This is shaping up to, quite possibly, be the best week of my life. Sorry for not having time to post over the last two days; things have been busy, and I'm hoping that I can remember most of it now. So, I'll start where most things should start - at the beginning.
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. :)