Category Archives: Travel

Adventures and Celebrations

Hola friends and family!

I hope you all had a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving! We all have so much to be grateful for, and I hope you were able to reflect on this while feasting on delicious foods and spending time with your loved ones. Thanksgiving was very different for me this year, but I’m thankful that I was still able to eat some turkey and mashed potatoes! As always, the past two weeks have been packed full of activities and adventures, especially with preparing for Thanksgiving at Casa Gloria.

Fall is one of my favorite times of year, and being in the tropics, I have missed watching the leaves change, wearing sweaters, and eating my mom’s delicious soups. So being away from home during Thanksgiving this year was also difficult. I really missed being able to cook my favorite foods and spend time with my family playing games and watching football. That being said, celebrating Thanksgiving with Casa Gloria was still a wholesome and exciting experience! We needed to prepare food for almost 50 people, so all of the staff took a recipe and started cooking the day before. In the end, we had quite the feast (picture #1)! Because Thanksgiving is not a holiday traditional to Guatemala, Jenna had me explain to the kids how we celebrate Thanksgiving in the States and why it’s important to remember to be grateful for what we have. After, all of the children and staff took a moment to say something that we were thankful for. This was a precious moment, especially listening to what the little kids came up with! I am extremely appreciative to Jenna and her family, the Casa Gloria family, and my host family for welcoming me with open arms into their lives and families. My experience with Casa Gloria has been so positive thanks to all of these wonderful people!

Besides Thanksgiving, my internship continues to provide new experiences and opportunities to learn. For example, I took a girl to the eye doctor and, let’s just say, I learned a lot of new vocabulary! In the past two weeks I’ve also helped out by driving people around to complete errands including castrating dogs, buying groceries for the children’s home, and picking up flooring. The other day, I even weighed out medicine for a few of the dogs! Like I’ve said before, there truly is never a dull moment! On a more somber note, Casa Gloria recently received two sisters who witnessed their father kill their mother. When I first heard the details of their situation, I was heartbroken. Unfortunately, these things happen regularly and is the reason why Casa Gloria exists. Thankfully, the girls are adjusting really well to living at the children’s home, but any thoughts and prayers for them, as well as the other children, are always welcomed and appreciated!

In the last two weeks, I also returned to Antigua for a few days and traveled to Panajachel, a town located on Lake Atitlan. While in Antigua, I spent time with my host family and friends, climbed Volcan Pacaya (picture #2), and witnessed the gorgeous arrangements of the Flower Festival (picture #3)! While visiting the towns around Lake Atitlan, I took in gorgeous views (pictures #4, #5, and #6), learned about the process of roasting coffee beans (picture #7), and attempted (not very successfully) to do traditional Mayan weaving (picture #8). I also did a tour of San Pedro on horseback (pictures #9 and #10)!

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

P.S. I included a picture of my host sister, Michelle, and I because her smile brings me so much joy and she’s just adorable! Hopefully you’ll be able to receive some of that joy through the photo 馃檪

Settling into Life in Santa Cruz

Hola friends and family!

It’s hard to believe that another two weeks has already passed by. My time with Casa Gloria is going so quickly, and I want to soak up every experience that I can! Each week brings new opportunities for me to learn and to grow closer with the staff and kids at Casa Gloria, as well as with my host family. I’m so thankful for them all!

In my last blog, I mentioned that the founder of Casa Gloria’s name is also Jenna. As you might imagine, having two Jenna’s around could cause some confusion, so the two of us had decided before I arrived that I would go by a different name while I was here. I told Jenna that some of my friends call me Jordy (a combination of my first and last names) and she thought that was the perfect solution. Well, upon arrival in Santa Cruz, my host family had a hard time pronouncing “Jordy,” and also promptly told me that it was a boy’s name. This was confirmed when someone told me they were looking for “Se帽or Jordy,” to which they were shocked and slightly embarrassed when I told them that I was, in fact, the Jordy they were looking for. Anyway, the result is that, to anyone in Casa Gloria, I am Jordy and, to anyone from my host family, I am Nicole (my middle name). That being said, whenever I meet someone new, I never know how to introduce myself because, so far, I’ve gone by three different names (Jenna, Jordy, and Nicole) in the six weeks that I’ve spent in Guatemala!

One thing that I love about my host family, is that we all are genuinely curious and interested in learning about our respective cultures, especially my host mom, Vilma, and me. I cannot tell you how many times she has graciously taken the time to explain to me when I do or say something that is a little culturally “off,” and then to ask me how I would handle the same situation if I was at home. It’s so wonderful to know that we are both able to learn from each other! For example, at the beginning of last week, I was having a conversation with Vilma about cooking and she mentioned that she almost never uses her oven, but that she wanted to learn how to make a few things in it. Naturally, I offered to teach her how to make cookies. She readily agreed, and this resulted in me, my host sister, Sulmi, and Vilma all making a batch of Joanna Gaines’ chocolate chip cookies together (picture #1)! We had so much fun, especially when the cookies were ready to eat! As far as other things go related to my host family, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned a few more Spanish songs, so now I don’t have to keep repeating the same two over and over again. At this rate, I’m going to have a whole repertoire prepared by the time I leave!

