Generally, guided tours aren't my deal. Something to do with not being a herd animal, and something else to do with the risk inherent in entrusting my life and happiness to a potentially overzealous herdsman whilst crammed into a minibus with any sort of mammal for hours at a time. Very few scenarios can push me to a guided tour, like fear for my life, for example – as was the case in a Salvadoran national park at night – or a desire to see more of Ireland than Dublin pubs through the creamy blur of Guinness goggles, which is exactly how I found myself on a minibus just a few days ago.
In the spirited stereotype of a city with a best friend from London – the one who insists on being referred to here by her exceedingly ridiculous pseudonym, La Perla Esperanza – I reasoned that an organized outing might not be quite so abysmal as I feared if it meant we'd be able to enjoy a little Irish countryside. Within moments of our departure, however, we knew we'd made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Our guide was also our driver – an arrangement we later realized was the only sure way to guarantee his personal safety. Otherwise, surely there was risk of mutiny, with passengers shoving the microphone dangerously far down his throat, or up the alternative, if we thought doing so wouldn't put us at risk of death by gruesome highway pile-up.
For seven hours, this man babbled. When he didn't have anything relevant to say, he filled what should've been peaceful moments left to appreciate picturesque pastures and gently rolling hills in quiet reflection, with personal opinion and brash commentary concerning all matters from biofuel to gender roles. When he ran out of opinions, he resorted to nonsense, which eventually degraded to gibberish – evidence, I believe, of a clinical disorder.
"Dublin isn't a big city," he said. "You've all been to Manhattan. You live there, probably."
"I'm not sexist, but..."
"Red and yellow are warning colours. Warning colours, people. Red and yellow."
"What do you know collectively about dogs?"
"I'm your fairy godmother without wings."
Then he announced the country of issue of every foreign license plate we passed.
"Let's just get out," I said to my friend before we'd left city limits. "We could just get off the bus right now and catch a city bus back." She laughed, but I was serious, if not panicky, and more than willing to cut my losses at the 25 euros we'd paid and just make a run for it. She's got resolve, though, and encouraged me to develop some – we stayed. Precisely two hours into the tour – the exact amount of time it took the last lubricating vapours of the previous night's whiskey to dissipate – I began losing the will to live.
Usually, I'm quite good at coping with annoyances – or, as a therapist once called it, completely disassociating – but my normal capacities were compromised, my ears couldn't process the flood of constant and pointless anecdotes and misinformation. We went manic, our eyes rolled unrestrained in their sockets, and we laughed so as not to cry. OK, maybe I cried a little.
"Shuuuuuh-uuuuuh-uuuuuh-uuuuut up!" was the sound of my every exhale.
"No!" was our collective response to his every rhetorical question.
By hour six, we were at the tipping point, another minute of asinine chatter and I might not have recovered. We needed silence like we need oxygen. The damage done was very nearly permanent.
Ironically, it was herd animals that saved us, allowing us a few moments of respite when they were needed most. The guide had begun playing a selection of easy listening Irish tunes, the worst versions available in all of Ireland, alternately inserting clips of the Braveheart soundtrack, and ranting that Dutch drivers are especially bad, when a flock of sheep loomed into view. "There's Ireland for you," he rolled his eyes, and stopped the minibus full with its mostly catatonic passengers. "Go take pictures," he said, like it was our idea, and that the idea was really, really stupid.
So, we did.