Bouncing Around (Burnt) Bastrop

October 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Another day off, another excursion out of Austin.  This one slightly more sunny, but no less enjoyable (and with great company!).

Bastrop

Let me juxtapose these two things:

(a)  I remember Bastrop State Park from ten years ago, when I would run through tall pines and jump on thick makeshift log bridges.  It was the only real park I enjoyed in Texas, because there were trees and shade and, if I squinted my eyes and tilted my head to one side, I could almost pretend that I was back in some European forest.

BastropTrees

(b) I had a great yoga session yesterday, which was started and ended with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Want the change.
Be inspired by the flame where everything shines as it disappears.

The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive.

 

BastropWhiteFlowers

A couple of years ago, a huge fire swept through Bastrop and turned the forest of ancient, towering pine trees into a field of matchsticks:

BastropDeath
It was my first time back in a decade, and the sight was nothing less than eye-opening.  Strange and uncomfortable.

BastropTree
At the outskirts of the park, we stumbled upon the remains of what used to be a house:

BastropBurnedHouse
In which the only recognizable remains were various jars and cans, a few random pipes, a bicycle:

BastropBurnedBike
, and a basketball hoop:

BastropBasketballHoop

It was discerning, to think of the life that used to be there, that had been there for years, and then… just disappeared in flames overnight.

But, at the same time, a little bit magical.  Because against this backdrop of burned, black, and dry, there was a short canopy of green shrubbery that seemed all the more vibrant and joyful set against its contrast:

BastropFloofFlower

And all of the little blotches of flowers (and how many, and of what variety!) seemed so much more energetic against the sand and dirt beneath them:

BastropYellows
And the grass so much more prominent, and the berries so much jucier:

BastropPurpleFlowers

This contrast of life and death, in all of its dullness and vibrancy, made it seem as if we were walking to the end of the world- or at the very beginning of it, before any other creature had set foot upon it.  At the beginning of creation, at the beginning of some new era, still fragile, but bold and bright.

After a meandering hike through the sticks, we sought shelter in the shade of a nearby, adjacent park, who was spared the worst of the damage.  There was even a little lake, with herds of tiny frogs that arose in a cloud of curt ribbit‘s every time you took a step and dragonflies of the most marvelous purple hues.

BastropLake
And it was here that I reminded myself that this is life: life is change, and life is rebirth.  Every change, no matter how drastic or ominous or unexpected, always ends with a phoenix rising out of the ashes.  Even if at times, it takes a while and it seems like the most stubborn creature in the universe.

It was a comforting thought.  I believe that everything happens for a reason, and everything happens for the best, but this week, a few big things came up that rattled my mind and turned me upside down for a while.  And it took me a while before I realized that all of the potential ‘solutions’ that I came up with, and that I was completely unsatisfied with, were rooted in the granted acceptance of the restrictions of time and space… which is defined by us.  Sometimes, that slips my mind.

Then I had a very liberating laugh as I realized that there are infinite solutions out there, if we only step outside of the box and limitations that we place ourselves in.  And, suddenly, the world seemed really big, and really good, and inviting to be tackled and tasted and explored.

Just because we have a thought pattern or a “plan” for life and the future… doesn’t mean that that is the “way” to go.  Every step leads somewhere; you don’t have to keep treading in the same direction.  That’s why the world is round, right?

So, go forth and open yourself to change, and be humble, but be bold, and conquer.

BastropCreepy

 

Prancing Around Pedernales

October 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

When I taught in Italy, every class to which I introduced myself as being from Texas responded with a “Woah! So you ride horses and live in the desert?” (and I, naturally, responded with a “Yes.  And I always carry a rifle under my cowboy hat.”)

Living in Austin, I feel like we are outside of that stereotypical Texas bubble (for the most part).  And, although there are reminders in the form of hand-drawn Tex Mex signs and armadillo memorabilia, it’s easy to get absorbed in the thriving city life and forget the fact that, a few miles away, is the real Texas.  In all of its glorious emptiness.  The Texas that stretches on forever and doesn’t have a schedule to adhere to or people to respond to.  The Texas that isn’t made up of buildings, but of nature.  Rocks and dirt and water.

Yesterday, I had my first real day off since I got back into town, and I was in desperate need of sunshine and fresh air.  So, I packed a few apples and zoomed west, out of town, toward Pedernales Falls State Park.  An hour away, a world apart.

