A Day Trip to the Underworld

It’s a breezy Sunday morning in Belize- it happens to be unusually cool, perhaps an ominous foreshadowing of the day’s activities. I’m in the front seat of a large passenger van, head resting against the window, simultaneously trying to ignore the bumping and lilting of the van on the dirt road and trying not to fall asleep after our early-morning start.

We’re headed towards Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), the cave where the ancient Maya believed they could access the underworld. As if that weren’t spooky enough, the Maya also performed human sacrifices here. Just the idea of entering the cave has me nervously tapping my foot in the van.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 6.31.33 PM

After the journey from San Ignacio, which included an ever-so-important stop for snacks, the MayaWalk Tours van arrives in the ATM park and we meet our guide. Hector, who promises to give us “One Heck-of-a-tour” (ha!), helps each of us get outfitted with a helmet while explaining the itinerary for the day. We leave most of our belongings in the van, except for water bottles and socks. No cameras are allowed in or around ATM because of previous accidents that did devastating damage to some of the artifacts. Ahead of us we have approximately 45 minutes of mild hiking to the cave. I figure this leaves me 45 minutes to mentally prepare to enter the #1 most sacred cave in the world, according to National Geographic. I hope it’s enough time.

RiverCrossingIn no time at all, we’re faced with our first obstacle: a river crossing. Clothes, water bottles, and all, we jump into the river and swim across. The river is too deep to stand due to the erosion damage from last year’s major hurricane, but it is relatively calm. Some of us pull ourselves across using just the rope that has been strung between the two river-banks. We continue onwards, our wet clothes dripping along the way. Hector points out important plants as we wander down the trail- some with significant medicinal uses. The air is thick with humidity and the calls of tropical birds that must be watching us from the trees. We cross two more rivers, this time only knee-deep. A large iguana scampers across the river rocks in front of us.

Sure enough, after 45 minutes, we arrive at a small rest area. Here we must leave everything except our courage & a pair of socks. The anticipation is suffocating as Hector hands out headlamps. We all take turns blinding each other with the headlamps before figuring out how to angle them correctly. I inhale the miniature pack of chocolate-chip cookies I brought along.

And we’re off again.

Within minutes the mouth of the cave is in view. Wide open, ready to swallow us whole, the cave beckons us in. Hector helps us down the embankment and into the river that is flowing out of the cave. “Just swim” is his advice. I’m nervous and I feel like humming Dory’s “just keep swimming” song as I paddle into the darkness.

The next hour is a whirlwind of adrenaline. Hector directs us where to put our feet, when to swim, and how to avoid damaging delicate cave structures. He points to a crayfish swimming in and out of a crevice in the rocks. One of our group members spots an enormous cricket. It doesn’t avoid the beams of our flashlight, because it is blind. Never having been exposed to sunlight, the insects inside the cave rely on large antennas and their sense of touch to navigate their surroundings.

We reach a shallow part of the river and the cave opens up around us. The cave extends through the mountain for another few miles, but we’re stopping here. Now, there is nowhere to go but up. Hector instructs us to precisely position ourselves while scrambling up thick stalagmite to access the next level of the cave. These upper layers of the caves are where the ancient Maya made their sacrifices. This is the heart of the Maya underworld.

ClayPotWe pause to take off our water shoes and put on our socks. The cave association mandates visitors to do this for preservation reasons. As we move into the sacrificial areas, we realize that the only barrier separating us from the hundreds of clay pots is a thin line of red tape placed around groups of artifacts. Although the cave has been well researched and each piece has been catalogued, the archaeologists decided to leave everything in the place that it was found, in an effort to preserve the authenticity of the site. Almost everything is exactly as it was over 1500 years ago.

