An account of the journey by an adult chaperone
On Sunday, June 21, the J2A Pilgrimage participants officially began our journey with a picture-taking, and a prayer. The pilgrims were caravanned to BWI by parents and spouses. Nine youths and 5 adult chaperones arrived in Scotland at 11 am on Monday morning, and were greeted by John Spencer of Wonder Voyage. John took us well in hand, jammed our luggage into a 17-passenger van, and headed toward Iona, a few hours drive and two ferry rides from Edinburgh. Along the way he described the scenery, what to expect in Iona, and supplied useful information about Scotland and the coming week's itinerary. Most of the riders in the bus quickly nodded off.
We stopped in Oban for lunch at a kiosk on the quay for authentic fish and chips. The weary travelers perked up at the thought of food and the feel of fresh air on our faces. We learned that the first ferry ride would be only 45 minutes, and the second a mere 15 minutes. We were taking an inner passage, essentially island hopping, so there would not be any open sea crossings. Several pilgrims heaved a sigh of relief since a few had never been on a ferry and had dramamine tablets handy. We were blessed with spectacular weather (no rain!), and ate our fish and chips outside at the Oban waterfront. The ferry was a large boat, capable of transporting lorries, hauling tankers and full size motor coaches. There were several levels where passengers could sit, inside or outside, and the ferry also had a sit-down pub, a cafeteria and a small gift shop. Best of all, there were toilets!
The first ferry ride went smoothly, and John made sure we were all in the van before docking at Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Since our plane landed later than anticipated, any extra time built into the schedule to allow for cushion to catch the Iona ferry flew out the window. John had to traverse a one-lane road to catch the last ferry to Iona. We are happy to report that God blessed us yet once again with perfect timing, and we had 10 minutes to spare at Fionnphort. We unloaded our bags from the van (no tourist vehicles are allowed on Iona), John went to the local store for basic breakfast provisions, and we all walked onto the ferry to Iona.
The crossing took only 15 minutes. John led us up the ramp to a taxi that had a small trailer attached to it. Lindsey, the driver, took our bags to the north end of Iona, to our accommodations at Iona Hostel. We shouldered our knapsacks and walked the 2 km to reclaim our suitcases and find our beds, passing Iona Abbey on our way to the hostel.
We settled into our rooms, and gathered together to walk back to the village for dinner at Martyr's Bay Restaurant. None of the pilgrims asked how long we had been up on our feet or moving, and we all enjoyed the delicious offerings of the restaurant. Most of the pilgrims walked back to the hostel, and a few took the taxi back.
We met in the great room/kitchen of the hostel for the Wonder Voyage "induction" and evening prayer. John had us make introductions, and he explained that Wonder Voyage was here to facilitate the pilgrims' experience, to make sure that accommodations, food and transportation were available so we could experience God and His wonder without having to worry unduly about basic necessities. (John did this extremely well!) He stressed the importance of safety, and gave us a preview of the next day's schedule. The pilgrims, by this point, were seriously nodding their heads after the many hours of vertical and seated movement, and the youth were sent to their rooms for much needed sleep. It was close to midnight in Scotland, but there was just a bit of sunlight in the sky so far north of the equator. The cool temperatures and fatigue helped all of us sleep well that first night. We felt grateful to be cared for by Wonder Voyage and John Spencer, to be nourished by the bounty found in the abundance of food on Iona, and to feel so close to God at the north end of an island on the western edge of Scotland.