This weekend was eventful, to say the least. On Saturday after calm, productive hours in the studio, we set out to go caving. Conor, the Dean of BCA, organized the caving event and tagged along for the intense two-and-a-half-hour excursion through the caverns behind Ailwee Caves.
We were told to bring a change of clothes and to wear something that we didn't mind getting wet. They gave us suits, helmets, and wellies to wear over whatever we came in. Dressed in form-flattering onesies, we were eleven brave souls headed into darkness and mystery.
Effa and Nicki, professional cavers, led us through and told us about the stalactites and stalagmites. Effa reminded us to watch our heads so we wouldn't break them. Many had been growing for decades.
The excursion began and ended with everyone on two feet, but many parts we were crawling on all fours through water up to our chins! At times it was hard to breathe as the cold water flowed all around me as I scurried, clumsily across the floor. I couldn't help but laugh at myself.
The caves are created from the flow of rainfall as it rushes underground over many years. At times throughout the year, parts of the cave are flooded and inaccessible.
In the middle of our caving experience, we turned off all of our headlamps to experience complete darkness--simultaneously peaceful and terrifying. Without sight, we were able to fully digest the sound of trickling water as it flowed through the clay-covered surfaces.
Effa and Nicki told us that the man who first discovered the caves was a farmer. He kept them a secret for 40 years before spilling it to a group of English cavers in the 70's at a local pub. His initial explorations of the cave were done alone and by candlelight. I can't imagine the bravery that took!
Once we were out of the caves, we were each hosed down with warm water, sent off to change our clothes, and bussed back to the village to enjoy some drinks at Greene's.
On Sunday, after a beautiful morning walk in the sunshine and a very pleasant mass, I met my friend, David Donahue, to go foraging. I parked my car at Bell Harbour and he drove me over to the oyster farm where he keeps his bag of Pacific oysters and mussels. Here he is shaking the bag to break off barnacles and encourage the oysters to grow in a way that will increase their size. He shakes the bag about three times twice a month.
We took a few of the oysters from the bag and continued on to find native-growing clams, mussels, and oysters!
After a few hours of collecting, our bucket was full. We also managed to find some sea spinach. This plant is very similar in taste to "traditional" spinach, but with nice a hint of saltiness. It has a texture that's reminiscent of a succulent in my opinion.
With plenty of food to try, we went back to David's house to test our fresh oysters! They were absolutely delicious. After we compared the flavors of the Pacific and native oysters, we went for a quick coffee and cacao nib brownie at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory. Such a tasteful afternoon!
This morning I made a stew with all of the mussels and clams so that I could enjoy them before my trip to London. I rinsed them and cut off their beards and barnacles.
I boiled a pot of olive oil, onions, garlic, almond milk, and an assortment of spices. I added roasted carrots, roasted parsnips, and mushrooms and threw in the shellfish at the last minute until they opened up, indicating they were ready to eat. I'll be having this with brown bread for lunch.
Needless to say, I am grateful for parents that taught me not to be afraid of new experiences for both my tastebuds and life in general.