Remember this song? ! This is what we woke up to every morning! AXELLLLLL!
It was funny, on a cool and awesome camping trip we went on, one of the students has been trying to find someone to match me with, (this happens alot at school…being an English teacher, and having cats, plants, and well, educational things) lol…BUT, I like the IDEA of a relationship, BUT, the relationships I want are too picky on my end, I want IT, (the perfect IT or one, or whatever) and if I cannot have the right person, I prefer to stay around the coolest, hippest, and funnest (how is that English teachers?!) students around…and I happened to hit the jackpot this weekend.
Define your definition and single, line it up to mine, and wow, we are worlds apart. I a getting a bit ahead of myself…let look at right now…
It’s October 13th – and believe it or not I am on my own bed. Don’t get me wrong, I am not sorry AT ALL to be in my own bed, but I have to admit – I learned a whole new me in the last 4 days thanks to…well…okay, let me put you in my shoes 🙂 (literally check out these shoes! for hiking, lol)
Monday 7:30 AM, I am nervous, with my back pack of 4 days of clothes, ready to head out to with Outward Bound for 4 days of camping, no showers, no bed, and pure outdoors and tasks to challenge our physical limits…PERFECT for a 9th grade lesson on learning the ropes of life. After the last student trip for new students I contemplated whether I’d be taking my life in my on hands again this time, but opted to go for it, as I loved the idea of hiking across Mexico, camping and coming down from the fast-paced schedule of life and realize the solitude of a beautiful country is at our fingertips!
Several (well two) reasons for being nervous…the soles of my shoes…(lol)– see above–and dipping into the conversations of Spanish again and I still have this bad habit of freezing up when trying to interpret 🙂
I am assigned Mr. Kitchins 9th grade advisory – 14 students – I gave the prep talk and recognized a few from the former new student retreat but had no idea what I was in store for…:) but here is the big day!
We meet, we gather, we board our #10 brigade bus and we are off!
As I look in our Guide Books, I see we are to make goals. I am wondering if the students even have that in mind, and I feel they will be thinking more about goals as we go through the experience, as they will not realize what is important to them until it occurs or after. Looking back at the things we experienced, I am curious if they would think of goals that will truly reflect what they felt on this trip?
As we began the journey, we briefly talked to one of the Outward Bound instructors/directors and something he said stuck with me. Community Service is not the stooping down to help someone beneath you, there is no, we are better and should feel bad for them, type of feeling if you are doing true community service. You are improving your own life through the learning of theirs. That rang so true, as many who hear the word Community Service think they are helping the poor or someone that will never meet our standards….bull pucky. That is not someone who is doing a service for the community, that is someone that wants to build their conscience or ego more clearly. I appreciate that insight and word of advice in how community service SHOULD be looked at in that light, and I realized that this was true community service, a willingness to hear and learn different styles of life from others, this is not meant to be condescending as the purpose is to realize what is so important is that you get out further further. I loved a line from one of the student’s guide books, we are here doing community service so we can learn from others….beautifully put!
What do the students at ASF think Community Service? In Delaware, the students and I had a 5 year journey where we one the Delaware State Governor’s Award for Community Service 5 times! Amazing! But each time we did community service , we were involved in the following things: CHeery Blossom Festival in D.C, the cleanups of beaches in the Maryland Easter Shore area, creating a Japanese Garden with the exchange students in the middle of town so that each year a new exchange student could contribute, these were different thing we thought up and then they became a reality, so community service took on, how can we get to know people from the community around us better?
The ride to the camp – quite a riot – a caravan of 12 white, tinted glass vans coming in the back areas of Mexico, roads that made your body roll with the dirt roads, I am sure it looked as if ambassadors from the City of Mexico were arriving! Then the country opened up and we were in awe. Mountains, mist, and scenery that looked like it came from Grizzly Adams (for those of you that remember that!).
First stop was the Hacienda, second was the Lake third was our stop, the Corral!
