Monday, July 3, 2017

Lost in Any Language, Part 4: Ruth's Highland Fling


It happens to every traveler at least once.

In September of 2012, I visited Scotland with my friend Jodee and my sister Bethany. Our primary objectives were to attend the wedding of some good friends and do some sightseeing. We were staying down near Glasgow, but toward the end of the trip, our friend K. graciously offered to drive us into the Highlands.

The schedule for the day included Fort William, Glencoe, and a stop near Lock Shiel to see the spot where Charles Edward Stuart first raised his standard. We would also tour the 19th century chapel and climb the lookout to view the Glenfinnan Viaduct (which some of you would recognize as the "Harry Potter Bridge").


Unbeknownst to my friends, I had a third objective while on this trip: to collect samples of different types of Scottish leaves. (I'm sure you're wondering why, but the explanation is long and boring and would detract from the current narrative. I had my reasons. That's all you need to know.) 

My leaf collecting was unbeknownst to my friends when our journey started. By the time we climbed the hill to overlook the Glenfinnan Viaduct, they'd resigned themselves to traveling with someone who would routinely leap from the trail to pounce on unsuspecting Scottish shrubs. Which is exactly what I was doing as we climbed the hill to the overlook. 

The view at the top was lovely, if cold, windy, and misty with rain. But that's Scotland for you.

We snapped some pictures, chatted with some other tourists, and just generally enjoyed ourselves.

Suddenly, I became uncomfortably aware that I was about to have a bathroom emergency. In fact, it was imminent.

"Guys," I announced, "I HAVE TO GO."

Based on my tone of voice (and perhaps the swirl of my eyes), they knew exactly what I meant. Doubtless, so did the rest of the tourists at the top of the hill. I didn't care. We were all travelers up there, and we all know that when faced with the rigors of international travel, digestive systems are not to be trusted. So I doubt anyone looked at me with anything other than sympathy.

But if anyone did give me a funny look, I wouldn't have noticed.

One problem and one problem alone occupied my full attention.

Our friend K. mentioned that there were toilets in the visitor center near where we'd parked, which was all I needed to hear. Without checking to see if anyone was following, I bounded down the trail, heedless of the damp conditions and rocks slick with moss. 

At the bottom of the hill, I skidded to a stop, suddenly aware that clutched in my fists like pom-poms were two bunches of Scottish leaves. 

Not wanting to lose all the hard work I'd invested in gathering them, I turned and thrust them toward my sister, who was ambling along behind me, looking around as if this were just another ordinary tourist moment. 

"Take the leaves," I panted, flapping the handfuls up and down.

Jodee, who was standing nearby trying to be helpful, squinted toward the information center. "I think the toilets are just over--"

"TAKE THE LEAVES!" I all but screamed, flapping my hands one last time and releasing my treasures to the breeze.

Where they landed, I don't know. I had more pressing problems. Long before the leaves had fluttered to the ground, I'd sprinted up the steps of the information center and launched myself toward the hallway clearly marked TOILETS

My trials, however, were not quite over. 

These were paid toilets. In order to make it past the hall, I'd have to find 20p and insert it into a tiny slot.

Hopping from foot to foot, I frantically scrabbled through the coins at the bottom of my travel bag, clawing through the mix of American and UK change and cursing the laziness that kept me from being more organized with my various monies. (A first-world problem if there ever was one.) All I knew was that if I had to detour to the gift shop to make change, I was doomed. 

I'll spare you further details. Sufficed to say that I found the proper change in time, and all was well.

When I emerged from the information center some time later (at a much more relaxed pace), I found Bethany, Jodee, and K. calmly chatting with yet more tourists.

In Jodee's hands, carefully gathered and reorganized, was a neat cluster of Scottish leaves. Whether she caught them when I threw them or gathered them after they'd scattered, none of us can recall.

"You did throw them," said Jodee when I asked her about this recently. "I can't remember much after that." 

It says a lot that these two ladies both agreed to travel with me again after this incident.

I'm very grateful, because more than anything else, what makes or breaks a trip is not the weather, the location, or the food. 

It's not even the coffee.

It's the people. 

The people make or break the trip every time.


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