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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bye Bye Un-Belizable Experience

I know our group has been back in Ohio since the morning of the 28th, but I have not had time to state my last important post....

This was an awesome experience and I would recommend traveling to Belize with this Senior Colloquium group to anyone!

Awesome first time out of the country and I have to be honest! I am not happy to be back in OHIO. This has been the first day without work and God has blessed me with excellent warm Ohio weather to adapted and gear up for Spring Semester!

To Everyone on the trip Thanks and especially to Dwight, Beth, Doug, and Kristi!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in cold Ohio

Today, I began the long process of laundry, cleaning, and putting my "summer" clothes back into storage. I'm glad to be back in my home and especially glad to be sleeping in my beautiful bed once again.
Our trip to Belize was amazing. I am so privileged to have been able to take a J-term course in another country. Thank you Dr. Skon for allowing this trip to happen, you did an excellent job! I am so thankful that I was able to meet awesome new people from my school and create new friendships.  You are all such cool kids!
Everyone, you were amazing and I'm so happy to have spent time with you!
Belize is unbelizeable. I love you and your beautiful people, land, caves, jungle, ruins, marketplaces, and beaches!  *Tears* I hope to see you again soon :)

Some Cave Tubing Pictures

I thought I would post of few of the pictures from cave tubing. We tube down this jungle river for several stunningly beautiful miles, in the cool, clean, and refreshing waters of the Mopan river. We spend about half the time in the jungle, an half in the long, dark caves, each about a mile long. It was absolute darkness in the middle!

The Morning After

As I woke up this morning, I started thinking about the people that I have grown accustomed to starting my days with after leaving my room. Then I remembered that my room wasn't in a cabin in Columbia or a hotel on Caye Calker and I realized that I wouldn't be starting my day with the same people.

For the better part of the last month I've lived without my cell phone, make-up, flat iron, hot water, Facebook, and privacy. But I know that I've been living with so much more than I've been living without. The people I shared my life with in Belize were such a tremendous blessing! If you would have told me 25 days ago that I would let a nursing major sleep on my lap on our hour long boat ride, spend my nights playing cards with fellow business majors that I'd never had the confidence to talk to, or stay up late chatting with a girl I didn't think I liked all that much, I probably would've made a sarcastic remark like, "It will take an act of God." Well an act of God is exactly what I experienced every day while in Belize. I have grown and learned so much through my interactions with the people of Belize and my fellow travelers. I am so thankful for each person I traveled with and I pray that I was able to bless them even a fraction of the amount they blessed me. I know it will take a little adjusting not having these amazing people in my life every day but the memories made and lessons learned will stay with me forever.

Friday, January 27, 2012

For Good

Excerpts from "For Good" from Wicked

...I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a hand print on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

...I do believe I have been changed for the better

And because I knew you (x3)
I have been changed for good. 

Well, all of this is to say, I have been changed for the better and for good.  This song has been on my mind over the last few days, as I've been reflecting in Caye Caulker.  Every person that I encounter has left a hand print in my life and the people in Belize have been no exception to this.

I think about the children of the orphanage in Belmopan: Kaiden, Luis, Alexia, and Moses (just to name a few).  These children were so full of joy and took care of each other.  I think there is a lot many adults could learn from these children who worked together and loved on each other (and us too!).

I think about Gladys and her kindness in Succotz.  This lovely lady shared her family and life with me and Beth.  We were able to share with each other in order to understand each other's lives and cultures more and more importantly how we can support each other as children of God.

I think about the children in Succotz at the campground: Leslie, Gilda, Waren, Erica, Victor, and the students from Victorious Elementary School. They are so special with their smiles and laughter.  I really believe you can see Jesus in their eyes.  I specifically think of one young girl who started pulling leaves off of me after we were playing in the yard and then started to braid my hair.  I didn't ask her to do any of these things, but this young girl's act melted my heart.

I think about my students and friends from Alvin L Young High School.  It was a privilege to see them all again, catch up with them, and help them prepare for their upcoming tests.  It was even more touching to me when Jarod, Brent, and Marconi came to church in Succotz in the rain to see me one last time.