We emptied out of vans, 4 groups, and headed to the gear tents. We met Axel from Mexico and Katarina from Czechoslovakia, our Outward Bound Instructors. We began breaking down our gear to put away and store what was NOT needed, what was. 3 pairs pants max, 3 pairs socks, 3 pairs underwear a bowl, a utensil to eat with, 3 shirts, rain gear – in the middle of this, the sky opened up and we began to get poured on. Guides help put up makeshift tents, we began to gt wet, and all the way through working our way through this, Brigade #10 – my brigade, never complained, stalled or looked ay way except forward. We helped each other, we packed, we got it done, and we moved onto where we would be sleeping.
We laid out packs down, we ate lunch prepared by a local family, we trekked through mud trails to and from the house area, learned we needed to go the bathroom and recycled the paper, no flushing toilets here with the ecological crops and area of country here.
However, the things we learned, – taken aside and shown how to roll, and cook tortillas on a barrel drum stove, clearning a plot of land staring with a scythe and ending with a pickaxe and spade – Did we mention no electricity and heat?
Lunch and dinner were amazing, we ate outside after washing our hands with water poured for us from a pail, and we sat at the long wooden benches while the ladies of the home poured authentic Mexican made lunch and dinner into our plates they had washed for us from lunch. Things were so different so quickly here!
We were thrown into a 360 degree split from Mexico City, and wow, it was either shock or just forcing ourselves to be used to a dramatic difference but as 8:00 PM (EIGHT O’clock?!) we were in bed working on our first day reflections and guidebooks, and only really had 20 minutes to do so as we had a nearly morning in the A M Tuesday!
If I could describe the land around us, you could not believe it. Mist settling on the hills, rugged land of mud from the run, mules, horses, roaming and grazing, and we were in the middle of it all. The building we were in for the night housed cement and smelled of agriculture, – students this first night – there was alot of frustration all the way around and I am sure now looking back this was resistance to being in a comfortable zone. Cement was our foundation for beds, and with the mats and sleeping bags the students still remained in shock from the quick adjustments that needed to be made.
We split the sides of the building into half, boys on one, girls on the other and looking back, a comment made on the last night by Raul comes back to me “We got to know each other because we had to sleep on to of each other, hear and live with each other every minute of the day and all night.” When you hear others snoring, breathing, exhaling, life becomes more intimate and you are forced to become closer, and wow, 17 people in sleeping bags without heat and electricity spread out on a plain concrete floor makes you realize, what do I really need that I have fooled myself into thinking I have needed?
Each day and evening we would circle up as a group to just get out some ideas to reflect upon and the first night – was very frustrating – side conversations, talking over others, the feeing that first night was one of frustration in trying to find a common ground – the question did arise, would we ever find that common ground? This night it seemed we were worlds away and all on our own agenda…
Getting up at 7:00 AM in the cold, from a sleeping bag was a change from the norm, we were called to go outside and did stretches, (not all of us) and the individuals on a different schedule than as a group kept coming back up to haunt our good day… the local residents made a fabulous breakfast for as as we made our way up the slippy mud trail to the resident’s house. Following our breakfast, we packed our packs back up, and headed for our first real 3 hour hike to the next location, where we would be spending the day and night, the hacienda.
You learn alot of people when they are carrying 70-120 pounds of camping gear you will need to survive for the whole week. Walking on the very rock roads the vans took IN caused us to pay renewed attention to our footing while trying to do the best of gathering trash, while our main point of interest was making progress with weight heavily on our backs – much to work through as a group or it would not work at all.
Breaks came in various times, but the goal was making the hike in 2-2 1/2 hours. The roles changed when we broke for rest, from rear line leader, front line leader, a navigator with compass and as well as trash bag collector for the trash we found and removed thanks to Leave No Trace Behind initiatives.
The day looked clear and we had 2 main missions today, survive the hike, as well as prepare lessons for the school. The hike involved was exciting, but I have to say, everyone was sore when we arrived. The whole way along the hike we learned about each other, and were willing to take a load, switch bags, etc, and learned alot more about each other than we thought. As we arrived, we put our bags into another building which would become our sleeping area. We had a snack, then headed along the trail to the repelling.