In the past two weeks, I also traveled to both Tikal and Semuc Champey. In Tikal (pictures #2, #3, and #4), I learned about Mayan history, climbed temples and pyramids, and even saw a tarantula! It was a powerful experience to witness a way of life that, now, is completely non-existent. Jenna, Evelia (Casa Gloria’s psychologist), and I also had a great time getting to know each other better during the 18 total hours of driving that we did on that trip. Let’s just say, it got to the point where we were taking personality tests, so we DEFINITELY know each other well now! At Semuc Champey (pictures #5 and #6), Mayda (Vilma’s younger sister) and I swam in the gorgeous, crystal-blue waters and dove into an underwater cave. We were even able to tour one of the Lanquin Caves (picture #7) and see where some Mayan sacrifices took place!

My internship at Casa Gloria has also been quite eventful over the past two weeks. I’ve continued working on my normal projects like finishing the Christmas cards, taking dogs to the vet, and teaching English classes, but I’ve also taken kids to doctor appointments, weighed babies, and celebrated D铆a de los Muertos. There is truly never a dull moment around here! I have come to really enjoy teaching the English classes because the kids are always so enthusiastic and eager to learn the material I give them. It can be challenging due to the differing levels of education and English knowledge that the kids have, but overall, those classes are some of the most fun I have throughout the week! This past week, I also had the opportunity to share a little bit of my story with Casa Gloria’s kids, as well as the reason why I chose to work with Casa Gloria in the first place. I shared how they had already deeply impacted me in the few short weeks that I’d been here and how grateful I was to be here with them. These kids have experienced some of the most cruel and disgusting forms of human behavior to exist, and the way they’ve picked themselves up and support each other is so inspiring. This was a really powerful and beautiful moment for me and one that I will cherish forever.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

The Next Chapter

*The names of the children from Casa Gloria have been changed.*

Hola friends and family!

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced both the sadness of departures and the excitement of new beginnings. I said bittersweet goodbyes to my loving host family and wonderful friends in Antigua (pictures #1 and #2). I could not have made it through my time in Antigua without these people – they truly made my experience so special!

Although it was hard to say goodbye, I was also eager to start my next adventure with Casa Gloria! As a reminder, Casa Gloria is both a children’s home and a dog ministry (picture #3) that is located in Santa Cruz, Guatemala, about a six-hour drive from Antigua. The trip to Casa Gloria was long, but not uneventful. At the time, Casa Gloria had a 7-year-old boy, John, and his nanny who were staying at the heart hospital in Guatemala City so that John could recover from his surgery. My host dad was kind enough to drive me to the hospital to pick them up and then drive the three of us to the north side of Guatemala city where we met Jenna, the founder of Casa Gloria. (Fun fact, Jenna鈥檚 maiden name was Jenna York鈥inda crazy right?) We still had a four-hour drive, so we didn鈥檛 end up making it to Santa Cruz until about 2am. Although it was the middle of the night, my new host mom graciously brought me into her home and made sure I was comfortable. I truly have been blessed with the best host families!

Over the next few days, I played at least a hundred games of Uno with my host siblings, began learning the names of all of the kids, nannies, workers, and dogs at Casa Gloria (pictures #4 and #5), and attempted, only somewhat successfully, to tortear (make tortillas). Thankfully, everyone has been very gracious and kind with me when I forget names and mess up tortillas!

I’ve come to discover that there is never a dull moment at Casa Gloria. Each day is filled with surprises, love, adventure, and opportunities to learn and grow. During my internship hours, I’ve helped the kids with their homework, tasted green lemons – no, they are apparently NOT limes (picture #6), taught English classes, received Spanish lessons, taken dogs to their chemotherapy appointments (picture #7), and began creating Christmas cards for all of Casa Gloria’s sponsors. I even participated in Ally’s quincea帽era (picture #8)!

Outside of my internship, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my host family. My host mom has eight siblings and most of them live nearby in the same neighborhood. Every night, a new aunt, uncle, or cousin meanders into the house to eat dinner with us or just to hang out and conversate. Their family reminds me a lot of my own, and so, in some ways, this helps me not miss my family so much, and in others, makes me miss them more. That being said, my host family has truly embraced me and made me feel extremely welcomed and loved!

Before I traveled to Guatemala, I tried to eliminate any expectations I had so that I could simply experience things as they happened. A few things that I can safely say I was NOT expecting, however, are the incredibly large amounts of delicious food that my host mom puts in front of me at every meal, the fact that I鈥檇 quickly have to get over my fear of cockroaches, and that I would get asked to play my guitar and sing the same, two Spanish songs (the only ones that I know) on a daily basis. Nevertheless, each day here is a gift and I would not change any of it!

As always, thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima,

Jenna

These are dogs currently up for adoption!

Going to church with Jenna and the kids for the first time!

Me with Jenna’s youngest daughter, Ariana!

Me and Randall on the way home from his chemotherapy appointment <3

The Sky is the Limit

Hola again!

It has now been two weeks since I’ve arrived in Antigua and what an adventure it has been! As soon as I stepped off of the plane in Guatemala City, it was a mad rush to retrieve my luggage and make it through Customs. Thankfully, M谩ximo Nivel, the Spanish language school, had arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport, so the trip to my host family’s house in Antigua was very smooth. I arrived at the house around midnight where I was greeted by my host family with open arms. They have been incredibly kind and welcoming and I could not have asked for a better family to stay with!

