Highlands

Wild and Sexy Scotland: Day 68

Loch the shape of Scotland

We bolted for the Highlands. There was no stopping us. The bright yellow tour bus resembled the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train in my mind as it streamed like a beast across very green and steadily growing hills. When there was a need to stretch the legs, we stopped in a town that brings to mind the adjectives quaint, cute, and colorful. When our bellies grumbled, pubs and cafes appeared , and never did we leave the big yellow bus door without multiple recommendations for the best food to be had or the best church to be seen. On the bus, it was always learning time. If I were to pack in the amount of knowledge our guide Kyle had about Scotland into my head, surely geometry equations and verb conjugations would shove out my ears. Basically, his brain overfloweth with Scottish facts. He told stories, recounted mythical tales, and even played DJ by orchestrating an eclectic and authentic Scottish playlist. Bus time was never wasted time.

As the landscape got cooler, we began the side trips. The Battle of Culloden was apparently one that determined the fate of our future countries and cultures. Kyle explained the brutal slaughtering of the Jacobites as we stood on the very soil that soaked up the puddling blood. You can do nothing else in such a spirit-filled presence but wander solemnly and imagine mass fatalities occurring on this, currently, luminous land. Eerie.

After having a little cultural reenactment by a traditional Scottish clansmen (man, those clothes must have smelt rugged), Kyle made it possible to take an optional boat ride on the Loch Ness. We boarded as skeptics, thinking we were only there for the scenery and to joke about water monsters, but I returned to solid ground with squinting eyes and an odd sensation that I believed what the sailor aboard was telling us. There really may be a monster, or perhaps 18, in the Loch Ness. There's some pretty eerie "proof" circulating on the down low.

Day two pleased me to no end. The castle from the movie Entrapment?! Get outta town! We walked around what was once majestic, then terrorized and knocked to the ground, and is now rebuilt to its original splendor. Eilean Donan Castle is one famous little stack of rocks at the merging of three lakes, and I oggled the rooftop, trying to envision Sean Connery dropping his whiskey glass into the swampy abyss.

And with a subsequent visit to the Isle of Skye, I was then rocked by colors: slate blue ocean, yellow-green hills, pale blue skies, grey and mossy stones of yore. This day reminded me I see the Highlands permanently stuck in some medieval period, where stones are primary building materials, blood is shed in the most brutal way, and the oldest of English vocabulary is necessary for conversation (though Highlanders usually only spoke Gaelic). It's funny to think where we get these ideas, to suspend a culture in a time we never really knew or witnessed firsthand. I guess Scotland lends to it with the preservation of its medieval castles (as does Florence with the Renaissance architecture or my grandma with her 70s style furniture). We all reminisce about the good 'ol days, I guess.

I was never untouched by the view out the window. The soil of the hills held stories I'd cringe hearing, and the clouds were ever-present to keep the landscape new and changing. Glencoe was no exception to the beautiful Highland rule: this spot on the Earth is towering and begging to be hiked. And when a leisurely drive around the open land brings you past cows with teenage boy hair, you can't help but think the Highlands are hilarious. One may even call them Wild and Sexy.

Deep Scottish Love: Day 67

Scotland

I owe my desire to romp in the Scottish Highlands to one Mr. Bear Grylls. Watching him parachute into the rolling terrain and crunch through icy grass got me all sorts of giddy to do those things myself. So when I heard we were darting around the Highlands via bus tour during Scotland's best weather month, I was thrilled to finally see for myself the land I desperately wish was my back yard. But here's the thing: buses make me sleepy. And when you've just spent two months shooting across the globe, traveling on a budget, and getting battered by flus and Delhi belly, there's no hope for your energy level reaching anything above a half-conscious zombie state. I tried to fight it with coffee and music, but the eyelids refused to remain lifted. I missed half the landscapes, half the photo opportunities, half the historical tales told by our amazing guide, half the Deep Scottish Love one acquires from being in the Highlands, and this made me feel like an awful ambassador to STA and to the USA.

