Unfortunately I have no time to keep this up since I will be moving soon. However, I wanted those of you who were following it to be able to see the best part about my trip! Ten days in these two countries is simply not a sufficient amount of time. I will be going back to Scotland as soon as possible because it has everything a book/environment lover could hope for- it's also the literary capital of the world so it makes clear sense why I felt such a vibrant connection. I truely hope a picture is worth a thousand words here because there is no way I am doing it justice!
Yes that building is the 007 headquarters and its right in the heart of London which is not very secretive. But I do love me some James Bond and so we all were pretty happy when it was spotted during our bus ride.
Can somebody PLEASE tell my why there is no Spice Girls stuff in London? I mean what's the point of going to London if you don't get to at least step into a memorabilia shop about the best girl band of all time?
Spice Girls aside, London was actually a very interesting city and I will go as far as to say it was better than Paris. Sure Paris, well it's Paris, but London had a lot of layers to it and it felt cleaner if that makes any sense. Hyde Park was ridiculously big and we happened to take this adventure on a particularly nice day so it was packed. There were a lot of really cool things to see within a short walking distance of the park like the Parliament and Big Ben. That aside, we visited the major tourists attractions and some that are not as frequented: the biggest Beatles store in the world, Abbey Lane crossing (Beatles album cover), Sherlock Holmes Museum, etc.
I wish I had the time to update this during my adventure, but time simply went too fast. I'm actually relieved to be home!
Start from the beginning?
We caught the red-eye flight to Paris which seemed like a great idea when I booked the flights. However, I don't fly well- I mean I'm terrified- and so I didn't sleep on the flight. I was also the genius that booked a four hour bike tour through Paris at 11 am on our first day!
The bike tour was beautiful, and who would have thought that Paris would give us sunshine? I couldn't believe our luck, which is probably a good thing because the last 30 minutes of our tour it poured rain and we were at the farthest point from our destination. The second day in Paris we went to the Louvre Museum which just so happens to be the biggest museum in the WORLD. I was so excited to see the Mona Lisa and a million other things. I could have easily spent the entire day there, but we were short on time so I only had three hours. I'm not sure where I got all these nerdy traits from because my mom is all about the beach- there is just something about art and history that makes me geek out.
I'm running out of time so we went to the Eiffel Tower and it's a lot taller than you think. Of course we took the elevator to the top floor and I had to hide behind people because apparently I have a thing with heights. The view was beyond beautiful; Paris is really a well designed city because it runs on a truly linear scale. After the tower we headed down some street that was filled with sugar baked goodies. I think we stopped at four different places to stock up on my sugar addiction, and of course we got macaroons!
The last few hours we spend walking to the Noter Dame Cathedral which was breathtaking. The details were so precise and perfect it was really one of the highlights of Paris. The only downside to Paris is their weird obsession with ham and cheese sandwiches. A lot of the main course meals we had were not that appetizing, but I guess they make up for it in their breads and sweets.
Just a quick reminder that this month is dedicated to ALS. Little progress has been made as we search for a cure. I know it's impossible to ask people to donate money, but I pray y'all take some time to learn about the disease. Education is key!!!
It's rather difficult to believe this is my last blog post from San Pedro, Belize. I have been fortunate in my travel experience, and I have certainly seen a lot of things that make me reevaluate my life. This would be one of those experiences, but now from a different lens, as a teacher. When I started my work at NHHS it was with a lot of excitement and anticipation. My students made that experience something that I will remember for the rest of my lives; whether they hated me or loved me it was a time for crazy challenges and immense growth.
My feelings about San Pedro are not as powerful, but the experience has really solidified my passion for teaching. When I introduced the classes here to the Full Circle Project I was nervous they wouldn't care. However, the work they turned in was amazing. It was so impressive to see how much they had to say about the island, and living in such a diverse area. The global perspective as a teacher is something I have placed a significant value on. I'm thankful I will be able to take my teaching experience in Belize back to the states. There is no doubt that I am a better teacher because of this enriching experience.
With all the obstacles we face in life, it's refreshing to know I have placed myself in a position to make a real difference. I am confident that these few weeks will stay with me for the rest of my teaching career and that I will be able to fuse my classroom with the multicultural curriculum that embraces diversity!
Our group has talked a lot about doing a beach cleanup, but nobody seemed to be really into it. I know our professor had mentioned that it was pointless because more junk will just wash up on the beach throughout the day. I guess for me that was not really an issue; I would rather get out there and make a small dent in the cycle instead of standing by as it just continues undisturbed. On Sunday morning around 7 am I headed out on a solo service trip. I had some trusted latex gloves and two big trash bags to work with. The sun was well on it's way to rising and I felt rejuvenated as I walked to the beach.
