It’s hard to believe five months have passed since I left N.C. State on my Alternative Service Break to Belize. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since the trip began–the application process, the monthly team meetings, and all the fundraising… In the forefront of my summer plans and now in the background of my Resident Mentor training, Belize continues to be a prominent feature as I compile both a journal and a photo companion of my trip to send to those who helped me make it there in the first place.
Those are separate reflections, intimate monologues for the select few, but I promised and have been building an experience here for many months–and for just as many months, it’s been missing an important page: the final page.
Over the coming week, I’m going to close this chapter of the Writingwolf, taking you along from the moment our plane touched down to the cataclysmic changes I’ve experienced since it flew me back.
Our trip began on the weekend, and naturally no one works on the weekend–not even in Belize. So before we turned our eyes toward service, we spent a couple days simply enjoying the country we had traveled to.
The first trip we took was to the ruins at Lubaantun, an ancient Maya town that simultaneously amazed and bored most of us–myself included. In my pre-trip post Belize It or Not, I shared a snippet from my application explaining why I was interested in going to Belize–and part of it was the chance to experience a Mayan ruin in person.
Of course, at the time, I also thought the ruin trip had been scrapped–but that was only a misunderstanding.
So when we got to Lubaantun, I was excited–here I am, this is actually happening, I kept thinking, eager to see the ruins for myself–those ancient and megalithic temples, those carved stones reaching up from the ground, towering above me… I had grand ideas in my mind–grand ideas that could not compete with reality.
There’s a deep valley you walk through before reaching the ruins–and since it’s not a long walk, it’s a very steep climb up. I felt my heart beating faster as I climbed, wanting that first glimpse to be amazing, like I was discovering it all for the first time–like I was the explorer on television now sharing my own adventures.
Except when I got to the top of the hill, I didn’t see the ruins. No great and powerful temples. No carvings of winged serpents or other deities. Just a bunch of rocks.
Granted, they were exquisitely carved rocks that had been there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, but they were still only rocks.
Lubaantun was a town, not a temple, and so most of what remained was only the foundations upon which the rest of the town had been built. However, these structures were still standing–and many of them still stood taller than us, prompting a number of clever climbing pictures, but after the initial discontinuity between the ideas in my head and the sights before me, I wasn’t impressed.
I was looking through my pictures in June when it finally occurred to me just how amazing the entire ruin site had been–it was like experiencing it all with fresh eyes, seeing just how massive each of these stones were, seeing just how expansive the whole town had been–seeing how much it had survived in all of these years.
The second trip was far more tourist-friendly–a trip to the Snake Cayes in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which includes much of the ocean around Belize. So we took a boat–and I’m terrified of boats, or more so the water upon which they travel–and we sped across the ocean to a small island where we ate lunch and swam a lot.
It was, as one would imagine, a lot like any other beach–expect the water was clearer, the sun was brighter, the sand was hotter–and all together it felt like “swimming in a screensaver,” as we said, each pixel perfectly colorful, the image so pristine it must not be real–and yet it was real, every bit of it, all around us.
We went to a couple beaches actually, and each was as amazing as the other and yet many times more beautiful, too–and if you can visualize the infinite loop of natural wonder, you’re right where I want you to be.
There’s an intense beauty in the ocean–its power, its rhythm–but I’d never associated brightness with the ocean before: the water is dark and unrelenting. In Belize, the water was pristine: it was the clearest blue I have ever seen, the shade itself evocative of relaxation and cool drinks and peacefulness. I never once fought against the waves; instead they cradled me, lifting me up and holding me. The soothing ebb and flow lulled me into restfulness, made me feel closer to God than anything else.
No, I can’t say that–one thing on our trip made me feel even closer.
One night we had dinner in Punta Gorda, the coastal town from which we left for the Snake Cayes, and the restaurant we ate at had a deck that floated over the ocean. At one point I was lying on a small dock attached to it, my back right atop the water if not for the wood supporting me, and with the waves underneath, the wind all about, and the stars–oh, so many stars–opening up above me, I felt a single moment of unity with all things–I was only a part of the whole, but the whole is the universe, and in that instance we were one.
The ruins and the beaches, even a waterfall we went to one day–they’re all tourist attractions, but we weren’t tourists. We were there for a purpose–service–with a function to fulfill–building drying racks–and all the rest was peripheral. It was a pleasant surprise, a nice treat, a great way to embellish an event otherwise difficult to capture in words.
And yet it was at one of these tourists distractions where I felt that profound sense of genuine attraction to all things–the spiritual gravity that ties me to the stars and the stars to the sea and the sea to me. For one moment, one fleeting breath, everything existed in balanced unison, heavenly equilibrium, and I was not at its heart, but a part of a whole, yet I felt that heart all around me in harmony with the earth itself.