It was nearing five am on a Friday morning as I found myself driving to a back parking lot located in Columbia College. On this particular evening-morning the moon shown in the sky orange and remained there in a peaceful beauty guiding us into the next day.
As dawn broke, I found myself heading westbound for Kansas City, Missouri. Where I would board the first of two planes that would take me out of my home country for the first time into the country of Belize.
Belize proved to be very welcoming and full of unique, intriguing culture. My first impression of a genuine Belizean was none other than our extra-ordinary tour guide: Jake Martinez. Jake, as we would endearingly refer to him for the remainder of our trip, greeted us with a warm spirit and a full grin. Most of us keep in contact with our beloved tour guide through the present on Facebook. Most of us keep in contact with each other as well. The personal, human connections made on the trip far exceeded my expectations. Through shared experiences and perspectives, our group of twenty-one travelers formed bonds, friendships, and memories that will last well into the future. To yield friendship and to form fond memories are, in themselves, worthwhile experiences. My time in Central America gave way to both, and so much more.
As we came out of a restaurant after eating our first meal in Belize, an outlook of the ocean was just a short walk ahead of us. Situated above our view of the sea was a full moon. This moon was more graceful and awe-inspiring than the orange moon of the night prior. The moon that night, radiating its pure, white light, was our first glimpse into the magical qualities of the area.
The varying, vibrant greens of trees and vines, the bright, nearly artificial-looking-to-American-eyes colors of flora blended with the deep brown mud and heavy blue skies to form nothing less than a picturesque backdrop for the excursion to unfold upon. Palm trees of different sorts were in abundance. Everyday I had access to fresh, local food. The papaya, coconut water, and plantains were among my favorites.
Along with the food and nature, we had the opportunity to connect with ancient cultures as we visited several Mayan ruins. I read about the Mayan culture for a class offered by the college before traveling. This knowledge felt absolutely priceless and well worth the hours spent reading as I climbed yards-high up Mayan stonework. The temples had steps leading to the top, or near top, and typically some type of intricate design etched into them. This design not only accentuated the temples aesthetically, but also served a very usable purpose: they told stories. One who understands Mayan iconography can view these etchings and discern meaning and narrative from them. The language of the ancient Maya was represented through pictorial iconography as opposed to the alphabet we use. In addition to the ruins, we had the humbling experience of being hosted by a modern day Mayan village in Guatemala (or “GuateMAYA” as locals say). Although there was a considerable communication barrier, the people of the village welcomed us with the utmost hospitality. Because of the people, the night we camped in the middle of the sticky rain forest was "the best ever" to say the least.
The last leg of the nine-day trip consisted of island splendor. Over the course of the seven days leading up to the island we had become a very close-knit group. Our last two days would be spent soaking up island rays and snorkeling in the ocean. It was my first time swimming in the middle of the ocean and one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Everyone should snorkel a coral reef in his or her lifetime. The spectrum of color from the fishes to the seaweed, from the reefs to the water, is quite literally breath taking.
The island nights were wonder filled as well. Before the island, the night sky was never quite clear enough to see a sky full of stars. In Belize it’s a funny play on words with tourists to say something is “unBELIZEable.” The sky our last night on the island was just that. With my new friends around me, and the sky full of stars above me, I experienced a heightened moment of bliss. Staring up at that starry night sky is a moment of my life I will never forget. And I would like to thank the Columbia College Travelers, as well as my trip-mates, for making the incredible experience all that I could have imagined and more. My life will forever be richer because of it.
Peace and Love,