The school! I was most proud of my Brigade, they are versatile, flexible, and adaptable….What more could you ask for?! This was exciting, we were able to head to the local school and our pack taught classes to the children there in different groups. It was amazing to see such a small school, but the ages varied so much as well among the students. I thought this was one of the best things so far, being able to see the school right in the small town and interact. I did see this as a chance to be able to gather what their curriculum was for next time, as this would help the ASF students much better in presenting information that that might not be basic knowledge or that they might have covered already. This was impossible to know without knowing what they were studying ahead of time, but overall, this experience was VERY rewarding. Amazing to see sheep and wild turkeys on the grounds like you would see dog and cats!
We headed back to get ready to RAPEL! The waterfall, the sky, it all was AWESOME, and two ropes led down the face of the waterfall. This was truly where you confronted face to face you fears, or any fears, you might have of heights. Just looking around and taking pictures was amazing as you really took in the sound of the water, the height of the cliffs, and the steady progression down the cliff with ropes and rapelling. Overall, there were only three students that had a fear high enough not to participate, but they were able to contribute to the group as will, via taking pictures and/or assisting others with the rapel. They at least tried to attempt this by putting gear on, looking at the route down, etc, but I completely understand their fear of heights! I didn’t go as it was a little confusing with students getting ready to rapel, student not rapelling, and student coming back from rapelling, but it was still a great experience and we managed to get pictures of all the that did rapel.
I think it is fitting that from here on out I have no pictures, as at this point I felt us begin to grow together with the realization that we could always improve, but this never would take away from what we have accomplished, which was more than we could cover in pictures, it will remain in our heads and hearts if we allow it to stay there! And Brigade #10 allowed tat to happen!
Heading back you could sense the tiredness, but the layout and environment of the hacienda was again gorgeous. We passed trout farms, hill rolling hills, clouds gliding in front, amazing. This evening we had a chance – despite more rain – to enter and complete more of our guide books. I remember sitting out at 11:00 PM with another OB guide, Sergio, working on the student comments and guidebooks, and finally, heading in to bed. I felt this was the most challenging night of sleep as we crammed in 10 guys in one room with sleeping bags and 4 girls plus add tho OB guides to that total in an area the size of half a classroom. Being tired from the hike, and being the last one in for the night, I grabbed a corner and laid down in a fetal position just glad to be out of the rain.
Mornings were chilly and cold again, but between the stretches, early breakfast, and then repacking, we were off on our third and final hike. This was overall a little shorter, but again, your view became breathtaking when you set off unsure if this was a slide or the real thing! Along the way on this hike, we took an hour to just spread out and reflect on our experiences. The students wrote a letter to themselves which would be mailed back to them at a later date. This was one of the most difficult things for some of the students to do as they could not see the sense of just sitting there, and for AN HOUR! After awhile, I enjoyed just hearing the wildlife around us and taking it all in, I liked this idea. This normally takes about 24 hours but we did this for 1 hour, I can only imagine if they did this for 24 hours!
We reached after a beautiful and much shorter, but I think more demanding hike to our final spot (much to the joy of our group as we were really feeling the muscle ache of three days of hiking!) – LAKE side. Talk about gorgeous….add the scenery we had seen before with this and you have one of the most beautiful spots of the three, again, think Grizzly Adams show!
We had small buildings with their own bathroom! 🙂 – and separate rooms with doors inside, and a wood burner in each so this was a luxury compared to our previous spots. We placed down our gear, the dining hall was GORGEOUS and the food great. We straightway went to the local trout farm. AMAZING! We could see the actual trout eggs, then different tanks for them as they got progressively bigger. One small tank inside was the process of them hatching out of the eggs into the actual trout the size of a pin. We were given nets and the managers shown the seining of the fish and the nets enabled the students to fish the trout out of the tanks. We did fish two, and were taught how to kill them with snapping their mouth back. I have to say, this was amazing but I felt bad, – I know the trout were raised for this purpose, but in seeing their purple stripe and speckled skin, how amazing beautiful they were, it was just a work of art! The group stopped after awhile, but realized how slippery they were out of water! The dogs nearby grabbed the two we “caught” and ate quickly, they seemed worthy of it as they looked VERY skinny and hungry! I was elated and glad at the fact that the group did go through several emotions while here, and he realization and dilemma of to kill or not to kill came up and they at least took this to heart. I loved the fact that the tanks were fueled and supplied by the water that came downhill from the mountains, no pumps required. BEAUTIFUL!
