Monday, I was picked up from the hostel around 9:30 a.m. with 28 other complete strangers. Our tour guide, Graham, is everything I would expect in a Scotsman: devilishly attractive and beer-bellied, with a dirty mind and dirtier mouth. He's a lot of fun, but not quite as fun as my fellow backpackers. To put it concisely, I'm the only American. Of 29, approximately half are from Taiwan. Several are from Australia, and there are also Turkish, Japanese, and Chinese representatives among us. It's bizarre and hysterical. I've started buddying up with most of the Australian kids, and the guy from India, and - my fave - Yoshi from Japan. He's the man.
The first day highlights included visiting a 4,000 year old gravesite, which was haunting and beautiful. I forget what it's called, but when I post pictures on Friday, I'll update with the precise location names. To think that it existed before Christ really blew my mind. We also visited the old Dunkeld Cathedral, which was great. The ruins reminded me of something Elizabeth Bennett would go exploring in.
Still, the big thing Monday was - dundundun - I went swimming in Loch Ness! Graham had been trying to convince us the entire drive there, and I hesitated. Hesitated. Hesitated. As soon as we pulled down the gravel path, however, I instantly knew I had to do it. By several minutes of time, I was the first one in. Wearing all of my clothes. It didn't take long for others to follow suit, and before I knew it, we were having a grand ole time with Nessie. We learned nobody does much true research there; it's all speculation and photoshop, and it frustrates many Scots. Our final stop for the night was in Iverness - what a beautiful city! - where we hung out at Hootenanny (local music pub). I ran into two guys from UNC-Chapel Hill (they were wearing Tarheel gear) and we chatted up for a while. It's such a small world. All in all, it was a fun day, but we spent most of it on the bus. We had to get a long distance in a short amount of time, and I got nervous that the tour was going to be more riding than walking.
Then today happened. After a breakfast of scones and pineapple juice (only 50p!) we drove out to Clootie Well. If you've never heard of the Clootie Wells, it's an area in Scotland where individuals who have "wishes" for loved ones go to lift up prayers to the land. You dip a clothing item or fabric piece associated with your loved one in the well, then tie it to a tree by the well. Baby clothes, t-shirts, socks, teddy bears, you name it...they hung all over the trees in this eerie roadside location. It was surreal, and you'll have to see my pictures to truly understand how moving it was. All I could think about was how many of this wishes went unanswered...
Our next stop was a hike through a lovely forest, ending at a waterfall. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the waterfalls we have in the Southeast, but the greenery surrounding it was beautiful. There were also salmon jumping through it, which was new! The weather has been perfect and very unusual - sunny and 90 degrees - so Graham has been keeping us outdoors as much as possible. In fact, we spent 3 hours today on the beach today.
Yes, the beach.
We swam, played frisbee, and had a quick game of football. Now, if you know me, you know I'm not a big athlete. In fact, I'm a poor and pathetic athlete. But guess who scored the winning goal?! Yes, yes, yes. Yours truly. In a game versus Australians and a Scotsman, Adrienne Rankin from Boondocks, SC scored the winning goal. I credit it towards my tough American football upbringing.
Finally, we ended our day at the Isle of Skye. The drive was amazing, and as such, I'm not even sure I'll post pictures. They don't do the mountains justice. It's so green and lush, and huge, and rocky, and almost like another planet. I'm living a movie every day. At the Isle, the mountains converge into the ocean at a quaint fishing village. Sunset lasts from 9:00-12:00...over the water, with a lighthouse (Kelly!!) and boats casting shadows against the sky. Mmmm.
I just got back from another pub where we listened to some traditional Scottish music (soooo good), did some traditional dancing, and drank some traditional whisky. It's going to be a long day of hiking the cliffs tomorrow, but I'll try to keep writing daily instead of scatterbrained. There's too much to say for me to wait, and I want to make these things more eloquent. Forgive me this once. :)
Before I get carried away in poetics, you probably want to know what I’ve been up to since Dublin. Well, first, I heartily enjoyed my flight with Aer Lingus. Cute Irish flight attendants – need I say more? I also got to watch Revolutionary Road and finish Vol. 1 of Sense and Sensibility, so there was some productivity going on. Once in Dublin, I asked approximately seven different employees what to do with myself now that I was there; they directed me to a bus, which took me directly to Waverly Bridge, from which Castle Rock Hostel is a 9 minute walk.
I was greeted into the hostel by a shaggy-haired Scotsman, who finds great amusement in my naivety. Despite having traveled to the Bahamas, Ghana, and various places in the US, I still have trouble figuring out one thing: calling cards. I just want to make a phone call! Why, oh why oh why, does it have to be so difficult? After asking my hairy landlord about the mechanics of three different phones, I returned to the store where I bought the card, and had a heart-to-heart with the man in charge. He let me use their store phone – and even dialed the numbers for me – so I could call my Mom. What a sweetheart! He, too, laughed at my frustrations.
Despite the hostel’s beauty, I can’t help but feel a little awkward. The rooms are cozy, the lounges are large, the Wi-Fi is free – but who do I have to share it with? A tour group just returned from their week, so they’re all bonding and hanging out, and I’m sitting at a table to the side with 3-4 other people on their computers. I did the stereotypical southern “nod and smile,” but to no avail. I definitely believe myself to be more like Marianne than Elinor in this respect, wanting everyone to be as excited as I am about everything. I’m anxious for my tour to begin at 9AM tomorrow, so I can start meeting people and being crazy and rambunctious. Still, after such a long flight, rest is probably what I need most. I haven’t slept in many many many hours, so once I’m done with this blog, I’m going back to bed.
My bed, on a final note, is located in the hostel’s “Brain Suite.” Appropriate. J