on the car's floor every time another car was coming directly toward us by the wrong side of the road Once we got the highway I relaxed a little bit. Shane's family has the farm close to Mullingar, almost at the middle of the island, actually just 7-8 km from the farm is the geographic center point of the island, on a little hill, where there's a Celtic place with a big stone. After 70km of nice Irish landscape we arrived to Mullingar, where Heather invited me to have lunch in a restaurant. The farm is just 10 minutes from town and in the entrance we met John chasing some cows in his quad. By the house was Aubrey loading another bunch of cows in the truck to bring them to the factory. Aubrey is Heather and Shane's brother, and they work with John, his father, the farm of 400 hectares.
After 14 hours flying in those uncomfortable seats in the plane, plus a very bad service on board, without sleeping, I was a little tired, so Heather was very kind offering me to take a shower and a little nap. But the excitement of being at last in Ireland was too big to catch a sleep. So changing clothes I went out to give a hand to Aubrey loading the cattle. Undoubtedly I was not completely awake, and I didn't realize I got a deep cut in a finger closing the truck's back door. When I got in to the truck, Aubrey looks at me and says: "what's that blood on your hand?". I didn't feel anything, but when I looked at the hand it was red in blood. As deep as reaching the bone the cut was on the up side of the fourth finger of my left hand. Aubrey gave me a piece of clothes, and since I didn't feel any pain we keep working. Once in the house at night Heather helped me to cure properly that wounded finger. I started with left foot (actually hand) my staying in Ireland, but the good humor of Heather and Aubrey was good to give less importance to the accident.
Next day arrived Shane, Olive and Shannon from Algeria. They were visiting Linda's family, one more of John and Olive's daughters. Shannon is Heather's daughter, the nicest girl I met ever. She was at that time 13 years old, and a deep lover of hens and horses. And Olive became as my Irish mother. She prepares authentic Irish food, including lots of potatoes recipes!
My work at the farm included to clean the cattle's sheds, to prepare the mix of food and give it to the cattle in 3 different sheds one kilometer away each other, give a hand injecting and aparting cattle, build new fences and repair old ones, and any other task necessary in the farm, like to chop some wood for the fires (there was 3 beautiful fires in the house). You know that phrase "the work is my life", I think John invented it. He just lives to work in the farm. He was 68, and having some troubles with a shoulder, but still so every morning he took the quad and patrolled all the fields looking after cows and sheep. During my staying his shoulder got worse, and after a couple of weeks I got a new chore in the mornings: to bring some bags of food to 3 different groups of cows at the fields around the house. My routine started around 7:30 cleaning the shed in front of the house. Later I prepared the mix of food and bring it to the cattle. Meanwhile the mixer mixed properly the food, I went to say good morning to Olive, who was already at the kitchen. We chatted briefly through the window about the new day. I loved those chats with Olive. There was not a single day she was not smiling and cheerful.
The third shed was in a rented farm to Mr. Har. He was around 70 years old, and also we had nice chats when I brought the food to the cattle over there. He was most of the time remembering the old times when he knew all his neighbours, and streets in town were peaceful. “Now”, he said, “you don’t know people around you, and everybody is in a rush just to make money”. Wise man.
Around 11:00 everybody gathered in the kitchen to drink a coffee and exchange information about the tasks of the day and any news about sick animals or anything related to the farm. Again back to work till 13:00 when we had lunch. After the meal we had coffee or tea with some candies, and Aubrey dedicated 15 minutes to resolve his Sudoku, and Olive took the Crosswords at the newspaper, asking every now and then to Aubrey for some help. The dictionary was not far from the table, and I discovered pretty soon myself helping too to find some words. Again to work and around 6:00pm was time to come into the house, take a nice shower and relax.