I feel like Aussies have the stamina to travel like this for long periods of time, but when I cannot stay awake for an entire destination, I know I'm not meant to cover lots of ground in little time. I once spent 30 days seeing 15 countries in Europe...and then had to take another month to recover from the trip. I refuse to take for granted the travel opportunities I get, but when your body is working against you, saying, "You cannot appreciate this place like you want to because I'M TIRED," you learn the way you're meant to travel.

Of course, the World Traveler Internship is no regular vacation. I knew it was going to be a wild and action-packed experience that would rock me to my core. I tried to rest as much as possible throughout the journey to always remain on my A game, but the World is so awe-inspiring and over-stimulating that it can easily cripple the mind and body with exhaustion. Though I prefer staying in one place for a longer period of time, I loved the act of going out into the World, documenting my experiences, and creating passion-fueled material to inspire other travelers. It's an awesome job, but you have to be a toughie to do it.

All that anticipation for the Highlands, and I slept through the best parts. Asking around, I discovered a bus tour like ours is the most economical way to get around the Highlands in a time-efficient manner. Apparently, the trains are very expensive and buses aren't what you hope they'd be. Though a three day bus tour is perfect for someone on the go, I did not want to be a passing breeze through the mountains.

I now know that natural, rolling terrain is as beautiful as I imagined, and one day I'm returning during the summer months with a tent, a skillet, and some friends in trekking boots. We drove by unbelievable campsites, surrounded completely by green, mammoth Earth mounds that made my mouth salivate. Some day I'll know the Highlands and the extent of their serenity. I'll know that Deep Scottish Love from the bottom of my soul. And before I go, I'll be resting up for sho.

Free Nessie! Day 66

Would you take me seriously if I told you I believe in Nessie, the Loch Ness monster? Crazy thing is I actually think I do. At least the old sailor on our boat trip made it very easy to imagine such a creature existed below us in those deep and murky waters of Scotland.

Free Nessie!

A few of us from the Highland bus tour decided to spend an hour of our first evening aboard a boat in one of Scotland's most beautiful settings. This lake, or loch in Scottish Gaelic, is a natural body of water created on a fault line, its depth reaching 260 meters at points. The temperature of the water is frigid, and it's hardly transparent enough to see your hand dipped in two feet deep. We were told, "If all the water in all the lakes and rivers of Scotland was poured into an empty Loch Ness, it wouldn't be enough to fill it." Water pressure is intense when people or unmanned remote vehicles submerge. The conditions of the water have made it extremely difficult to really investigate the possibilities of massive creatures in the water, but there are some, like our boat guide, who make it their life missions to prove this animal exists.

I met a few fun individuals from the tour that shared my dreams of having Nessie recreate the quintessential Free Willy moment over our heads. We even took a picture to later be photoshopped with that effect. But soon, the boat guide brought us down below to hear his tales and be convinced, not just amused.

Multiple TV monitors displayed the activity going on below the boat. One could map out the depth and appearance of the lake bed, and another illustrated the wildlife with massive blots of color. Twenty-five years of this man's life have been dedicated to finding Nessie and her pals, as they believe there are possibly 18 "monsters" in the loch. And when he began showing photos of the TV monitors picking up 3-ton creatures, our eyes opened a little wider. When a remote-operated vehicle submerged to the lake bed, they found a skeleton of mass proportions in the shape of our Nessie assumptions. Whoa.

The biggest shock came when he showed us a photo he captured while kayaking years prior. NASA confirmed this photo hadn't been altered digitally, so he claimed. And if that's true, holy cow, there is something with a huge, scaly neck in Loch Ness.

I love running into these passionate people around the World who find one thing they would die for and spend their lives pursuing one goal. Though we Americans like to be skeptical of stories like those akin to Nessie's, it's fun getting pulled into these old mysteries by the people who bleed them.

