Benjamin Curious

“The tale of a young adventurer, who is both human, superhuman, and possibly a bird…” is how a friend describes me.

The young adventurer had spent much of her time in N. Ireland dancing with wagtails in the spring light, absorbing the country for all it was. Many who travel to the farther hills of Northern Ireland neglect its true wonder, particularly the sardines crammed on tour buses: they’ll simply miss all that’s really there as they follow a given direction, all that lies in the soils of picturesque green. I know how it goes though, I’ve sold my share of packaged adventures in Alaska, sometimes it’s just easier. But N. Ireland is fertile with history and tradition, where if only the rocks could speak I’m sure they’d weave tales to entrance even the most cynical.

Win the heart of a local, and he’ll tell you first hand what it was like to grow up in the Troubles, the explosive turbulence of political unrest that plagued the two Irelands after centuries of war and feud. Ireland was born to fight. And fight it did and still continues. As the Troubles writhed in history, rival groups of rebels fought for rank and the fate or their country and people. Often they fought with vile tactics, but, arguably, their roots were noble.

The Irish Republic Army and Ulster Volunteer Force, amongst others, picked up arms and continued what the country has done since the dawn of time: fight. Figures like Michael Stone grew to be legends as ruthless terrorists or courageous loyalists, depending on which side you asked. Life went on, and it became a standard event for a run of the mill riot to quickly turn to pure, existential chaos between churches, police, politicians, children, loyalists, and madmen. And strangely, a good number of them made a game of it… it was just the way of life, albeit, a terrifying life.

“I’ve been stabbed,” one local told me, “I’ve been shot, I’ve been accused of murdering a man I never knew. I’ve stolen buses and lit them on fire. I’ve crashed cars into buildings just to steal cigarettes. I’ve produced more molotov cocktails than I’d like to admit. I grew up running through ruins and stumbling on men in ski masks in dank corners with automatic weapons armed and ready, but they knew me, and they brought me safely home every time. They took care of their own.” You could almost see the flickering reflection of a molotov shining in his eyes as he reminisced his days of glory. “Every American says they’re Irish, that they have Irish roots… 300 million Americans from 4 million Irish, right.” He laughed. “They all want to be Irish.”

But the funny and ugly truth is that I doubt even a fraction of folks back home in the States could handle the rough, tough, sarcastic, and brutally honest nature of the Irish. They’ll make a killing off picking you apart for humor, compliment you only to insult you the following moment, skew the boundaries of charm and sexism beyond any recognizable display, and sneak ever so cleverly like the jay into a comfortable, simple success in the blood-stained green hills of the country.

And so, the days in the Irish countryside slowly waned to a halt. The young adventurer opted to change routes completely and meet up with a friend from the London area she met in Giant’s Causeway. To fly with the changing winds, she thought, seemed much more plausible and advantageous, and the chance was given to see London with a personal guide and charming local named Neil.

Neil had broken his hand weeks earlier when he was convinced of his falsified superhuman strength and punched a window, and was forbidden to work in his mechanic job for obvious health reasons. With six weeks to burn before the cast came off, he chose to wander, bitten by the same nomadic plague that infested me years ago.

So he wandered into the Finn McCool’s Hostel as many travelers do, where I sat considering the stories of the hills, and made friends with the only souls around: the hostel staff, Marcela and myself. He savagely ridiculed me for my fear of a cult movie based on a HP Lovecraft story, and we swapped aspirations when I was not hiding under the blanket. And as time progressed, I decided I would meet him in London to swap roles: with Neil as my seasoned guide and host and me as the lost traveler. Two things in particular should be known about Neil: I’m not entirely sure that he speaks English, and his alphabet is missing the 18th letter, r, completely. But he has a warm heart, and a whimsically comical vernacular to rival Dr. Seuss. “Benjamin curious,” he’d ponder, blatantly deleting the r from curious.

He was keen to ensure I saw everything a tourist should see in London. From Camden Street to Big Ben to things I knew nothing of… I could now check London off the list, even if it never was on the list. Even better, though, was the tour of the town he called home, Peterborough. Not much rests in Peterborough for a tourist, but I never enjoy the common route, so it was a blessing to see a town most back home would never know. At the local mart, the shopkeep piped with a large grin to see the rare tourist from overseas, “Canada or America?”

“Alaska! It’s pretty much its own.”

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