Every morning, I wake up to a warm cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast typically consisting of eggs, beans, and fruit that my host mom prepares for me. I then head to my Spanish classes from 9am to 1pm where I try to soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can. For the first four to five days, my head was swimming with new information, vocabulary, and grammar, but I have slowly begun to acclimate to living life in Spanish. After my classes, I walk around Antigua until I find a caf茅 where I can eat lunch. This is my favorite part of the day because it allows me to explore Antigua and try new foods like this Chocobanano (picture #1)! In the afternoons, my host siblings and I study together at the kitchen table. They help me improve my Spanish grammar and I help them increase their English vocabulary. It’s the perfect set up! In the evenings, I eat another delicious meal with my host family and then spend the rest of the night conversing about the day. My Spanish speaking abilities have improved significantly because of this!

By the first weekend, I’d acclimated to daily life in Antigua. I’d made some friends from M谩ximo Nivel and I’d mostly adjusted to the language switch. My friends and I also started to explore Antigua more and experience all that the city has to offer. I love how vibrant this city is and how kind the people are. I have truly enjoyed immersing myself in Guatemalan culture by trying new foods and striking conversations with the locals! Over the past two weeks I’ve walked along most of the streets in Antigua (picture #2), attended the first Communion of my host brother, explored the ruins of the San Francisco Convent and Church (picture #3), and even visited the Antigua soccer stadium (picture #4)! I will never forget my visit to the stadium because I was able to meet many of the players, get my jersey signed (picture #5), and observe the team practice. Hopefully, I will even be able to make it to a game before I leave!

There are four volcanoes near Antigua: Agua, Fuego, Pacaya, and Acatenango (Agua is the volcano you see in pictures 2-4!). I have always loved hiking and backpacking, so I knew immediately that I wanted to hike at least one of the volcanoes. Luckily, a few of my new friends wanted to do the same! Acatenango is the most popular volcano to summit, so we signed up for a guided, overnight trek. Acatenango stands tall at 4,000 meters (a little over 13,000 feet) and we climbed the vast majority of that the first day. The altitude gain was intense and it was extremely cold at the top, so the hike provided plenty of challenges, both mental and physical. That being said, I am so glad that I did it, and to quote our guide, “the sky is the limit!” The views from the top of Acatenango were breathtaking, I really bonded with the friends who were with me (picture #6), and I was even able to see Fuego erupt (picture #7)!

Although my time in Antigua is coming to a close, I am incredibly thankful for the irreplaceable friendships and experiences that I have gained here. Next on the agenda: move to Cob谩n and begin working with Misi贸n Vida Nueva – I can’t wait!

Thank you, again, for your continued thoughts and prayers. It is extremely comforting knowing that I have so many people supporting me throughout this journey!

Much love y hasta la pr贸xima vez,

Jenna

Carrot Hole

Carrot Hole

At the time I began writing this, it had been just one week since my arrival to Cape Town (22 Jan)- here are some of the thoughts that I gathered in that week, and a little more since then:

I can鈥檛 believe I鈥檝e been in Cape Town for a week today! In the past week, I鈥檝e done all of the things- but the greatest so far, was CAMP!

As a previous summer camper, girl scout, and camp leader- when my supervisor asked if I鈥檇 like to meet a group of the children at Lawrence House for the first time by going with them to their yearly camp, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Meeting new people can be so challenging and I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I loved camp and no matter where you are in the world, camp. is. camp- or so I thought.

The camp was located about two and a half hours outside of Cape Town and named Camp Wortelgat- which is Afrikaans for Carrot Hole. Even now, I still do not know the significance of the name of the camp- it never was properly explained鈥

Our adventure began with, as previously mentioned, a bus ride to the camp itself which lasted just under three hours. On this ride, the children of the home asked me questions of all varieties- however most of them consisted of something that had some relation to America and life in the United States. On this ride, I learned a lot about them as well- I began to learn names, recognize faces and voices, identify children that had closer bonds with one another. I learned that they loved music, dancing, and most prominently- TikTok. On this ride, I was able to see beautiful landscapes- hills, valleys, mountains, bodies of water- and the outside-looking-in view of Cape Town- shacks, poverty, townships, wealth, hotels, large buildings and industries. From a distance, I could see the tangible evidence of disparities and wealth gaps.

The view from the outside of our thatch huts!

The children’s “Tree of Life” exercise. They drew these themselves to represent different aspects of their lives.

Upon arrival to camp- we immediately began our excursions. The camp program facilitators led us to our thatch huts where we were able to place our belongings and sleeping bags. Following this were the classic name games and ice breakers, and ate the most delicious camp food I鈥檝e ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Then came the kayaking. From there our few days transformed into a rhythm of action, team building exercises, processing in groups, and rest and camaraderie (featuring ghost stories, card games, and spooking). Our camp was snuggly nestled between the foot of mountains and a beautiful body of water. At night, we could step out of our huts and gaze at stars in ways that I鈥檇 never seen before.