Nessie's out there, man. Go check it out for yourself.

Sometimes while on the road...you miss out

Spiders with glowing orange backs crawling inches from my nose, building forts across the rock ledge where I sprawled to overlook a 30-foot waterfall. A canopy of greens I'd never see at home shading from a sun that could surely turn me crispy. One rock thrown over the edge to crash dramatically on the mammoth boulder below. Swimming with new friends and little children from a remote Fijian village. Shivering and scaling up a stair-step waterfall where tropical meets ideal. And my friends and family were celebrating a wedding, one I was supposed to be standing in as a loyal maid to the main lady.

I could feel the world's size, the expanses of air between myself and the place I was expected to be. But a job made it possible and necessary for me to be living a dream in the South Pacific. This was June 6th, 2009.

Head of lead in the shadow of a monument honoring the Scottish hero, William Wallace. Having climbed a weaving trail, removing my jacket, putting it back on. Seeing the sprawling city below and angry for the discomfort of my mindset. Watching two Dutch boys throw a neon green frisbee around the corner of the tower.

Could have been a part of a classic scenario: waiting room of the maternity ward, wearing pink for the occasion, and being the token crier of the family when the baby is in sight. New country. Tapping into old roots. Could have loved the day I was living, but once again, it was the visceral knowledge that I should be elsewhere for that moment in time.

However minute or gigantic the moment is, I like to be there, but instead it was August 7th, 2009, and I was living out the World's Best Internship on our second to last leg. I saw my niece's face for the first time from a picture text viewed from the internet. The girls beside me were fully aware that I was crying hard there in the middle of the hostel lobby. I missed it.

As my dad would put it, the opportunity cost of this travel position could be measured in once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I've been anticipating for years and possibly decades. But not only did I have the chance to see what other people rarely get the chance to see, the entire summer was wrapped in a bow called "priceless opportunity" and "dream occupation". After months of work and hope, I received what would soon rip me away from life moments I've been living to look forward to. If I missed this position though, I would have been happy for those few days and depressed for the rest.

I could list the things that have enriched me and my life from this World Traveler Internship, but I think that list isn't realized and cannot ever be completely. In the last three years, I've been abroad for 13 months: 3.5 with Semester at Sea, 7 with my Big Journey, and 2.5 thanks to STA Travel. This is the first time I've missed a main event, but I've never cursed the ground I'm on, the plane that's taking me, the disease I've acquired, the money I've lost, or the waistband of this great globe for being so darn large.

For some reason unknown to me and my surrounding web, I've decided it's okay to miss the things that matter most in order to blaze literal and personal trails towards anything from failure to success. This travel path can sound illogical and like a waste, but when I realize the passions I've acquired and the maturity I've obtained, I fear where I would be without all those 50+ flights to global destinations and potential moments of learning. Learning that people are all the same, but some defy all presumptions and change your outlook towards mankind. Learning that the world can look as you dreamt and can also look like the neighborhood moral pool of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and every fool sans brain or heart. Learning that my mind truly trumps this body, and I can handle much more than I used to. Learning that I've got a massive knot in the noggin that needs continuous care for its eventual untangling.

It's always possible that I could learn while standing at the chapel in Selma, Alabama or in the waiting room of Community North Hospital, but it's a fast track elsewhere, when your support group is distant, and your mind is used to the new. And I always hope this travel "bug" will wriggle free from my weary soul, but that's certainly not the case for one afflicted as I am.

And to be honest, it doesn't matter where I am, I think about where I could be. Luckily tools are available to connect my present coordinates with every other one in the world, and this makes it easier to travel when time is precious. It's not often that people get an opportunity like this to see the world, and when they do, they shouldn't ever say no, regardless of reunions missed and babies unknown. There won't ever be a next time for any of these chances, but there's hope you will learn and grow faster and in time for whatever needs your passion.