After a couple of weeks doing this routine, I realized the weather just was more or less the same, still having not a whole sunny day. Rain, fog, snow, hail, and lot of cold weather was all I got. On Saint Patrick's day, Shane told me to do just the cleaning in the shed, and take the rest of the day off and to go to Dublin for the typical parades. The day was not different, well, maybe yes, a little worse. Dublin streets were just like to walk inside a fridge with a big fan in high speed, with the ceiling gray but certainly plenty of very colorful dressed people from all around Europe. That day you can listen to any language being spoken, still more than English itself. Lamentably the celebration has become too commercial, where the most important is the merchandising sold. Even most of the groups and orchestras in the parade aren't Irish. In spite of a hot spicy tomato soup I had for lunch, I caught a cold, and came back by train to Mullingar pretty early in the afternoon.
Shane was getting ready for his vacations going to Perú and Mexico, and meanwhile we shared nice chats about farming here and there, and life in general. Finally on April 3rd Shane leaves, and that meant less chats and more work :-). But at least it started some sunny days foretelling the spring.
At end of April I agree with John and Aubrey to take some days off and to know something more from Ireland. They strongly recommend me to visit the west coast, where the Irish culture, including language, is much more alive. So, the best way to do this, they recommended me, would be taking a tour with a travel agency. No worries about driving, no worries about hotel or lodge, no worries about table-time with buses or trains. Since I was in Mullingar (70 km west from Dublin) I arranged everything by phone with "Eir Trail", and they'd pick me up by the way, at the first stop of the trip. I joined to the group coming in a van for 9 persons, in Kilbeggan, where we visited a very old distillery. The driver and guide was on his first trip. Tony, middle aged friendly guy, but pretty bad doing his work. He had been just once before in Galway, and he had no idea about the rest of the road, which included the cliffs of Moher, the Burren national park, Connemara area and Cong, a tiny village where John Wayne filmed in the 50's "the Quiet Man". So, we arrived to Galway 2 hours late and there we spent a couple of hours just wandering around downtown. Then we faced the road to the very west coast, going through the Connemara region, the wildest area of the Irish landscape. But then started the troubles for Tony. Suddenly he stopped and said "don't worry guys, just checking the way", but his map was not good to give him the answer :-), actually I think the map was not the problem. We hit the road again and after 45 mins, we were in the same point. So he tried a new trick: to ask for directions to some locals in a pub. "The good part is", I said to rest of the group, "we are enjoying the view of both sides of the road for the same price". After 5 o 6 mistaken crossroads, we decided to help him, so Tanja (from Switzerland) took her Lonely Planet guide, and we used the tiny map inside showing the Connemara region to give directions to Tony, trying to reach Cong before midnight!
By the way we saw a castle about 500 meters from the road, just across a lake. Tony asked us "Guys, you wanna stop for pictures?". All of us were already tired just wishing to arrive to Cong and have dinner and a soft bed, so the answer was "No Tony, keep going". But Tony stopped the van and said, "But I do want take some pictures, never been here before". He did so, and all we can did was just to laugh! We arrived to Cong with 5 hours of delay, to find that the 3 restaurants in the village were full of tourist since it was a holiday day. The good part of that day it was the weather, very sunny, but the bad part we were sited on the van all the day long, except for 2 hours in Galway. Next day was a truly Irish day, rainy! So we could not enjoy the majestic cliffs of Moher. There I decided to do for myself the rest of the trip, since Tony was driving back to Dublin that same day, instead of next day, like firstly the agency told me, including a visit to the Aran Islands. So I asked to Tony to drop me at Doolin, a small village with a harbor. Tony was worried leaving me there alone, but I was worried for him and the group going back to Dublin that night through unknown roads for Tony......
