In which I get hit by a car

When people found out that I was going to Ireland, they would always ask one thing:

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The answer was always,

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And our town was, indeed, a bit remote. For two months, my fellow students and I stayed in a little town called Ballyvaughan. And when I say little, I mean tiny. I’ve stayed in countryside villages before. Back when I lived in Germany, my little town of Monzelfeld had about 1,000 people. Heck, 1,000 was the size of my high school graduating class. To me, Monzelfeld seemed small.

Ballyvaughan boasts a population of almost 300 people.

So we got to experience, truly, the small-town country life. One of the first things we noticed? The roads.

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Out in the Burren, the roads are long, narrow, and curvy. Unfortunately, the only way to get from Ballyvaughan to the college we were studying at was via one of these roads.

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A van would drive us to and from the school at 9AM and 5PM every day. If we wanted to get to and from the school on our own time, though, we had to walk.

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The speed limit around the area was 100 km/hr, about 60 miles per hour or so. Cars drive fast. To keep themselves safe and visible to drivers, people wear these when they walk anywhere:

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Photo courtesy of one of our lovely member’s selfie stick!

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Walking to school made me pretty nervous at first. It would be better if we could walk along, say, the side of the road on the grass or something. But no, both sides of the road to school were lined with stone walls, nettles, and thorn bushes.

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After a while, I got used to it. Irish drivers– swift as they are– know what they’re doing. They’ll drive around pedestrians. If a car’s coming from the opposite direction, they’ll stop and make room. Some kids didn’t even bother wearing their vests in the daytime. Not me, though– I’m a bit too paranoid for that.

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In fact, by by the 6th or 7th week, I wasn’t nervous at all. I wore my vest, but walked along with confidence.

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And of course it’s when you let your guard down, that it happens.

post 201 image 13My friend and I decided to walk to the local aviary for a bird show. We were told that, when walking along the road, you should always walk against traffic. When going around a bend in the road, however, you should always be on the outside. Otherwise, cars won’t be able to see you.

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So, at a bend, I crossed the road to be visible. I made it safely to the other side. My friend was about to follow suit when it happened.

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It came from behind me, so I didn’t see it coming: something hitting me, at great speed, knocking me clean to the ground.

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It seemed like an instant, and yet, a long time. One moment I was happily walking, the next moment I was on the ground.

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The impact swept me into the air and sent me rolling on the road for a couple feet.

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And my shocked brain could only muster one reaction.

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My friend ran over to me, shocked. A passing car stopped, the driver sprinting out to make sure I wasn’t dead. I didn’t see the car that hit me.

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Whoa, give me a second, lady. I need to think about this.

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It seemed that, in the split-second of collision, my brain had the good sense to scream:

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I insinctively reached for something– anything– to prevent me from cracking my head on the pavement. The only thing within reach? Those goddamn thorn bushes along the side of the road, of course.

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A cycling group passing by noticed me on the ground. They stopped, too, to make sure that the little Asian girl bleeding on the street was okay.

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My biology-trained brain flashed back to middle school science class.

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After a minute or so, the cyclists helped me to my feet and walked me to the kind passerby’s car. She started to clean up my cuts when I see a man sheepishly walk up. Turns out that he was the guy who hit me– and the first thing out of his mouth was an excuse:

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The cyclists were on him in an instant.

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The man just kept repeating himself. I don’t usually drive here! I’m in a rental car! I just moved to Ireland, I’m actually from Italy! It was between hitting the girl, and hitting the other car…and I was driving a rental car… so it would have been more expensive to hit the car…

It wasn’t until I spoke up that he finally agreed to give out his information.

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One of the Irish cyclists came over to me.

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Oh, man. I wasn’t exactly anticipating this. I rooted through my backpack with my non-bleeding hand.

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So, I got the man’s name, address, number, and license plate. As soon as I did, he rushed to his car and drove away. One of the cyclists turned to me.

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I replied,

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My friend called our professor– but, of course, our fine professor gave her cell phone to her au pair instead of carrying it with her. We had to contact our art college instead. Luckily, one of the program coordinators there volunteered to drive me over an hour away to the nearest hospital. Irish locals are kind like that– seriously, I’ve never met such a generous community in my life.

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By the time we finally got to the hospital, the shock had worn off and I was feeling better. Still, I entered the ER. At the time of the accident, my right elbow was really sore and inflamed. The swelling had gone down since, but still. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. Especially after getting hit by a car.

A nurse disinfected my cuts and brought me to the doctor. The doctor proceeded to do a physical check-up.

