Timeless (Skellig Islands)
They are two sister islands, Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. They lie lonely and majestic, forty-five minutes by boat from the coast of Kerry, Southwest of Ireland. The sea is rough most of the time, the weather changes from piercing rain to sunny in seconds and the atmosphere is so mythical that one might doubt we are in this world. When you see them from the boat, you don’t need to wonder why Skellig Michael appeared in two episodes of the Star Wars saga (that’s the island where the new girl Jedi finds the older Luke Skywalker in the very end of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and it also appears in its sequel, “The Last Jedi”). I planned a trip there for months, dreaming of climbing the 600 steps and reach the ancient monastery on the top, 714 feet above the sea. But, a few days earlier, I hurt my ankle and a simple walk in the park became an issue.
Cancelling the trip? Never! My other three companions were counting the days to see the islands, as we can just reach them in the summer time because of the rough water and winds. There are not too many good spots for a boat to approach Skellig Michael, the only island people can visit. It’s impossible to dock in Little Skellig. I was convinced that I should stay at the bottom. The exposed steps would be too scary anyway. On the day before, I got some anti-inflammatory pills from the doctor and hopes grew inside me. Maybe I could go up slowly, maybe half way to the top…
In the cloudy morning we drove to Portmagee, a small coastal town dotted with white boats and August tourists. As soon as we got on the boat, Sean, the captain, introduced himself and warned us in his musical Kerry accent:
“If you feel sick at sea, you better be prepared. It’s choppy out there today. If you are afraid, you better not go.”
Everyone stayed on the boat and fastened the life jackets.
Two Spiky Rocks
The trip lasted about one hour, bracing waves sometimes higher than the boat. We climbed them all the way up and landed flat on the water countless times. I was already forgetting my sore ankle as we approached the two islands, mysterious apparitions in the blue. We got off at Skellig Michael, amidst the noise of hundreds of puffins. I walked up very slowly on a path leading to the rock steps. I was still undecided, but once I saw the rocks and the way to the top, I couldn’t waste the trip. We don’t come to Skellig Michael every day.
So I started, following the line of people. The steps are irregular and very steep. There’s no handrail and very few stonewalls to lean on. You look to the side and it’s just the wind and the sea, the waves splashing right beneath. I was short of breath sometimes and and my ankle demanded a few pauses, but I didn’t regret my decision. Up there, overlooking the infinity, we rested on the ruins of a Christian monastery, built between the 6th and 8th century. The monks used to live here, defending themselves from the Vikings, winds and isolation. We walk past their houses and their cemetery, we listen to tourist guides in different languages, telling stories about their lives and about the name of the island, in honor of the archangel Michael, while the word “Skellig” is from the Gaelic sceilig, a splinter of stone.
On our way down the steps, the wind was stronger and I had to stop a few times, losing my balance and feeling my right ankle’s complaints. My body allowed me to have that experience, but there’s no mythical site capable of healing that much. Now, in the end of October, while I write about this trip I did in August, I’m still not in peace with my ligaments.
From the boat, on the way back to mainland, I admired Little Skellig, the sister island. Little Skellig is a bird sanctuary, with 30,000 gannets and puffins nesting in its crevices. It’s closed to visitation. When we see it from the sea, it seems to be all white because of the amount of birds that populate the rocks. They fly around us, playful, peaceful, diving and catching fish, before going back to their safe spot.
I couldn’t help thinking that animals are only protected in places where humans can’t reach, and under the command of “beasts” the world is clean, safe and timeless.