A Couchsurfing Experience

At some point in Australia my focus in travelling changed from seeing and doing a lot of nice stuff towards learning something about the country I’m in. In Cambodia Couchsurfing was very helpful for that and in Germany I met a lot of interesting people through the network as well.

Here in Scotland I wanted to give the ‘original’ couchsurfing a try, that is staying with a local and crashing on their couch or – in this case – spare beds. In Oban there is not really a lot of hosts but I found one who looked pretty interesting. The guy is living in an old lookout from WW2 and the view from his place is just stunning.

The rest of the place was so-so as the guy is quite a messy (and that’s me saying that). We got along well enough though and on Wednesday went for a little hike through the coastal highlands. I forgot the name of the hill we went up but it was a nice walk and the top offered even more stunning views.

On the way back we got caught in a cloud and the visibility dropped rapidly. Good thing my host grew up in the area and has been up that hill countless times. On my own I might have gotten lost.

Now I’m in Edinburgh to catch my flight tomorrow morning. I have to be at the airport fairly early (5 am) and considered to just spend my last pounds on food and beer and sleep at the airport for a bit. Upon arrival I felt rather tired though and went for the next hostel. It’s one of these YHA again.

Walking and Whisky

Most tourists come to Islay either by car or with their bicycles which is not the worst idea as public transportation is rather scarce. I don’t have either and using a bicycle on a windy island for hours wouldn’t be to my taste anyway.

For Sunday I planned a visit to the Bowmore distillery which is about 11 miles from Port Charlotte where I’m staying.

As I had to learn, there is no bus services on Sunday. That left me with Islay’s second public transportation: hitch-hiking. It was recommended to me by the hostel owners so I didn’t really have concerns about safety. Islay is probably the place with the lowest crime rate in the UK anyway.

The islanders were extremely helpful and I didn’t have much trouble getting to Bridgend. There I saw a sign saying ‘Bowmore 3’ and decided to walk the 3km. Wondering after a while why the way looked so long, I realized that I’m in the UK and it’s 3 miles and not 3km. Still managed to arrive at the distillery five minutes before the start of the tour.

The tour was very informative and I finally learned how barley is turned into that delicious whisky. The islay whiskys get their smoky flavour from the drying of the barley which is done over a peat fire. Once a ‘by-product’ it is now a trademark. The tour finished – of course – with a tasting.

Some friendly islanders got me back to Port Charlotte and after dinner I had a look at the night life. One of the pubs offered traditional live music. It was a bit too traditional for my taste and I went next door. The atmosphere there was more to my taste and a couple of locals invited me and some other travellers to a game of pool.

On Monday bus service resumed and I said goodbye to hitch-hiking. Today’s destination was the Laphroaig distillery in the south-east of the island and with the thin bus schedule it took me long enough to get there. A 2.5h stop-over in Bowmore was good for a walk along the beach and lunch from the super market. Ever tried pasties?

The tour at Laphroaig was a little more relaxed and included a tasting of raw smoked barley and ‘wash’, the beer-like base for whisky. Both interesting but nothing for a daily base.

Tomorrow I’ll leave Islay and head to Oban on the west coast.