Our three day journey began in my room; cramped with five restless kids who eagerly woke up at the crack of dawn to pack away our goods in the car for our trip to Havasu Falls. Completed with a coffee, an Einsteins bagel, and a pillow for the car ride — we were ready.
Four hours had passed by the time we finally reached the rim of the Grand Canyon. We staggered outside of the vehicle to take one good look over the world beneath our feet before we settled down with our backpacks. Not really sure what we were getting into, we immediately started our trek down the canyon walls with only hope, love, and excitement to see what was at the end of our trail.
Immediately noticing the environment, I couldn’t help but feel I was in the middle of a Clint Eastwood film. “This is it. This is the ‘Wild Wild West’”, I thought. I stood in shock with how beautiful the mules' hair stood against the colorful dirt and laughed at how small Reyce’s body looked within the canyon. Continuously smiling to myself in response to my already-amazing-experience, we trekked onward.
2 miles went by.
5 miles went by.
7 miles went by.
10 miles went by.
The sun was finally beginning to hide behind the canyon walls, forcing the dirty sweetbeads on my forehead to finally dry. All of our Nalgenes were near empty, our stomachs churning from hunger, and our shoes so dirty my mother would cry. Nonetheless, we finally reached the outskirts of Supai: a town at the bottom of the Grand Canyon housing land for the Havasupai tribe (Havasu means “blue-green water” and pai “people”.)
“YES! We’re finally here!” I screamed with exasperation and utter excitement. I immediately took off my backpack and began massaging my sore shoulders. Naturally, my dear friend Maggie patted me on the back and said, “Uhm, no. We’ve still got 2 more miles to go. We’re only checking in.” She hysterically laughed in my face and I desperately had to refrain from knocking her upside the head. Damn it.
When the boys were inside to check our party in for our camping reservation, Maggie and myself stood outside to wait. I looked down at my feet to see a happy little Chihuahua (he goes by the name of “Pinky”) licking my dirty ankles, happy as can be! When the boys were finished with checking us in, we started our trek forward for the last 2 miles to our final destination. And… Pinky followed. The whole way there. That pup has a strong sense of adventure, I tell you what.
Time passes us by slowly and our shoulders are screaming with agony. Just as I was about to give up to take another rest, I took one more step around the corner of a rock to see the giant waterfall stand tall before me. The melodic sound of water crashing up against the rocks was music to my ears. All five of us stood in awe, not saying one word.
Just a few steps beyond our current placement was our campground — our home for the next couple of nights. We crossed a fallen tree trunk over the river to set up our tent and turned on our stove for a much needed meal. Freeze dried macaroni and cheese for dinner? Yes, I’ll take it.
We slept soundly that evening.
The next morning we briskly arose from our tents to make some hot coffee/tea. Another darling puppy had randomly greeted us at our campground, keeping us great company throughout our breakfast time.
The next few days were absolutely full of magical sights. We swam around Havasu Falls, climbed down a sketchy ladder to play in Mooney Falls, and did a whole lot of relaxing. Nothing can compare to the sweet smell of fresh air while doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Ahhh — the best Spring Break there ever was.
Oh… did I mention I fell into a muddy ditch flat on my back and got the wind knocked out of me? Yeah… well, I did. But it was worth it.
Until next time, Havasu.
Can You Belize It?
"A Month Among Warm Waters"
My stay was a month long. Not only did I have the grand opportunity to intern for a non-profit Youth Empowerment Center within the town, but I was able to be accommodated through a home-stay with a local family. Damn, I miss this so much.
I’ve decided to do something a bit different this time within this journal entry -- to make it as personal and meaningful as I remember it one year ago. Below are some actual entries I had written on both my laptop and my “field notes” journal on these selected days. Here we go:
Journal Entry #1 (July 6th): After an incredibly quick flight to Belize City, I had to push through the pain of a 6 hour bus ride to the small costal town of Punta Gorda with the other interns. The bus ride had no source of AC, cockroaches were crawling all over my feet, NO stops for bathrooms, and it was jam packed the entire ride over. Luckily, I slept for a little bit and looked over to view the country side. My goodness, this place is gorgeous.
Journal #13 (July 25th): HOLY MOLY what a freaking day. These past couple of days were nice and relaxing with the kids but today sold me to the belief that Belize is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The ProWorld staff and interns took the children out to Snake Caye Island to go snorkeling within the reefs. Things took a turn, however, when the storm hit.
Upon preparing to depart on our 30 minute boat ride from Punta Gorda to the island, we were being completely blasted by a rush of rain and wind. Scared for our lives, we departed on the sea anyways because the driver of the boat insisted that we leave right away! Uhm -- what? So while boating over, we were bumping up and down, side to side, and practically off the boat due to the harsh waves in the rain! But it was the most entertaining things to be apart of, we were nothing but giggles and screams the whole way there!
When we first entered the island, I couldn’t believe what was right before my eyes; a private island accompanied with aquamarine pools of yellow fish for snorkeling and an awesome lush jungle to play around in! I had never seen a sight so beautiful, pictures or video simply do not do it justice. The water was the perfect temperature to swim in -- this is paradise, I thought.
