Monday, June 8, 2009

The crashing of waves against rocks was silent from the top of the cliff. From here even the sheep looked no bigger than small balls of cotton. I slowly inched closer to the edge, but it was still impossible to see straight down. The wind whipping the hair in front of my eyes made it difficult to see the bluish-gray outline of mountains against the bright blue cloudless sky. I took a few steps back and sat down on a soft patch of lush green earth.

Here I am on top of a mountain, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. As I bit into my chicken sandwich, staring at the spot where the ocean touched the mountains I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday. It’s funny how only 12 hours earlier it seemed like my birthday was going to be a disaster…

I climbed the creaking steps to the top bunk to sit on my paper-thin mattress in an effort to make space for others. The tiny hostel room was already too hot and too over crowded. It had an overwhelming smell of campfire smoke and feet. Rachel, Michelle, Ashley, Ryan, Seth and I all wished to be next door at the local pub, but our hostel’s 11:30 doors lock curfew simply didn’t allow it.

The hostel keeper had already yelled at us for being too loud after she informed us that the main water pipe broke and there was absolutely no running water. Staring out my window into the darkness home seemed to be worlds away from this tiny town of Ullapool, in the highlands of Scotland. The town was the second stop on our week long tour.

Up into this point I had been quite pleased with my journey through Scotland. As we drove through the incredible picturesque scenery our tour guide told us entertaining stories of epic highlander battles, and sightings of the Locke Ness monster and other creators of the lake. I found it fascinating that everything from their distinctive Scottish accent to their customs and history was so different than that of London or even England.

“Thirty minutes to your birthday,” Michelle said with a smile.

Fantastic, I thought as I rolled my eyes. In the United States turning 21 is a major milestone since it marks the age when a person is legally allowed to buy oneself an alcoholic drink.

The occasion is usually celebrated waiting outside a bar with friends till the stroke of midnight then going inside and drinking until you physically can’t drink anymore. Instead I was about to celebrate my 21st birthday trapped inside a tiny hostel that had a busted water pipe. I stared at my half empty bottle of water, the only thing I would have to drink for the next several hours. It was only the night before, we were in Fort Augustus eating delicious haggis and watching a live show educating us on the historic ways of the highlanders like how to properly wear a kilt. If only I could have celebrated my birthday there.

As I pulled off my dirty sand covered sweatshirt, pretending it wasn’t going to bother me that I couldn’t shower, I heard a knock at the door.

A short man with a gray beard and eyes as blue as his shirt waltzed into the room followed by a younger dark haired girl.

“So the party’s in here,” he said with a smile in a thick Scottish accent and then introduced himself as Brian.

“It’s her 21st birthday at midnight,” Rachel said pointing to me.

“Trapped in this dump, with no alcohol is no way to spend your 21st birthday,” he said, as I nodded in agreement, “I can’t allow Scotland to be represented this way.”

Grabbing Ryan he disappeared, leaving behind the dark hair girl who shyly introduced herself to us as Layla.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a gift for your birthday,” she said, a sincere smile in her eyes.
Before I said a word she pulled the silver necklace off her neck.

“Happy birthday, this has always brought me good luck,” Layla said she placed the necklace in my hand. I looked down at the silver Celtic triquetra surrounding a single amethyst stone.

I didn’t know what to say to this stranger who had just given me the jewelry off her neck, to ensure that I had a special birthday. No one had ever done anything like that for me before.

“Th- thank-you,” I stammered.

Suddenly the door burst open and in walked Ryan and Brian with a case of 21 Stella Artois beers. Brian handed them out as Ryan explained the stealthy way he snuck Brain in with the beers past the angry hostel keeper. As the clock struck midnight, everyone sang happy birthday and drank the beers with me.

Brian explained that he was staying at hostels throughout Scotland because he planning on opening up his own out of an old church soon. He assured us that his hostel would have much bigger rooms and definitely no curfews. We continued to laugh and drink and swap stories for hours. In fact I barely noticed when they told us that the water was working again. Here in this tiny Scotland hostel, with my newfound friends, I didn’t feel far from home…

Rolling over I saw the first rays of sunlight hitting the deep green waters of Locke Broom. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I could see it was the reflection of the giant green mountains engulfing the lake that gave the waters a green glow.

Reaching into my bag to grab my camera, I instead pulled out the necklace that Layla had given me. Perhaps this is the only country in the world where the landscapes are as enchanting as the people.

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