Sunday, March 21, 2010

Loch Ness and Pumas (famous mythical creatures)

Quote of the blog:

Watching a Planet Earth video with Gaby:

Gaby: Wait! Did they just say PUMA???

Brook: Yes, that’s a Puma.

Gaby: Pumas are real!?? I thought they were just a brand! You know, pumas, the mythical creature of the Andes!


For three consecutive summers I worked for a college coordinated London Study Abroad program. Our groups spent six weeks in London and finished up with a four-day trip to Paris. The students were around 18-24 and many of the students had never traveled much, let alone been out of the country. There are too many stories to tell in just one entry – but here are a couple of my favorites:

One summer we visited the hilltop ruins of Old Sarum near Salisbury, England. On the way one a professor gave a short lecture about the 5,000-year history of the site. As we walked up the hill one of the girls asked if I had ever been there before. I replied, “Yes, but it was five years ago when I was a student on study abroad.” She slowed and asked wide-eyed, “Were they ruins when you were here?” Yes. Yes they were.

Before I get into the next story, I’d like to make an observation on human nature. From what I’ve seen, it seems that, generally speaking, when people travel as passengers they tend not to pay attention to directions, signs, etc. Most of us sit contentedly in the passenger seat and watch the scenery, change the station, chat, etc. and don’t pay too much attention to the details of the directions unless we need to. There are of course, the opposite types – we all know a friend (or maybe you are that friend) that can always identify north or drive directly to any place they’ve ever visited. This type of friend, however, seems to be the exception.

This principle proved to be especially true over and over again in Europe. Laurie and I herded our little flock of students all over London and took a trip of 24 of them to Scotland. It was our first time ever to Edinburgh – which the students knew – but as soon as we were off the plane we were asked by a group of girls where the bathrooms were. Laurie and I looked around the terminal, saw a sign for the restrooms and pointed the girls in the right direction. Those situations were frequent and, I thought, provided an interesting insight into group social dynamics.

While we were in Edinburgh (ps. Scots might be some of the nicest people on earth) we took a Haggis Bus tour which included a trip to Inverness to Loch Ness to engage in some cryptozoology. The tour guide talked about the history of Loch Ness and how Loch means lake, etc. We got dropped off for the boat tour of Loch Ness and piled onto a boat with a group of about 40 other tourists. We sat on benches in the enclosed deck and looked through the big glass windows across the expansive lake. Each pane had small stickers of dinosaur-esque monsters on them. The stickers were designed so the monster was cut horizontally in half with a space between the body and the neck. That way, if you positioned the sticker with the water just right it looked like you caught a picture of a surfacing Loch Ness monster – his back and neck and head above the waves. Very fun.

The guide on our vessel was a ginger-haired Scottish lad of about twelve. Ok, he was probably 18 but he looked like he was twelve. For twenty minutes we sat and listened to his brogue as he held up different sonar imaging of the bottom of the lake, talked about the history of the Loch Ness Monster, the first sightings, theories, legend, etc.

In the middle of a sentence one of our girls impatiently thrust her hand in the air. The kid looked surprised but called on her. In my memory she was chomping gum and twisting a strand of hair and asked her question with a disenchanted valley girl inflection –but I am not so sure that any of that is accurate. What I do know is that she asked, in a tone that somehow conveyed impatience and ignorance and a touch of boredom, “When do we get to see the castle?”

We all turned. The boy asked, “What castle?”

She insisted, “You know? The castle that’s Locked? Locked Ness Castle? The famous one?” She peered through the windows looking for the castle.The rest of the tourists stared at her in disbelief. Our group shrank in our seats.

As soon as we docked she hopped off the boat and charged to a a pay-phone. First called her mother, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about the Loch Ness monster!?” Apparently her mother was quite shocked to find out her little girl had never heard about Nessie.

We couldn’t figure it out either. Had she never watched Scooby Doo or other cartoons that at one point or another referenced Nessie? And, even if she didn't ever hear about the Loch Ness monster growing up, what did she think about the presentation on the boat? The pictures we took in front of the the massive sea creature statue by our bus? The stuffed animals, the signs, the lectures?

After calling her mother she called her fiancé in Washington (she was on a study abroad, he was not). We heard one end of the conversation but she filled us in on his answers after hanging up. She tried a different approach with him than she had with her mother:

“Honey, I’m in Scotland! What would you say Scotland is most well-known for?”

He answered, “Highlander, kilts, bagpipes, Braveheart, haggis…”

She prompted, “Right! And do you know anything about any kind of folklore or famous creatures?”

He said, “Oh, you mean the Loch Ness Monster?”

She hung up fuming, “How does everyone know about the Loch Ness Monster but me!?”

To be honest, we were wondering the same thing.


  1. Lol! She must have missed the Lengendary and Mythical Monsters of the Past 101 course they teach at camp outs and Scooby Doo. :) All your stories make me laugh. I love your writing!

  2. I love your traveling stories. But I think you should at some point tell a vignette about surviving Italy with dawn mosquitoes and night-crawling spiders. hahaha! Oh and our supposed thief! :)

  3. That is hilarious! Do you remember the story in Bath where one of the girls was buying a skirt and the sweet shop keeper told her, "That will be 50 P, love" to which, after searching in her hand for coins asked, "Which one is the 50 P love?" That one still cracks me up!

  4. I'll admit that when I read my mission call I pronounced it "Ed-in-berg." But I was aware of old Nessie. Someday they'll capture her, and fry her up to sell at the local chippie. And I'll be there.

  5. Hahah. I almost started the blog out with Connie's 50p-love! I'll have to write about that next time. It STILL makes me laugh so hard.

  6. i remember that!! wasn't she also the same girl who told the bus driver that her fiancee was "at war" and then went on to explain that he was in Washington? Maybe at boot camp or something, but definitely not "at war". i was just telling some people yesterday about how we had to tell the students that the entire country of Britain was like the library so they would stop being such loud, obnoxious "Americans" on the subway?

    Oh, also, you have to tell about the naked man play. I might have to write that one up myself... anyway, your blog is good times!