ToPedernales
Pulling away from 290 and onto 3232, I met this guy (it’s been a while since my path has crossed that of a large 4-legged animal):

PedernalesAnimal

Leaving the car at the top of the parking lot hill, I headed off to tackle the 5.5-Mile Loop first.  It started out crossing the river:

PedernalesWater
, and then looped around trees with impressive roots:

PedernalesRoots

 

, and through colorful cactus fields:

PedernalesCactusFlowers

, and through less happy cactus fields:

PedernalesCreepyCactus
, and trekked next to barbed wire:

PedernalesBarbedWireFence

, and between seas of yellow:

PedernalesYellowFlowers2

, and under rugged tree branches:

PedernalesTrailTree

, and through a low canopy of shrubberies that blended in with the flat surroundings as the gentle turns became a sort of therapeutic progression into away:

PedernalesTrail

I had never really appreciated the barrenness and dryness of Texas, nor the Flying Biting Things and Creepy Crawling Creatures, but I left on this excursion with an open mind and eagerness to experience the things that the outing had to offer.  Life is made up of moments, and each ‘phase’ of moments has its own set of charms.

PedernalesPlant

The beauty of life is overarching and all-encompassing, but I think that another level of appreciation is reached when you take each phase that life offers and extract all of the wonder and lessons of that chapter, and make the most of it.  I loved my days of running around New York, searching for jazz, or teaching in Milano and going to the opera, or living in Austin and breathing theatre, or backpacking through random countries, but they are all chapters, each with their own adventures and splendors, and it is this juxtaposition of opportunities and experiences that sets them apart and makes them special and even more beautiful for what they are.  And you just need to drink your fill of what is offered in the moment.

PedernalesTreeCreek

And sometimes, the easiest way to look at life in a new way is to just turn yourself upside down.  So, that’s what I did.  I sprawled myself over a large rock in the middle of the stream, let the water play with my hair, and watched the world upside down. It’s kind of cool, to watch the water fly downward, to the sky, and water splashes rising upwards, and everything happening the opposite way of how it usually does.  It’s strange, but intriguing.  Makes you woner why things are how they are, and how they are not. Life in inversion.  New perspective, new gravity.

PedernalesKids

Maybe even time can be viewed as the contrary of what it is; adding up, instead of running out?  Where consuming time doesn’t diminish the supply, but merely gives you more… of something that doesn’t exist.  I contemplated life a bit, with a swarm of large orange butterflies to keep me company:

PedernalesButterfly

After another few miles of hiking barefoot next to the stream, I ended up at Pedernales Falls, just as the evening sun cast that dark gold light upon the land:

PedernalesScenic

I had another Contemplation Session here, perched on another rocky island.  And I felt very, very appreciative of the clarity of the moment.

PedernalesShrubbery

It was a great day off, out of the city.  The Texas landscape isn’t something that I ever took a particular fancy to, but I kind of fell in love with it in this moment.

PedernalesMailboxes

Because there is nowhere else in the world quite like it.


 

[** To make the outing even more special, at the very end of it, as I was pulling myself up the last rocky hilltop, covered in dust and sweat and scratchy scratches, I ran into a woman who greeted me with a "oh my gosh, you're the travel blogger girl!".  I had never been recognized by a stranger in the middle of a state park before, especially not for my online rambles.  We had a lovely conversation, and I walked away grinning ear-to-ear, feeling a little bit like a celebrity for a few minutes.

So, this one is for you.  Thank you.]

On Being Happy

October 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

If you get offended reading about people that are happy, please don’t read this.  If you roll your eyes when people state how wonderful life is, don’t keep reading.  If you feel angry or upset when other people smile, just stop here.

BergamoHeart

How did I get to the point that I feel almost guilty saying that I am happy?  Why does it feel silly to say that life is great?  It’s almost as if it is a statement better whispered than sang; keep it low, among your best friends.  Others don’t want to hear about it.  They have enough problems, and there are so many things wrong in the world, why would they waste their time with pointing attention to positivity?  You wouldn’t want to feel like you are rubbing it in their face, or showing off, or putting them down.

That is not what I am trying to do.  And I know that most people feel better after reading something negative (how does that work?).  But, I would just like to get this out:


 

I am happy.

And it’s okay.