Soon we’re facing another climb. This time we quickly ascend to the next level of the cave via a pre-installed metal ladder. The number of artifacts in the next chamber is stunning. Clay pots litter the ground. We encounter several piles of human bones. The skulls of the victims are strangely shaped- almost alien like- because of the ancient traditions of skull-flattening. I try to listen to Hector’s constant stream of historical facts, but I’m finding myself absorbed in awe of the cave.

upper level 2

Of course, the best was saved for last. At the far end of the upper level of the cave, lies a skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden. The six of us crowded into the small chamber to see her. She is perfectly preserved, sprawled out, and slowly being taken over by beautiful calcium crystals. It turns out that “she” is actually a “he”. Previously believed to be a female, the Crystal Maiden has now been confirmed to be a teenage male. One by one, we take a final look at the “maiden”, pondering what led to his demise, and leave the chamber. With the help of Hector, we retrace our steps, down the ladder, down the stalagmite scramble, through the lower cave, and back into the light.

CrystalSkeleton

The walk back to the park entrance is bittersweet. My legs feel like jelly. I really need a bathroom. My stomach is telling me I should have packed more snacks. But the “real world” seems to pale in comparison to the mystery and adrenaline of the cave. There are no more sparkly cave formations, and I no longer find myself wondering what ancient artifacts will be hidden around the corner.

By the time we reach the picnic area for lunch I know one thing for sure-

rum punch never tasted so sweet.

 

Thursdays are for Arts & Crafts

nefry's retreatI am lucky to have the best, and possibly most unique, work-life-balance on my co-op in Belize. Because I self-designed my co-op I definitely don’t have a traditional office environment. In fact, I actually live with my two bosses and their family, and we all work from home. Nancy and Jaime, the husband-and-wife team who founded Barzakh Falah and supervise me on my co-op, have a beautiful home and a loving family.

Every morning we all have breakfast together at 7:30, Jaime takes the kids to school, and afterwards we all pull out our laptops and start our work day at the kitchen table. Around noon, someone will leave to take food to the kids for lunch (parents are invited to picnic with the kids at the schools here). On the way back, they’ll bring Leo home, since he attends a half-day school. All is quiet for a few more hours until the girls get picked up from school at 3:30 and come home. Once they’re home, all productivity is lost for a few hours while we referee after-school activities and prepare dinner. Sometimes I stay on my computer typing away, but work for me typically resumes after dinner.

IMG_0710 (1)

Yahzzarra, Jasmine, & Victoria

On Thursdays, Jasmine’s best friend in the whole wide world, Victoria, comes over for arts and crafts. Her mom Ms. Deb, comes along too. The adults drink coffee (for Nancy and I, it’s probably our 3rd cup of the day) and snack on ginger cookies, while the kids tackle the project of the week. Victoria’s family is actually from California, but relocated to Belize a few years ago to give the kids a cultural exchange experience while being homeschooled. Last week the kids made stenciled t-shirts with fabric pens and showed off their button bowls from the week before.

Having lived this lifestyle for 2 months, I now completely understand why Barzakh Falah had very little online presence before I arrived. With all of the meals, pick-ups, drop-offs, and play dates, Jaime and Nancy can really only manage the most essential functions of day-to-day operations for the non-profit and other small projects they run. To give you a better grasp of what the family is like, here’s a little more information on all the characters:

The Adults:

Nancy (or Mom) wears many hats. She is a “retired” activist, a humanitarian, an entrepreneur, a chef, a fantastic mother who parents with spunk, and most recently, a cook-book author (click here to check out her first book!). Nancy’s ability to keep the whole family glued together while managing several small businesses is truly inspiring.

Jaime (or Dad) is the architect behind Barzakh Falah. He has degrees in architecture and eco-sustainable building. He manages and supervises the hard labor when we have volunteers. Also makes excellent lime juice slushies and iced “hot chocolate”.

There is another co-worker, Louis, who also lives at the house. Louis helps out with everything from shuttling kids around to booking volunteers for Barzakh, while running his own construction contracting business. He is a master coffee-maker and makes sure to keep everyone heavily dependent on a caffeine drip.

IMG_0036.jpg

Louis, Jaime, & Nancy

Grandma and Grandpa (Nancy’s parents) don’t actually live with us, but they might as well. They are right next door and frequently call one of us over for various things. Common requests are: “can we borrow your toaster” and “Leo can you feed our dog.” But having a good relationship with Grandma and Grandpa has advantages- they have the best snacks. They currently split their time between living here in San Ignacio, and a house in Chetumal, Mexico.