We headed back, and became ready for water sports! We did a team building exercise with filling a water bottle full that had holes, (interesting but possible), and continued to enter the kayaks and rafts and if you know the dilemma of some people rowing against another, the direction thing is a go or just a no go depending on the skills we had (or didn’t have). You truly see the true colors of people when trying to row and work together, HYSTERICAL. We laughed until we cried and I think the group did too trying to steer, row, and direct in somewhat of a relay!
Finally, (This was a jam packed day, yet today the group did not seem to feel that it was one thing after the other like previously) – we were given a canvas and had to paint using Pointilism. I have to say I was so impressed with the painting, we did bring it home but it is GORGEOUS! I love the way it appears and am so proud of their decisions in coloring them, EXCELLENT!
We hunkered up for dinner, (delicious) and a moment here. At dinner, I sat with Ms Kang to get across some ideas of what I thought of the trip etc, and the OB group and our brigade presented me with a card and a shirt, I did not know what to say. I was speechless and thankful! I mean, I am rarely shocked, and this just, well, SHOCKED me! Left me speechless!
Related to the other aspects, it was one of the best parts of the trip and I was so thankful to have shared this experience with the students, and given this was just the largest thank you I could ever recall! 🙂 (I am still smiling!) ….through the remainder of the night, our last night together, we finished the guide/reflective books and had some breathing room. We did do our final circle of thoughts and reflections, and overall, I felt we did sacrifice alot, but grew together stronger thanks to the varied experiences, forced closeness, and separation form other peers together. The beauty of the environment certainly weighed on everyone’s minds as well, amazing!
The night drew out as Axel slept on the porch (beautiful night but COLD!) and I slept in the hall under the sink, lol but the arrangements worked, we were thankful for the gifts our OB guides had given us! There was a lot of chatter since this was knowingly our last night, but it was all good and awesome to hear the group enjoy this experience.
Next day again, of course cold! We were a mix of racing to complete the journal guides, eat breakfast, return gear, clean the house, pack, I had the brigade sign my shirt, we anxiously waited for the returning vans, and hey! Don’t forget that painting! We circled up all four brigades for our one final circle, and knew we were going to be sleeping in our own bed tonight! It was a bittersweet goodbye, as we had so much we knew about each other we never did before, yet it was a peaceful realization of all we had learned in this beautiful environment. Many people wonder why I waited so long to publish this, but without the pictures, and the right words, I did not want to cheapen this experience one bit. I still, as most know with coming back from camps, cannot put into words the excitement this gave us, however, the lessons learned will last a lifetime.
On the way home, exhaustion set in, and when we actually arrived back to ASF, HUGE tents of welcome were sent up, tons of FOOOOOD, music, brigade pictures, shirts given out, an amazing welcome home. The students knew they were appreciated and had participated in something AMAZING. I am still amazed at the undertaking involved in this for the freshmen, and having arranged field trips myself before, just could not put into words how large an event (185 students) and an undertaking this was yet how successful it was in operations and to everyone’s spirit. Words are not enough. Axel and Katarina were AMAZING, and I am still blown away that she shared she was THREE months pregnant….if you did not think you could hike the way we did, imagine being pregnant! Axel and Katarina are my heroes, alongside Brigade #10!
Looking back, would I have had the same experience if I was not focused on this single event, this single narrow focus on my brigade? It is funny, which will come up in a later post, the idea that this whole experience that moved me to Mexico as fate is so true and I realize it each day. I am grateful for being single to take in and appreciate all that I have learned about myself and the students, faculty, and friends I have met here that continue to have me appreciate many things I would never have DREAMED of. My brigade #10 was my single focus, and I would have it no other way. 🙂 The sacrifices we made might disappear from memory after a few days or even maybe if we are lucky, weeks, but that does not take away that we had one amazing bonding experience for 4 days that would never have been experiences without that single focus of each other! 🙂