 I think about Sebastian, Luisa, the children, and all of the other people I met in the Toledo District.  Their lives were so entirely different from mine: they spoke different languages, ate different foods, lived in different kinds of houses, and faced different challenges than I do at home (and even different than the people in the Cayo District).  However, we were all so much alike because we were made by God.  We were all working to serve the same Creator.  Their kindness exhibited God's love.  They also taught me some cool Kechi words and phrases to take home and share.

I think about Javier, one of our snorkeling guides in Caye Caulker.  Javier was so kind and helpful.  He went out of his way to allow us to have cool experiences like swimming with sting rays, sea turtles, and sharks.  He also talked to me about his plans to move to England and join the British Navy.

All of these people and so many more have became large parts of my story and life.  They have changed me and have made greater impacts than any of them realize.  I know the thought was often that we were helping them, but in reality, they we're helping us.  They will be in my prayers forever.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Be the change you wish to see in the world!

I can't "belize" that this trip has gone so fast and we will be going home tomorrow! I have loved my time here in Belize and meeting all of the different people here in this country as well as getting to know tons of the awesome people in our group. I can't wait to get home, but at the same time, I'm really going to miss this...

I have just loved meeting the people of Belize who have welcomed us with open hearts and bright smiles. They always seem to be happy to see us and are always very genuine. They have such big hearts and are so easy going. The way they live here may be simple, but they are some of the happiest people I've ever met!

I feel like I have been changed by this trip, the people, and God. It has had such an impact on my life already. I have definitely been inspired by the way of life here and the way these people worship and live their lives. I want to take that back to the states with me and every where I end up going. I can't put it into words for you to understand, but there is one thing I know for sure. I will not forget this trip and what I have learned and experienced here. There is so much for me to do with my life and to bring glory to God through it. I have been given so many ideas for my future while on this trip. I've said it before and I'll say it again, God has big plans for all of our lives and we can do nothing better then to live for Him and do the best we can for Him!

As this sign says at the Ocean Academy in Caye Caulker, and as it also says on countless posters and signs back at MVNU, "Be the change you wish to see in the world!". God has created us for a purpose and He blesses us with people in our lives, experiences, and ideas that drive us and guide us to do great things and to do exactly what that sign says. We are called to be that change in our world and Belize has inspired me to do just that!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Night of Fright

Caye Caulker has been a fun experience.  This year and last year have both proven to be very different because the two trips were with different people which have presented me with different opportunities.  Both trips had snorkeling during the day time, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  This year in particular, I got to hold a sting ray and swim with it.  I also got to swim with many nurse sharks and even pet their face!  Not to mention, the countless sea turtles, tropical fish, and coral.  We also got to see a rather menacing looking Murray Eel.  It was wonderful.

Now, for the "Night of Fright" (which was nothing like the one at King's Island!)...

Earlier this week, Christy asked if anyone would be interested in night snorkeling.  I was considering it but hoping that other students would take on the opportunity.  After snorkeling with the group on Tuesday, I realized that I must snorkel again.  So, I told Christy I was in and this evening we began our adventure.  We headed to dinner for an early meal at "Pandas," a Chinese restaurant near our hotel.  It was a good meal that allowed us to get to know each other better.  Then, we were off for snorkeling.  We got suited up with wetsuits, flippers, masks, snorkels, and waterproof flashlights along with a retired middle school teacher from Oregon, Penny.  After lots of chatting, we headed to the back side of the island to Shadrach's boat. 

On our ride to the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, we watched the sun finish setting and reviewed over what we would be doing and how we would be doing it.  Christy braved the water first without a life jacket.  Next went Penny, proudly clinging to her life jacket.  Then it was my turn, I was a little (okay, a lot) nervous about it all, considering how dark it was and how hard the wind was blowing.  I could see it blowing the water hard.  I debated for a while on the life jacket.  I can swim and snorkeled the whole time the day before without one, but the dark and pending 25 minute swim against the current had my nerves questioning it.  Eventually, I just jumped in with my light on and without the life jacket.  My first glimpse into the water freaked me out.  I've never been claustrophobic but something about the dark made me feel that way, even though I was in the large ocean without barriers.  I felt myself breathing heavily and realized that I needed to calm myself down before I ended up hyperventilating.  We began to snorkel through shallow water.  There were large black spiny sea urchins everywhere (and Shadarach had specifically directed us to steer clear of them to avoid a nasty sting).  I was so worried about getting stung because they were all over the coral. 

