The Opportunity of a Lifetime

A strong, warm breeze blows in from the Sea as sizable waves crash on the surf. Plopping down onto a blanket covering the soft sand, I leaned back on an elbow and cast an eye to the nighttime sky. Gray clouds stifled the stars in the heavens, leaving me dissatisfied as I wondered what awe-striking beauty lay behind those clouds. I had finally made it to Levera Beach, my favorite spot on Grenada, at night. It was May, which meant it was the time of year in which the leatherback sea turtles, native to Grenada’s waters, come ashore to nest. Through some fortunate circumstances, I was able to join fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Sarah Bowman, Riley Doerrler, and their visiting friend Lexi Pretter to try and witness the nesting of the leatherback sea turtles.

So here we were, laying out on Levera Beach and passing time until our tour guide, Harviel, would hopefully return with the good news that a sea turtle was nesting on the beach. We were told the waiting process could take anywhere from two to five hours. Harviel, our knowledgeable, articulate, and soft-spoken guide, was to walk the length of the beach at half-hour intervals in search of a nesting sea turtle and retrieve us when he found one. Although May is peak season for sea turtle nesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean one will nest tonight.

But I was really hoping one would. From the time I arrived to Grenada, I heard about the sea turtles nesting at Levera Beach. Upon learning about it, witnessing the sea turtle nesting immediately became Grenada Bucket List Item #1. There were a lot of factors in the way, however, that would make witnessing such a beautiful phenomenon difficult. The first being that Levera Beach, one of the top five leatherback sea turtle nesting sites in the region, was also one of the most isolated and remote beaches on the island. The closest town to the beach is Sauters, but the buses coming out of there don’t run a route near Levera. This essentially forces you to hike roughly over an hour just to get there from Sauters. This goes without mentioning that the sea turtles come in to nest at night, when buses aren’t running anyway.

Given those circumstances, the only way one could see the sea turtles nesting was if a private vehicle was involved. Then considering that it is against Peace Corps policy to drive a vehicle in your host country and violation of this policy would lead to immediate termination of service, the realistic possibility for me to see the nesting was slim to none.

Then came some unexpected good fortune. Lexi, a sailing instructor who has lived on various islands throughout the Caribbean, returned to Grenada to visit PCVs Sarah and Riley, whom she met and befriended in Bequia last year. Since she wasn’t Peace Corps, she could rent a vehicle; all of a sudden, we had a car.

Let that sink in: we had a CAR.

That may not seem like too big of a deal to you at home, but at this point in my Grenadian life, riding in an actual car is a luxurious experience. Having become accustomed to relying on the over-packed, restrictive-timed buses of the island, I almost forgot what the term “leg-room” even means. This goes without mentioning the complete and total freedom that comes with having a vehicle at your disposal that you can take wherever you wish, whenever you wish. Suddenly, the doors of possibility opened as we could literally “drive around” all the obstacles that previously stood in the way of us and the nesting sea turtles.

But I digress. So let’s go back to waiting for Harviel while laying out on blankets in the soft sand, the waves of the Atlantic crashing on the shore while the warm Sea breeze blows in under a cloudy, night sky.

“All right, time to go! There’s one out there now,” Harviel calls out, his silhouette becoming visible in the darkness as he approaches.

I hopped to my feet instantly, hardly believing that the moment was finally here. Honestly, it came sooner than I thought. I was finally going to see a leatherback sea turtle.

We were on the eastern end of the beachhead and as Harviel explained, the sea turtle was on the western end around the bend of the coastline. So following the red light shining from Harviel’s headlamp, we began trekking toward the water (red lights were used so as not to disturb the sea turtles while they were nesting). My toes dug into the sand with each step as we made our way from the back of the beach toward the shoreline. The closer I came to the water, the more the damp, tangled mess of seaweed that washed ashore seemed to try and hold me back from reaching the ocean. Broken, saturated driftwood jabbed at my ankles in the dark, as if they too, were trying to prevent me from reaching the water. But finally reaching the drop-off of sand to the ocean water, I let the sand cave beneath my feet and slid down to the firm, hard-soaked sand of the shore. Turning left and walking along the water, the incoming tide slapped playfully at my ankles before receding back to the ocean, only to return again a moment later.

Off to the right, Sugar Loaf Island’s hump-backed silhouette loomed peacefully just off-shore. A single light shone from the home at the base of the island, carrying a mysterious aura with it like that of the green light resonating from Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby. Looking up, the clouds were shifting with the sea breeze, finally beginning to unveil the glimmering array of stars they had been hiding. We rounded the bend that marks the northern turning point of the island, where the churning waters of the Atlantic meets the calming waters of the Caribbean Sea. Then without warning, a rogue wave crashes into our knees, as we all make a break for higher ground. But the rogue wave had done its deed and my shorts were now soaked just above the knees. I didn’t mind, however, as up ahead three figures could be seen huddled around a sole red light in the distance. We were almost there.

A fallen hush came over the tour group the moment that lone red light came into view. The previously bubbly atmosphere had become tense with anticipation. We weren’t to speak above a whisper, Harviel told us, so as not to disturb the sea turtle. Climbing up into the higher ground of the beachhead, we prepared to approach the sea turtle discreetly from behind, another precautionary measure we were to take so as not to disturb her. As we walked upon the huddled figures, two of them were crouched under red headlamps, scribbling away at chart paper on clipboards. A third figure, bigger than the other two, was laying down on his stomach and digging deep into the sand. We stepped up just behind him and following his hands, I then realized it wasn’t the sand he was digging into. He was reaching into the nest made by a large leatherback sea turtle!