Our path while hiking, all blue skies! Summer in South Africa!

On the last day, our group went for a hike that truly felt as if we were the only people for miles (because we probably were). And by mid-day, we began packing our belongings back into the bus with full stomachs and hearts. We finished loading and left the same way we came in- by bus ride through landscapes that looked like they should be puzzles and not real places. By the bus ride back, I felt like the beginnings of attachment had started forming, and I knew this because I felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on the ride back. By the bus ride back, I had learned twelve children鈥檚 names and the beginning of their incredible, hard, inspiring stories and witnessed resilience, wit, humor, teamwork, and compassion. By the bus ride back, I had a revived sense of excitement for Monday, which would be my first day at Lawrence House!

At the end of every day at camp, the children and staff would write a word or sentence to describe their day. On the last day we all took pictures in front of the wall and they wanted to take my picture!

In your corner,

Liv

*For privacy purposes, I am unable to post pictures that contain beneficiaries of Lawrence House. Enjoy the beautiful landscapes!*

Goodbye Fingernails, Hello Detroit.

Today is the day!

Well, today was supposed to be the day.

I had my flights all booked, my travel snacks all picked out, and bags all (almost) packed.聽

At 2:55pm today, Thursday, August 29th, 2019, I was supposed to be moving to India, but instead I鈥檓 sitting at home in Detroit, Michigan, sipping on iced coffee and playing banana grams with my parents.

Long story short, I don鈥檛 have my visa yet.

And you can鈥檛 really move to a new country without a visa.

If you鈥檝e ever had to apply for a visa, other than a tourist visa, then I rest assured in the fact that you feel my pain.

A few weeks back, I applied for a year-long employment visa. I wasn鈥檛 given an exact timeline as to when I would hear back, but with a suggested start date for my internship, I had a fairly determined departure date in my mind: today.

I waited to book the flights at first, but as I saw the prices slowly creep into the thousands, I thought, 鈥渙h, what the heck, I鈥檒l go ahead and book my flight.鈥

I was confident in the plan I had made in my head.聽

As the departure day slowly approached, my email inbox remained vacant of any visa details.聽

I called and emailed all the customer service contacts I could, but everyone responded with the same sad, automated message: 鈥淒ear Applicant, we have no new information on the status of your visa. Please be patient until we receive further updates.鈥

I wanted to know WHEN I would hear and WHY it was taking so long and WHO was handling my visa and WHAT could I do to speed up the process.聽

But unfortunately, all I know is that it鈥檚 not time.

I don鈥檛 have my visa, therefore, it鈥檚 not time for me to go.聽

My poor nails have taken quite a blow in all of this.

I bite my nails in stress, and by the size of the current crooked nubs on the ends of my fingers, I declare the last few weeks as some of the most stressful weeks of my life.

But oddly, I feel okay.

I am stressed, but I am also excited.

I am excited for this adventure, and I am eager for it to begin.

So much is up in the air, so yes, I am anxiously waiting for a plan to be presented for me to act upon, but I鈥檓 not worried.聽

I feel a sense of peace. A sense that it will be okay.聽

I believe in a big God. A God who is completely in control. If I鈥檓 supposed to be there by next week, then I鈥檒l be there. If my Heavenly Father wants me home for a few extra days, then so be it.

I trust that His ways are far greater than mine, even if my way seemed quite good, I trust that His is better. No matter how many finger nails I chew through, I will wait upon the Lord.

Today was supposed to be the day, but it鈥檚 not, and you know what?

That鈥檚 okay.聽

The day will come. As I wait, I will rejoice in all that has been and all that is to come.

A big adventure awaits, and although the details are unknown to me right now, I trust the One that knows the details.聽

 

 

If you鈥檝e got a few moments this week to pray, maybe in the car or in line at the grocery store, then please lift up the details of my visa. I am hoping and praying to be on a plane some time in the next week, but there鈥檚 not much more I can do right now besides wait.

Thankfully, the organization I am interning for, International Justice Mission, has been so gracious in all of this. They are patiently waiting and praying right alongside me, and they are eagerly preparing for my arrival, whenever that may be.聽

More updates to come.

kate

 

Tiny Wurm, Big World

Welcome to my very first blog!

I am slowly learning how to put the stories, ideas, and thoughts I encounter into words for you to not only read, but to experience for yourself. I am honored that you are willing to take a moment of your own life to read about mine through a smudged laptop screen, big, ol鈥 desktop, or whatever your viewing screen of choice happens to be.聽

Well, I am moving to India.

Who would鈥檝e thought?聽Not my parents.

Well, perhaps... I assume they knew that this was coming before I broke the news to them, but to you all this move overseas may raise some questions. Allow me to share where this all began.聽

I initially felt a tug on my heart to visit India about 2 years ago.聽

May of 2017 to be exact.聽

As most dreams do, it began as a small seed in the back of my mind. I slowly began to water the thought of India with books and conversations and prayers and movies and anything else within my reach, and before I knew it, I had a full grown tree of thought taking root in not only my mind, but also in my heart.聽

The obsession with this place spilled over into a deep love for the culture and people of India.聽

I visited twice in early 2018, and shortly after my trips, I felt a new small seed being planted in my head to move there.聽

Taken during my second visit to India. A moment where I felt tiny, tiny, tiny.

