The morning on Barra was cloudy, windy and grey and I thought my days of perfect Barra weather were gone. My kayaking trip I had planned for the morning was not going to happen in the strong winds and the views wouldn’t be very dramatic with the low clouds rolling through Castlebay. So I browsed around the Co-op and local shop and had some fantastic curry for lunch at Kisimul Cafe. (had no idea how big curry was here but the warmth was perfect!). Then I went for a hike…um, walk… um…a long walk with lots of hills. I headed down the ring road the encircles the island and made my way eventually to the Isle of Barra hotel. From there, I had great views of the “Atlantic rollers” as they call it. We’d call it waves. Apparently they are HUGE after a few days of westerly winds but with the calm of the past few days, it just looked like a beautiful beach to me. I hoofed it back to Castlebay as the clouds were moving on and made it in time to check in with my kayak guy who was finally ready to head out.
Now for the comic relief of my trip to Scotland:
For the first time in my life, I put on a wetsuit. Oh mercy! It felt a bit like I was trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. I first tried shooting my leg all the way through the leg of it – no luck. My foot got stuck at about the knee area of the pants and there was no budging it. So I decided that I had to approach it more like pantyhose (which I try to wear as close to never as is possible when working in a church). I bunched up the first leg and started at my toes. Success! Well…success with one leg. Then came the second leg. This thing really has NO give to it. More like putting on a 6-year-old’s panty hose. After losing my balance twice and almost hitting the very gross bathroom floor of the hostel where I was changing, I finally gave in and had a seat to get the other leg in. Well that was a great plan,…until it came time to stand up. This wetsuit had both my legs in a hold that I’ve only ever seen on WWF Wrestling. So I did all I knew to do. I pulled and wiggled and tugged and jumped and squirmed until my heart was racing and most of me was inside the suit. I had to lean over the sink to catch my breath. So far, kayaking in Scotland is exhausting. I know the water is cold and all…but is it cold enough to warrant full body Spanx? At this point, I’m doubting it.
When I finally got at least 85% of me inside the blasted wetsuit, I was about to celebrate wildly. Then I realized, I couldn’t raise my arms. I was like the little brother in “A Christmas Story”. They wouldn’t budge more than about 2 feet from my body. But I would have had to nearly take it all the way off and start over in order to get enough slack in it to give my arms some freedom. It wasn’t worth it. By this time I had worked myself into a full body sweat and if I took this wetsuit off, there’s no way on this earth I’d be able to pull it back on. I didn’t need to raise my arms while kayaking anyway. I prayed I wouldn’t overturn and actually have to swim for my life. I’d be sunk! Call the rescue boats! There’s a McNeill in the bay!
After a few deep breaths and a re-do of my ponytail (as if that helped), I walked (sauntered…like someone does in a three legged race…yes, that kind of sauntering) out to my guide with confidence, as if I squeezed myself into full body Spanx every day back home. I think he could tell this was not my usual activity by my red face and the channels of sweat running down my forehead. He was either totally oblivious (he was all of 19) or exceedingly gracious because he went along with attempts to be confident while being wrangled by the rubber tube squeezing every inch of my body.
With the hard part behind me, we set out and paddled in all sorts of nooks and crannies this island has to offer. By the time we got going, the skies were a perfect clear blue. We stopped to stretch our legs at a small peninsula of the island that hasn’t been touched by more than kayakers for years. It used to serve as a filling station for ships and the ruins of those days still remained (though you’d never know that’s what it was). Our guide said that even as recent as 70 years ago, ships would have been backed up all throughout the bay to get fueled before a long journey across the Atlantic. From Barra, everything’s a long journey. As we climbed to the top of the hill, we found the skeletal remains of a sheep. As in, a whole sheep skull, parts of spine and some leg. The skull was begging to be strapped to the grill of an RV but Barra has a strict code about leaving the island the way you found it. So the sheep skeleton is staying on that little island rather than in my luggage. We also found the skeleton of a fish that had undoubtedly been dropped out of the mouth of an island bird. Our group put it all back together, shocked at the big teeth that still remained in jaw.
As I got to the top of the island, I couldn’t believe the view. I so wish I had a picture but kayaking and cameras don’t mix..the picture wouldn’t have done it justice anyway. We could see almost all the way to Mingulay (which is the southernmost island of the Outer Hebrides–an hour and a half by motorboat). We stayed for a while just to take it all in. That’s a picture I won’t soon forget. If only I could see it ever again without the full body Spanx and a soggy bum from sitting in the kayak, I’d be in heaven!
I’m leaving Barra tomorrow to head for Iona. I do hate to leave it. It’s been a wonderful and relaxing three days here. Honestly, i can’t remember the last time I’ve been this relaxed about anything. I do feel a little better leaving though, knowing that the ferries I’ll be on all day don’t require a wetsuit. 🙂