From midgets to midges and the Loch Ness monster. Allow me to time travel just a bit. Two friends and I did a road trip around Britain one summer. Coming from the Southern Hemisphere, the British summer didn't measure up to my expectations because it rained a lot and was mostly cool - a bit like winter in Cape Town. Still, I was insistent that this was going to be just like any other summer holiday trip, which had to include swimming outdoors. Silly me. We had done a fair bit of driving along the south coast of England, into Wales, with some interesting animal encounters along the way with pot-smoking rabbits and seductive fish whose stories I wouldn't dare tell here. One animal I was eager to have an encounter with was the so-called mythical monster inhabiting the Loch Ness in Scotland.
We made our way into Scotland and stopped by a pub to watch the Scottish football team compete in the World Cup Finals (held in France, 1998). The atmosphere was great! The Scots are lovely, warm-hearted people and after a couple of drinks, it's really not that hard to understand when they speak. Sadly, Scotland lost and was kicked out of the tournament. Nobody cried or booed - they simply went on having a good time. We got some directions and left to find our hostel. I'd thought we would have to settle for some dingy craphole in the middle of nowhere since we couldn't afford better, but when we arrived at our hostel, my breath was taken away. Its location was unbeatable: virtually on the shoreline of the Loch Ness, without another building nearby!
I was like a child in a toy store. My travel buddies were infected by my enthusiasm as we ran down to the beach of the lake. You already know that the word 'loch' means lake, right? Actually this lake looks more like an inland sea - Nessie could've been anywhere. I was undeterred. I stripped off my clothes (hold on now - I was wearing a swimsuit under my shorts and jumper, okay?) and I plunged. Plunging was all I could do because the loch was in charge after that. It sucked me in and had me doing some weird kind of loch dance as I slipped and slid on the smooth, moss-covered rocks underfoot. I got twisted and tangled up in lake weed in a way that reminded me that I was only a guest there and Nessie would decide if I was welcome or not; and it was freezing. It was that kind of freezing cold that burns your skin red-hot. Does that make sense? I was so determined to have a bonding moment with the monstrous lady of the lake, that I took it one step further: I submerged my ears and I swear on the sacred claws of the monster in question that I heard something reverberate under that water. It was probably ear-ache starting up, but I had myself convinced it was something else...
Needless to say, my friends chose not to follow me into the water. One thought I was brave, the other called me crazy. I got out of the water as the light grew dim around us. I put my clothes back on and kept feeling a thin film covering my skin, like a spider web. I kept wiping it away and it kept coming back. My skin was still tingling from the dip, so I thought nothing further of it. We were walking back to the hostel, when one of my friends shrieked. She was looking at me and pointing at my face, which had begun itching. My face was covered in a cloth-like layer of little black flying bugs that looked a lot like the harmless fruitfly, except that these creatures were bloodsuckers. With that we ran indoors, hysterically swatted at each other (they took the opportunity to slap me liberally across the face), and basically looked and sounded like a freak show. Fortunately, there were only 3 other people staying at the hostel and none of them laughed at us. I would have. The hostel manager told us that midges are the mosquitoes of Scotland, except that they are silent in attack and are particularly attracted to the lake water, which I had dripping from every pore. That was enough bonding with the local fauna and flora for one day.
But listen, I'm sharing a well-kept secret with you now, so try to keep this between us: if you ever get the chance to travel to that part of Scotland, don't bother with fancy hotels. Make a bee-line for the youth hostel on the edge of the Loch Ness. It's cheap, clean, and offers the most exclusive view from its dorm windows. Nowhere else are you going to see what I saw from my upper bed bunk that night. It was pretty late by the time the moon rose (in the summertime, the sun sets around 9pm) and after an eventful day, we fell exhaustedly into bed. A Chinese girl shared the dormitory room with us and woke me up twice - first with her snoring and then she started talking in her sleep. I wish I knew what she was saying - alas, it was all in Mandarin - but I was glad she woke me because it gifted me with a very special memory. From my bed I could see through the window a perfectly full moon beaming terrifically across the loch, casting a thousand shimmers on its water, as it rippled in unending, undulating little waves, without a single artificial light in sight; and right on the edge of my vision, almost imperceptible, I saw the ancient rugged curve of Nessie's back peeping just barely above the waterline, as she patrolled her domain. A mystical swimming dragon on its travels. You don't believe me? So go and see for yourself.