As we swam, I became more comfortable and the water became much deeper.  Along the way, we saw lots of large lobsters, colorful fish, hermit crabs, a large barracuda, and an octopus.  In the deepest water, we got to experience one of the coolest parts: bio-iluminesence.  We had to turn off our lights and stay close to the coral (but not too close, so you weren't cut) and move our hands and feet to create the bio-iluminesence.  It was so cool to see the bright glows all over the very dark water.  We did this for a while and when we were through, we floated on our backs and looked at the stars.  The stars were much brighter than those at home.  After stargazing, we headed back to the boat.  On the boat, we stargazed some more and then headed to shore.  When we got back, there was a crocodile where the boat was to be parked, so we took some pictures of it until it swam off.

When the night was through, Christy and I got some homemade ice cream (the best I've ever had...Belizean Fudge and Coconut) and headed back to the hotel.  Overall, it was an amazing and unique experience.  I'm not sure I would ever do it again, but who knows, I'm always up for an adventure :)

Dinner at Don Corleone's on the Caye!

Our last dinner on island!

Peace Out Belize

Three weeks ago I embarked on an adventure. Three days from now, that adventure will end...and I have to say, it's been well worth it! I've had so many once in a lifetime opportunities – climbing Mayan ruins, going cave tubing, swimming in natural pools, chillin out under a waterfall, hiking through the jungle surrounded by howler monkeys, the list goes on and on. Though it's hard to choose, I'd have to say my favorite adventure we went on was today: snorkeling. I swam with sharks, touched a sting ray, and saw beautiful fish and coral reefs as well as sea turtles (probably my favorite animal after penguins)! As we sat on the boat eating fresh cut pineapple, oranges, and watermelon after going to the third reef while soaking up the sun, we, of course, thought of all our friends and family back in Ohio surrounded by cold and snow :) Not only am I thankful for the experiences I've had on this trip but also for the friendships I've developed with other students. Specifically, one of my apartmentmates at the Naz (Ashton) also came on the trip and it's been a blessing to get to know her better over the past few weeks. Lastly, this trip has been a great opportunity for self-development. Our class (centered around many ethical issues) has helped me to examine not only my personal beliefs but why I believe what I believe. This month has been more than I could have asked for and I am blessed...thanks Belize for an incredible experience!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My snorkeling adventure!

I knew today was coming, and I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about it. Snorkeling. Now, I'm not exactly a dive-head-first into the water kind of gal; actually, I have a tiny bit of a water phobia. I'm just not too fond of floating while not being able to see what's around me. I've never been to a beach that's had completely clear water, only the murky green and salty, so needless to say I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Nevertheless, I was still pretty excited. I was determined to not let my fear overcome me and ruin an awesome opportunity.

Before I knew it, we got our snorkeling gear and were out on the boat. It took us about half an hour to reach our first destination, the shark and sting ray alley. Now, I don't know about everyone else, but I had no idea that we were going to be out as far as we were. In my head, the chances of me getting into the water was getting slimmer and slimmer as I saw the stretch of land we had come from get smaller and smaller. As soon as we anchored, our tour guides were throwing in bits of fish to get the attention of any life that was in the water below us. Soon, we not only had more young tuna fish around us than I could count, but also 4 nurse sharks. They were big, right next to our boat, and incredibly beautiful. As I'm sitting there, leaning against the edge and fully engulfed in the sharks, I see people getting their gear ready to head into the water.

Whoa, whoa. Wait, you want me to get in the water...now? With the sharks? About that...

But before I could completely talk myself out of it, I got up, put on my flippers and mask and poised myself on the edge of the boat ready to jump in. Was I really going to do this? Come on Ashton, there's no way you're gonna let this opportunity pass you by....of course, I could just stay on the boat and watch everyone....having fun without me. Well, here I go! And I jumped.

