Sunday, August 19, 2012

Life takes over

I arrived in Ballater exactly one week ago, after over 12 h of traveling. First ever flight from my home city airport, filled with laughs shared with elderly Polish couple who's lived in UK for 10 years, troubleless and fast transfer from Stansted to Heathrow in the middle of the night, comfortable place to sleep in the world's busiest airport, making first friends on the British soil, my co-passengers from the Aberdeen flight. Easy start of difficult things to come.

Surprisingly, it was here in Scotland where I had first ever not so pleasant situation with the authorities. On my way form Aberdeen Airport to the city, a policewoman driving a massive 4x4 stopped me, saying "It's dangerous to hitchhike here, go straight on and pass the gas station." So I went there, thinking she had just made a suggestion about a place that more people going my direction would pass. I carried on along the busy road and soon the police car stopped again. The woman apparently opened the back door for me and I was just about to get in when she rudely asked:
"So you're telling me you're going to hitchhike, right? Why don't you take a bus?"
"I don't have money for a bus."
"You have no money at all?"
"I do, but a bus fare is not what I'm going to spend it on (a white lie to spare myself further explanation about my traveling style)."
(yelling) "Don't you know how big danger you're putting yourself in by doing this? Haven't you read the latest headlines?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I've hitchhiked on my own for over three years, also in North America, Africa and Asia and nothing really bad has ever happened to me."
"But this place is not Africa or Asia! [sic!] Well, I was just about to give you a ride but if you don't appreciate that other people care about you, I'm sorry. Thank you."

I wished I had made up a story about hitchhiking alone all over Afghanistan and Southern Iraq. Would she also say Scotland is dangerous then? Anyway, not even for a while did I consider bailing on hitchhiking. I waited at a bus stop far away from the place where this wench of a policewoman's car was parked and got a ride after ten minutes - a woman with a little daughter and newborn twins took me. She was going to Aberdeen center, but when I told her I had to get a plug adapter in some supermarket, she said "I'll drive you to Boots, it's much better than supermarkets in the center and it's also close to the road you have to take."

We got to Boots, I did my shopping and my driver told me "I think I can drive you to Banchory. It's a village on your way, it will be much easier for you to get a ride there. I used to hitchhike a lot when I was young and I would never hitchhike from the center of Aberdeen."

We got to Banchory, but since we were in the middle of an engrossing conversation - she was sharing her stories from the time when she used to live in Western Africa and Syria and I was telling her about my travels in Morocco and Western Sahara, she changed her mind. "I'll take you to Ballater, it's not so far..."

...and that's where it all started. I have only stayed here for a week but it seems like this has been my everyday for many months. I decided to work not because of money concerns, since assuming that I go on traveling the way I do (and I for sure will), my current savings would let me travel for over five years; but more because of the need to settle down for a while in a different place, to have a sense of independence I couldn't get when I stayed in Poland for last (forgot how many) months.

Every day the same dream, I could say... I exchanged all the things that set my heart to racing for 12 h-long shifts which make me so exhausted that when they're about to end I almost fall asleep at the bar counter and collapse into my bed when I'm back in my little room; for almost no time to rest, let alone read, explore the vicinity (and there's a whole lot to admire) or sit for hours and watch the world go by; for grouchy co-workers who behave as if they had permanent PMS (just my luck; I always go wrong when it comes to female colleagues); for a high fever developed just three days into my work as a result of frequent temperature changes - working in hot places and often going outside (lousy Scottish weather...) to get supplies from the garage; for totally screwing up my biological clock; for having to be artificially polite from time to time; for wearing beautiful yet not so comfortable clothes; for...

Today I had the first eagerly anticipated day off, announced just yesterday. In the morning strong beams of sunshine woke me up and I knew I'd try to hike as high as possible. Picturesque Sgor Buidhe was the choice.

At first, the trail winded through a dense forest but I didn't have to walk for too long to see some breathtaking views open up. My camera could barely contain itself taking one photo after another. Still, photos can't do the justice of this tranquil and irresistible scenery - patchworked hills convulsive with all hues of green and brown making a gorgeous background for carpets of heather and bluebells. The last week's fatigue vanished immediately in this surrounding, that was again me being just me, stopping every 100 m to drink in the views, lying on the carpets of heather, running down a hill, getting dirty, burying my nose in flowers, drinking ice-cold water from a creek, petting cows, talking to strangers.

Realizing how much it is to explore here, I'm getting more and more convinced that these couple of weeks in the middle of Cairngorms National Park will pass quicker than I can imagine...

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