 

I know that people roll their eyes sometimes, when I start to ramble on about some international adventure.  I sometimes feel bad producing happy post after happy post, after painting after painting, after photograph after photograph, when other people have important (ie, sad and serious) things going on.  I see ‘that look’ that people sometimes give me when I rave on about some opera performance or spontaneous trip to a different continent or story from the awesome place that I can call work.

I have traveled, a lot.  Constantly.  For fun, you might say (though for me, it is for necessity).  I always get what I want, because I am stubborn and can’t compromise.

This doesn’t mean that I am a happy person.

Flower4

Since I have been back in Austin, I can’t complain about anything other than allergies (fuck you, dammit).  I have an ideal living arrangement, with wine and cats and opera music.  I have a beautiful park and pond(s) outside of my window.  I walk across it and, in two minutes, I am at my yoga shack, or at my massage studio, or at my favorite local theater.  I spend my days down the street (past the best breakfast taco window in town and that one awesome coffee shop), painting scenery and costumes from morning until evening.  At night, I write and go out and dance until dawn.  Work days consist of either (a) working backstage with performers from all over the world or (b) learning about coffee and making delicious, healthy smoothies in a great cafe on the river, with fun coworkers and the best music selection to keep us boogie-ing all day long.

In other words, I am surrounded by everything that I love.  The only complaint that I have is that I don’t have another 24 (or 2424 or 242424) hours in the day to do more of it.

Ballet2

Life is pretty perfect, isn’t it?

I am fortunate to be living this life.  I am grateful for every single moment.  But it doesn’t mean that I am a happy person.

Some of the most beautiful and happy people that I have met in the world have had nothing, have lived in a shed, have eaten off the ground.  Some of the saddest people that I have met are millionaires, have successful careers, have perfect wedding photos and get a thousand ‘likes’ on every post they update on Facebook.

It is nothing new to say that money or fame or things don’t make someone happy.  And we all know that everyone is different, and thus everyone needs different things to make them happy.

To me, happiness is personal, is a reflection of yourself, of what you want.  Going out and finding checklists of ‘Things That Make You Happy’ aren’t going to do the trick.  Yes, we have to take care of ourselves, and be nicer to people, and take occasional bubble baths.  To smile more, and give things away, and surround yourself with people you enjoy.

But, these Checklist Things are going to be different for everyone.  So, it’s kind of simple.  To be happy, you need to do what makes you happy.  You need to know what you like, and don’t question it.  It doesn’t have to make sense, or have a reason, or even be feasible.  It just has to feel good, and inspire, and make you smile.  And then you do it.

Camel

And, (most importantly), you have to allow yourself to be happy.  Despite me doing all of these great things in life, and living in these beautiful places, and meeting these amazing people, I, for the most part of my life, have not been happy- not as a general, longtime condition.  Not because I am spoiled, or hard-to-please, or childish.  I’m not going to give the “my life isn’t perfect” or the “my childhood was hard” or the “I worked my way there” speech (even though I could, all three), because that’s not the point.  The point is that, even if I had this great, dreamlike scenario, it didn’t equate being happy… simply because I wasn’t.  Because I didn’t like it, because I didn’t want to be…. maybe because I felt bad being happy.

And now, it’s okay.  I learned to let go of those negative connotations associated with happiness, and not do anything that should make me happy.  Only the things that do make me happy, and I surround myself with them, and it makes me smile, and I don’t feel guilty about it, because I don’t have to, because being happy in a world that is sad is okay, and it’s not bad, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.  The same goes the other way.  If you are in a situation in which you should be happy, but you’re not… it’s not your fault.  You don’t have to feel guilty about it, it’s not bad, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.  You don’t have to be grateful for it, if you don’t want to be, if it’s not something that you want.  You don’t have to do it for anyone else, or even for yourself.  There is no part of happiness that is a condition, or an obligation.

Being happy is a decision that people make for themselves.  You don’t have to accept or approve of their decision, and they don’t have the right to do so about yours.

VinoFrizzanteRose

If having money makes you happy, do it.  If being lazy makes you happy, do it. If being fit makes you happy, do it.  If eating chocolate cakes at midnight makes you happy, do it.  If traveling makes you happy, do it.  If collecting old steam trains makes you happy, do it.  If being alone makes you happy, do it. You don’t have to justify any of it.

