Day 20 & 21: Kindness in Paradise
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Although our journey so far has taught me one thing very clearly, which is that plans do not always work out, I amm who I am and that is one hell of planner. So what does the girl from Austria with her dog from Romania do? Exactly, make a plan, stick to it and just hope for the best possible outcome, which in this case would be to end up at the safe haven in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis (why I left the "Harris" out of it this time I will explain later on). And I am proud to announce: We did it!
It seemed easy but to be perfectly honest if it had not been for the support of home (meaning my best friend from Switzerland) and additional motivation as well as kind words at the perfect time from a home-to-be (meaning my lovely hosts at our destination), I really would have gone overboard (not literally) with my fantasies of possible worst outcomes for this last stage of travelling. But I will have to wind back a little to make more sense:
As some of you know Marjorie and I had a wonderful friday in Inverness, came home after exploring Ness Islands and rested. On this day I purchased our tickets, both for the bus as well as the ferry. As for the bus the challenge was to find out if and how I could buy a ticket for my dog, Marjorie, and because there was nothing on their website citylink.co.uk, I figured there had to be something within their terms and conditions sheet that was referenced in my confirmation mail for my own ticket, and indeed there was.
The only problem, or what I perceived as a "could be" problem, seemed to be that she was (or our safe trip to the ferry was) at the mercy of the bus driver. If he succumbed to her charm, we could board, if not... well, I would have to find that out if this were to be the case because the company's offices were not staffed due to the pandemic safety restrictions of the government. They had no customer hotline and their social media was only answering until 5 pm, which was too late then because I bought the ticket at 4 had used the extra time to read through terms and conditions. So yes, basically, in my head, I was standing with my backpack and my dog at 8 o'clock at Inverness bus station waving goodbye to the bus that would have brought me to Ullapool harbour, while having nowhere to go. To add fuel to the fire of fearsome fantasies, when I had bought the ticket for the ferry and added my pet through an online form to my fare, their confirmation mail stated that they would get back to me to confirm if Marjorie would be allowed on board or not. By the time I bought the ferry ticket it was 7:30 and their office opening hours were 9 to 5, meaning they would open again on Monday when I would be on my way to the ferry (if and only if the acquaintance between Marjorie and the bus driver would be succesful). And yes again, in my head, if we would step out of the bus in Ullapool safely, we would be standing on the port watching the ferry cruise off to the Isle of Lewis without us and with no way of crossing the great big ocean and, again, nowhere to seek shelter. Overly dramatic but a real potential threat at the time.
Fast forward: We made it, as you well know, and everything went according to plan. Woke up at 6 in the morning, out at 6:10, morning walk loop over Ness Islands and back at 7:25, at the bus station at 7:50, joyfully hopping on the bus at 8:05 (the driver petted Marjorie for a minute straight, immediately falling for her charms), freezing nearly to death for the 1.5 hour drive through Glens but so happy we were on the bus that it did not matter, at the ferry terminal to collect the ticket at 9:30 (the lady did not even cared to look if there was a dog with me while printing and handing me my ticket) and then, finally, on board at 10:15 and out on the sea by 10:35. Once the ship passed the long edges and cliffs of the mainland Scotland tears came run down my cheeks, tears of relief from the tension, tears of joy for getting to the most remotest place I have ever been to and dreamed to go to, tears of excitement for all the exploring and adventures that lay ahead for Marjorie and me, tears of happiness because although I am quite comfortable with it just being us two, I was immensely looking forward to being picked up at Stornoway by people that were actually there and waiting for us.
My hosts turned out to be even more kind than I could have ever imagined during our written communication through mails. The sheer joy of life in Sarah's eyes greeted us as we stepped out from the harbour building and just her voice alone triggered a feeling of warmth and welcome, as well as an instant connection with Marjorie. Waiting for us by the car was the embodiment of calmness and firmness, Andrew. The first thing which Sarah had announced in her lovely mail (the one that brought encouragement and reassurance with it, when I had been telling her about my concerns of bus and ferry ride) was to go shopping because, once again, I had 10 days of self-isolated quarantine ahead of me and I needed supplies. At the cashier our first fight occured, it being the costs for said supplies- I do not know how I am supposed to repay them for their generosity and consideration, but I am absolutely determined to do so, because never have I met such selflessness and kindness and consideration before. It was almost as if they thought this was a normal thing to do, accomodate and feed some stranger because of a special situation caused by a pandemic, but I was convinced in any way that as I could not provide 10 days of work for board and lodging, I would surely pay my full debt somehow and someday. They would not have it and instead insisted on living proof to a profound truth, people are so good at heart. I am still in awe of their generosity and I will devote myself to do the best job ever as soon as quarantine is over.
On the drive from Stornoway to Aird Uig I discovered the reason why a few of my encountered conversations on the mainland of Scotland had been either about the Isle of Harris or the Isle of Lewis instead of the Isle of Lewis and Harris. Sarah explained that the locals see their geographically one island as two parts, much like in Switzerland where two neighbouring postal codes could have a different dialect as well as cultural differences. Sarah and Andrew showed me parts of their land and animals and their home before they brought me to my place for the duration of my self-isolation, which would be their B'n'B cottage, separated from their grounds and sitting directly on the top of a cliff overlooking not only the beach and ocean but overlooking the opposite side of the cliff as well.
No words can describe the feeling when you step through the door of a house and directly opposite of you a window stretching from top to bottom, exposes a view so surreal in its beauty, you could never imagine it (I know I posted it on Instagram but it literally is one of those things that you have to take in with all of the avaioable senses you have), it literally takes your breath away. When you then think straight again and are able to look away from the landscape, you are presented with pure coziness and the most inviting living room and kitchen, decorated with love to detail as well as palpable love for the land it was build on. Pieces collected from the shores, books about the isle and its inhabitants, pictures of the landscape and surroundings. And I was so humbled and at a loss for words, I could not even grasp the degree of gratitude I was feeling for their kindness and generosity, yet again.
And then they left me to adjust, to settle in, to relax, to enjoy- and so I did. By first cooking and then browsing through their bookshelves. While Marjorie lay by my side, snoring and dreaming, I immersed myself into the story of "The Children of the Black Houses" (stories that were passed on for generations and told by a local woman about the life on this island ranging from as far back as 1750 to around 1970), had the nicest cup of tea in the coziest of rooms by the loveliest of fires and in the one of the most beautiful of places I have been in my life.
I will keep it short and spicy because that was exactly how the first day here felt like. Simply put, today was all about exploring. We were out by 8:30, roaming freely over the land, first down to the beach and then up onto the opposite cliffside, along narrow paths from the sheep in this area and back again by 11, ready for breakfast. Usually I would exaggerate our energy levels when we arrive at some new place to explore, and mind you the temptation caused by the spectacular views and stunning vastness of the land was high, but this time I knew we would have a total of at least 2 months to have adventures so I reduced the curiosity to go farther. In the afternoon Sarah took Marjorie and me out for a walk with her two Golden Retrievers Bolt and Freyja, one lovely senior gentleman and one bubbly bunch of cuteness and joy.
As this first full day here draws to a close, I have yet to realize the paradise I am going to be living in for the next months. But what I have come to realize is that I really want to enjoy all of my mixed emotions and the evolution of them as I transition into all of this new-ness. I was fixed on plans and organization for the most part of my adult life with the fixed idea that controlling leads to fulfillment, now I will let go and just take one step at a time, day by day.
With that said I humbly retire for the evening, a cup of tea, a look at the (light pollution free) stars in the sky and another chapter of the book about the history of the Isle of Harris- what more can one ask for.
Good night, beloved souls