There is always something special about being above the clouds. Looking out at the view from the patch of long grass where I had pitched my tent, it would be easy to assume you were in the middle of nowhere, a blanket of cloud beneath, hiding what could be a vast wilderness. Above, there is a wide, blue sky, and within, just you, in your own little world.
But what this picture cannot convey is the sound. If you could hear the traffic, the music, the dockyard, you would quickly work out that you were not more than a few hundred metres away from a busy coastal town. This is the bizarre situation I find myself in, the night before my Project Trust training course.
I shouldn’t have worn flip flops in the long grass; it takes a good twenty minutes to remove all the ticks that have begun crawling up my legs, in search of a nice warm patch of skin to dig into. Once complete, I shut out the never-ending summer evening light with a blindfold and curl up, aiming to get a nice early night in preparation for catching the ferry at half five the next morning.
That is when it begins. Faintly, in the distance to begin with, then I gradually became more and more aware of it as it draws closer, eventually there is no ignoring it, and certainly no getting to sleep. Yet still it gets louder. Almost ear-splitting. Every few minutes, just as I am starting to nod off, somebody outside the tent takes a huge breath of air and funnels it through their vuvuzela for a full five seconds. My early night didn’t go to plan.
Quarter past four, flips flops on, stuff tent away, march down the road through the thick mist which now envelopes the hill, catch the ferry with about 50 other Project Trust Volunteers. It makes a similar noise to last night’s vuvuzela all the way to Coll. CalMac redeem themselves for keeping me awake by providing a fantastic hot shower on the boat.
“Where in Guyana is it you’re going?” asks somebody a few seats away.
“Chenapou” I reply, still unaware of how to pronounce it.
“You’re my partner. Nice to meet you, I’m Ben. Where have you been?”
Ben and I are going to spend a whole year of our lives together.
Throughout the week I experienced every possible feeling about going to Guyana, from “help, am I actually going to get back alive?” to “this is going to be the best thing ever!” I realised that we will never be fully prepared for what we are about to do, but that is exactly the point. Mistakes and disasters are a necessary part of the learning experience.
Chris, the desk officer for Guyana, barely stopped for breath. From 9am till 11pm every day for four days he talked passionately about Guyana, about teaching there, living there, the people, the places, what to take, what to do, what not to do… Even if our brains could not work fast enough to remember anything he told us, the important things were his amazing enthusiasm and commitment, bringing us together as Team Guyana and setting a standard for us to aspire to.
Perhaps the most memorable thing on Coll was simply meeting the other brave volunteers who had signed 12 months of their life away to the mosquito infested rainforests and savannahs of Guyana, sharing our excitement and fear, playing Frisbee on the beach, swimming in the sea with the dolphins and seals, and of course ceilidh dancing into the night.