During July of 2016, I took a two-week trip to the country of Belize. I never once thought it would change my total outlook on how I live my life. My trip was a during a pivotal point in my life, I had just graduated high school and was preparing for life after it. That’s a funny thing about traveling, you go and in some cases learn things about yourself you never knew before. I was pushed to my limits during this trip, it helped me realize I would be alright in the next chapter of my life.
The challenges started right after landing in Belize. The flights were long and I was exhausted after a night of no sleep. What made it even more exhausting was the fact that I knew I had long days ahead of me for the next two weeks. The trip I was broken up into three phases. Phase one was a team service project. Phase two was a hike through the rain forest. The final phase (my favorite) was a time of reward and reflection.
Once our flight landed, my teammates and I were stuck at the airport sitting in the hot sun waiting for our ride to take us to the site of our service projects. We had large heavy packs that we rested against as we awaited our ride that felt like it would never come. After waiting for what seemed to be forever we finally arrived at our service site, a one-room school, accompanied by another building that was half finished, a small kitchen and tiny bathroom. We were greeted by the very sweet Teacher Ruth, she made sure we had everything we needed. We were also greeted by the bugs. It was like every bug bit us if they could. That next day we would start our service project of building a small covered area for the school children to eat their food out of the hot sun.
The next day I was tasked with getting the remaining materials we needed for our trip with a smaller group while the rest stayed back to start the actual project. I was excited because this seemed like an easy way to start the days of hard work. Little did I know at the beginning of the day that it would become an eight-hour trip. It was hot sitting in the back of the box truck driving from the rural area to the busy Belize City. It was a frustrating day, my job on the small day trip was to handle the expenses and manage the budget. It was valuable to learn how to budget, considering that fall I would be attending college. What bothered me was the fact that nothing that day was budgeted right. The people we were helping on the project was over spending the money we had set aside to cover the cost of the project. It got to the point where our team leader had to step in and speak with the man. It was a long day, with little food, that ended with bickering. All I wanted was sleep.
The next couple of days was filled with hard work, itchy bug bites, and more bickering. Tensions were starting to run high between group members. I hardly remember it, though. I do remember trying to get food, and it was always difficult. The student team consisted of three girls and eleven boys. It was a mad rush for food, constantly. It was never split evenly. So, I went through my days tired and hungry. It was alright, though. It was just another learning experience of how to stay strong and focused when the going gets tough. In the midst of the hard work, we did have fun days. I was able to explore Mayan Ruins and I had never been so excited to swim in a pool before. Once our work was finished at the school, I felt wonderful. I knew I made a difference for a someone who needed it. It may be a large world, but I know I did my part in changing it for the better.
The second phase was a hike in the rain forest. This would be the most challenging for me. It was something I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I was totally blind to what it would be like. Again, more tensions ran high, jobs were not done equally, and we walked for hours in straight line for hours during the day. I believe we spent four days and three nights hiking. I felt as if I was being pushed farther than I ever had before. Finding resources was so difficult, not only for personal use but water for washing dishes and activities such as that. The terrain was not an easy feat either. There were rocks I had to climb over, holes I had to avoid (I still fell multiple times), hills that seemed to go on forever, waist deep rivers to be crossed, logs over rivers to cross, thin edges that I had to creep across praying that I didn’t fall backward on. All of this was done with a large pack that was not strapped onto my body right. Being the smallest of the group had its perks and downfalls. I was given help whenever I asked. However, I got tired the fastest. It was embarrassing, but I got large amounts of encouragement.
I learned how to keep fighting and pushing forward even when I felt like I had no fight left in me. Being out of civilization gave me a chance to be one with nature. A chance to reflect on myself and who I was becoming as a person standing on my own. I saw places where I could improve and worked to improve them. Walking out of the forest was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. It sounds small, but after being face down in the dirt, I was proud of myself. However, I could have done it without the love and support from my team. I will be forever thankful.
Once out of the forest, we went to Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Cawker). This was an island in the Caribbean waters off of the mainland Belize. This was the final part of the trip, a chance to be rewarded for our hard work and reflect upon the experiences and struggles that we as a team endured and the individual struggles we had overcome. We spent the next two days in real beds, showering, eating good food, and smiling. No one had to do dishes, or cook, or any of the other jobs we had given out before. It was perfect. My favorite part was waking up early and watching the sunrise over the clear ocean water. I felt at peace in the presence of a higher power than myself.
During our time on the island, we took a day to go snorkeling. It was everything I could have wanted. By this point in the trip, we were all so humbled. We had seen and been through a lot. It was eye opening. So, having a day on a sailboat on the water was everything. I was so happy, my smile was from ear to ear. Just like looking at the morning sunrise, I was at peace. Life was good at that point.
I left for Belize with a busy mind. I knew what it was like to have everything at the tip of my fingers. After spending two weeks in a different country, with a limited budget, little food options, eating to sustain, and pushing forward, I was humbled. I saw things that I can’t unsee. Not horrible tragic things, but how people lived and how little they had. The locals I met, they still managed to be such happy people. I aspire to live my life with the same joy they had, even when things get tough. I learned a lot about happiness in those two weeks. It comes from within, not the material things we possess. I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything. It is a large part of who I am now at this point in my life. It gives me the courage to push through the difficult obstacles I face. I am forever grateful for the things I learned and continue to learn from that trip.