Inverness to Wick
or, about hitchhiking and missed pictures
When I woke up I had no clue about what was to come. And that was better so. The night left quite some new puddles behind, but the sun was starting to shine. So far, so good. My first stop was at a nearby harbor, namely its public toilets (which btw. are called so here, unlike in America, because why promise more than is inside? Or what was the last time you saw a tub in a public bathroom, eh?). To natives or to motorhome owners it may not appear as such a wonderful thing, but if you are camping out in the wild, believe me, the reliability with which these noble houses appear at harbors and other touristy places is reassuring.
But it was not just this little house that appealed to me. The harbor was, in the rising sun, a very nice sight, as were the many other harbors to come. As I noted earlier, I was so far amazed about the high number of people living here, in contrast to what I heard. One would expect the residents of the still numerous towns to be either farmers or fishermen. However, the harbors could be the home of a few small boats at best, and the farms were widespread in the fields. To date I could not figure out what all the people were doing out here. Nevertheless, going north meant seeing less and less houses and traffic. The occasional Bavarian bus full of older tourists who then took pictures of one another in the most questionable positions was about as well represented as the three Dutch girls in a rental car. And again asked me an older English gentleman "and where are you from in the States?", being quite surprised when I told him that I am from Switzerland.
But it was quiet. Quiet enough that I felt sorry for the Scottish woman standing at the road and trying to get a ride to next town. When I picked her up she was obviously disturbed -- this time I am pretty sure it was not my driving but merely her position in the car: on the right front seat, without a steering wheel. During our brief talk I mentioned that it is now only the US and Bangladesh which use the non-metric system; after this, she stared at me for a while and finally asked in an inquisitive tone the unexpected "is Bangladesh pretty?" -- as if I knew; to this I had to admit I didn't know the answer. When leaving she thanked me profusely for the event of the week.
When I drove through the town of Wick, I saw a guy in his early 20s wearing a German military jacket (with flag) and a Nazi emblem on the sleeve. I thought that by going so far away from our northern neighbors I would be spared views such as this. Still, the nature after Wick was pretty enough to make sightings such as these quickly forgotten. But things were about to change soon.
It was about 16hr when I pulled into a parking lot alongside the road to take a rather cheesy picture of a castle. What a mistake. As I wanted to depart, nothing happened when I turned the key. I didn't panic quite yet, but maybe I should have. At that moment I didn't yet realize where I was and what day of the week it was. After about 20 minutes of retrying and staring at the engine I sighed and waved randomly at the next passing car. As life goes it was a Renault Twingo occupied by four Italians. For those who don't know: a Twingo is about the smallest car currently built anywhere in the world, but it looks really cute.
After several attempts at bringing the car to run we all concluded that we were clueless and the Italians offered me a ride to next help. So there we were, five adults and tons of luggage in a Twingo, heading to the next phone booth. A Renault commercial could not have been more moving. Too bad I was stupid (as usually in moments like these) and left all my camera equipment behind. Leaving $10,000 in camera gear and £ 500 in cash openly in the car is not such a big problem here as it would be in LA, and taking pictures was the last thing I was thinking about at that time. However, pictures of this trip would be about as impressive as a sound recording, given that only one of the Italians spoke a little English, and that after today I definitely crossed off Italian as one of my appraised foreign languages.
The automobile club representative told me on the phone that before they would even consider helping me I would have to become a member, for just £ 90. Thinking that things were bad, given the geographic situation, but not quite that desperate yet, I thanked and hung up. So there we were, in this purple Twingo, heading back to Wick. Sitting on the front seat, similarly estranged like the woman on my front seat in the morning, but this time rather by the outspokenly Italian driving style thinking that I won't see the sunset even if there is one today. I also had less leg room than on the back seat of a Porsche (trust me, been there before). By now it was also closing time in Wick, and so we had to panic after all and find the only 24hr towing service in North-East Scotland. Given the size of Wick not a big deal, though. Worse was that Richard, the boss of the shop, said that the only towing truck was on assignment and I would have to wait till the evening. It was then when it occurred to me that all my money was in the car and I began to worry after all.
Just before sunset and after I found a £15 place to stay overnight, we drove in his towing truck up north to my abandoned car. Richard was quite a character: in his upper 50s, a Scot like from a picture book. Short of a skirt and a bagpipe, he had everything you would expect: talked all the time, made jokes which were really funny if you could understand them, and claimed that they had the world's finest climate. His towing truck was an old Dodge, with the steering wheel surprisingly at the wrong side, too, and it probably saw World War II. Since my car has fulltime 4WD it can't just be towed like that. Realizing that, Richard, being a man like a bear, successfully brought the car back to life by pushing it to considerable speed and then jamming into the 4th gear. You won't do that with an automatic I guess. The starter was apparently dead and that in a place with the next Volkswagen dealership hundreds of miles away. You should have seen Richard hammering onto it with a sledge hammer, and then letting sparks fly as he created a short circuit with a wrench. But since it's dead anyway, who cares.
Now it is Friday just before a long weekend, and I am in the middle of nowhere. As Richard said, however, I am heading into even bigger void with roads so narrow that it doesn't matter on which side you drive, and so I better get it fixed for good as then the next towing service may be further away than just 20 miles. A look at the map seems to confirm that. Besides, not always do you have a man like a bear handy when you need to start your car.
Here I am, in this Bed & Breakfast place, with radio (on which I first had to adjust the time) and TV, and can enjoy the wonders of British entertainment. Unlike other B&B places, this owner does not seem to interact a lot with the guests, and you get all the noise this town has to offer through the window: the harbor is just down the street as well as the main road with the only traffic light in town. I still may want to stay for another night if the car gets fixed easily, or for a few more if it won't. Like my American Honda on the past 3rd of July, cars just seem to break down when you need it the least, and then I never even take pictures of it...