The Kids:

Xena is the oldest- the 17-year-old Instagram star, who is sure to become internationally famous at any second. She’s just starting the college search, so we talk quite a bit about what my life at university is like, and what she might want to major in. Her biggest dreams at the moment are to turn 18 and to move out of Belize.

DSC_0020Then there’s Leo, a 14-year-old genius already attending an accelerated high school. Until recently, he was pretty sure he wanted to be an astrophysicist, but since it’s not statistically realistic for him to become an astronaut… he’s decided to lower his expectations and pursue Biomedical Engineering so he can build prosthetic limbs. Not to mention, he’s quickly becoming an excellent photographer.


Jasmine
(Jazz) is 11, and “aaallmost 12” as she would tell you. At the moment, Jazz is tackling the biggest challenges of 5th grade- spelling and memorizing Bible verses (the two youngest kids attend a Mennonite school- more on this later). She always wants to know how your day was, and if you’re ever looking to split an orange, she will always be willing to take on the other half.

Finally, there is Yahzzarrah (or Yaz). 6 years old. Adorable. She has absolutely everyone wrapped around her finger. Currently going through a phase where she pretty much refuses to eat anything except for Nutella, fried plantains, and grapefruit. But hey- at least she likes grapefruit right?

Are you exhausted just reading this? Now try a work-from-home lifestyle while being surrounded by this crew 24/7. Don’t get me wrong though, I really do enjoy living here. I’m so glad that I’m getting to experience what it’s like to grow up in a big family that is so different from my own.

I can’t leave a blog post without doing a little bit of “work” for my co-op so please give us some love on social media! LIKE/ SHARE/ FOLLOW Barzakh Falah because the best thing you can do for a tiny non-profit, with almost no effort, is to make it visible to others:

Facebook

WordPress Blog

Instagram

** NEW**: YouTube

Caye Caulker is my favorite color

img_0440This is the blue out of your crayola crayon box. That unbelievable “no-filter-needed” cerulean blue that doesn’t look real- even in real life. This is Caye Caulker.

In celebration of Hannah’s last few days in Belize, we departed on an un-Belize-able weekend getaway. (HA. Un-Belize-able. You can’t even blame me for using that pun because I swear to you, it is on every single tourist t-shirt in the country) Puns aside, this island is something magic. Maybe it’s because I never went to Disney World or other fancy Caribbean destinations as a kid, but the seaweed littered, rocky beaches of the southern coast of Cape Cod simply cannot compare. A quick 45 minute water taxi can transport you to this little piece of paradise directly from the port in Belize City. Be warned though- this isn’t a cruise ship. It’s a full throttle speed boat with people packed in like sardines. The whole way there. Prepare for wind. See video for our reactions to this part of the adventure:

 

IMG_0359.jpg

” Go Slow” is Caye Caulker’s motto- and trust me, it’s not just a suggestion. You can feel it as soon as you step off the water taxi- you’re on island time now. It’s actually nearly impossible to move quickly. The only form of transportation on the island are golf cart taxis that roll along sandy pathways barely wide enough for a car. Although the island is so tiny there is really no reason to use them. Wandering on foot, or by borrowed bicycle, is by far the best option for getting around. You might find yourself moving even slower than usual if you’re suffering from a lobster food coma, or if you’ve been sipping rum punch in a hammock all day.

Despite our inevitable participation in the lobster-eating and rum-punch-drinking, Hannah and I’s main purpose on Caye Caulker was snorkeling. There are dive and snorkel shops every few feet on the main pathway of Caye Caulker and it can be a bit of a daunting task to choose the right one. Luckily, as soon as we arrived at our hostel (Bella’s Backpacker’s), a fellow traveler immediately gave us a raving review of Stressless Tours- a new eco-friendly shop on the island. It’s hard to argue with that, so we set off to book with them for the next day. (*Side note:* All snorkeling tours are a standard price of $65 USD on the island- but it’s well worth the money)

One life-changing lobster dinner and a picture perfect sunset later, we were off to bed to prepare for the long day ahead.

img_0367

Sunset on Caye Caulker island

The next day was a reality check.