As soon as I hit the water, I was seized by panic. I immediately found Mike's arm (my fiance) and clung for life. I shot him a look that said DON'T YOU DARE LET GO OF ME and I'm pretty sure he got the message because before I could start having a complete meltdown, he made me look at him and said “Ashton, it's ok! Just look into the water!”

Nope. Not gonna happen! I shook my head vigorously and I knew I was cutting the circulation off in his hand. But some sort of sanity broke through, and I knew what he was saying was right. So, in my moment of clarity, I quickly dipped my head into the water. And boy, was I in for a surprise.

It was incredible! Imagine being in the biggest aquarium you've ever seen, and then imagine being on the other side of the glass. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, how clear the water was. It actually wasn't as deep as I imagined, only about 2 meters. The fish, the stingrays, the sharks! I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

My head came back up out of the water, and I know I had the biggest grin on my face. It took me a little while to loosen my grip, but soon I was off on my own. There was the occasional shriek as a ray or fish came close to me, but I realized that I was laughing at the same time.

I was having a great time! I can totally do this! Bring it on ocean! I am so....whoa.....whoooaaa.

And then I got sea sick.

Part II coming soon!

Snorkel is such a weird word!

Today was my first ever experience with snorkeling! I was really nervous to begin with because, even though I LOVE the water, sucking in salt water through a tube and feeling like I'm drowning is definitely not one of my favorite things and both of these could happen when snorkeling. By the way, isn't "snorkel" such a weird word? Who came up with that one?

Anyway, back to the experience...

I was really nervous when we got to our first location after a long and pretty fun boat ride. It didn't help when one of our guides starting chopping up little fishes and throwing them into the water, making some hungry brown sharks and some huge fish come into my sight. They were literally a foot away from me in the boat. I could have reached out my hand and touched them easily. In my head I was saying, "Are we really getting in that water?", "I don't think I can do this.", "Seriously, they expect me to swim with a shark?". But, after I realized that they really did expect me to jump into the water teaming with feeding sharks and that every one else was going in and many had done something like this before, I plucked up my courage, pulled on my fins, attached the suffocating goggles to my head and plunged on in.

It was rough at first, getting used to the snorkel (again, such a weird word), and making my fins work the way I wanted them to, but I finally got the hang of it. Then it was time to have fun!

The animals we saw were so amazing! We saw all kinds of fish, tons of coral reef and different vegetation, manta rays, eels, sharks, and even sea turtles! I eventually got comfortable enough with my snorkel to hold my breath and go deeper under water and was able to touch lots of sting rays and swim next to them. Seriously, how amazing is that? When do you ever get to swim with wild exotic sea life? Can you Belize it?

We ate at an awesome restaurant after swimming the morning away with all the animals. I got a shrimp quesadilla, which blew my mind, and then we walked around the town for a bit, then we were back in the boat for round two! This time we saw a sunken barge under water and then saw some more coral reef and Kelsey captured a picture of one of the sea turtles!

Ain't he such a cutie? After we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed after the turtle, it was time to head back to Caye Caulker and our hotel for showers, dinner, and class time. But, since one of our guides, Javier, was so awesome he let me pull up the anchor! Such a cool thing to get to do. I felt like a pirate! ^_^

Fish, Sharks, Sea Turtles, Sting Rays, Eels

Wow - we got to go snorkeling to day. We snorkeled in 2 locations where we got to see fish, eels, sharks, sea turtles, and sting rays! It was both beautiful and amazing. Our guide even caught a six foot shark underwater, and held it in his hands while we petted it. Here is a little sample!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Caye Caulker!

