Tour

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.

Independent Travel vs. Tour Group: Day 21

The Jackpot of Tour Groups

The age-old debate: should we call our own shots or pay someone to do it for us. It all depends on how you value your own physical, mental, emotional exhaustion and how things like this affect your appreciation of a destination.

Last year, I traveled across Northern India alone, at time spending only $20 bucks in 5 days and living on the bottom of the tourist barrel, other times living the high life in the mountains. I met many Indians and Kashmiris I adored, which in turn led me to be a little closed off to the other tourists like me, and I had quite a bit of alone time with the things I came to India to see.

Traveling alone, as pleasurable as it can be, doesn’t easily put you in the position of being able to talk about your experiences and be understood. I had no one to turn to and say, “That mountain is stunning. Why do I live in Indiana where none of these things exist?” or “Is that chai wallah over there doing Michael Jackson dance moves?”

Our tour group for the Golden Triangle last week was just the kind of “cha-ching” blend of hilarious, fun-loving, and thoughtful travelers that can enhance the experience of seeing a destination. Without a thing to plan ourselves, we were able to react to the things we saw, discuss and be a part of them, and walk away from our trip pleased to have met good people in a place we loved. If we didn’t have this good group dynamic and weren’t on such a fitting tour for our travel styles, India would have remained a little bitter in our memories.

It takes careful planning and lots of luck for a tour to be the best route, and when it happens, you gotta smile because you’re in for a really good time.