I’ve never had a snorkel in my mouth, I can’t remember the last time I swam for that long continuously, and I forgot what true seasickness feels like. Despite the fact that I pulled 2 consecutive all-nighters last semester, I’ve never experienced physical exhaustion quite like this snorkeling experience. Yet every time we jumped off that boat, it all just melted away. It was really just breathtaking.

From here, I really don’t have any photos or video that can possibly explain how insane this trip was. For a while I had some serious regrets about not renting a GoPro for the occasion, but now I’m glad that I didn’t have the distraction. I think by really looking around, instead of fiddling with a camera, I got the most out of the experience. Just know that it was absolutely mind-blowing.

For the most representative footage of a Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling experience please see Finding Nemo. Our tour guide was essentially Mr. Ray.

Betraying Boston

I recently had a religious awakening.

No, it’s not quite what it sounds like. I had a religious awakening through… LOBSTER.

Everybody knows these guys:

Lobster_Dinner_Served_On_Plate_4152719.jpg

Photo Credit: New Meadows Lobster

Bright red. Boiled and served with butter & lemon, a pile of coleslaw, and corn on the cob. Maybe a cup of clam chowder if you’re feeling fancy. And the whole thing has to be laid out on top of a checkered red tablecloth. The set-up of course, must include some minor hardware to disassemble the meal, and maybe even a plastic bib for the over-dressed diners at the table.

As a die-hard-drink-ice-coffee-in-a-blizzard-New Englander, I knew thought that this was the only way to eat a lobster apart from a COLD (yes cold) lobster roll with mayonnaise (not butter). I apologize if I have stepped on some toes in the highly controversial “Hot vs. Cold” lobster roll debate, but this is just how I feel. I can’t help it!

But the Caribbean lobster experience is totally different from anything back in Boston. To start- they’re not the same lobsters. Instead of the giant-clawed beasts from the cold waters off of Maine, we have these guys: The Caribbean Spiny Lobster.

Without those giant claws (instead they have two massive horns that stretch out for several inches), the main source of meat is in the tails. Grilled to juicy perfection, seasoned with garlic & “complete” spice mix, and finally drizzled with a balsamic glaze… it was simply unbelievable. The perfectly cooked lobster practically fell out of the shell.

Wish Willy’s on Caye Caulker served not one, but two lobster tails, with a heaping pile of summer squash salad, rice, and spicy papaya salad. The result? A hefty food coma which I rode out lounging in a hammock while enjoying the island breeze. All of this? Less than $10 US. 

My name is Alexis. I am a born & raised Bostonian, and I will never be able to appreciate a New England style lobster again.

IMG_0371.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Mysteries & Monkeys: A Visit to Xunantunich

Hannahforscale.jpg

The massive El Castillo pyramid. With Hannah for scale. 

In Belize, where the average building is one or two stories, the rolling hills and tall trees of the rainforest typically dominate the skyline. But deep in the jungle of Cayo district, the ruins of Xunantunich rises far above the canopy. At a towering 40 meters (~131 feet!), Xunantunich is the second tallest man-made structure in all of Belize. The absolute tallest building?- another Mayan pyramid called Altun Ha at the ruins of Caracol. The sheer scale of these ruins truly make you wonder what could have caused the mysterious downfall of the Mayan empire over a thousand years ago.

There is a still a significant and diverse Mayan population in Belize. The name Xunantunich means Stone Woman in Yucatec, one of the remaining Mayan languages. The name comes from a local legend as mysterious as the fall of the empire. It is said that a woman appears to men who have wandered the grounds of the ruins alone. She is always dressed in a traditional white “huipil” and has fire-y red eyes- always staring at the men before disappearing through the stone walls of the largest pyramid, El Castillo. Thus, the modern name “Stone Woman”, or Xunantunich, was given to this archaeological site. The original ancient name for the city is unknown.