I can say that I feel happy when I have my independence (financially and transportation-wise, with my own space and schedule), when I can do what I like (art and travel and dance and write), and when I am active and fit(-ish).  Then I feel good about myself.  I like when I am surrounded by a place that inspires me (usually something old and run-down and kinda gloomy, yet colorful).  There’s a lot of simple things that make me smile, like dandelions and canvas ballet shoes and camel expressions and bubbly wines and thick parchment and French records and ladybugs. I know that I am demanding, and it’s okay.  I’m responsible for it.  I don’t have to tone it down.

Room

And if you are happy, it doesn’t mean that you always have to be happy.  You can be sad and angry, just because.  Happiness is a state of being, and ‘being’ is an existence in the moment, not something consistent or uninterrupted or unchanging.

And if you are happy, it’s a good thing (if you want to be happy, that is) (some people don’t).


 

Don’t hide it.

It’s not selfish.

It’s not wrong.

It’s not bad.

It’s good.

It’s acceptable.

It’s encouraged.

It’s admired.

And I hope that you

just

let it be.


 ladybugciggies

Scotland Day #11: Exeunt Barefooted Girl and Red-Jacketed Man

September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Day Eleven: AKA The Last Day.

It was bittersweet, and already from dawn did we feel the diminuendo of the trip, of the thrill, of the timelapse that we experienced on this great island.  But we did our best to stretch it out.

After a very long morning of breakfasts (yes, multiple) and lounging in the conservatory (I have always wanted to say that), reading travel books and listening to the rain pounding on the metal roof above us, we packed up our things into the car and continued through the Lothians, south.  After a few minutes, we entered the Lammermuir Hills, which was kind of almost exactly like I have always imagined them to be in Lucia di Lammermoor.

ScotlandSheep

For our midday hike, we stopped by St. Abbs, a tiny harbor just a couple of miles north of the Scotland-England border.

StAbbsHarbour

There wasn’t much to it other than a cafe’ and a few boats- which was exactly as it should have been:

StAbbs
Apparently, this is a good place for bird-watching, as they all just kinda hang out on the rocks out on the sea.

StAbbsBirdRock

This one was my favorite:

StAbbsBird

Although I much preferred stalking the sea gulls in the harbor and watching them scream at each other like an old married couple:

StAbbsBirds

From the harbor was a walking path that continued along the coast for a long, long time.

StAbbsGrassCliffs
Looking back, to St. Abb’s:

StAbbs4

There is a nature reserve stretching up from St. Abb’s, complete with a loch and the usual herds of sheep:

StAbbs3 (2)

… and the last lighthouse for us on this trip:

StAbbsLightHouse

It was a quirky little structure, not any bigger than a shed, and without the tower.  Just a light booth perched upon the hill, with a foghorn (apparently, Scotland’s first audible fog signal) a few feet below it.  Not exactly what I was expecting, especially considering that it was designed by the Stevenson brothers (whose daddy was the genius of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which is practically the opposite of this cute, compact structure)… but, somehow, it was the perfect surprise to the end of our Grand Coastal Lighthouse Adventure.

After that, it was time to hike back against impressive winds:

StAbbsCliffs2

Then we drove through some army-style pig farms:

StAbbsPigFarm

, and crossed over into England.  The next few hours consisted of rain, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and bags of potato chips in every possible imaginable flavour (and more).  At the end of the day, we arrived in Nottingham and its invisible castle, staying with a couple of Couchsurfers who greeted us with homemade falafel and oatmeal cookies and life lessons and language lessons that lasted late into the night.

As we collapsed onto our squeaky air mattress and set the alarm for four hours later, we thought about just how big and impressive our Scottish loop was.  In the eleven days that passed since we landed in the East Midlands and drove west, and then north, we were nothing but flabbergasted and on a perpetual high of life and beauty and love and digestive cookies and everything great.  And then we drove, in considerably less days, east, and then south, and our high lowered with our latitude.  And, now we were back where we started from- but had so much inbetween.  So many adventures and landscapes and laughs and lifetimes, that it seemed almost crude to separate them back into days.  So many different night accommodations and so many different breakfasts and so many different sunsets and so many different accents, that tracing our frenzied route on a map on the airplane back to Italy felt impossibly detached.

This was a short, compact trips, and not my usual type of travel.  And yet… even this little bite of Scotland was enough to make me fall in love with it and try plotting a way to return- for much, much longer.