Just above his hands, what at first appeared like a smooth, sandy surface was really the sea turtle’s shell. Beginning from her tail, a simple ridge ran along the center of her back to her neck. The breadth of her teardrop-shaped shell was masked in a thin coat of sand, essentially disguising the sea turtle from view. Her large rear flippers, in an alternating fashion, were pushing more and more sand out from the nest so she could make it as deep as possible. Underneath her shell next to her right, rear flipper, a metal tag glinted in the light, signifying she had been marked for research. This sea turtle was by no means small, either. Envisioning myself laying down next to it, the sea turtle would likely stretch from my feet to my shoulders, well over five feet long. Evidently, they can grow as long as seven feet and weigh upwards of two thousand pounds!

Forming a semi-circle around the back of the sea turtle, we watched intently as the conservationists went to work. The man lying on his stomach reached deep into the bowels of the nest, underneath the sea turtle. Then, a handful at a time, he began pulling out slimy, tennis-ball-sized eggs and placed them in a black, plastic bucket. As he did this, the other two conservationists kept scribbling away at their clipboards, marking down whatever information deemed relevant to their research.

“These people are from Ocean Spirits, a research-based organization evaluating the current status of leatherback sea turtles in the region,” Harviel, now standing next to the sea turtle, whispered softly to the group.

“They are gathering these eggs to move them to a more secure part of the beach, as this sea turtle has made her nest too close to the water,”  Harviel’s whisper was surprisingly audible in the strong, relentless breeze from the Sea.

Harviel, before the tour, had previously explained to us the mating and nesting process for the sea turtles. Every two to three years, the female sea turtle will mate with multiple males during the mating season. Now, the mating season for sea turtles is entirely separate from nesting season. The female sea turtle during the mating season stores all the sperm from her partners before internally fertilizing anywhere from 100-150 eggs. She then returns to land in order to nest at the very same beach that she, herself, had hatched. After digging her nest and laying her eggs, she will then cover up the nest and scatter the sand around it to mask the nest’s true location from potential predators. Returning back to sea, she will then internally fertilize another 100-150 more eggs with the stored sperm before coming back to nest again within the next nine days. This process will continue until the female sea turtle has laid up to seven to nine nests during the nesting season.

Within the nests, small, golf-ball sized eggs are laid with the larger, tennis-ball-sized ones. These golf-ball-sized eggs are non-viable. They will not produce any baby sea turtles, but rather serve the purpose to humidify the nest in order for the viable eggs to develop. Warm temperature nests tend to produce females, while cooler ones tend to produce more males. Therefore, as Harviel smiled slyly, “We like to say that sea turtles produce cool dudes and hot chicks.”

Despite the high-production rates of each nest, realistically, one out of every one thousand sea turtles will live to reach adulthood. Before hatching, a nest can be destroyed by another nesting sea turtle that may be unaware that she is building her nest on top of pre-existing one, incidentally destroying it and the eggs already laid inside. After hatching, young sea turtles face a list of predators that include birds, lizards, and mongooses, most of whom take advantage of the opportunity to prey on them as they crawl from their nest toward the ocean. Once in the ocean, however, the sea turtles are still threatened by sharks and other large fish. Sadly, leatherback sea turtles may also fall victim by human means, ranging from boats, fishing nets, plastic, and poaching.

Consequently, organizations like Ocean Spirits conduct their research and work in the best interest of the leatherback sea turtle population. Through the work of these organizations, the population status of leatherback sea turtles has been upgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable, according to the World Wildlife Organization (https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/leatherback-turtle).

“If you guys would like, one at a time, you may come and take a photo with her,” Harviel whispers. “But remember, move slowly, quietly, and absolutely NO flash photography.”

My eyes lit up with excitement. Not only was I witnessing the leatherback sea turtle lay her eggs, I was going to be able to take a photo with her as well. Cautiously, I followed the others around the back and when my turn arrived, crouched beside the sea turtle. Placing a hand on her smooth, leathery shell (thus, the namesake), I was enthralled. She was absolutely majestic; she was focused, breathing, and birthing, all with me right beside her, yet somehow unbothered.

When she lays her eggs, the female sea turtle falls under a trance to ease the birthing process. Consequently, we were able to approach her from the side and touch her shell in a manner that was safe for the sea turtle. However, that’s not to stress enough the importance that we followed the rules set before us by Harviel. For, if we were to disturb her from the trance, we not only would harm her, but disrupt the whole nesting process altogether.

Having taken my turn, I climbed back up and around the back of the semi-circle and made my way to the far end on the left side. I looked on attentively as she lay there, the man on his stomach filling the black bucket with more and more eggs each time he reached down. Looking off to my right, the silhouettes of palm trees extended out in the dark night sky over the foliage of the shoreline behind us. The gray clouds were all but gone now, the sky now filled with a sparkling display of stars. I watched intently, scanning the heavens and almost willing a star to shoot across the sky. As much as I wanted one to, none ever did. So turning my attention up ahead, the hump-back silhouette of Sugar Loaf Island now seemed to look the other way, disinterested in what was happening on this side of the beach. To the left, the white water of the breakers washed onto shore in a soothing, rhythmic pattern. Beyond the breaking waters was a steep darkness, conveying the true immensity of the ocean. In the far distance, however, a faint, light haze hovered on the horizon. It was light pollution coming from the small island of Carriacou, just off-shore from the northern coast of Grenada. We couldn’t see Carriacou itself, but evidently there was enough light coming from its town to be seen from here. Looking back in front of me, the female sea turtle still lay there, basking under the surgical glow of red lights.