Maybe it’s the mystery that keeps bringing me back, or the crisp, cool wind at the top of El Castillo. Regardless of the reason, this was my 3rd trip to Xunantunich, and each time has been a unique experience. I have visited the ruins with two different Northeastern Alternative Spring Break volunteer teams and independently. I have traveled there by car, horseback, pseudo-hitchhiking (thanks Global Convoy), and chicken bus.

 

dsc_0691

January 2017: 3rd visit with another Barzakh Falah volunteer, Hannah. 

dsc_0662

An active archaeological dig area

Even the ruins themselves are changing. Xunantunich is an active archaeological dig, with more of the pyramids and surrounding structure being uncovered each year. It’s not unusual to see areas roped off by caution tape or entire hills covered in tarps. Much of the ruins are still underground and every visible bump in the landscape is likely to have a structure beneath it. Even the largest pyramid, El Castillo, is suspected to be even larger- the bottom layers are just buried under years of sediment accumulation.

dsc_0645Despite the absolutely amazing views, the history, and the legends, the highlight of my third Xunantunich trip actually had nothing to do with the ruins themselves. For the first time, I got to get up close with the monkeys. Sure I’ve seen monkeys in Belize at a distance bouncing along the treetops, but this was entirely different. Just on the edge of the jungle, a young spider monkey came to check us out while eating fruits from the lowest branches on the tree. This little guy was a spider monkey- one of two kinds of monkeys that are found in Belize. We watched him swing between the branches and dodged the leftover fruit pieces falling to the ground around us for a while before moving on.

It’s worth mentioning that the other type of monkey found in Belize is much rarer to see. Black howler monkeys are always heard before they are seen. These guys are aptly named for their deafening calls that echo through the rainforest. Don’t be mistaken, these Jurassic Park like noises are not dinosaurs- they really are just the howler monkeys. To listen, check out the video below.

I love the magic of Xunantunich. I love the smell of the allspice trees that are interspersed across the tree line. I love that orange Fanta tastes the best after hiking to the top of El Castillo. I even love the silly hand-crank ferry that shuttles tourists and their vehicles across the Mopan river- which is the only way to access the ruins. In all likelihood, I will return to Xunantunich again before I leave Belize to do it all over again.

dsc_0558

 

From Neuroscience to Existential Crisis

After a couple rotations around the sun working in various neuroscience labs, I knew I wasn’t in love. Research is demanding. It can be incredibly rewarding, but you better be ready to love every second of the process- even the days when nothing works. To be honest, I’m just not in that place yet. I think that there is a good chance that I will return to research at some point, but for now I need to find something that is personally fulfilling on a higher level than just paying the bills. (Existential crisis much?)

Boarding a plane to Belize for 6 months is certainly a big change! I’m hoping that this time will help clarify my personal goals. Through Northeastern’s Alternative Spring Break Program, I was able to travel to Belize twice to volunteer at an organization called Barzakh Falah. There I helped build sustainable earth bag structures that would eventually become a home for abandoned young children and a transitional living center for young women leaving the orphanage system. social-media-remodel-color-corrected

Now, through my self-developed co-op position, I am going to be working with Barzakh Falah for 6 months to recruit volunteer groups and increase our visibility on social media. The ultimate goal is to be able to open Barzakh Falah to at-risk youth by the end of 2017. I think it is possible- but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

The biggest barrier in our way is that we are located in the small Central American country of Belize. When I first told my friends and family that I would be moving here, the most common question was, “Where is that?” or, “Wait is that an island?” or even better, “What part of Africa is that?”.  The entire country isn’t that visible to the average un-traveled person. So how do we go about gaining visibility for a small non-profit in an vastly unknown place? I’m hoping the power of social media comes through for us.

Luckily, YOU can help! Check out our brand new Instagram/ WordPress Blog/ Facebook pages! Please like/ share/ follow us! I’ve been updating them quite frequently and there are lots of fun photos and stories from our volunteers.  It would mean the world and you would be contributing to a lovely cause with almost no effort.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-10-02-48-am

 

 

INSTAGRAM

WORDPRESS BLOG

FACEBOOK

 

 

 

 

The First “Hot Chocolate”

Chocolate is often at the front of my mind, the object of all my cravings, and the most exciting part of almost any day. I will never refuse chocolate- so when I had the opportunity to visit some of the people who created the very first chocolate, I couldn’t pass it up.

img_9935

AJAW Mayan Chocolate demonstration house.