At Doolin I had to wait during 3 hours for the ferry departure. When I was waiting the last hour in the Ferry office, a young couple came in to ask for tickets, and they bought just one way to return next day by the another way to Rossavel and from there in bus to Galway. So I asked to the man selling the tickets if I could change for one way and he said not problem. So we left Doolin at 5:30, and the ocean was really roaring, and the ferry stinking to vomit from the previous trip! We were around 6-7 people in the ferry and almost everybody got a little sick, I think it was more the vomit smelling than the roaring ocean..... Anyway, I closed my eyes, breathed deep and slow, and I felt better. We arrived save and sound almost one hour later. This couple were from Italy, studying English in Dublin, and they were soaked, they had been in Cliffs of Moher, and walked back all the way to Doolin! So wet and tired we looked for the first hostel to stay. We found one just 50 meters from the pier. Asked for beds, and fortunately there was several available rooms. I went into a room where already there were 4 guys. I came in and just there was a Japanese guy, very friendly. I took a hot shower(actually scarcely warm water) and went out to look for a nice typical Irish bar with typical Irish music and typical Irish food and typical Irish Guinness, and hopefully with typical nice Irish girls! But I didn't find any of that. I met a couple from Dublin who were in the island since a couple of days ago and they said most of the places were still closed from winter. So, walking around, the only open bar it was one just under the hostel, and they didn't serve any meal. Just in front there was a fast food place. Globalization..... I ate an hamburger, drank a Guinness in the bar, and went to bed to have a good sleeping. But at midnight came in one of the guys staying in my room, completely drunk, turned on the lights and began to ask which one it was his bed... Once he got the bed, slept like a tree. Later, about 1:30, came in to the hostel a group of drunk guys making a lot of noise, laughing, singing (they thought were singing), and shouting. They were in the corridor doing all that noise for a while, then the Japanese got up and came out to make them shut up. They started to laugh on the Japanese, but it seemed the Japanese knew some martial arts, because I heard some moaning from the drunk guys. The Japanese came in the room, and the drunk guys again shouting and swearing against the Japanese, and kicking the door. The Japanese got up again, and meanwhile he walked towards the door, I said to him, "stop, leave them, they are just asking for troubles". The Japanese listened to me and came back to bed. The noise kept for another half hour. Then I heard a woman's voice, threatening to the drunk guys with the police. The drunk guys laughing at her. Another voice, but from a man, and this one threatening to call to Garda (Police in Irish), when the guys hear Garda then slow down the noise, and 5 minutes later the noise was all gone. Then came in the room the another 2 guys, who were stuck outside because the drunk guys. They said the Garda came and everybody was outside the hostel. Finally silence! For so short...: the guys who came in last start to snort! All the rest of the night! Well, at 6:30 I got up and went out to walk around. The good thing it was the sun started to shine. At 8 came back for breakfast, and wait till 9 for renting a bike. Once I got the bike I went through the middle of the island, and stopped in a couple of the interesting places. I came back to the pier by 11:30 to return the bike and take the ferry to Rossavel at 12. Once there I got the shuttle bus to Galway and spent the rest of the afternoon walking by downtown. Nice town. I took the bus to Mullingar at 6 and at 8:45 was at home. Dee, Aubrey's girlfriend, picked me up at Mullingar. All the family laughed a lot with my adventure :-).
May appeared but spring was very lazy yet, lots of cold and rainy days. Normally at that height of the season, most of the cattle in the sheds should be gone, already grazing outside, but till middle of May, when I left to Germany, the weather was so bad that most of cattle was still in sheds. So my routine was more or less the same the 10 weeks I was working there. May 15th Shane was back from vacations, extremely happy for the wonderful places he visited, but happy also being back in the good ol' Ireland.
May 16th I took Ryanair flight to Karlsruhe, Germany, and from there the train to Basel, where Claudius and Jolanta were waiting for me. They are Martina's parents, one of my friends I was visiting in Europe. Martina had been at my farm 3 years before. She went with Christine, a friend of a friend of mine, Ronja, whom I met in 2000 in a seminar about rural youth in Herrsching, close to Munich. In 2003 Ronja told me about a friend of her who was studying Spanish and wishing to travel to practice the language. So she would like to visit my farm in Uruguay. I said no problem, and then Christine said she would come with a friend of her, Martina. Martina and family are originally from Poland. Currently they live in Berentzwiller, France, just some kilometers away of Swiss border. Actually Claudius and Jolanta work in Basel, and Martina is studying at Fribourg. So we were going through Switzerland to the French region, where is Fribourg. Nice city with around half of population attending to the university. This gives it a special atmosphere. I share there Martina's flat with her flat-mates: Miki (German), Sabina (Swiss), and Isabel (Swiss). Since Martina was busy at the uni, I was most of the time just wandering on my own by the town, and some days I visited another cities like Lucerne and Lausanne. On 18th we had typical food of students: Kebab, a Turkish dish. We share it with Mattia, Martina's boyfriend. He's from Il Ticino, the Italian speaker part of Switzerland. At night there was a celebration for the 10th anniversary of uni's radio, where Martina is working.