I have always been passionate about environmental issues so the amount of trash on the beach was heartbreaking, but more of a reality check for me. This country of Belize has ONE recycling plant and its certainly not on the island. It is hard to image drinking out of a bottle and just tossing it in the trash, but here people just toss it on the ground. I have honestly never seen such a blatant disregard for the environment, and I don't think it's an intentional practice. There is no education here for people to be forced to face the facts that their island is quickly deteriorating. Sustainability is unheard of because people are so used to living in poverty that they will do what they can to make quick money.
The trash I picked up was mostly plastic bottles and Styrofoam. I avoided all paper because at least that has a reasonable decomposition rate. Bottle caps were everywhere, and is all I could think about was how easy those would be for the marine life to swallow. My beach cleanup filled the bags with glorious trash as the locals passed me by and made comments about how I was wasting my time. The non-locals seemed more interested in what I was doing and so I took the time to talk about the few things I do know.
And now for my sustainability side- I do not understand why we keep producing things in ways that are detrimental to our environment. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to buying water, but at home I don't buy plastic bottles of water- no I have water bottles that I use constantly. I wish there were some laws in place that limit the amount of waste you can produce per household. Yet, then I start to think about where I live in North Carolina and how I was one of the only houses in the neighborhood that recycled. Whether is ignorance or lack of education- and I think it's a combination- the US is really in a position to set high standards for the way we live. It's impossible to expect a poor country like Belize to take initiative when they have people starving, so the developed countries should be trying to counter the waste production. I'm not sure if that makes sense but I will stop ranting now.
Service project number two was actually worse than marinating in my sweat all day at SAGA. We volunteered with ACES, the crocodile people, and the owner had us help tear down a cage. I was so excited to get out there and see where they kept the big guys! After talking with Vance, I ended up more frustrated than excited. There is such a lack of awareness in the community and they people do not have any respect for the crocodiles. We were forewarned that the cages would have trash all around because people just toss it over the cement fence.
We took a little boat ride out to the cages and sure enough there was trash everywhere. The one croc that was housed there, Jaws, had sticks in his cage where people had been poking him to get him to move around. The three houses around the cage all looked rundown, but there is no excuse for tossing dirty diapers into an area that is clearly marked as a crocodiles sanctuary. We began cleaning up the area and started a burn pile for all the trash. Then we got to the dirty work of tearing down one of the cages. It had three sections to it and they wanted the sections removed in case they caught this 10 ft croc they have been looking for. The bottom of the cage is mangrove roots so the entire area smelled like sulfur. Add to that the smell of rotting chicken in Jaws cage, and I about lost my lunch on more than one occasion. I could not bring myself to get into the water but I did use some sweet yoga moves to stretch across the boards and help cut wires!
While we were working a bunch of people gathered to watch from balconies. At one point a lady pushed open the big door and approach us asking to take a picture. She had no situational awareness and I was shocked that she had the nerve to enter somebodies property without asking. Not to mention Jaw's cage was open! Vince was clearly upset about this blatant disregard for his property and also the crocodiles. He went on to tell us the story about the previous sanctuary. He was initially based out of Punta Gorda, Belize, and his sanctuary was very large. One day two local boys went missing and the family went to a shaman. The shaman told the family that the white people were responsibly and the boys were fed to the crocodiles- I'm seriously not making this up! The family and towns people gathered together, went to the property, looted it of all valuables, burned the home and sanctuary, and then they took a machete to each crocodile. Every single rescued crocodile was killed, including the babies!
Vince told us that the land we were working on would only be active for the next two months. He is shutting down everything on the island because the people are so horrible towards ACES. You would think they would be grateful to have people wiling to take crocodiles off their hands, but instead they are disrespected and abused. It really makes me think about the lack of education these people have when it comes to such amazing creatures. Not to mention the fact that people broke in and stole the wood roof of the croc cages?? I mean those are there for a reason, but there is clearly a lack of respect within the community and it's frustrating.
The last two days have been spent working with SAGA Humane Society. It has been such a joy to work with these people because there is clearly a lack of time and money. A few days ago we went to talk with them and ask if there was any work they needed done, we also mentioned that we could paint. The lady was gracious, but I was persistent. It was important that she know we wanted to be there and we were willing do do any work she had for use. After she heard this she perked up and said she would get started on a list right away.
There were a lot of us girls there so things went pretty smooth. I went with the group who painted the fence in the front building while other girls went to the back area where the kennels are. I have no words to properly explain what this experience was like because I was literally melting the entire time. I have never, in my entire life, sweat like I did during those two days of service. For a moment I questioned going back after lunch because I was feeling very drained physically, but a little voice reminded me that service work is not meant to be easy. Thankfully I had other teachers with me who shared in the experience, and it was well worth it.
The pictures don't do it justice! Every time I ride by the building I can't help but feel excited at how inviting the building looks. The fresh coats of white and green really make it look clean and welcoming to possible doggy adoption parents. This service work also reminded me of how many dogs and cats are euthanize daily because people are not properly educated about their pets. If I were to ever win the lottery I would spend a large chunk of money just paying for people to spay/neuter their pets.
