I watched as the carefully packed suitcase and backpack were quickly taken apart; my clothes, camera, and back-up box of mac and cheese sprawled on the desk. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, I was never going to get my luggage to re-zip. In the previous days, I had packed four months worth of clothes and personal items into a 21" carry-on and my high school backpack that would double as my 'personal item.' It was a feat of hard-work and ingenuity. My mother and sister had found "Roll Bands" on www.thegrommet.com, a site that features clever inventions. I rolled up my clothes into categorized bunches and shoved them in my suitcase. I used a vacuum bag for my coat and sweaters, knowing that I would be returning in December. I planned to buy a winter coat, while I wore my long leggings and short boots on the plane. I managed to fit my purse into my backpack along with a sketchbook, my iPad, and other necessities. (See my packing list here.) I may have wobbled a little as I walked in my heels with a bulging backpack and carting a rollerbag, but I was able to say goodbye to my mother and father and go through security.
I had almost three hours to kill in the airport before boarding my overnight flight to Edinburgh, which would connect to Heathrow. It was not a particularly comfortable seven hour flight and we were delayed by a half an hour, yet I was glad to be on my way.
It had been hard to leave my family and friends, knowing that they would change as much as I did in the next four months. However, I had put so much effort, time, and money into this trip. And I knew I wanted it. Probably more than I had ever wanted anything before. My best friend had written me letters to open at different points in my trip, and her encouragement to not leave behind regrets gave me a small shove of courage. I had dreamed of traveling, of seeing new places and learning new things from different people. I was not going to give up because I was kind of nervous.
So by the time I landed in Scotland I was ready to take on my gap year. I was second off the plane, knowing that my layover was cut close with the delay of my first flight. I fast-walked to border patrol, my heels clip-clopping in the empty halls. When I arrived at border patrol, I was already a little flustered. But then the questions wouldn't end: Where are you going? Why? A month is a long time to travel; what do you plan to do? Who bought your plane ticket? Who are you volunteering for? In exchange for what exactly? What kind of chores around the house will you help with? Is it a private or public garden you will be working in? How big is this garden? What do they grow there?
I knew at this point that the possibility of making my flight was quite low, so I tried to answer all the questions precisely. I got a little tied up though; I didn't know how big the garden was and no, I didn't have any documents to prove that I was volunteering there. I was told to sit on a bench as my boarding passes and passport were taken away and the border patrol agent went to call my hosts in England.
After much waiting, I was moved to another room where I waited some more and tried to contact my hosts and parents using wifi. I was finally removed from there and taken to a hallway between border patrol and the baggage claim. Empty desks lined one side where I placed my two bags and they were undone. He flipped through my French phrasebook and cryptography puzzle book like I was some sort of fugitive--he even read the notes I had opened from my best friend. Then we [the border patrol officer and I] spent a good fifteen minutes trying to repack and close my bags.
Next was the interview room. The officer asked me many of the same questions as he had before, now recording both sides of the conversation and having me confirm and sign each page. We called one of my hosts, the partner of the woman who I had been in contact with in Greater London. He helped fill in some holes in the interview, but the officer then told us both that I would be sent home since I did not have a visa. He said that he needed to know not only why I was coming into the country, but why was a UK citizen hiring me [even if it was volunteering on private land] and what conditions I would be going into. When explained this way, I replied that yes, I did understand although I did not particularly like it in this case.
Lastly, my dreams and plans were crushed as he told me that border patrol would find me a hotel for tonight for which I would pay. Then of course they would have to use the other half of my round-trip ticket in order to ship me home tomorrow.
I can't lie and say that I did not shed a few tears. I regret that I barely looked into a visa, putting it on my to-do list, but forgetting it and pushing it aside as no one mentioned needing one. Workaway does state in a very brief sentiment that they are not responsible for such arrangements. My host did not mention it because workawayers coming to stay with her rarely had visas.
It took four hours in total before they released me, after fingerprinting, photographing, and patting me down. All of the officers and workers in the detainment office were quite nice; however, the process was painful. When released, they said they booked me a hotel. Then they told me it would be 235 pounds. I asked them for something cheaper, but they told me that there were no other rooms nearby, as the Fringe Festival was going on.
I was allowed out of border patrol with a very empty stomach, my bags, and a letter that will act as a boarding pass tomorrow. I went to the travel agency in the airport and they found me a room for a more reasonable price on the outside of Edinburgh, farther frm the airport. I grabbed a bus there and was pleased to find my room at the Tune Hotel small, but modern and comfortable. Honestly, any bed would have sounded good after a night on a plane.
I gathered up what was left of my courage and decided to do a little exploring since I was in a strange city, even if it was not the one I planned. I downloaded a map of Edinburgh using the ingenious app Ulman CityMaps2Go. I highly recommend this app because you can view maps without wireless internet or cellular. Your GPS will still work and you can search places and businesses while roaming the streets and not racking up international fees. (P.S. I have completely turned off my 3G and Data Roaming so I can only access internet with wifi.)
So I took my camera and a bit of money and went out. I visited St. Mary's Cathedral, where I saw an interesting embroidery exhibit and listened to an angelic children's choir practice. I ate a tuna melt in a corner cafe, where I found that I like eating alone as long as there is people-watching (a counter seat by a window is perfect.) Then I made the decision to hightail it up to see Edinburgh Castle while I still had energy. It was late enough and I had had a long day so I didn't get too close to the castle--I just couldn't imagine coming to the city and not seeing it perched, golden-brown, on a cliff. With aching feet I went back to the hotel for a much-needed shower and rest.
My host in England did invite me to stay with her and not volunteer, simply visit. I will happily present this to border control tomorrow morning, yet I am not feeling to optimistic about their response. If not I will return home, but only until I can figure out where I want to pick up in my journey. And after I get a visa.