“Okay, she’s finished,” Harviel says, as the man collecting the eggs abruptly got up and gathered his materials from the sand. “Everyone, let’s step back now. Remember, it’s important that we stay remain behind her and not be seen.”

We all take a step back onto higher ground, a little over ten feet away from the sea turtle. She begins shifting back and forth, forcing sand back into her unknowingly empty nest. Once filled, she crawled slowly back and forth to mash up the sand all around the nest to mask its location. While she did this, the two researchers from Ocean Spirits quickly sprang to action, expertly and tactfully taking measurements of the sea turtle. She measured 149″ in length, 107″ in width. After scribbling the measurements onto their clipboards. The three conservationists gathered the rest of their materials, the bucket of eggs, and disappeared into the darkness behind us. Their job wasn’t over, as they still had work to do: the bucket of freshly-laid eggs was to be moved to a new nest they created in a safer location farther from the water.

A suction-cup sound suddenly drew my attention, as the sea turtle’s flippers slapped against the wet sand. She was getting frustrated, Harviel explained, as the wet sand was making it difficult for her to move and cover her nest. Despite her struggles, she eventually managed to mask her nest after a short while by turning in slow, 180-degree angles. Consequently, as we tried to maintain a safe distance behind her and remain out of sight, we often found ourselves shuffling as a group from left to right to left again. Taken out of context, it must have been quite comical to see us rotating angles as we shuffled back and forth behind the sea turtle for such a length of time.

The red lights were turned off and her figure momentarily vanished in the surrounding darkness, but she was still there. As my eyes began adjusting to the full darkness of the night, a faint silhouette could be seen slowly crawling toward the incoming tide. She would linger, Harviel said, until she feels that the nest is safe and confident that the nesting process had gone unnoticed. Hypnotized by her presence, we began walking out to the sea, quietly following her into the waters. The whites of the crashing waves wrapped around her darkened silhouette as they washed ashore. With each incoming wave, it was becoming even harder and harder to see her. Then a wave suddenly wiped over the top of her shell and she disappeared into the darkness, never to be seen by us again.

We stood there, watching, waiting, wondering. Wondering where she was headed next and wondering when she might return.

Looking back, the beach seemed as surreal and untouched as ever in the peaceful, Caribbean night. The waves crashed rhythmically onto the shore. The silhouettes of palm trees stretched into a sparkling, starry sky. Sugar Loaf Island loomed peacefully offshore. A strong, warm breeze was still blowing in hard from the Sea. But in the sand, not a trace of the leatherback sea turtle could be found.

It was as if she was never there, as if what I just witnessed didn’t happen.

But it did.

Witnessing the nesting of a leatherback sea turtle was not only the coolest night of my life…

It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

And I loved every minute of it.

Cheers!

 

Note: If you would like to learn more about Ocean Spirits or S.P.E.C.T.O. (the tour group we went out with), you can find their websites listed below.

http://www.oceanspirits.org/

http://spectogrenada.com/

 

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The Ultimate Game

Laying back on a broken-down concrete stoop, I tilted my wide-brim cap over my eyes to shade them from the blinding light of the early morning sun. Waiting on the side of the road with me were Katie Riley and Lili Gradilla, two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers joining me on the hike from Concord Waterfalls to Grand Etang Lake. The hired bus full of Institute Hikers was to pick us up on their way to the first of the Concord falls.

“Morning, morning,” a woman pleasantly greeted us as she walks down the hill.

“Morning,” we respond.

This was my third time going to the Concord Waterfalls. Each time I’ve gone, one thing has remained constant: the locals of Concord are always sure to greet you with a “Good morning,” or “Enjoy the falls,” already knowing that’s where we foreigners were headed.

A few moments later a bus pulls up; it’s the Institute Hikers. The door slides open and rising from my somewhat uncomfortable but satisfactory resting spot, I pile into the van behind the others. The bus takes off and hustles quickly up a narrow, paved road into the mountains. The nutmeg, papya, cocoa, and other roadside trees flew past in a blur. The farther up into the mountains we went, the fewer houses we saw. Out of the few homes we did see, some were missing walls, roofs, and doors; they were covered in ivy with foliage growing inside as if left over from a fateful apocalypse. Within minutes, we came upon the welcome center to the first waterfall. Bustling right past it, we came to a stop at a clearing of pavement overlooking the first fall. One by one we unloaded from the bus, looking on in awe at the towering green mountains that surrounded us. We then gathered around in a circle to introduce ourselves, set the agenda, and assign numbers. There were fewer of us this time around, only about a dozen or so, probably due to the long hike ahead of us.

We break the circle to begin the hike. Taking up my usual position toward the back of the line, I followed the brightly colored shirts of the hikers ahead of me. The trail began like most trails here start, a simple dirt path destined to penetrate deep into the depths of the forest. A few streams and fallen logs interrupt the path along the way, but we climb over and around them. A ravine runs along the right side of us while a mass of bamboo shoots explode from the hillside to our left. The deeper into the forest we go, the trail transitions from the simple dirt path to the boulder-riddled ravine. We hiked onward, tucked in between two forested hillsides. Looking on, the hikers ahead of me appeared the size of ants as they climbed over and around the massive boulders. Then jumping from one boulder to the next, I climbed to the top of a certain boulder where I knew the second waterfall initially comes into view. A scene of untouched beauty and raw power, the water stampedes over the crest and plummets down the rock chute into a subtle spring below. More boulders form a semi-circle around the spring, serving as a natural-made pier from which one could jump into its cool and refreshingly chilly waters. Mosquitoes, hovering in the glimmering haze of sunlight that poked through the trees, were determined to pester any hiker they could. On the far-left boulder, a pile of stones delicately balances on top of each other, evidently a cairn left behind by some clever hikers wishing to leave their mark.