What an experience today was. I have been trying to get in the water for the last few weeks, but other things took precedence. As part of our program we get to go on a sailing trip that includes two snorkels in Hol Chan Marine Preserve and then a trip to Caye Caulker. I'm so thankful for this experience with such a unique group of people.
We started out on the catamaran which set sail around 9 am. Ms. Willis and I were able to sit on the beanbags at the front of the boat, so our view for the day was spectacular. The first snorkel involved checking out the preserve which is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world! Hol Chan is Mayan for "little channel" and that is exactly what it is. It's a natural break in the barrier so boats can pass through, and it makes a great stopping point to check out the reef. We saw everything on this first snorkel: sea turtles, sharks, sting rays, fish galore, and beautiful reef structures. I got a little scared around the sharks and the sting rays, but that is all part of the experience.
Second stop for the day was in Shark Alley. This is basically an area where the sharks hang out and feed. We jumped off the back of the boat while this big sharks cruised around. I was terrified to make any sudden movements so I just held my breath and watched all the action. The sting rays were bigger than I had ever imagined. I noticed I was holding my hand over my heart like it would stop them from piecing it. It's so funny how our body will naturally do things without our mind being fully aware. Ms. Willis and I laughed about it later because it was clearly in reaction to what happened to Steve Irwin, but I wasn't even aware I was doing it.
The last stop we made was a really small island called Caye Caulker. This was a quaint little place that was hit really hard by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The island is only five miles long and one mile wide, so the hurricane devastated the island, of the 90 homes only 8 survived. Since then the island has rebuild, but still carries the laid back mentality we often associate with island living. After exploring for a little while we headed back to the boat for our two hour return to San Pedro.
I cannot get enough of this Mayan history. It is so spectacular to learn about these crazy innovators. Unfortunately, the first day in San Ignacio was the spelunking tour. Cameras are not allowed because a tourist dropped their camera cracking the skull of one of the remains- I would say that is a pretty good reason to not allow cameras. The tour, Actun Tunichil Munkmal, is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Maybe it's because I have never gone spelunking before, but it felt surreal.
We started out by hiking up to the cave, and this includes crossing a small river three times. At the top of the hike you drop down into the cave. You actually have to swim to the entrance which causes a mix of emotions because its beautiful but scary. Right after you enter the cave you swim to a part where you have to turn your head to the right and squeeze through a rock formation. This all takes place while your body (shoulders down) is under water. I am happy we got that out of the way at the beginning because nothing else was as intimidating as that first part. The rest of the two hours involved a lot of swimming and stopping to hear our guide explain the different Mayan rituals that took place. Mayans believed that the caves were the closest place to their gods, so there was human sacrifices that took place where we walked through. Part of me felt like I should not be there since it was such a sacred place for them, but I also love history and learning about such diverse people. At the turn-around point of the tour you come to a fully preserved set of bones which I did not anticipate. It was truly stunning to see all the different artifacts and skeletal remains, especially since the Mayans did everything based around their religion.
Our guide made a really powerful point about the human sacrifices. He said that the Mayan people lived their lives for their religion, so the sacrifices were probably an honor. While we can speculate between them being a form of punishment, he said it was unlikely because only the most holy people were allowed to enter the cave. The high priests would go through a period of cleansing before the cave rituals, so would they really bring in slaves or captives to sacrifice. Our guide believes these were volunteers, or chosen people, so it would have been an honor. It's interesting to think about it that way because in modern times we view human sacrifice as barbaric and inhumane.
The second day was such a unique combination of activities. We just happened to be in San Ignacio on the day of the Cross Country Cycle Classic, which is a major bike race. The riders travel from Belize City to San Ignacio, and then back to Belize City. I love that we had the opportunity to be spectators for such a major event- and the people flock to the streets in support of the riders.
After watching the race go by we headed to Caracol. We had to get there at a certain time to be part of the caravan that has a military escort. This is because people from Guatemala would try and rob or ransack the tourist vehicles, and so the Belize military stepped in to ensure their industry was protected. Caracol is a major Mayan city that has been slowly uncovered. Only about 10% of the ruins have been excavated which is truly fascinating because we saw some major structures. When you look around you see what appears to be rolling hills, those are actually uncovered ruins. Belize is a poor country so they don't have the funds to do a proper excavation of the entire site. Instead they keep it covered because it naturally preserves the site. To get to the highest temple you have to hike up over a hundred steps that feel more like lunges. The view from the top was worth the workout it took to get there.
The last part of our day involved another cave, Rio Frio Cave This one was nothing like the previous day, but it did have it's own appeal. It was much larger and had an entrance that was maybe 60 ft. The stalactites and stalagmites were easily visible, and I was finally able to take some pictures of them!! I have never been a geology nerd, but this spelunking has really peaked my interest. From the cave we traveled to Big Rock Falls. This was the perfect ending to the day because we were able to jump off cliffs and swim in refreshing water. I could write about this trip forever because nature is perfectly inspiring. I could sit at the falls and read Walden all day, but we had to get back before it got dark.