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By some miracle, I was actually alright. I was sore, bruised and a bit cut up– but all my bones were intact. Nothing was broken. All’s well that ends well, right?

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Requiescat in pace, my dear friend.

So, a few hours after the accident, my sister received this phone call.

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Alright, alright. As torn up as I am about my now-deceased camera, I have to say: I am, indeed, one lucky bastard.

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In which I learn why Ireland is so green

When you Google Image “Ireland,” this is the kind of thing you get:

ITR-PCL-00045299

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There are two things in common with these three photos:

  1. The scenery is very green, as Ireland is famous for.
  2. The weather is beautiful and sunny.

So I always imagined Ireland as a beautifully warm and sunny country with bright rolling hills and lush grass. I wasn’t totally off: it’s got those rolling hills, that lush grass. As for the warm and sunny part…

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…I was dead wrong.

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Honestly, I should have known.

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And my group was living in a particularly harsh part of Ireland. We were right on the west coast, in a place known as the Burren.

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The Burren, as you can see, has a very distinctive landscape. It’s composed of crumbling limestone, the remains of an ancient seabed. The rocky hills can get quite tall, with many of them reaching over 200 meters high. And since the Burren is by the west coast– where those Atlantic sea winds come blowing in– the weather can be… unpredictable. 

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Let me give you an example.

During our first week in Ireland, my group was scheduled to go on a hike on Blackhead Mountain. Blackhead Mountain is located right along the coast and promised impressive views of both the sea and the land. What’s more, we had a local Irish farmer to guide us on the hike. I was excited.

post 199 image 14We took a bus to the starting point. The weather looked warm and sunny when we were indoors, but as soon as we stepped out of the van…

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Windy as hell. You could open an umbrella and fly away, Mary Poppins style.

But it wasn’t raining, so we went on our way. Despite the wind, I was really enjoying the walk. The Burren has a beautiful and unique landscape. For instance, the rocks are full of huge gaps called “grikes.” If you’re not careful, you could step in a grike– and considering that these gaps can be as deep as your waist, that would not be good.

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The Burren is also home to a distinct mix of flora. Back in the Ice Age, an iceberg dumped a mix of Arctic and Mediterranean seeds in the area. Today, they still flourish due to the Burren’s year-round temperate climate. I never expected to see orchids outside of a rainforest!

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So, in spite of the chilly wind, I was enjoying the hike. Our hiking guide was incredibly informative and walked at a nice pace, stopping frequently to explain this rose bush or that ancient fossil. About 30 minutes in, we paused so he could even give us a bit of Irish history.

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He paused.

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Of course, I looked behind me.

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There was a HUGE rainstorm blowing right at us.

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It didn’t.

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The storm arrived within a matter of minutes. It came out of nowhere! And it wasn’t just rain. IT WAS HAIL.

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Horizontal hail, due to the wind.

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There was nothing we could do but continue our hike. Our guide kept going with the tour as usual. But the wind and hail were so fierce that, even when he shouted, we could barely hear what he said.

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Oh, the joy.

We continued up the mountain, battling winds that threatened to knock us over. Our guide led us to a structure known as the Caherdooneerish Fort. Here, we huddled against one of the ancient stone walls and waited out the storm.

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We love hiking

We love hiking

After about 20 minutes of soaking misery, the clouds finally cleared.

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We continued our hike in the beautiful, beautiful sunlight.

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Mind you, it was still windy as all get-out. The wind was so strong that it almost tipped me over with every step. And you don’t want to misstep in the Burren: remember, those grikes can swallow your leg whole. Alternatively, you could slip and knock your head on some lovely limestone.

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Seriously, I thought I was going to die with each step I took.

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It was insane. Incredible landscapes. Outrageous weather. Kids stumbling down the mountain, defying death with every step.

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It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on.

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Because nothing gets your adrenaline pumping better than thinking you’re going to fall off a mountain…for an hour straight.

In fact, I wasn’t even mad when another rain cloud rolled in.

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And when it started hailing on us.

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Again.

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Luckily, our guide was prepared this time.

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Apparently, 13 people could fit under this guy’s tarp. Barely.

Three hours later, our bus picked 13 wet, freezing kids off the side of the road. I had worn two pairs of pants. Both got completely soaked.

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As you can imagine, we were all glad to get back home. We could take warm showers. Heat up some soup. Huddle under dry sheets and thick blankets, thinking about the windiest three hours of our lives.

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Maybe I am. But hey, nothing wrong with a little crazy, am I right?