Journal Entry #4 (July 9th): Today is finally the day where we begin our work at the Youth Empowerment center! My job throughout the course when I’m here is to give a few photography workshops to the kids and then document everything that has happened throughout the center’s summer camp!
After meeting the kids, I knew that this was going to be a much better day. Granted, they can be quite a handful sometimes but it’s all worth it. My heart melts when I look at them, actually. Being able to present them my passion in life and see their eye light up when I pulled out my camera made my heart so full. A little boy had come up to me later in the day and thanked for me all of my hard work and that he was so excited to work me tomorrow!
Tonight, I went to bed smiling.
Journal Entry #6 (July 13th): This weekend was absolutely spectacular. Why? The other interns and I decided to have a spontaneous trip to Placencia; a beach with waters warmed to perfection. Besides the three or four thunderstorms that happened during our stay, I have never been to a place so beautiful and majestic. If y’all haven’t swam in the Carribean sea, you have to! It’s warm and clear as crystal. It was surely the perfect getaway.
Not only did the amazing water and paradise-like-hotel make me feel more comfortable here, but the other interns and I already feel like a family. We come from all sorts of different backgrounds and yet love each other like we have known each other for years. That sort of fabulous connection made my transition from home to Punta Gorda much easier than doing this excursion alone. And that says A LOT about how crazy it is over here because I like to consider myself a “travel often” kinda gal.
I love them, I love my homestay, and I am excited to see what this next week is going to offer!
Journal Entry #8 (July 18th): You know that quote, “Life is 10% what happens and 90% of how you respond to it”? That quote couldn’t have been more true on this journey of mine. Earlier this week, I had lost about $340 US dollars (which is $680 Belize dollars) that I had previously saved up on my own before I came out here. It was incredibly stressful and I nearly had a heart attack; however, a vast blanket of comfort surrounded me as I began to simply breathe and realize that I am in good hands. After checking all of my bags and asking my homestay if they had seen any of it, I called my coordinator over at the ProWorld office. Instead of freaking out and throwing a mini temper tantrum/crying fest... I breathed in and out and made the most of it. Luckily, I called my father after an afternoon of anxiety and he helped me calm me down and was sweet enough to wire me a couple of hundred dollars to me from West Union. While I am up here, I have to make the most of it because if the deed was done -- it’s done. I am so happy that I continued on with a positive outlook and kept my head up! Phew. Note to self: never, EVER, bring all of your cash with you everywhere you go... especially in a 3rd world country.
That was quite literally the most stressful things I have ever been through. From this moment on, I made a promise to myself to be fully aware of my surroundings and to always be cautious of my surroundings. As if I didn’t have the common sense to do that anyway….?
Journal Entry #9 (July 19th): Today, the ProWorld interns and staff took the summer camp children to the Mayan Ruins in Luubantun and a Mayan village where my project coordinator’s brother lives. When we first arrived to his village, which is only about 30 minutes outside of Punta Gorda, I have never sweated so much! Oh -- and don’t forget the endless bug bites on my swollen legs. This whole “no AC” thing is still not something I can get used to. But anyways.... back to the point: the jungle is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. It’s so green, healthy, and bountiful from it’s own exquisite beauty beneath the canopy. Before entering the Mayan ruins, the children and interns took a gander through organic farms and made our own homemade lemon grass tea with a dash of cinnamon! Y-U-M. Seriously, I’m gonna need to get this recipe.
Journal Entry #16 (July 30th): Today was magical. All of in the interns and I finished up work early and set out for a day on the pier to soak up some sun. We talked about how nervous we were for us to arrive in Punta Gorda and all realized how quickly this trip went. A month seems like a long time while you’re at home planning for everything but it literally flew past me like it was nothing! We talked, shared amazing memories about our home life, and lived within the moment before we were all about to say our goodbyes. We rode our bikes all over town under the cool moon sky -- a fresh smell of rain clouded over us through the night. I felt like I was in a Sophia Coppala coming-of-age film as we rode through the town as free as can be. I’ll never forget that moment.
Journal Entry #18 (August 2nd): Today is my last day out here and I can’t believe how much of a mess I am. I won’t really be able to write a journal entry tomorrow because I’ll be traveling all day with no breaks in between to whip out my laptop and type some thoughts down.
I find it so incredibly hard to write down what I’m feeling; part of it is because I’m not that great with words and the other part is because a true experience leaves me completely speechless. I can’t tell you how many amazing people I’ve met, from the other interns, my staff, my glorious host family, the kids’ faces every day at the Youth Center, and even the folks I would buy fresh dragon fruit from down at the market every day. Every single one of these people have left a mark on me and I am so heart broken to leave them. Although I feel like I want to stay longer, a month is the perfect time to be abroad. It’s just that right amount of time to feel like you’ve lived there in that place vs if I were to visit for just two weeks or less. I came, I saw, I conquered.
I have truly left my mark here. I am going out right now to eat some lunch with my host family and will meet up with the other interns to have one last afternoon on the pier. Saying goodbyes are never easy, but having a hard goodbye means you’ve met someone special in your life.
I love Punta Gorda. I love ProWorld. I just really, really love everything right now and I am eternally grateful for this opportunity. I don’t think I have ever learned more about myself in such a short amount of time like I have here and for that, I can never be thankful enough.