We didn’t stay long at the second fall, knowing we still had a long way to go that morning. So after back-tracking the boulder-ridden ravine a couple hundred feet, one of the lead hikers suddenly slid down a hill and leaped across the stream. He disappeared into the wilderness on the other side, seeking the yellow-ribbons that mark the trail we were to follow. After finding it, one by one we slid down the mud and danced across the rocks, reaching the other side. Now for the hard part: it was all uphill from here.

I started the steep climb up with long, high strides. Grabbing anything I could from bamboo shoots and branches to shrubs and vines, I pulled myself up to ease the stress the incline put on my legs. This continued until the path hooked to the right, flattening into a narrow strip that ran along the side of an even steeper hill. The trees had somewhat cleared away, as now only waist-high foliage of various shades of green surrounded us. A rope lay strewn carelessly on the ground, barely visible in the vegetation but tethered to a tree at the top of the hill. Taking it up, the rope felt rough and worn in my hands as I started the vertical climb up the hillside. I began high-stepping systematically through the bush in much the same way you would trek through three feet of snow. With every step upward, gasps of excitement could be heard from the hikers above me, indicating the stunning view to come. Pausing for a moment, I looked over my shoulder to sneak a peek at the ridge-line of mountains protruding over the canopy of trees. Glancing down, the hillside was so steep that all I could see was the tops of the heads of the hikers below me. A single slip of the foot could send me tumbling down to the bottom, all but guaranteeing a few broken bones along the way. At this moment, however, I realized I wasn’t as nervous about heights as I used to be; I suppose jumping off a couple bridges and waterfalls will ease that concern for you. But knowing the view was only going to get better at the top, I turned back around to continue my ascent.

Upon reaching the top, the view was as humble as it was scenic. The sun cast its light on the mountains while shadows from the clouds lingered in varied spots. It was a view straight from a postcard. Unfortunately, I only had a brief moment to take it in as we still had a-ways to go. So turning around, I followed the others into the overgrown and narrow path of the bush ahead. Fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet with each step, indicating the ground for once was actually dry (outside of a few strategically-placed patches of soft mud, of course). The narrow path weaved through the woods before dropping sharply into another ravine. I began side-stepping down to the ravine when:

“Ahh!”

Turning abruptly, I saw two hikers tactfully hopping from tree to tree down into the ravine. Apparently, one of the hikers had slipped and fallen halfway down the hill. The previously easy-going atmosphere suddenly became tense, as the rest of us were apprehensively waiting to hear if she was all right. The tension was relieved when she soon reappeared from the ravine with the aid of the two other hikers. Despite the hard fall, she came up with a strained but relieved smile on her face.

Moving on, I stepped-down the path to the boulder-ridden stream below. Standing on a rock in the center of the stream, I surveyed my surroundings. The water of the stream flowed peacefully and undisturbed through the rocks, pooling at the bottom. The soft, trickling sound of the stream completed the natural soundtrack of rustling trees, creaking bamboo, and chirping birds of the forest. Dancing across the rocks to the other side, the path once again shot upward. Hiking the trail up, spindly trees now stretched skyward, each seemingly attempting to out-reach one another to the sun. Rocks and fallen logs were strewn carelessly across the trail, each being overtaken by a crawling coat of moss. The incline eased itself into a slightly forested clearing, where everyone had paused to gather around what was probably one of the largest trees I have ever seen. Now, I have never been to the Redwood Forest in California, but I hope I am lucky enough to hike through there someday. That being said, I’d like to think this tree would rival those Redwoods due to its daunting height, width, and overall size. At the base of the tree, its roots were so large and con-caved in such a way, one could practically build a small home inside of it. I could only imagine how much this tree has lived through in all its years.

After appreciating the dominating presence of the tree, we re-grouped to continue on. The path progressed at a slight incline while the foliage became more sparse around the trail, giving us elbow room as we hiked along. A short while later, the group stopped altogether again. This time, we found ourselves in front of two large boulders pressed firmly into the hillside. Underneath the two boulders was yet another boulder. But this one was buried by damp, brown fallen leaves and had a black hole pitched discreetly underneath it. It was said this hole was one of the many caves used by Julien Fedon during the rebellion.

Frankie, a well-built man with dreadlocks pulled back by a rubber-band into a Rasta-style pony-tail, hopped down the edge and crawled cautiously into the mouth of the cave. A passing breeze rustled the leaves of the trees above while a few isolated songbirds sang their chorus. Outside of that, however, all was silent as we waited eagerly to see if he would find anything inside.

“Shhh!” he turns, his index finger pressed to his lips. “I hear something.”

A smirk cracked across my face, convinced he was putting on a show. Then suddenly, as if sent out by Frankie himself, a bat hurdled wildly out of the cave and narrowly passed over our heads. Everyone ducked out of its way, caught in a moment of fright before laughter broke out among the group. No one had seen that coming.

“I told you I heard something!” Frankie laughed.

Having altogether recovered from the momentary heart attack, it was time to move forward. The path maintained its somewhat flat terrain, to which my already aching legs were very much grateful. But the foliage pressed back into the trail, as branches and vines were trying to grab hold of us like fan-girls at a country concert. Consequently, the hikers dispersed into a spacious single-file line. Lili, who was at this point directly in front of me, picked up a fallen branch to use as a walking stick. Trekking through the bush, I watched intently as she planted the branch in a ditch to hold her steady as she stepped over it when…

*Snap

What once was a head-height branch snapped like a baseball bat right in her hand, leaving nothing but its top in her grasp. Waving her arms frantically, she then quickly recovered her balance. After realizing that we were the only two that witnessed what had just happened, laughter broke out between the two of us. Clapping my hands together in amusement, I couldn’t help but giggle at the theatrical performance of her maintaining her balance. So goes life hiking through the woods, with so many close calls, sometimes you just have to laugh.

