Considering all my travels in recent years, you would think I would have better luck on tours. For the most part I plan my own intense itinerary, but sometimes it is just easier and cheaper to pile into a minivan and not have to worry about driving. But for some reason I often end up on weird tours. I really shouldn’t be surprised considering my aversion to being around people most of the time. I always have high hopes though, that I can do forced socialization a few times on vacation and get a break from the pitying looks of happy couples dining around me, and picking up adult beverages from the local market to take back to my hotel room and watch weird local television, in this case reruns of Billy Connolly stand up routines from the 1980s.
When I started researching my trip to Scotland, the one suggestion I read over and over was to go to Isle of Skye. It was too far to drive from Edinburgh, let alone on the wrong side of the road with millions of sheep roaming around. There were, however, a handful of tours to choose from, including the three-day tour I settled on. As I reached the café check-in though, my hopes for a bus of rowdy Aussies, polite Canadians, or basically anyone enjoyable was crushed like a grape only without the wine reward at the end. In hindsight, I wish I smuggled alcohol in the minivan. Much like the all-Russian chainsmoker tour to Hallstatt, Austria, I had booked myself into an all-Asian tour of Skye. The only exception was my weird tour guide who had a faint English accent. I should have run away and demanded a refund for false advertising. Where was my big burly Scot in a kilt that the website portrayed? Nope, I was stuck with the pedophile-looking guide who had to keep stopping to vape and ask me things like why I wasn’t married, and did I like foreign men and big, juicy haggis. Pervert.
The minibus rode in silence for 10 hours, only interrupted by my guide’s obsession with the history of the Scottish economy. He kept looking to me for feedback and participation because everyone else on the tour pretended to not speak any English. It was a bus of mimes. I was stuck. My teeth gave me away, because nearly everyone I encountered on the trip asked if I was American or Canadian because “no one else has teeth like that.” All I could do was pretend to sleep.
The only day spent on Skye turned out to be cold and rainy with 25 mph winds. The morning touring was a complete bust as the Fairy Pools were flooded out, Talisker Distillery was not open at 9 am, and the final morning stop involved a 45 minute ride out to a lighthouse that was fogged in. Instead of taking a vote to skip straight to an early lunch and shopping (which would have been the proper course of action since I was the only one who would have understood the question), Pedophile Guide stopped at the lighthouse for 90 minutes of free time. The rain was too heavy to take out a camera, and the wind gusts were rocking the van so hard I almost prayed to be swept over the cliff. We had to wait the full 90 minutes as a stupid Japanese couple decided to walk all the way out to the lighthouse. As I ate my chocolate bar and cursed my decision to not go to Ireland instead, I convinced myself that the hell would continue as the couple who weighed a combined 180 pounds with soaking wet parkas would probably be blown off the cliff into the ocean, and the ensuing paperwork would cost us the afternoon too.
The afternoon only slightly improved as it was still too foggy to see the highlights of the island. As further proof this was the weirdest tour ever, we hiked up a path to see a waterfall, and at the top there was a group of Brazilian woman topless and shouting “Freedom!” It was not nearly as entertaining to me as it was to the 19 year old Taiwanese boy who always had to run off the bus first (to get the best selfie spot for himself to take 3000 selfies), and of course, the pervy guide said it was the highlight of his 5 years as a tour guide. I think the wind had something to do with it. Eww.
So, by day 4 when I returned to Edinburgh, I was thinking that I wasted three days seeing not much of the Highlands. Perhaps this is why I started to appreciate the whisky. I started researching and decided to spend one of my last days on a Highland tour with The Hairy Coo tours. This tour group featured an orange bus with steer horns on the front, and a catchy slogan. At the very least they promised I would get to pet a hairy coo (and that’s not a euphemism for the guide, although Brian was a fine looking proper Scotsman). On this tour I was stuck with a bunch of loud American college girls who talked over the guide the whole time. I knew this was a good tour when Brian ended his opening monologue with a warning – if you are late back to the bus, we would all greet you with a sarcastic “Slow Clap of Death.” If you realized you were late and ran to the bus, he would play the Benny Hill theme for our enjoyment, which was every bit as hilarious as you would think the one time he deployed it. This tour was also heavy on Outlander series trivia, which I regret not having watched before my trip. Of course, now I am addicted to it and having watched the whole series twice now, I’m pretty sure I could go in the back yard, pick some weeds to grind up and cure everything from athlete’s foot to malaria. On the bus to Doune Castle (aka Castle Leoch), Brian played the theme to Outlander to get us in the mood, and I have to admit whenever I hear the theme and its rousing bagpipes I am transported to that bright autumn day with golden leaves, winding through the fields of sheep and remember a happy day in the highlands. Thank God I salvaged this trip.
And here’s my hairy coo selfie to prove it.