Sunday, 30 September 2012

Living Life on the Edge [Edinburgh, Scotland]

How a weekend getaway turned into a lifetime experience.

By: Gloria Atanmo

When I booked this trip to Scotland, I didn't know what to expect. Sure I’d run into a couple men in skirts kilts and bagpipes; but I had no idea exactly what type of treat I was in for. Besides being forewarned about their "indecipherable accents", I had to prepare myself and learn some key words from the Scottish language. So I asked my friend Josh (who had gone there the week prior), what the percentage was of Scottish people who spoke English. He gives me the blankest stare and says “About 100%”. Oh ignorance, how cute it can be sometimes. Surely I wasn’t the only ill-advised, misinformed, and culturally-challenged soul out there. Leave it to Google to restore some faith in myself and my shared ignorance :)

So as I’m perusing Princes street, I start hearing scattered chants.  Camera in hand, I walk down the hill to the blue sea of Scottish flags and I’m completely floored by what I see. The people, the skirts kilts, the flags, the passion -- all so empowering! I stayed for a couple hours listening to the speeches, making small talk with the locals, and taking in the fact that I am experiencing history as it’s being made. Who knows what will come of this in the future, I just know I picked a good weekend to visit!

Now, living in a place that's constantly compared to the castle of Hogwarts, I thought I’d drop into the Elephant House cafe, which was the very place J.K. Rowling wrote her first couple Harry Potter novels -- getting inspiration from looking out the window towards Edinburgh Castle. How cool is that? It’s a very cute and quaint coffee shop and I'm glad I spent all of 1.5 hours trying to track down this overpriced notorious place. Worth it!

After I’m all rallied out, I decide to go ahead and make that visit to see Arthur -- or his seat, rather. For those that don’t know, Arthur's Seat is a mountain that was once a volcano, and is currently the highest point of Edinburgh, Scotland. A view to die for (almost literally), as it overlooks the entire city and neighboring seas, on the oh-so-very steep climb to the top. The hour-long hike it takes to get there is absolutely NO joke. And when I titled this Living Life on the Edge, you will soon see why.

Sidenote: I have been deathly afraid of heights for as long as I can remember. So I didn’t have any idea how steep the climb would be, nor how close to the edge I would be for a long, long stretch. I had a large tote back on me, less-than-able boots, and my bulky Canon SLR camera to capture the moments along the way. What I thought would be a cute, little stroll through the park mountain hike wasn't at all what I ended up experiencing...
It wasn’t until I got about a third of the way up there (on the steepest stretch) that I started to panic. That vulnerability of being alone while facing your biggest fear, on a mountain, and two wrong steps to my right from experiencing my last moments on earth... it all kind of hit me at once. Mind you, there was still subsiding mud and residue from the rain the prior days, and I had already slipped a few times on the lower steps. What looked like an amazing venture turned into a death trap. There was nobody out in front of me for a few hundred yards, and if there was anybody behind me, they were nowhere in sight either. I was alone. I was exhausted. I was falling into a deep and dark mental hole of fear and doubt, while my emotions are running rampant at this point. The same emotions I had been trying to bottle up for the past month come rushing through my eyes in their salt-water form.

Most people don't know this, but about a week before I departed for Harlaxton in August, my father passed away in a diabetic coma. But during the time, I had to be strong for my mother as she was in the most pain and I knew my emotions wouldn’t help the situation. So I held it in. I stomached the pain. For her. And Harlaxton served as a great way to occupy my mind ever since. But on this day that I climbed Arthur’s Seat, was the same day as my Dad’s Wake-Keeping ceremony back in the states. I know I should’ve been there. All of a sudden, I feel this big hole inside. I missed my family. And all the people who came to Arizona today to celebrate his life and mourn his death. And here I was -- alone. An emotional wreck. Ready to give up on a seamless hike up a mountain. 

Get it together, Glo! 
You didn't climb this far to let your fear and doubt take over -- you MUST continue! And I did. Not for me. For him. MY DAD. Thirty minutes later, I am feeling the victorious flows of energy throughout my body. I am again overwhelmed with emotions; this time a mix of joy and sorrow. I knew coming to Harlaxton wasn’t a mistake. What I didn’t know, was the personal growth and spiritual journeys I’d be encountering along the way. Not everyone gets a chance to experience a "mountain-top" kind of moment. And I am so thankful I did. It was the exact closure I needed and I hope he looked down and saw the message I made for him. What made it even more special was the connection to the internal mountain I've personally been trying to climb in life, and how I was able to live out the very thing I'm battling inside. The feeling is indescribable. 

After I'm done reflecting, I start making my way down, another thing I underestimated the difficulty of. Fast-forward a couple bad decisions later, and I’m straddled between two rocks on opposite sides (because the genius inside saw a small hole of opportunity in this). A very nice lady calls out to me, asking if I need help. Wondering how God answered my silent prayer so quickly, I respond and toss over my large carry-on bag that easily added 30 pounds to my one hundred and blah-blah pound self that I had been lugging around all morning. I’m able to catch my balance and steady myself from there.

We make small talk on the way down and I decide to just follow her because 1) she clearly knew what she was doing and probably had a better route to the ground and 2) I needed someone on stand-by to call the ambulance if I suddenly operated with two left feet again. I’m not sure what it is about traveling independently that I enjoy, but I would say a part of it is forcing myself to come outside of my comfort zone and experience things on my own. The familiarity with the U.S. is nice and all, but I love a good adventure. I
’m getting a great vibe from Laura (life-saver from the mountain); she was super sweet and we continued to converse as she insisted on carrying my heavy bag all the way down with her. What a Godsend! She then invited me over for some home-cooked haggis (a traditional Scottish food I would’ve overpaid a restaurant to cook for me) anyway. YES!!! She was also hosting a foreign exchange student, Charlene from Beijing, who was with us on the climb down as well, so it was cool for two out-of-towners to experience a home-made Scottish meal together. Later on, she invited me to a pub with her and her friends that night to watch a local live band -- they were AMAZING! Not to mention she lived in a flat that was 5 minutes from my hostel! Seriously, who set this up behind the scenes. The friendliness I experienced with her was reflected on all of my other encounters with Scottish people. I love how warm and welcoming they are.

Words fail me when it comes to how much I've fallen in love with the European culture. My friends back home joke around that I better not mess around and end up staying here. And while the sentiment is funny, wouldn't it be something to see that come into fruition? Relying on my less than accurate sense of direction, locals, maps, and wi-fi pubs, is a bit more than just a thrill. It's living life on the edge! I’ve met so many amazing people in the last month from Australia, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Paris, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain. And their cultures, their accents, their lifestyles just fascinate me to the highest extent. I’m aware not everyone in their life will get to experience this -- which is why I take in every single moment and capture every single picture I can. Because it’s not about what I experience personally, it’s about what I can pass on to the next person to inspire them to travel, explore, or take a leap outside of their own comfort zone and do something remarkable in life.

Don’t forget to leave comments and feedback! I love hearing from you all and hope you're enjoying this exciting period of my life. Until next time...




  1. You go, Gloria! Keep living life on that edge. You've written a very moving and real account of you visit to Scotland. My sorrow to hear your sad account of your father's passing so recently. I am glad the locals took you into their hearts and home. Wonderful folks, the Scots. It is a truly wonderful country. I am glad to hear Harlaxton is still alive and getting Americans their first tastes of life abroad as it did me many years ago.

    Never look back.