We visited also Bern, and later went to Basel, where we visited to Tanja, the Swiss girl with the Lonely Planet guide at Ireland :-). We had at her house a very nice lunch.
My personal sensation about Switzerland was not as good as I expected. The country has beautiful landscapes, but people is not as nice as Irish people. Although is a very cosmopolite population, originals and foreigners have a proud attitude just for being in that country. Police is specially unpolite, and people in general is unpolite. Big difference with Ireland, where everybody is able to develop a nice chat just if you ask for some directions. "You know why the bartender serves half pint of beer, makes a pause, and then serves the another half?" asked me Shane, "mmm, because the foam?" was my suggestion, "NO, it's just to have time to ask you where are you from, what's your job, and any other questions he finds interesting to ask". In Ireland, same than in Uruguay, to smoke in public spaces is forbidden. Being a non-smoker, I missed that a lot in Switzerland, where it seems there is more smokers than population, and nobody cares about the person next to them. Conclusion, I didn't enjoy Switzerland as much as I thought, and besides some friends and the nice landscape, this country is not in my list to be visited again.
From there we went to Martina's parents house, and taking a car we visited Eguisheim, a beautiful town in Alsace, not far from German border. From there we went to Christine's house, in Egringen, a small town not far from the border. Christine's family was waiting for us: Ernst and Anne, Christine's parents, and Anja, younger sister. We had a nice dinner: a familiar fondue. Next day Martina, Christine and Anja brought me to Europa Park, an amusement park close to Freiburg. It's a nice place, but I was sorry my lack of interest in such a kind of place disappointed Martina and Christine, who were very excited about bring me over there. The park is all right, but is not the kind of place I enjoy better, and at end of day I felt a little guilty don't enjoying it. Anyway, we came back to Christine's house pretty late. Next day, Friday, very early in the morning, Ernst and Anne were baking bread to sell it at the farmers' market on Saturday. So I got up as early as could to watch and share with Ernst and Anne part of their work. Honestly I enjoyed that much more than Europa Park. Martina returned to her home, and I stayed with Christine's family. On Saturday Christine and me helped their parents to set up the selling at the farmers' market. Very colorful place. We had wonderful lunch with Oma Johana, Christine's grandmother. In the afternoon we had the chance to plant some vegetables with Ernst, Christine and Anja. On Sunday we had a nice lunch in a restaurant in middle of countryside, just watching by the window the landscape of Switzerland and France at the distance. Beautiful.
After lunch we got ready to leave to Eichstätt, in Bayern, where Christine is studying. Since Anja had vacations she came with us. We stopped by the way in Augsburg to leave some food to Katrin, Christine's sister. At 8:30pm we arrived to Eichstätt, small town, similar to Fribourg because half of population is studying at the uni. Christine attends to Spanish lessons, and the teacher is from....Uruguay Agustín has been in Germany since some years ago teaching Spanish. It was good to him and to myself to meet an Uruguayan so far from home, having the chance to share some "mates" (typical Uruguayan drink). Agustín allowed me to watch the lesson, and I was badly surprised how irresponsible and mediocre were the students. Day before I was helping Christine with some homework for this class, and when Agustín asked for this work, just 3 students presented it. So the lesson, based on that homework, was not flowing like should be. Next day I had the chance to meet Agustín to share some mates, and talking about how surprised I was with the low yielding of the students, Agustín sadly agreed with me. "These people has huge resources to study, even the library at the uni is in a network with all the unis in Germany, so if some book is not in here, in a couple of days is coming from any other uni". I checked at the library, and I found lots of Uruguayan writers! Unbelievable. Watching the behavior of the students in the days I spent in Eichstätt, I was surprised about how few they do everyday, I mean about studying.
We returned to Egringen, and on Friday I took my flight back to Ireland. There the spring had exploded and...... there was not any cattle at the sheds! It was so bad just to leave Ireland when the good weather has begun!

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