As the hike went on, the line of hikers thinned out even more and I soon found myself entirely alone. Noticing this, I took a moment to look around, seeing a path of boulders in front of me and a tangled mess of branches, vines, and trees on all sides around me. The sunlight was forcing its way through the canopy above, adorning the forest floor with swaying splotches of sunshine. It was quaint little scene, yet something felt unusual. Here I was, deep in the mountainous bush that makes up inland Grenada. Yet, out of all the wildlife in the forest, there was not a single sound to be heard. Let me repeat: Not. A. Single. Sound.

This was probably the first time in my eleven months here that I have found myself engulfed in complete and utter silence. It was like everything was frozen in time. Everything captured in that moment was so serene, so peaceful, that I was wishing I could linger there forever. The silence itself was so captivating, I did not dare to move or hardly even breathe. In that moment, I realized how much I’ve missed the quiet. After all, living in the heart of Grenada’s, “City That Never Sleeps,” my home isn’t exactly forgiving when it comes to finding peace and quiet. Although over time, I have become accustomed to the incessant noise outside my apartment windows at all ungodly hours of the night that I hardly even notice them anymore. Yet, in this moment of solitude in the depths of the Grand Etang National Forest, I had found bliss. It was baffling still, that even the rustling of the trees and the songs of the birds had fallen mum. All that was left in this moment was me, the trees, and a humbling reminder of the power of silence.

*Crack

A few branches snapped somewhere in the distance and a murmur of voices announced that hikers were breaking through the bush behind me. I, likewise, was snapped out of my frozen trance. Disappointed the moment of tranquility didn’t last longer, I decided it was time to move forward. Climbing on all fours over the boulders, I reached back to the path and proceeded upward. By now, the foliage seemed to back off, deciding once again to respect my personal space. With each step, sunlight filled the trail as it was becoming less and less shaded. The canopy cleared away the closer I came to the summit. I picked up my pace, dragging along the heavy weight my legs now seemed to carry. But I was eager to see the views that awaited me at the top. Upon finally reaching the clearing at the peak, all I could say was…

“Oh, my.”                                                                                                                                                                                                         In front of me sprawled a network of ridge-line mountains, coated in vibrant shades of green. Thick, gray, cotton-ball clouds hovered just above them, nearly grazing their peaks. Much like before, the sun cast its light on the mountains, highlighting the green as the clouds left their dark shadows in various, intermittent spots. I sighed deeply, awestruck by the sheer beauty before me. Suddenly, my legs didn’t quite feel so heavy anymore. The burning cuts and scrapes on my arms left by the whipping branches and vines began to fade. The growling of my empty stomach, too, seemed to have subsided with the dazzling view before me.

“Hey, look over here!” Someone called.

I followed the voice, turning the corner where in front of me, clearly visible in the distance was the capital city of St. George’s. Beyond it, the arm-like coastline of Grand Anse Beach stretched out into the Caribbean Sea. To my left, peeking through the branches, Grand Etang Lake could be seen resting subtly at the center of its crater. Just like that, multiple staples of Grenada’s jaw-dropping landscape was before me in one panoramic view. Beyond the island’s shores, a blue haze stretched far into the horizon; thus, solidifying the reality that I am on an island and surrounded entirely by water.

Turning back, I followed the others hiking the path in the other direction. The footfalls of past hikers marked an indelible, dirt-ridden spine that ran along the top of the ridge. Small trees bordered the path like a gauntlet of paparazzi on the red carpet. I could almost envision myself from a bird’s-eye view, a small speck running along the spine of a mountain ridge on this island. When I finally reached the end, I had arrived to the top of Mt. Qua-Qua. Some of the hikers were already there, sitting around three wooden poles that stood from the ground in a tee-pee like manner. At the cross-hairs of the poles, two high-heeled shoes were hooked on the top. How they got there I haven’t a clue, but we had a good laugh about it nonetheless.

Next to the wooden tee-pee-like structure was a boulder so large, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the very same boulder Sisyphus was condemned by Zeus to roll up a hill for eternity. Only this boulder, atop Mt. Qua-Qua on the island of Grenada, evidently came to a rest at the summit. Sisyphus had paid his price.

Frankie was already standing on top of the boulder, having taken off his hiking shoes to allow himself to grip the boulder’s smooth surface while he climbed. Conflicted, I wanted to get on top of the boulder to see what view it would provide, but I still wanted to keep my boots on. The mud and rivers from all the previous rain-soaked hikes have taken a toll on my boots, as the laces have toughened and lost their elasticity; putting them on and taking them off is now barely possible without a shoe-horn (which I don’t have). Consequently, I made the decision to get up there, boots and all. A soft impression marked the boulder, roughly at the height of my chest; it was going to take all I could to hop up there on my own.

“Careful Scott, we don’t want you to have a Grenadian funeral,” one of the local hikers teased as I sized up the jump.

Gathering all my weight, I jumped for the impression. My shin bashed on the rock-face, as my feet barely reached the edge of the impression. Just then, all my weight began taking me backward. Quickly collecting what grip I could, I jumped straight into the air, buying myself time to ensure I landed safely flat on the ground.

Back on solid ground, my shin was now throbbing. But I re-gathered myself anyway to prepare for take number two.