Fast forward a year and here we are!聽

After many early morning interviews, long-distance phone call meetings, financial confusions and a few teary-eyed (okay ugly weeping) kitchen breakdowns, I can finally recognize the purpose interwoven in all the moments that led me to right here.

You will hear so much more about this in the coming months, but in just a few short weeks I begin a communications internship with International Justice Mission on the west coast of India.

In somewhat of a short (okay medium to long) version, IJM is a non-profit organization composed of Christian attorneys, social workers, criminal investigators, and support staff. IJM carefully investigates situations of abuse and partners with local officials to free victims from their immediate situations of

danger. After the victims have been freed, IJM seeks to address the root of the problem by prosecuting the perpetrators in local court systems and empowering communities to make structural changes that can prevent such abuses in the future. IJM also works with aftercare providers to help the newly freed victims adjust to a life that is very different from their past oppressive experiences.聽

Check out their website for more information (www.ijm.org).聽

In early June, I flew to DC for a pre-departure orientation with 79 other IJM interns.

IJM鈥檚 headquarters sit on the outskirts of the surprisingly sweet DC area, and the 5 days spent within the walls of the organization, shaking hands of those whom I’d only met over email, praying alongside current employees, filling notepads with the kind of information that sets your soul on fire...those 5 days represent just a small seed of what this year has the potential of growing into. I sat wide-eyed in front of each speaker as they shared about their specific area of expertise within the organization from technology to fundraising, and from cultural immersion to international team building. I learned more about the heart of IJM, absorbed the stories that the organization is founded on, and held back tears as I heard about all that the IJM team plans to accomplish in the years to come.聽

The best part is that IJM鈥檚 story, team, and mission exceed me.聽

This year will break far beyond the walls of my own mind, as I hope to share with you, and anyone who is willing to listen, the stories of rescue and victory and renewal.

I used to say the phrase, 鈥渢iny wurm, big world,鈥 whenever I saw something or visited somewhere that made me feel small in the best possible way.聽

Looking out at the mountain, the ocean, the waterfall, or the sunset, and being filled with some sort of 鈥榯his is what life is about鈥 feeling. The tears forming in the corner of your eyes and your heart lifting as though it had just exhaled for the first time in years. The Creator has a way of revealing the most extravagant gifts of the world to us in a way more personal than we could ever describe.

I have a feeling this next year is going to be a lot of those, 鈥渢iny wurm, big world,鈥 moments.聽Perhaps a beautiful sunset or a breathtaking view, or maybe even the feeling I鈥檒l get when I first figure out how to do laundry in India.聽

 

Whatever it is, I look forward to sharing that moment with you.聽

 

a good photo reference for when someone says they have “laundry for days..” Taken on my second trip to India.

 

 

– kate

 

 

 

 

My Last Two Weeks

Picking Up Where I Left Off
A lot has happened since I arrived in Nepal two weeks ago. After landing in Kathmandu at 8am, I had to navigate the hectic airport, apply for my Visa, and find my bags amongst the chaos of tourists. I also had to purchase a SIM card and data plan for my phone to use for emergency communication. Thankfully, I ran into a nice girl from the Netherlands named Firazia. About 28 years old and a veteran of travel to Nepal, she knew the drill. With Firazia鈥檚 help, I was able to find my way out of the crazy airport and hail a taxi cab in no time.

On the taxi ride to my hotel, I got to know my driver, Rama, quite well. He introduced me to much of Kathmandu as we drove through the city. I told him about my two-month stay and work in Nepal鈥攖rekking to Everest Base Camp, working in Annapurna, and returning to Kathmandu for medical work. He gave me his card and insisted that if I ever need a ride, I give him a call. Then he handed me an old beat-up journal from the center console of his car and asked that I write my name and where I am from inside. I obliged, scribbling 鈥淛ordan Dunn 鈥 Nashville, USA鈥 amongst filled pages of Nepali handwriting.

Meeting my Guide & Team
After a few minutes, we arrived at Hotel Marshyandi, a rather nice hotel in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. There I met my guide鈥擱am Moktan鈥攁nd the others I would be trekking with across the mountains. Ram is an older man from Jhapa, a lowland district in far southeast Nepal that borders India. He has worked as a guide for visitors to the Himalayas for over 25 years, leading hundreds of Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks. Now 55 years old, he is seen as one of the most experienced and respected guides in the region. Over the course of my time with him, I asked many questions about Nepal, its people, and its culture. He became indispensable to my learning about the complex reality of natural landscape, social climate, and economy of the country.

Our team was composed of three Americans (including myself), six Australians, and two Brits. This made for a fairly diverse group, all of us different ages and from different backgrounds. I was the youngest, with most everyone else being 28, 32, 40, and so on. Regardless, I made out pretty well with a spectacular team and first rate guide. This made all the difference in my journey.

The team during our acclimatization day in Namche Bazar.

Our amazing, wise, and fearless guide鈥擱am Moktan.