IsleOfArranSimba

Scotland Day #10: Exploring Edinburgh

September 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Day Ten of our Scotland Adventures was the only day in which we woke up in a city. . . and by the time we took the twenty-minute stroll into the center, I was ready to leave.  By city standards, Edinburgh isn’t terrible, but compared to the rest of Scotland, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be in in instead of out of it.

Edinburgh

Cement jungle.

Edinburgh (2)

Even if it was full of cozy cafe’s and art boutiques that made me wish that I had a kitchen to decorate and wasn’t flying back to Italy on Ryanair.  From underground cellars to rooftops patios to church corners, quirky cafe’s could be found everywhere:

EdinburghChurchCafe
We started our stroll through the park and cemetery grounds under the castle, stumbling upon an old-fashioned carousel and popcorn in the park:

EdinburghWarringtonsCarousel
Then we trudged up to the top of the castle hill, poked our heads in, and headed back out.  With the entire castle turned into some sort of performance venue, my favorite nook of it was the couple of stereotypical phone booths lodged in the corner:

EdinburghCastletelephones

After that, a brisk stroll down The Royal Mile, which was full of souvenier stores and fancy tea rooms serving porridge and scones and cuppas:

EdinburghClarindas

, and a couple of smaller museums:

EdinburghThePeoplesStpry

At the end of the Royal Mile was the Scottish Parliament Building, with the unexpected Holyrood Park reaching out to the sky.  I have to admit that it was pretty cool to see such an impressive peak and green park thrown in the middle of a flat, grey landscape.

From there, we started to loop back, taking a detour through the Regent Gardens.  At the top of Calton Hill, we found another scenic wedding photo shoot (this time complete with cannons!):

EdinburghWeddingCouple2

After a blueberry ice pop and a funky art show/sound installation at the Collective Gallery, we wove our way back down and found a court full of international food trailers.  We tried the haggis burger and cinnamon crepes, and then took a stroll down Dundas Street.  Just as the first downpour we experienced out of the car started to come down, we ducked into a gay cafe’ (literally, and it was the most colorful and fun place ever) for some onion soup and ale:

EdinburghOnionSoup
And then another stroll through Stockbridge, along the canals, and back to our India-themed hotel in Haymarket:

EdinburghTajHotel1
Then it was time to pack the car back up, stock up on cheeses and digestive cookies, and drive through the Italian district of the city, out of the suburbs, and eastward, into the Lothians.

I was a little disappointed (but probably more shocked and thrown out-of-place) by Edinburgh.  Despite is being a big city, I was looking forward to seeing this artsy cultural center with a great theatre scene.  But I think that it is meant to be its own trip; fitting it into a tour of rural Scotland does not work too well.

So, by the time that we rolled into Snawdon, a “village” of two houses (one of them our last B&B of the trip), I was back to feeling content and giddy with the fresh air.  Our house was a perfect farewell night to Scotland: cozy and personal and intimate and a bit kitsch:

SnawdonBB3

With warm bathrobes and sunflowers in the fireplace:

SnawdonBB
Our last Scottish sunset was cold and windy (and thus, ideal), with the usual rabbit sneaking its way into the foreground and layers of fields and hills in the background:

SnawdonBB (2)

Our host was an intriguing man that dabbled his interests in a vast variety of hobbies and thus provided a steady stream of interesting conversation.  We nibbled on his dinner together, and then (for the first time all trip; finally, whoot!) sipped on different bottles of whiskey and attempting to find corresponding adjectives for each one of them (this got easier the more we drank).  We also tasted Slow Gin, Snawdon’s own elderberry liquer that tastes like unicorns and rainbows in a bottle (but so much better).

After all that city and drinks, we collapsed into bed with utmost eagerness to do nothing but pass out and hope to wake up to a dreary, drizzly morning.

Good night, Scotland!

Scotland Day #9: Easing into Edinburgh

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Upon waking up to Day Nine, we found the skies no less cloudy than they were a few hours ago when we curled up in the front seats of the car.  Without saying a word, we shed a couple of layers of socks and continued driving through the countryside of Grampian, amidst school towns and flattened fields.  Our enthusiasm for driving away from the Highlands plummeted to new levels of depression as we passed the outskirts of clunky Aberdeen.  That’s when I knew that we needed a break; some sort of seaside stroll to revive the spirit of our coastal road trip.