Like a box-jump in a high school gym, I squatted down to once again gather all I could before jumping for the impression. However, it again proved too high, too smooth, and at too much of an incline and my weight took me backward off the boulder. This time, however, as I landed on the ground my momentum continued backward. Flailing my arms, I maintained my balance by grabbing hold of some branches to prevent me from falling into the bush. After finally collecting myself, I stepped back out into the sunlight to find a concerned look on everyone’s faces.

“You know I was kidding about the whole Grenadian funeral thing, right?” The same hiker said, as a nervous laughter broke out.

I laughed along with them, then turned around to find nothing but thick foliage and steep darkness where my weight would have carried me down. It would have been a long and violent tumble down the mountain through the bush.

Having learned my lesson, I dropped my backpack to ease the unnecessary weight on my back and had one of the hikers help push me up. I grabbed hold of Frankie’s outstretched forearm as he pulled me the rest of the way. Just goes to show that sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and accept help when you need it.

It was all worth it, too. As now, in front of me was the entire eastern half of Grenada, including the town of Grenville sitting on the coastline in the distance. Atop this boulder, I was practically at eye-level with the clouds, almost having to duck just to see Grenville. The wind pounded relentlessly, as I held my hat back so it wouldn’t blow away. Looking off to the right, red and orange rooftops snaked through the lush, green mountains. These humble homes traced the road of the #6 bus route from St. George’s to Grenville through the Grand Etang National Forest. Along that route was Grand Etang Lake, the very same lake that was originally on my left from the last viewpoint. I couldn’t see St. George’s from this boulder, but I could envision it just past the trees to my right. I knew Grenada was a small island. I just didn’t realize how small it really was. You could just about see half of the island right from where I was standing.

Having taken in what I could, I sat down on the boulder and slid my way down, dropping the last six feet or so to solid ground. Picking up my backpack, I pulled out a PB&J and a roll of crackers I had packed that morning and began the trek down to the lake with the others. Back-tracking down the path that pointed toward St. George’s, we hiked down the spine of the mountain ridge before again being swallowed by the foliage of Grand Etang National Forest.

An hour or so later, we eventually did reach Grand Etang Lake. At the end of it all, all my energy was entirely spent. It was honestly the longest hike I had been on with this group, well over eight miles and almost exclusively uphill. My legs felt like Jell-o. Small, red cuts and scrapes from the bush marked my arms from my wrists to my elbows. My shin was bruised and bleeding, having already swelled into a knot. After finding a pipe to rinse off my mud-ridden pants and boots, I slipped into sandals and a fresh set of clothes. Then hopping into a car with some other hikers, I was on my way toward St. George’s, where I could then catch a bus back home to Gouyave. Snaking through the #6 route road through Grand Etang National Forest, we started swapping stories and sharing thoughts on the hike, laughing about all that had happened.

But soon my mind drifted off. I started thinking about those views at the top. Then I thought about that moment of silence along the way. It was a simple moment, gone before you could almost notice it was there. It was so fleeting, in fact, that I had almost forgotten it had happened. But the silence was deafening. In that moment, there was nothing but the glimmering forest floor and a surrounding earthly scene of natural, untouched forest beauty; all this frozen in a moment of time that was apologetically and unequivocally peaceful.

I wish I could go back to that moment. To me, that moment was the highlight of the entire day’s hike. Yes, the stunning panoramic views atop Mt. Qua-Qua were breathtaking. But there’s something to be said about those moments of complete tranquility in the forest that calms the soul. It’s reflective in nature, soothing of stress, and brings peace to the mind. These moments of peace are so powerful, they compel you to stop dead in your tracks and embrace them. You can’t help but acknowledge the power they hold. Yet, they are fleeting, an oxymoron of complete stillness while perpetually moving. It’s as though these moments are meant to be chased. They are all out there somewhere, begging to be captured.

It’s the ultimate game of hide-and-seek.

Only in this game, when we win, we capture the ultimate prize:

Peace.

Peace for the mind. Peace for the soul. Peace in our lives.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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In the Words of Jimmy Buffett

A couple months ago I found myself in the Peace Corps office in St. George’s. Inside one of the rooms are two large bookcases, filled with various worn and used books that serve as the “Volunteer Library.” It’s not much, but it’s something.

While scanning the shelves, a certain book caught my attention. It had clearly seen better days, missing both front and back covers with faded, discolored-yellow pages. All that was remaining of the cover was the spine, worn-down and wrinkled. It read: Jimmy Buffett: A Pirate Looks at Fifty. I wasn’t surprised about the condition the book was in, it seemed fitting to his profile: worn with experience but still intact. Curious, I picked it up and threw it into my backpack to take home with me.  After all, how could I resist? It’s Jimmy Buffett.

We all know his name. We all know his music. We all know his image–one of sunshine, crystal blue waters, sandy beaches, margaritas, and 5:00 happy hours. He is a man of many talents: a musician, songwriter, author, actor, and businessman. There is a lot to admire about him and the lifestyle he has come to represent.

After all, who doesn’t want to waste away in Margaritaville?

My family has always been made up of Jimmy Buffett fans, or “Parrotheads” as they’re often called. His Greatest Hits Album was one of the few CDs we had in the house growing up. Consequently, I grew up very familiar with his music. On family vacations to the Sunset Beach, North Carolina, the days were spent in beach chairs chasing the tide while his music played from a portable speaker.

My 21st birthday was spent road-tripping down to Cincinnati, Ohio where I saw him in concert with some family and friends. It was my first time seeing him live. His performance lived up to the hype and consequently, I solidified my position in his following of Parrotheads.

