The bus tires crunch across gravel and then come to a halt. I open my eyes and unfold my legs, slowly returning to the world after hours of floating between sleep and awareness. I don’t recognize our surroundings.

“Where are we?” I ask my mom.

“Pit stop in Lahinch,” she says. Lahinch, Ireland.

We file off the bus and onto the boardwalk, squinting as the sun flames out from behind the clouds. The beach is a flat expanse of sand, bordered by concrete walls that block the rising tide. Brave surfers in dark wetsuits float in the water. As we watch, one of them paddles frantically to catch a swell, then hops to his feet as the wave begins to crest. It’s only a few seconds before he loses his balance. The sea flips him from his board with much less effort than it took him to catch the wave.

My parents wander off to find a coffee shop. My cousins sit on the concrete wall and kick their heels, taking pictures and peering at their phones. I stay exactly where I am, entranced by the surfers and relishing the sting of the salty air on my sunburned neck and shoulders. I take no photos. No camera (in my hands, at least) could capture how perfect this moment is.

By the time we leave, I am a little bit in love with Lahinch, Ireland. In love with Ireland in general. I have stood inside prehistoric Newgrange and felt how heavy my blood becomes when I am surrounded by something so old. I have walked to the top of the Cliffs of Moher and hugged the rocks at the edge of their thousand-foot drop. I have traced the writing on ogham stones in ancient churches and read the story behind the Claddagh ring in dozens of shops.

I had never left the U.S. before this trip, and now Ireland feels like a second home. I’ll come back, I tell myself, stealing one last glance at the cliffs and the sea and the surfers still flying across the water. I promise.

I get on the bus. ♦