So, we turned off at the exit for Stonehaven.  We left the car at the edge of town, by an ‘art deco pool’ that the city seems to take great pride in:

StonehavenArtDecoPool
, and then strolled into town.  It was a quaint little place, with the average age of its inhabitants about 75 years old.  I particularly enjoyed all of the statues around town- of sea animals and dragons and little girls and ships:

StonehavenMetalShip
And the harbour is always a good spot to poke your nose around in, especially with this ever-amusing low tide:

StonehavenLowTide
We met the local bird lady (tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag?):

StonehavenBirdLady
, crossed through some back alleys:

StonehavenKegs
, and then found the path that led to the castle about a mile outside of town.  Of course, it still being Scotland, there was no lack of scenic benches:

StonehavenBench

And, oh, the comfort of the cliffs once again.  After seeing them every day for a week, that inner-side drive from Durness to Aberdeen was painful.  It was good to have some elevation on the horizon again (even if the north sea was infinitely more appealing):

Stonehaven1

The hike was gentle and scenic, with golden fields:

StonehavenHay
, our favorite poofy flowers:

StonehavenPoofballs
, a war memorial:

StonehavenWarMonument
, blue skies:

StonehavenToCastle
, and (surprise!) poppies:

StonehavenPoppies
Following the birdies, we made it to Dunnottar Castle, a medieval fortress on top of the cliffs, surrounded by water on three sides:

StonehavenCastle
They did that thing again, where they surprise you with a ticketing office after you walk up and down too many steps.  But, we declined and instead had a picnic on the beach underneath to the shouts of German kids throwing pebbles into the waves.  Then, a return stroll into town, a beachside promenade, and via!

We hopped over to the next town, Johnshaven:

StonehavenFlowerBoat
The entire town (all five buildings) were busy remodeling walls to latin music and showcasing YES! signs:

StonehavenYes

Then, via! again.  A pit stop at a pick-your-own-fruit farm (we didn’t buy admittance into their plastic-covered fields, though we did help ourselves to cleaning out their mulberry bushes), and then an afternoon in Arbroath.  While I enjoyed the museum at the Bell Rock Signal Tower, I was a little bit disappointed that the actual Bell Rock Lighthouse was so far away that it was a mere smudge on the horizon.  Eleven miles out on sea, this is the oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse… and I kind of wanted to see more than just a dot of it.  But, we came too late for boat tours, so we contented ourselves with peeking into all of the smokies nooks and ate fish and chips in the harbour:

AbroathHarbor

We had kind of been hoping to find some lovely, secluded little town to stay in for the night, but we weren’t inspired by anything.  So, we decided to spend a night in Edinburgh and see what all of the hype was about.  We checked into the Original Raj Hotel, an Indian-themed house with an entertaining staff and elephant statues as guardians to the villa grounds.

We checked out the harbor (we do need to, after all, maintain this water theme) and Stockbridge, a bohemian nook northwest of New Town.  We admired the purple castle on top of the hill and got lost.  More on that (and more) next time though- Exploring Edinburgh!

 

Scotland Day #8: Happiness at Cape Wrath

September 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Day Eight was the last of our “Driving North, North, Northest!” days.  Unoftunately, the country ended at one point and we had to loop back down.  And, while the looping down was (almost) always entertaining and full of its own adventures, it did not have the same awe-striking grandeur that our Highland Adventures had.  So, in a sense, this was our last day in the “wilderness” of Scotland.  What a great last day it was though!

Our day started a bit before 5 AM, when I rolled over and cracked my eyelids open- only to see the horizon begin to glow orange and the layers of mountains bathed in different shades of purple.  There was a wall window right by our bed, which made for wonderful sky gazing all night, and a marvelously warm and comfortable sunrise of the purest, undiluted colors imaginable.

A couple of hours later, we migrated upstairs for a breakfast that turned into a brunch, and then into a lunch.

HighlandsBBEggBreakfast
The couple that was were staying with grew many of their own fruits and veggies, and made their own butter and yoghurt and breads and teas, and everything tasted fresh and delicious.  From the granola mix, to the cheeeses, to the poofiest scrambled eggs that I have ever tasted, this morning lounge session was thoroughly enjoyed as we chatted away about art and life and Scotland.

Eventually, we  found the strength to force ourselves to repack our bags and once again get back into the car.  We passed more hidden lochs and hilltop benches:

Highlands10
, before turning left at a sign pointing to Cape Wrath:

CapeWrath
Conditions were good for crossing!  So we waited and watched the little boat transfer people across, eight by eight.  And, just as it was our turn to get on the boat… I turned around and said, “let’s go for a walk.”