Traveling to the Mountains
Once I met Ram and the rest of the team, I had to be in bed early for the 8:00am flight to Lukla鈥攖he gateway village to the mountains. Normally one would fly to Lukla straight from Kathmandu Airport, but because of renovations on the runway we had to travel to the nearest alternative airport鈥擱amechhap Airport in Manthali鈥four hours away by bus ride! It was not an easy journey鈥 We had to be up by 3am to arrive at the airport by 7:30am. With the rough road conditions, steep cliffsides, and crazy drivers of Nepal, this drive was quite the adventure. One of our team members experienced some severe motor sickness and spent the whole four hours clinging to a vomit bag! There were also a few moments I thought we might have to choose between hitting a car head-on or driving off a 200 foot cliff! By the grace of God, we all made it there in one piece.

The long, dusty, and bumpy ride to Ramechhap Airport.

The massive, cliffside on the drive to Ramechhap. This photo is blurry thanks to the bumpiness of the road.

The World鈥檚 Most Dangerous Airport
At Ramechhap Airport, I boarded a small propeller plane for Lukla. Sitting at 9,383 feet above sea level (already higher than any place in Tennessee), the small village of Lukla is home to one of the most dangerous airports in the world鈥攖he Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Named after the first two men to summit Everest (Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing), the airport runway is nothing more than a short uphill stretch of concrete. Because of the nature of the mountainous landscape, there is virtually no flat straightaway anywhere around to fit a proper landing strip. As a result, the Tenzing-Hillary runway is only 1,729 feet long (compared to Nashville鈥檚 11,000-foot-long runway) and can only handle small prop planes. The runway is essentially built into the side of a mountain and ends with a large rock wall. This means that planes will crash straight into the rock wall against the mountain-side if they don鈥檛 stop in time, making the landing process quite risky. It鈥檚 a similar story with the take-off. Because the runaway basically ends with a sudden cliff, a pilot must take flight, otherwise they risk nose diving straight down into the trees below. Because there is not enough clearance to pull up if a pilot botches the landing and no additional runway if the takeoff goes wrong, Lukla is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world. There is no room for error. Once a pilot commits, he commits.

Boarding our small prop plane at Ramechhap Airport headed for Lukla.

Fortunately, we had spectacular pilots! I was absolutely impressed by their maneuvering against the strong Himalayan winds. During the short 20 minute ride, I could see Everest and many of the other snow covered summits (Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lohtse, etc) peeking through the clouds. It was just a taste of the beauty and majesty of the Himalayan landscape. When I felt the plane shift into descent, I became a bit nervous about the difficult landing process for Lukla. But our pilots were experienced professionals. The minute the plane touched down, they threw every brake on, flipped the ailerons down, and switched the spoilers up鈥攁ll in an effort to create enough drag to slow us down before smashing against the rock wall at the end of the runway. We stopped about 20 feet short of the wall and taxied over to a small holding facility to retrieve our bags and head inside for tea and our days briefing.

The Himalayan peaks poking through the cloudy sky.

The pilots shifting into descent and preparing to land at the world’s most dangerous airport鈥擫ukla.

The runway at Lukla鈥攜ou can see the absolute drop off at the end.

Drastic Change
As soon as I stepped outside of the plane in Lukla, I felt the cool mountain air against my skin. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt worked in Kathmandu, but it was far too chilly for that in Lukla! When we originally took off, we were surrounded by bright reddish ran dirt and palm trees, baking in 80掳F heat under the hot sun. Upon landing in Lukla, were reached the alpine zone and were now surrounded by deep green pines, misty skies, and strong Himalayan winds. It felt like I jumped from summer to fall in a matter of minutes. This was the mountains!

The drastic change in landscape鈥攔eaching the alpine zone in Lukla.

My roommate, Darcy, and I walking through the streets of Lukla.

Surya and Biru
After landing in Lukla, we enjoyed a bit of tea and met our assistant guides鈥擲urya and Biru. They would be paramount to leading our group, answering our questions, and assisting Ram throughout our time in the Himalayas. Surya was a 25-year-old born and raised in Lukla. He, much like Ram, knew English very well. It seems he had made a name for himself in the community as a strong assistant, working his way from porter to guide in half the time it normally takes. An incredibly intelligent young fella, Surya was the brains of our operation.

Biru, on the other hand, knew very little English. A 27-year-old from a small village about two days walk from Lukla (the name escapes me), Biru became the brawn of the team. Despite the language barrier, he communicated with us well. He led our chain of hikers into the thick of the unknown and through the mountains with incredible speed and determination. Nepalis tend to use 鈥渢he鈥 before words in unnecessary places. As a result, Ram often began our treks each morning by exclaiming, 鈥淔ollow the Biru!鈥 For this reason, he affectionately became known as 鈥淭he Biru.鈥 Many of the guys, in awe of Biru鈥檚 speed and strength, would say, 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 earn a ‘the’ at the beginning of your name for no reason!鈥

The Biru, chilling during a rest break on the way to Dingboche.

Following the Biru was easy thanks to his bright orange pack.

Surya, undoubtedly the brains of our trek.