The ancient Mayans are infamous for their sudden and mysterious disappearance from Central America, but they are also known for creating the first chocolate drink. Descendants of the Mayans still live in Belize today. Luckily, some of the local Mayans have established a small museum and shop known as AJAW Chocolate where they give demonstrations on traditional chocolate-making promises.

First we were introduced to the cacao bean pod- a large leathery yellow fruit that contains the cacao beans. The beans sit in a citrus-like wedge formation, held together by a mushy and sticky white fibrous substance (sorry that’s the best I can do in terms of description). We tasted one of these beans with white-goop-covering included. This is the purest form of the cacao bean. I expected it to be unbearably bitter but it was actually more of a nutty earthy flavor (and yes that is my nice way of saying it tasted like dirt). These beans are known to have valuable health benefits- but I still passed on a second serving.

img_9942

A whole cacao bean right off the tree. The cacao beans are contained inside of a white gooey web in the center.

The journey from raw cacao beans to chocolate had several steps. The entire cacao pod is allowed to ferment. Yup. Chocolate is absolutely rotten fruit. The fermenting process turns the cacao pod into a shriveled, black, moldy tennis ball (YUM). The individual cacao beans are then removed from the pod, dried, and roasted. The beans have a thin shell that is broken to expose the center of the bean. These shells are never wasted, but instead can be boiled in water to make a cacao “tea” or used as mulch.

From there, the beans are ground on a slightly curved stone plate until the oil is released from the beans and the beans become cocoa butter. The cocoa butter is the main ingredient for

Mayan drinking chocolate. Just add hot water. For the whole experience, the Mayans add a very small amount of chili powder. Despite the fact that I don’t particularly like spicy foods, I found that the chili really brought out the flavor of the cocoa. Even better yet- adding a touch of honey and a pinch of cinnamon.

If you’re wandering through San Ignacio, Belize any time soon- I highly recommend visiting this place. The whole demonstration was about an hour and the guides were very willing to answer questions. You even get to take home a little bit of cocoa butter!

 

 

Weekends are for the Iguanas

“Do you want to hold an iguana,” certainly isn’t the first thing you’re expecting to hear in the morning. But this past Saturday, that’s just about how my day started. While we were too tired from our first week of work to make it to any of the major tours, Hannah and I stayed in San Ignacio to get a taste of the local activities. The first stop? – The Green Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

Balanced just at the top of the major hill in town, the hotel sits on the edge of the rainforest that grows up the banks from the Macal River. The tropical green leaves provide the perfect tree cover for a shaded iguana enclosure. The iguana project started over 20 years ago when the population of green iguanas in the area started to decline because of hunting. The meat of an iguana, known as “bamboo chicken”, as well as the eggs, were considered a delicacy in this area. Now it is illegal to hunt iguanas out of season, but there still remains a need for supporting the redevelopment of the population.

Our guide, Zhawn, introduces us to the alpha of the iguana community community, Gnome. At first we were confused because although Gnome is a green iguana, he is not green at all. As it turns out, male iguanas turn orange during the mating season. As the dominant male, Gnome is extra orange. The large flap under his chin, called the dewlap, helps him get all the ladies while he waves it back and forth in a territorial mating display. The dewlap is also helpful for absorbing extra heat and regulating body temperature.

All in all, Gnome seems pretty satisfied with his life in a protected enclosure with his 15 lady iguanas.

We were also lucky enough to meet some of the baby iguanas. Their names are Pride and Joy and at 8 months old, they are still only a few inches long. Near the end of every breeding season, the conservationists at the project venture down the river banks looking for the holes where female iguanas lay their eggs. From there, they carefully dig up the eggs and bring them to the enclosure to be incubated. This protects the eggs from poachers and gives the baby iguanas the best chance of survival away from predators. The Belizean jungle is full of iguana predators- and iguanas are a highly sought out prey item at every stage of their development. The hatching process can take up to 5 months and iguanas don’t reach full maturity until age 5.