CapeWrathBeachBoat

I’m not sure why.  Cape Wrath was the uppermost destination of our road trip through Scotland, and the lighthouse that I wanted most to see.  Mayhaps the skies were too sunny; I had always envisioned seeing the lighthouse with grey clouds and a light drizzle and mighty waves beneath.  Mayhaps I was tired of sitting in cars, and spending two hours in a van on the other side of the water wasn’t too appealing at the moment.  But, whatever the reason was, I just… didn’t feel like it.

What I did feel like doing, though, was taking a walk.  Along the coastline, on the cliffs:

CapeWrathBeach

So that is what we did.  We started along the unmarked path, and then scaled down the rocks to the perfectly white sand below:

CapeWrathLowTide9

It was ridiculous, this clarity of colours.  I mean, does this look real?  I felt like I was walking through some CGI beach in some adventure video game:

CapeWrathBeachClarity

This is not what I think of, when I think of northern Scotland.  Bu, here it was.  Just white sand, blue waters, and little waterfalls trickling off mossy rocks:

CapeWrathBeachDribbles

And, as if this wasn’t cool enough, something truly magical happened as we were strolling along the beach.  The low tide came in.

CapeWrathLowTide
To the north of us was the Atlantic Ocean (or is it the Norwegian Sea? or the Arctic Ocean), to the south of us was the Kyle of Durness.  And between these two bodies of water, usually connected, the sand came up to play and presented us with all sorts of crazy patterns.

CapeWrathLowTide2

Fun stuff!

CapeWrathLowTide6
This year, I had planned to go see the salt mines at Uyuni, but fate made me postpone that travel until 2015.  Instead, I ended up here, in the quicksands of northern Scotland– and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.  We tried to cross all the way to the other side, onto the Cape Wrath Peninsula, but were stopped by a mini river of currents right by the western shore.  But, that’s alright- walking on the bottom of the ocean was fun enough by itself:

CapeWrathLowTideSimba3
Then, we drove another couple of miles to the little seaside town of Durness.  We stopped at the seaside cemetery (I would like to be cremated and my ashes released in the Isle of Skye, but if I had to get buried, this place wouldn’t be too shabby):

Durness
, and took an art/chocolate pit stop at the Balnakeil Art  Village, a series of old war bunkers converted into art galleries and chocolate stores.  I think that it’s a nifty idea, and added a really unique feel to the ginger cookies.  After that, a short stroll through Durness:

Durness2
, and a mini hike down to SMOO Cave- referred to as Subsurface Military Onshore Operations during the war.  It is one of Britain’s largest caves (the largest cave?), and you can take a small boat tour inside:

DurnessCavesOfSmoo2

Then, we took one last stroll to the northern cliffside, where we were accompanied by bunnies as we stared off into the distance.  I loved the fact that there was nothing separating you from the North Pole.  Between you and the Arctic, just water.

DurnessCavesOfSmooRabbitPath
After that, we started our trip back down south.  It was the first time we drove south in over a week, and our hearts weren’t feelin’ the beat.  It was uncomfortable, to be driving back… and away from the water!  There was nothing between Durness and Inverness (thank goodness for those two not-too-yummy ginger cookies, for that was dinner), though I doubt that we would have been able to bring ourselves to stop anywhere had there been something.

Inverness was a dark and scary place.  We pulled into the outskirts of it around 10 PM, and already from the distance, all of the light pollution made us cringe.  The giant stores and neon signs and parking lots and ugly cement buildings did nothing to cheer up our spirits.  Our minds and hearts were still in the Highland Wilderness, and we did not want to be there.

Inverness
So we took a fast-paced stroll around the city center, stocked up on digestive cookies, and left.  We drove for another half hour before starting to look for a place to pull over for the night- without much luck, despite our multiple detours down tiny roads and into deserted parking lots.  We ended up in scary parks and in a private airport and driving around the perimeter of an army base… until finally giving up and pulling into one of those parking areas at the side of the highway, next to a couple of 18-wheelers.

Not the most scenic sleeping spot, but we were exhausted and had no motivation to keep driving.  We crossed our fingers that the morning sun would illuminate us with some inspiration, curled up with three layers of socks, closed our eyes, and smiled nostalgically at the thought that twelve hours earlier, we were somewhere between a homegrown breakfast and the sunny bottom of the ocean.

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