Beginning the Journey
Immediately after meeting Surya and Biru, we began our long journey on the trail. Over the course of our 14 days, we would travel on foot from Lukla all the way to Base Camp, going village to village and staying in local tea houses along the way. In total, it was over 100 miles of trekking and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain. That kind of distance with a camera, extra lenses, and other gear on your back, plus the drain of thinning oxygen at altitude, made for long and exhausting days. Thankfully, we didn鈥檛 carry everything ourselves. Local porters were hired by our guiding company, Intrepid, to carry our larger items inside a duffel bag. At first, I felt guilty that someone else was carrying my heavy items. Over time, however, I realized that the mountain economy depends heavily on the use of porters. By paying them to carry my items, I was supporting the local economic system.

Precautions for Altitude Sickness
Because we traveled from just over 9,000 feet in Lukla to about 17,500 feet at Base Camp, acclimatization was key to maintaining our health. Hike too fast and we risked getting sick. For this reason, our trek was extended over a longer period of time, allowing our bodies to slowly get used to the altitude. Unfortunately, natural acclimatization can take many months, so everyone also took Diamox鈥攁 medication that causes you to take deeper and longer breaths in order to sustain oxygen levels. Without these precautions, we might find ourselves with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)鈥攚hich begins with simple headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, and fatigue, but can ultimately prove life threatening. The entirely of the trip, we had to be on guard against AMS, ensuring that we didn鈥檛 try to 鈥渢ough it out鈥 but instead paced ourselves to retain good health.

Our Route
While I plan to go into detail about the major villages and what each was like in future posts, this is a basic breakdown of our route:

Day 1: Lukla to Phakding
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft descent

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazar
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Change: 2,625ft ascent

Day 3: Acclimatization Day in Namche Bazar
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 4: Namche Bazar to Phortse
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 5: Phortse to Dingboche
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,970ft ascent

Day 6: Acclimitization Day in Dingboche
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 660ft ascent

Day 8: Lobuche to Base Camp to Gorak Shep
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,312ft ascent

Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Patthar to Osho
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Change: 1,200ft ascent + 5,250ft descent

Day 10: Osho to Tengboche
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Change: 820ft descent

Day 11: Tengboche to Chumoa
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Change: 3,280ft decent

Day 12: Chumoa to Lukla
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Change: 1,640ft descent + 1,640ft ascent

As one might imagine, this was a tough schedule. Most days consisted of early morning breakfast around 7:00am, then we would pack up our stuff, fill up our water for the day (which required lots of filtration and adding purification tablets), trek for about 5 to 8 hours, settle into the next tea house, eat dinner, and finally go to bed to start it all again the next morning. This left very little free time other than a few minutes after dinner. By that point everyone was normally so exhausted that we headed straight for bed. There has never been another time in my life that I found myself going to bed at 7:00pm!

My Next Posts
Despite the challenges and strain of trekking, the experience was equally peaceful and pleasant. In part, it was nice to get out in nature, but it was especially interesting to see how the villages and people in the Himalayas operated. In my future posts, I will detail the many things I learned about the deep mountain communities鈥攁s well as my potential thoughts on how the system might be capable of improving. There is much to unpack and I look forward to sharing it all!

A Home Reflection

To be honest, I鈥檓 still reflecting on my emotions towards being back home. It鈥檚 only been a week and I need more time to process it all.

My last day at work was the sweetest! The teachers I worked with threw me a small party. The three teachers gathered their classes and made a circle, placing me in the middle. They danced around me and expressed their gratitude. I explained to them that I was forever grateful for having been apart of such a beautiful community. These teachers were beyond ordinary and I made sure to let them know. They gifted me with a large photo of them with their classes and individual drawings from the students with an address attached to stay in contact. As I said my good-byes, I had one of my little children in my arms. She dug her face into my shoulder. I asked if she was okay and when she looked at me, she had tears coming down her face! My heart broke. I know it’s part of the journey but walking out of a child’s life is not easy. I’m going to stay in contact with the teachers via e-mail but I still wish I could have stayed with my little babies forever! I can’t wait to hear from them!

Now, my arrival into J.F.K was not as bad as I expected it to be with the government shut down. I made it through customs in less that 15 minutes. I filled out a quick questionnaire on a computer, the guard asked me, 鈥淎re you declaring anything?鈥, I said no and went on my merry way. I walked out of customs and broke down in tears when I saw my dad smiling at me near the entrance. I missed my people! I have thoroughly enjoyed being around my family. I love being in their presence and being able to hug them. I cannot begin to explain how tired I grew of Facetime. On a scale of one to ten for connectedness, one for low and ten for high, I give Facetime a big fat three. I prefer to 鈥渢alk to ya when I see ya,鈥 when it comes to long conversations. In the states, I typically use Facetime for silly, short conversations. However, I checked in on family on a weekly basis and sometimes daily. It was bitter-sweet to say the least. All-in-all, I am taking advantage of the time I have back at home.

Aside from working, I spent majority of my time in Spain applying to graduate schools. Thankfully, I completed all of that work before coming home but Uncle Sam still found a list of things for me to take care of. Welcome home! Jokes aside, I do enjoy staying busy, but I would enjoy it more in Valencia, where the sun is always shining, the coffee is 1.50 euro, and everyone takes a siesta. That鈥檚 the one thing I would definitely bring back from Spain if I could. If dying and taxes are inevitable, why not throw a siesta in the mix to make it more bearable? Ah, one can dream.