Thanks to our guide Zhawn for all of the fun facts!

Kittens & Kitchen Floors

It feels incredible to be back here, but I keep expecting someone to wake me up and tell me that it’s time to go home. Although this is my third trip to Belize, the longest I’ve ever stayed was one week- and now I have another 6 months. Really, this is all fine, because I’m definitely not ready to leave.

Lots of things are different from when I was last here in March 2016. There are different fruits in season, the damp weather from the rainy season is still lingering, and progress at Barzakh Falah has moved along. The biggest difference is not having my usual team of 12 Northeastern alternative spring breakers around. There are two other independent volunteers here at the moment- Hannah (from England) and Max (from New Zealand). Hannah flew in on the same day as me, and we’re roommates. It’s been nice to have a buddy to go exploring with while we both adjust.

After having a day and half to relax at the house, we headed out to Barzakh Falah to check up on the progress and put in a couple days of work. Although, it is pretty difficult to get work done when there are 4 five week old kittens stumbling around. We basically spent every spare second snuggling the kittens.

 

The most recent project has been to get some more durable floors down in the kitchen, lounge dome, and the indoor shower dome. This involves mosaic tiling with recycled ceramic tile scraps. Doing physical work at the farm is not going to be my primary role while I’m here in Belize, but it felt really good to spend some time working hard and being in the sun after escaping the frigid weather in Boston.

Our first task was to put the finishing shine on the kitchen floors. These floors were previously packed clay and would easily develop dips and bumps whenever furniture scraped across them. Volunteers over the holidays had put down the tiles, and it was our job to scrape off any remaining grout that clouded the tiles and shine things up. I don’t think we did half bad.

On our second day at the farm, we got to work setting up the lounge dome to be tiled. This involved some tricky engineering to figure out how much cement to apply in order to make the final floor an even surface that also tilts towards the entrance. This is to ensure that water and dust can easily be swept out. Designing the floor turned out to be a pretty difficult job. With the limited resources at the farm, we had to be a little more inventive. Without a construction level and extendable measuring tape we resorted to using a string, some nails, and a thin piece of tubing as a “level” to lay out the design. It’s a good thing we have Jaime as our fearless leader, because Hannah, Max, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to figure this out on our own.

While Max and Hannah chugged away on the tiles, I stayed back from the farm to focus on my main purpose- to completely remodel the social media presence for Barzakh Falah. Since we are in the final stages of construction before we can host at-risk young women and children, there is an increased need for volunteers. More on this next week after we roll out a brand new Instagram, blog, and more!

My Life in Motion

 

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I’ve had the “travel bug” for years. Cliche as it is, there’s no other explanation for the vicious cycle of saving everything and spending it all on plane tickets. I don’t have a car, I only recently settled into an apartment, and until recently, I have moved at least 3 times a year for the past 4 years.

At this very moment, I’m staring down a suitcase which is certainly well over the 50 pound limit and the OK Go song “Here it goes again” is on merciless replay in my head (You know- the one with the fun treadmill music video that went viral when we were pre-teens). In less than 24 hours I’ll be getting on a plane to Belize. I’ve done this trip twice before— but this time I’ll be staying. For 6 months. I’ll be adopted into a host family with 4 kids, 5 dogs, and a diverse community that specializes in tortillas, lemon meringue pie, and limeade.

There’s an inherent uncertainty about the next 6 months, but I am certain that I am about as ready for it as I possibly could be. 2016 was a whirlwind. I volunteered in Belize, “backpacked” through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and explored Montreal, Canada. I started an Etsy business and learned neuro surgery on mice. I met an elephant and we bonded over a mutual love of snacks. I tried takoyaki (Japanese fried octopus), pulled pork barbecue, and rice noodles- all for the first time. I actually accomplished some of those infamous “New Year’s Resolutions”. If 2016 was a whirlwind… then 2017 is sure to be a tornado of adventure (or something).

Ready or not… here we go again.

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.04.30 PM.png