Such was the tantalizing title of a recent article in the travel section of The New York Times international edition and the writer's sentiment applies as equally to Ireland’s northwest coast and Romania’s Black Sea – locations for our annual writing retreats – as to any other places mentioned.
Julie Weed, the NYT reporter, focuses her article on what she terms “a new kind of bucket list item known informally as last-chance travel.”
She explains, “As local cultures and natural habitats are transformed by globalization, technology and climate change, a growing number of travelers want to experience them before they are irrevocably altered or vanish.”
Travel agents tell her that they are receiving more and more calls from people wanting to see places before this happens, or animal species before they disappear. One example is the glaciers in Alaska, the Canadian Rockies and other such locations. The number of glaciers in Glacier National Park, for example, is down to 26, from about 150 in 1910 when the park was created in Montana. A similar concern applies to endangered animals in Africa and the dwindling Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast.
Many people, travel agents say, want ‘an immersive experience’ when they travel. They want to meet local people, eat in their homes, chat about historical monuments from those most attached to them. They want to feel like ‘explorers,’ expanding unchartered horizons. Exactly what our retreats aim for.
“When a new destination opens or gains popularity, some travelers want to visit quickly, before others discover it and change the destination’s flavor,” says Melissa Bradley, who runs the Indagare travel agency in New York. “Going to a place where authentic exchanges between cultures still happen is a prize for travelers.”
And crowds can descend quickly. The number of foreign visitors to Iceland, for example, almost doubled in two years, between 2014 and 2016, while almost five million tourists visited Cuba last year, a massive increase over previous years.
We believe in authenticity. It is our buzzword. And previous participants have congratulated us on achieving just that. Which tickles us no end and makes us very proud.
Tourism Ireland announced a record year last year, 10.65 million visitors to the island, from all parts of the world. What the statistics don't show, however, is that most of them started in Dublin and from there went to the south and southwest. To get them there quicker, highways have been cut through hills, forests and valleys. To house them, multi-story hotels have been built in places such as Kerry, Cork, Galway and the capital city itself.
Unfortunately, this so-called ‘progress’ has eradicated much of the nation’s authenticity, hiding ‘the real Ireland,’ those key elements that grant a specific place its ‘soul.’
Not so Donegal.
Tucked away as it is in the farthest corner of Ireland, bereft of multi-lane highways, this coastal paradise plumb on the picturesque ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ remains loyal to its roots, constant to its very essence. In other words, it has ‘soul.’
Here, you’ll not find modern multi-story hotels or gleaming tarmacadam roads. Instead you’ll travel on winding byways that hug rolling fields bordered by giant granite rocks placed there centuries before, each curve – of which there are many – presenting a new vision of an ever-changing landscape. And at the end of the byway, you’ll step inside charming boutique inns where welcomes are warm, genuine and personal.
Here, you’ll see local people gathering outside for the traditional ritual of ‘cutting the turf’ in the bogs or harvesting seaweed to fertilize the fields, with frisky border collies scampering at their feet, offering to help.
It’s a similar story in Romania.
At the furthest end of the Black Sea coast, you’ll find the sedate village of 2 Mai – where our writing retreat takes place in three weeks’ time – a rustic place where women sit on makeshift benches outside their stone and clay homes on the pebbled roadside patiently shucking corn and exchanging the latest news and gossip; where men cut piles of logs for the fire and gather grapes, plums and apricots to concoct potent tuica (moonshine) in makeshift copper stills used by their fathers and grandfathers many years before them. Here hens and roosters kick up dust balls and dogs stretch out lazily in the sunshine, waiting for their masters to take them for an afternoon stroll.
But modernity has a way of changing things, often too, too quickly.
So, hurry, time waits for no-one - ‘Better get there now, before it's gone.’
Black Sea Writing Retreat - May 28 to June 3, 2018
Summer Ireland Writing Retreat - June 25 to July, 1 2018
Autumn Ireland Writing Retreat - September 24 to, 30 2018