During the first week of September my senior year in college, I had just officially accepted the invitation to serve in the Eastern Caribbean with the Peace Corps. Closing my laptop, I plugged my phone into my roommate’s speaker system and began playing, none other than, Jimmy Buffett. I’m not sure why, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

I didn’t know what to expect moving to the Caribbean or even what it would be like living here. It had all just seemed like a far-away, distant dream. I’ve been here for around ten months now, almost a full year, and it still sometimes feels that way.

Over the past ten months I have gotten to experience the hot sun, sandy beaches, crystal waters, and even a margarita or two during happy hour. To that extent, life in the Caribbean and the story of Jimmy Buffett met some of my expectations both in my personal experience here, as well as reading about his. There was one other thing that I have come to learn about since moving down here and as it turns out, Jimmy Buffett knows a thing or two about it, too. The funny thing is, it’s got nothing to do with the Caribbean. It has everything to do with life.

When I saw the worn-out book that was Jimmy Buffett’s autobiography, I figured I could learn a thing or two from him. After all, he’s spent a significant part of his life in the Caribbean and I was curious to see what he had to say about it. I wanted to know if his experience paralleled mine in any way.

Let me tell you, his autobiography blew me away.

I feel as though I can relate to him on a personal level and it has nothing to do with our mutual connection to the Caribbean. I found that he has an incredible perspective on things. I admire the way he has lived and continues to live his life. From his first and only year at Auburn, to busking in New Orleans, to his failed attempt at country music in Nashville, he was just a man trying to find a niche to fit in. When he didn’t find one, he joined a friend on a trip to Key West. The rest, you could say, is history. He never found his niche, so he created one. To hear him tell his story is captivating. His writing is plain, straight-forward, and easy to read. His writing style is very much personal, giving you a feeling as if he were sitting right beside you while he tells his story. His literary voice is as casual as the lifestyle he represents.

Jimmy Buffett has come to embody what’s referred to as the “island-escapism” lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle engulfed in the concept of vacation, where you bask in the care-free moment and let go of the stresses of your life. It’s a life where your biggest concern is making sure you put on enough sunscreen. Parrotheads flock to his shows for this very reason, as Jimmy Buffett, through his music, brings the Caribbean beaches to stadiums and concert venues across the world. Parrotheads are a loyal fanbase, traveling far and wide to see him perform and to forget about life for awhile. What people fail to realize, however, is that although Buffett represents what it means to “escape” life, it’s really quite the opposite.

Allow me to elaborate. Rather, allow me to elaborate in the words of Buffet himself.

What follows is a series of quotes I’ve pulled from his autobiography, A Pirate Looks at Fifty. These are excerpts that caught my attention and made me think. They are quotes that moved me in such a way that I wrote them down so as not to forget them. They gave me an opportunity to reflect on what they mean and how they pertain to not only my life, but life as a whole. With each quote, I have provided an interpretation of what he means based on my personal experiences both at home and abroad. You may agree, disagree, or what have you. But either way, I hope you find as much meaning in them as I did.

“Songwriters write songs, but they really belong to the listener.”

Is there a song that whenever it comes on, you’re immediately taken back to a certain time in your life? Does it make you think of a specific place or person? That is because you have attached a meaning to the song, which now forever correlates with whatever memorable experience comes to mind. That’s the beauty of music. We can all be given the same song, but each of us may interpret it differently based on our personal experiences listening to it. Songs are given to us, the listeners, and we have the freedom to interpret and attach meaning to it in any way we like. That’s the power of music that makes it so unique; musicians can create a song, but that same song can take on countless meanings based on the various listeners. With all the various meanings attached to the same song, is it still the same song? Just more food for thought.

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If there’s one thing the Caribbean people know, it’s music.

“Time is something to be used, not saved.”

I once heard of an analogy that coincides nicely with this quote. Think of it this way:

Imagine that at the start of each day you are given $1,440. You have exactly 24 hours to spend the money. The catch is, however, that you lose the money that you don’t spend when the day is over. Therefore, you cannot save the money for tomorrow because it won’t be there, so you must spend what you can of it today. If this were the case, how would you spend your money? Think about it for a moment before moving on.

Fun fact: did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? Now read that over again.

Does your plans for how to spend your “money” change?

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Time is already flying by as I am already ten months into in my Peace Corps service.

“Life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”

This one took some thought. What does he mean by this? The way I’ve come to see it, life as a scavenger hunt means that there’s something to be found. It can come in many forms: a road map, a step-by-step checklist, or even a bucket list. A scavenger hunt gives you a purpose, a mission. It gives you something to find and a means to find it. It forces you to take initiative yourself. At times, it even requires you to be creative in finding what you’re look for. It provides a series of clues and small achievements in increments to encourage you and help you measure your progress along the way. Somewhere along the lines you realize that what you’re really searching for is the experience. You’ll realize that the journey along the way to finding whatever it was you were looking for, sometimes outweighs the attained goal itself.

A surprise party, on the other hand, although enjoyable is ultimately fleeting. It requires a passive approach; one in which you wait for the things you’re supposed to search for to come to you. When the surprises do come, you receive a momentary thrill as they arrive. However, it seems that as soon as they arrive they disappear, leaving you in the exact same position as before. The surprise party is less rewarding than the scavenger hunt, as at least with the scavenger hunt you are not only rewarded by finding what you’re looking for, but you have the comfort of being able to reflect on the experience of your journey to obtaining it as well.

By taking life as a scavenger hunt, you’re able to take things one step at a time. Therefore, you’re in control. Attaining your goals not only becomes more realistic in this way, but the journey itself brings it all together in the end.

