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My Irish Holiday: Summer Winds And Whiskey

Our itinerant Slovenian-born New Yorker takes a long-awaited voyage to the land of Joyce and good drink, and a certain singular brand of modesty.

The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher
Andrej Mrevlje

How does one decide to visit Ireland? I have friends who did it out of their newly discovered passion for golf. And I remember the late president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, who went to Ireland every summer and praised Irish literature and Guinness.

Then there are my Slovenian compatriots who, when I asked them what Ireland was like, told me that it was very similar to our country. And last but not least, there are my Irish friends. But none of them â€" not a single one â€" ever told me that I should come and visit Ireland. The Irish are modest. They love their country and they want to keep it to themselves. And like all smart people, they are also inveterate gossips.

I drank Jamesons and Bushmill, had Guinness in London pubs, got my first Apple computer assembled in Ireland â€" and oh yes, I did read Joyce, Shaw, Wilde and Beckett in my early years â€" but all without ever getting a feel for the country. Have I missed something? I am tempted to reread the Irish classics, as my fascination with the country is quite strong. But as you can see from the photo of the Irish room in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop â€" a beautiful store in Galway â€" the books are plenty while time is short.

Photo : Andrej Mrevlje

My trip to Ireland was a last-minute decision. A sort of a rehab vacation after my doctor told me that I could get back on the bike, four months after I fractured my arm during a ride in Central Park. Our choice was made out of a combination of desire to see London after the Olympics and desire to see a place that I have never set foot in (except that one time when I was flying to the U.S. and the plane landed in Shannon to refuel).

I landed in Shannon again. But this time there was a fancy Mercedes waiting to take us to Ballyvaughan, a village 40 kilometers away in the heart of the Burren region of North Clare â€" an area known for its karst landscape.

Were it not for the constantly changing light, the area would immediately evoke Dalmatia and Istria, with its bare landscape and stone walls protecting what was left of the fertile soil. But there was no terra rossa, no grapes within the stone walls â€" only cows, wandering around in open pastures or lying down and resting, creating an important part of Burren’s distinguished landscape.

The driver was a young Polish woman from a car service that we had ordered â€" the only way to get us to the starting point of our short adventure. She, like us, did not know the land, and her GPS was in Polish.

It took us some time, but Ballyvaughan was perfect. It felt like we were at the end of the world! A place with two streets, a couple of pubs and a whiskey bar, where we went after dinner and sipped the Yellow Spot, a high-quality smoky whiskey that comes from Jameson’s distillery, served with a few drops of spring water. For connoisseurs!

The night ended with an interesting conversation with the owner of the comfortable hotel where we stayed, Kevean O’callaghan. He told me the story of his life: As a former owner of a construction company that built roads and bridges, O’callaghan needed to switch over to the real estate business in 2008, when the crisis stopped the flow of European Union money pumped into the area. Keaven bought the hotel a few months ago, but while he was still looking for good manager, he needed to step in as the receptionist, cook, barman … He was a very pleasant and witty speaker with some distaste for Dubliners and their incorrect pronunciation of vowels.

We travelled about 30 kilometers on the first day, happy that we decided to do it on bikes, as we could stop and walk whenever we wanted to admire the landscape. And there was nothing but immense landscape that made every man who saw it feel small.

After many months in New York, it was a relief to get lost in the loneliness, in the wind, in the ever-changing light. And then, when you did meet someone, they were never grumpy. What explains why people in Ireland are so nice and helpful? My wife thinks it's because they need to help each other in these rather harsh circumstances. I think that the Irish got it right. They are aware of humans’ brief passage on this planet, and they’ve buried â€" or, perhaps, never developed â€" their egos in front of the immense power of the universe. They do not think that building Manhattan will make them immortal. They do not want to forget certain things, and they want to keep it this way.

Photo : Andrej Mrevlje

They surprise you with beautiful things like a 3,000-year-old tomb â€" Poulnabrone dolmen. The tomb was only discovered in 1985, and aside from being a collective grave, it also served as a landmark meant to help travellers orient themselves. Similar, perhaps, to Tibetan marcation stone piles? Or to the wastelands of Mongolia? It certainly has a similar feel to it. More biking, more kilometers and miles â€" my wife, Elisabeth, and I still measure distance differently â€" with a pit stop in Lisdoonvarna’s pharmacy and a visit to the salmon smokehouse. The latter did not impress us, but the Roadside Tavern, owned by the same people, was a blast. We wondered what made the Irish such a great cooks. Especially their soups â€" the soups alone are worth a trip to Ireland. The owner of the smokehouse and the tavern told us a bizarre story of their effort to prove that J.R.R. Tolkien got inspiration for Lord of Rings when he visited this place in 1954. Three days later, when resting in Ennis, we heard that the salmon smokehouse burned down just a few hours after we'd been there. We felt strange and a bit guilty, since we really did not like it, while the tavern that we loved stayed untouched.

Next up was Dollin â€" a charming place, and an obligatory stop if you want to get a ferry to Inishmore, the biggest of the three Aran Islands, also known for their impossible-to-wear Aran Sweaters.

The small boat that took our bikes on board was filled with mostly European passengers. Carrying no more than 30 or 40 people, the vessel failed a test of tolerance between various nationalities. Germans and Italians just cannot travel together. Italians took over the boat, while the Germans were appealing for discipline and military order. How can this boat survive the rough seas of the European Union, I wondered.

Inishmore is a dream. We saw the terrace fields on the east coast, passed Kilmurvy Beach with its colony of seals, and ended up at the Seven Churches, the site of the ruins of seven temples abandoned in time. Not to be mistaken with the graveyard around those temples â€" people still bury their relatives there, and many graves hold the bodies of young men and women who died for reasons unknown.

The Cliffs of Moher make for a hard climb to the top of the island on the west coast. The name derives from a First Century B.C. fort that stood where Moher Tower now stands. The old Irish word "Mothar" means "ruined fort," and it is this that gives the cliffs their name.

IMG_0034

Photo : Andrej Mrevlje

The winds were so strong that they felt like they could blow us away once we reached the top. A storm was approaching, but there was time enough to have a chat with a young guard there who was employed by a group of architects who are trying to preserve the place as best they can. It is, however, a mystery to me why somebody from 2,000 years ago would build a fort high on cliffs that make impossible for any sort of enemy to land on the island. Was it actually just a and observation post, its walls protecting the guards from the gusty winds? But that would have happened much more recently than 2,000 years ago, right?

But Ireland is full of mysteries created by local men, who are very good storytellers once you get them to talk.

We got to the hotel just in time to escape the heavy rains and winds. “It was never like this before,” the hotel staff told us â€" the standard apology of hosts, trying to console their guests and asking them to love their country as they do. So we stayed on the Island for another half a day, listening to stories of the former fisherman who now owns a cozy little hotel at the port.

Then a bigger ferry arrived that could cope with the waves and storm. Still, our bike ride was over because of the rain, and we ended in the marvelous city of Galway. But that is another, more urban story.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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