Highland Midges 1 – 0 Me by Esraa Husain
I thought I was prepared to walk the passage of the fairy realm, but the Highland midges ate me alive. One of the highlights of my summer staycation was a trip to the Isle of Skye, located on the west coast of Scotland. I was with a group of friends, and all of us were revitalized for this adventure. We needed to escape from the vibrant – and sometimes overwhelming – city of Glasgow, postgraduate submissions, the Zoomania, and Covid-19 lockdown. To reconnect with nature was an attainable quest, considering that some of the most breathtaking landscapes, and serene views are a stone’s throw away from the city.
To manage our financial budget, we adapted to the concept of the more the merrier. We were seven in total and decided to rent a car and share the expenses. I do not consume vast amounts of alcohol thus I was the auto-designated driver, and no, I am not complaining about this. I felt honored upon taking that position as I acknowledge my privilege to be able to drive. I see driving as one of the small pleasures in life, and such a liberating experience. While relying on public transportation here, I find myself often missing driving, and I am always ready to step in and be a driver whenever an opportunity presents itself.
We spent days gazing at photos and videos of the Fairly Pools on the internet which left us mesmerized. We even felt bold enough to prepare ourselves for a swim in the pools. It was August, and we were oblivious to the Highland midges forecast, and did zero planning of accommodation. Thinking that there are countless hotels, B & B and hostels so we would not be facing any accommodation-related emergencies… How little we knew. The Isle of the Skye is an attractive global destination, and tourists would need to book their holidays at least a couple of months in advance. So naturally, we ended up sleeping in the car, which more or less seemed like sleeping in an airplane seat – economy class seat to be precise.
Thinking that there are countless hotels, B & B and hostels so we would not be facing any accommodation-related emergencies… How little we knew.
For some context, we had dinner at the popular Green Welly Stop then continued further in the Highlands, passing Fort William on a haunt for a room. Four hours have passed with no luck. Thankfully, we meet a very kind hotel manager who allowed us to park the car at a hotel’s parking lot for free. She recommended to lower the car windows before going to sleep. That was our first night spent at the Isle of Skye.
I woke up to an invasion of hundreds of midges in and surrounding the car. It was six in the morning, and I had less than five hours of sleep. I could not tolerate them, so I started driving with the Fairy Pools as the destination in mind. I was playing with the idea of embracing nature as a temporary loo: to relieve ourselves behind the bushes in the open, hoping that the morning mist would be heavy enough to cover our exposed bodies. A dip in the pools will be our morning shower. And what is better than brushing our teeth and freshening-up with lochs and silhouettes of mountains against the sky as background conditions? All my cynical views of life were put on pause to navigate such unpredictable turn of events. It was about seeing the glass as half full which occasionally is a healthy practice to do.
The noise of the street kidnapped my friends from their sleep back to reality. They were content with staring at the gorgeous views through the windows. Thus, we did not need to make many stops to get outside of the car to see. We reached the Fairly Pools by nine in the morning. We got the ticket of the parking lot and got a brief preamble of the ‘walk’ to the pools from the security man. We were questioning the net cloth piece he was covering his face and neck with. But soon enough, we realized why. There were hundreds of thousands of midges flying around in that area. An invincible army of them. Regardless of the bug repellent spray that he generously offered to us, the midges managed to strike in their sneaky ways. They go behind the ears, and stay at the back of the neck, and attack the ankles. Their vicious bites were inevitable. Dear reader, two months later and I still have scars on my body from that day.
After hiking for two hours, while battling midges, hunger, and a mere existential crisis, we decided on which pool to swim in. Bear in mind, that the water temperature was less than 12 degrees. I would like to express that swimming in such cold waters should be an illegal practice. But we were not ready to give up on our aspiration to swim. Also, we were in a desperate need of a distraction from the midges that were devouring us alive. Also, we needed a hygienic bath. Also, we wanted to take cool photos to post on social media.
Looking at the crystal-clear pools and the reflection of the sky across them made me wonder about what the waters might hold. I have always been suspicious of this kind of embrace. What kind of emotion would the waters evoke? It was such a welcoming landscape. I have always been suspicious of this kind of embrace. I am only used to swimming in the waters of a very warm gulf that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and Persia. Its water temperature reaches 40 degrees in the summer. And now I am willing to jump into these waters that are unfamiliar, unpredictable and appear prettier than what they hold. How to pick up the pieces, in a moment of profound betrayal? Or is it a moment of an identity formation? I acknowledge the usefulness of this analogy but also the limitations of it. Because the basic obvious fundamental fact is that we are fluid. We keep changing, growing, maturing, and adulting. Our understanding of ourselves and deepest desires will always be partial and never whole. This is the only fact that stands in my world, and that might be the reason why I give others, and myself ‘too many second chances’. I have been looking for years for waters that resemble what was encoded in me, with no success thus far. To cultivate my feelings of grief and loss, I decided to let go. I declared that I was ready to experience this fabrication of euphoria. That is me directing my speech to the Scottish waters, before going for a wild swim.
So yes, we did it. And I would do it again.
I am only used to swimming in the waters of a very warm gulf that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and Persia… And now I am willing to jump into these waters that are unfamiliar, unpredictable and appear prettier than what they hold.
On a personal level, I have always been keen on domestic and international travelling. However, due to having a limited capital, and immigration-related complications I do not have the luxury of travelling anymore, not as much as I fancy anyways. Living in Scotland has expanded the totality of my longings within the limits of local outdoor activities. I discovered my new passion for Munros Bagging with my friends, starting with Ben Lomond and Beinn Teallach this summer, which leaves 280 Munros to go. On the other hand, solo hiking has been an absolute delight, with an emphasis on photography to amplify my experiences. Finding myself straying in Great Cumbrae, Bute and other wee isles. Appreciating all the stunning rainbows I have encountered, and the Highland coos that I have met. On some days, the adrenaline rush of exploring a new area brings me comfort. On other days, it is the smell of petrichor that caresses my senses while I have my daily walk in the park right outside my neighborhood. I try to gracefully navigate the fluidity of my human conditions while coexisting within the fluidity of the universe. Always nurturing my next anticipation and giving myself a second chance.
Esraa Husain (pronouns indifferent) is a non-binary creative writer and translator from Kuwait. Esraa is currently conducting a PhD research in Scottish African literature and postcolonial theory at the University of Glasgow. Their fiction and nonfiction writings have been featured in Gutter and Causeway/Cabhsair magazines amongst others. Esraa is the founder of U Belong Glasgow: a multilingual platform featuring BAME, LGBT+ and disabled creatives.