January 23, 2012

This morning we woke up early and quickly got ready to leave. We drove through Belize City and arrived at the ferry. We scrambled onto the boat and started off on our 1 hour ride to Caye Caulker. I felt a little motion sickness a few times as the boat rocked side to side, but luckily I was fine the whole boat ride. The ocean is so blue! The farther out away from mainland that we got, the more turquoise the water became. We passed many islands covered in jungle as we came closer to the island that we would be staying at until Thursday. As we got closer to Caye Caulker, the water became so clear that we could see straight to the bottom. We saw beautiful docks, some with tiki huts that stretched over the clear waters. There are beautiful, super colorful houses all along the shoreline. Palms cover the island and there is soft, white sand. I was surprised at the amount of seaweed that accumlates on the beaches. However, there really aren't any beaches. There are tons of boat docks, but there is only one public place that people can go swimming which is at the Splits. Finally, we arrived to our dock and we jumped off of the boat. The piers are so beautiful and there are so many things to take in; it's like we stepped into a postcard. We grabbed our luggage and walked down the long pier and through the town until we arrived at the china town hotel. Cody and I are staying on the third floor, away from everyone else who are spread out in different rooms across the property. I love our room, there is not anything special or beautiful about it. There is just... air conditioning and hot water! It's small with a bed, a nightstand, a tv, a fridge, a chair, a closet, and a small bathroom. I thought it was funny that the doorknob hanger that says do not disturb or needs cleaning actually says, “Do not dosturb and Please cleaning.” I think the English could have been translated a little better :)
We went out to eat at The Sandbox which is close to the ocean front. The food was really good, but it seemed like we waited forever for our food to come-probably because we were starving. I learned that I love Pina Coladas (virgin, of course) and that you can each conch (which is like lobster meat that comes out of the conch shell). I will be getting both of those tonight, I think :) Then, we walked around looking for a place to go swimming. We made a huge loop around the east side of the island and finally found the Splits with some directions. There is an old concrete pier that is broken in several places, but it serves as a place to sit since there is no beach to sit on. I threw my stuff down and jumped in the beautiful big blue wet thing. The water was the perfect temperature and we found that the ocean is really shallow near the shore. We were able to stand up easily at 100 ft out. Sarah found a starfish, so Cody picked it up and we all took pictures with it. We found an even bigger starfish farther out, which was pretty cool because it's not everyday that you find live starfish out in the ocean. We swam for a while and played chicken once. We avoided the seaweed as it was scary to get your feet in it. Apparently, Brighton cut his toe open on the broken concrete slabs and so there was a nice blood trail from the dock to the sand. Everybody warned us to not go near the concrete and to climb up around the other side, but of course, Cody had to climb up the concrete slab and cut his toe open, too. It was a lot of fun being in the ocean. It's so different from the beaches that I've went to in the U.S. You can see the bottom perfectly and there aren't any waves because the coral reef breaks all of the waves further out in the ocean. We walked back to the hotel past all of the street vendors and restaurants. We cooled off in the small swimming pool and then I went back to our room to shower. I did get a little sunburned on my face and chest, even though I put plenty of sun-lotion on. In a little bit, we are going to go to supper and then have class this evening.

First Day On Caye Caulker

OH MY GOSH I LOVE IT HERE! It is so beautiful here on the island of Caye Caulker. The sun is shining, the water is so clear blue, the fish are swimming, the people smiling...Its just great. I got a little too much sun today though, but it's all good. I feel so calm here on the island. Just walking through the town, there is just a really laid back feeling. Reggae music thumping down the streets, people selling their beautiful crafts, sand between your toes...I just adore it.

Today I finally found a coconut for my roommate Kelsey. She has had a mission for the entire trip to find a coconut and drink the water out of eat and eat part of it. We have not been able to get one the entire trip. They were always just out of reach, literally! But today when we arrived at the hotel and had a chance to swim in the pool for a bit, I met a man named Jim who has drinking from a coconut. I said hello, asked him about the coconut and he said he would go grab me one. Thus, I found Kelsey a coconut. We had a grand time trying to open it and get the water out of it. Right now it is in our mini fridge so the water stays cold and fresh! Love it!

After we got the coconut, we just went out on the town and looked around in lots of shops and restaurants. I got some Chinese food and Kelsey got a stuffed burger. I think she got the better deal today. That sandwich was awesome(I know cause she let me have a bite, YUM!). Next, we went down to "The Split", which was the place to hang out for everyone on the island. There isn't really a "beach" like I am used to. People were laying out on wooden docks or on a stone outcropping kind of thing in the water. It was surely a different experience, but also one that was way awesome. I had a great time today, and can't wait to experience the rest of Caye Caulker.


Flying out to Ohio early because I have to work.Really don't want to leave the group of people that I've lived with and gotten to know the past 2 weeks. I'll miss you guys. See you in Ohio!