Overall, I am extremely excited to see what 2019 brings. By February, I will find out my status for graduate school! I鈥檓 honestly at peace with whatever the outcome is. I just have this feeling that everything will play out the way it is meant to. Spain helped me focus on my strengths as an individual and it assured me that I am on the right path. 2019 is my year to further engage in activities and conversations surround topics that I am passionate about, i.e. mental health, mental illness, child-care and development, social issues etc. I dedicated myself to my undergraduate work and received wonderful opportunities because of it. Now, I am prepared to take it to the next level.

This scholarship helped me immerse myself into work that I care about dearly, but it also allowed me to hit the reset button. I know that I earned my awards and opportunities because of the work I put into it all. However, it put a strain on my mental health, and I know this is an issue for millions of students across the world. That鈥檚 why I am beyond thankful for this scholarship. I needed it more than I realized at the time. Now, I am prepared for what鈥檚 to come.

Talk soon,

Rachel Beihl

Somos Juntos – We Are Together

 

鈥淎 mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.鈥 鈥 Oliver Wendell Holmes

I wasn鈥檛 sure what to expect when Christmas break arrived. I鈥檇 spent the last two months adjusting to living with new people and having a new work schedule and now I was going to be the only volunteer left in a three-bedroom apartment. The apartment felt eerily quiet. At first, I enjoyed dancing around the apartment without having anyone around, but by the third day I started to feel like a mad-woman. Working with the children and Face-Timing my loved ones just wasn鈥檛 enough. The idea of Christmas in Barcelona was the only thing keeping me going at that point.

However, the 20th of December lifted my spirits. It was the last day of work but also the day I would sing Christmas songs with the children. When I arrived, I was elated by the presence of all the children and their families. The school was giving out hot chocolate and pastries. There was music playing and a do-it-yourself (DIY) photo booth. I no longer felt unsure of how my Christmas would feel. I鈥檝e never felt more at peace than with the children and their families. It reassured my purpose in life and my intentions within my career, which is to consciously engage and have direct relationships with the groups and individuals I work with.

That day was magical! When the time came to sing Christmas songs with my children, all the teachers and families gathered around us to listen. I grabbed my ukulele, counted to three, and my little ones sang 鈥淔eliz Navidad,鈥 and 鈥淲e Wish You a Merry Christmas.鈥 It was the sweetest thing I could have ever experienced. I was close to tears as I watched my class smile and sing along. Their eyes were filled with such love as they looked to me to guidance. It has been such an honor to be a part of their lives. They have made me a better person and I love those children more than I can express.

After we finished, the crowd asked me to do a speech. Oh, my lanta. Ha, I was nervous but I got through it. The teachers then proceeded to ask families from different countries to sing a Christmas song in their language. We were a family, enjoying and respecting each other鈥檚鈥 cultures; from Spanish, Moroccan, Nigerian, to Gujarati and more. It was the beginning of the best Christmas ever.

On the 23rd of December, I traveled to Barcelona to meet my Second cousin and her husband for the first time. Prior to us meeting, we had only spoken through Facebook. The family resemblance was uncanny. It was comforting to see a familiar face and be around a culture more familiar to my own as a Honduran. They gave me the REAL Spain experience. They lived on the outskirts of Barcelona in Vallirana, Catalu帽a, Spain. This is the ore country side of Spain, where the pueblos (small towns) are located. I felt lucky to be staying with them because it added depth to my experience and knowledge of Spain. It was without a doubt my favorite part of Spain.

During the first two days, we visited the church La Sagrada Familia and drove around Vallirana. Catalan is the language spoken in this area. When I joined them for the Christmas mass, I could barely understand what was being said. It was definitely not the Spanish I had grown up around. Nevertheless, I was beautiful.

On Christmas day, we drove to Barcelona to join my cousin鈥檚 husband鈥檚 family for dinner in a hotel. The dinner was superb from start to finish and the family was more than welcoming of my presence. They asked me to play Christmas songs with my ukulele and so I did. Their singing captured the entire hotel floor鈥檚 attention. Everyone enjoyed themselves greatly. After dinner, a few of us went off to visit Montjuic, a hill surrounded by a national museum, a castle, and a 5-Star Hotel that hosted for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Only the pictures can truly describe the beauty of it all, but even then, it鈥檚 something you have to experience.

My cousins and I spent the next day at Mont Tibidabo, which overlooks Spain and is surround by an Amusement park and a telecommunications tower as well as the famous catholic church Sagrat Cor. The view was breathtaking; and just when I thought it couldn鈥檛 get any better, my cousins took be to Montserrat the next day.

Montserrat Mountain is both a natural park and monastery, and home of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is also known as 鈥淟a Virgen Negra鈥 鈥 The Black Virgen Mary. It was the highest I have ever been on a mountain. It was truly heavenly. I was in the clouds. Again, this was an experience that is better illustrated through photos and 100% better in person. Every day here has been a dream.

December 28th completed my Christmas break. At 10:40 a.m., I ran into the arms of my boyfriend Trevor who in July, decided he wanted to spend New Year鈥檚 with me in Spain. I鈥檝e been speechless ever since. Traveling is a beautiful experience but it is much better when you鈥檙e surround by people you love. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this break plays out.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with love.

-Rachel B.

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