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It was once my goal to run a marathon. Looking back now, the months of training leading up to the race made the accomplishment of it all the more rewarding.

“It is my independence and my emergency parachute…I know deep down inside that if it came to it, I could cram what I really need into my backpack, hit the trail, and be perfectly happy.”

Only since my time here have I been able to relate to this. Every now and then I will pack a bag and catch a bus to explore a remote part of the island for the weekend. Sometimes even another country (as I only took my backpack with me to St. Vincent and Bequia, an island Buffett wrote very highly about with good reason). Usually with a packed lunch, a change of clothes, and a few other bare necessities, I can steal away for days at a time. I find solace in the fact that I am able to do that with such ease down here. It’s comforting knowing that the opportunity to condense my life into a backpack and steal away for a weekend is always in my back-pocket, ready to be used whenever I want it or need it. It has certainly helped that my life was already condensed into two suitcases upon coming down here, so now down-sizing even more into a single backpack seems like nothing. But in reality, I’ve learned I don’t really need a whole lot to get by and I’m perfectly content with that. All I really need, can fit into my backpack.

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The backpack I have been basically living my life out of for the past ten months.

“When you go off adventuring, part of the adventure is the unpredictable. That is what really separates travelers from tourists.”

While walking to or from school, and even while at school, I often see large tourist buses pass through Gouyave. Looking through its windows as it passes, there’s always sun-burnt tourists from the cruise ships donning shades and holding maps, binoculars, and cameras. I always wonder what they must think of me and if they wonder what I must be doing here while they pass by. Sometimes I feel as though I am a part of some zoo exhibit, where the tourists are viewing me and my community from the safety of a sheltered bus. The locals don’t seem to mind or take notice, as they’ve grown up having the presence of the large, passing tourist buses their entire life.

While I’m on the topic of cruise ships, I admit I have come to have a conflicting perspective on them. On one hand, I admire and appreciate the cruisers initiative in going out and exploring new places. On the other hand, they know exactly what they’re getting. They disembark from the massive floating cities that are the cruise ships. They’re shuffled into buses that hustle them around the island and allot them only so much time for “excursions” at various sites such as the beaches, waterfalls, and sulfur springs. There’s always a time restraint, as they have to return to the ship before the big horn blares and the ship takes off for the next island with or without them. Although efficient, this method of travel is defined and predictable. You know exactly where you’re going and what you’re going to do when you get there. I’ve never been on a cruise so I do not speak from experience in this regard. This is simply my interpretation of what they’re like from what I’ve heard and seen down here, so do take what I said there with a grain of salt. That type of experience may exactly be what you’re looking for when traveling and that’s perfectly okay, you can experience a lot on a trip with a cruise. I’m just not sure it would suit me.

Travelers, on the contrary, stray from the rigid schedule and predictability of the cruise ship and bus excursions, seeking to experience the island for themselves. Travelers purchase flights and arrive in countries not necessarily knowing what they are going to experience. They have a general idea about what they’ll be doing and where they’ll be going, but they trust in the process and rely on local guidance to find all the best spots and places to go. They chase the experience of discovery and have become addicted to the life of unpredictability. It’s not necessarily a picture-perfect or glamorous way to explore new countries, as things can often go wrong. Buffett shared some of his mishaps from his time abroad, including getting shot at while flying over Jamaica and having his plane strip-searched for drugs in Columbia. My mishap experiences thankfully haven’t been to that extreme, but I have certainly had some of my own. But isn’t that the point? Sometimes the biggest mistakes you make end up making the best stories. The unpredictability is what makes an adventure just that…an adventure.

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The cruise ships are so large, that especially when they are lit up at night, appear to be like floating cities.

“[I]t is more fun sharing the adventure than doing it yourself.”

I agree whole-heartedly with Buffett on this one. It’s one thing for me to experience not only the beautiful beaches and jaw-dropping waterfalls, but also the challenges and frustrations that come with working in a differentiated classroom. All in all, this experience has been wholly mine; it’s a task I’m glad to have taken but I wish I could share. I am learning and experiencing so much and crave to share my life here with my family and friends back home or even to anyone who would listen. I wish they could see the beaches and waterfalls. I wish they could meet my students and the people in my community. Thankfully, technology comes into play here as opportunities such as this blog can help bridge that void so that others can share this experience with me.

However, having other Volunteers on the island to go through this experience with is both comforting and enjoyable, even if I only see them at best a week or two at a time. From my other volunteer experiences, it was meeting and sharing the experiences with other volunteers from across the world that made our time together abroad all the more exciting. That’s not to mention that the volunteers you meet abroad are some of the most incredible people you’ll ever meet. I am still in contact with many of the friends I’ve made while volunteering abroad. When it comes down to it, life abroad is more fun when you have people to share the experience with, plain and simple.

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The volunteers from my time in Quito, Ecuador.
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The volunteers from my time in Cape Town, South Africa.
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The Volunteers with me in Grenada.

“I think that if you live an interesting life, you have to come face-to-face with death on occasion, and it should scare you.”

I’m lucky and blessed that I haven’t had any necessarily life-threatening experiences (unless I count nearly getting hit by a car my first month in Grenada, which was my own fault, but terrifying nonetheless). That being said, I have done some potentially dangerous things in the name of thrill. The first came when I jumped from a bridge that was 300 feet above a river in Banos, Ecuador, swinging like a pendulum underneath it. It was the first time I had done anything like it. Truth be told, I am deathly afraid of heights as they make me very uncomfortable. But I also consider myself a man of opportunity. Therefore, when this opportunity presented itself, I felt like I didn’t really have a choice. After all, no one remembers the things you “almost did.” All the other volunteers were jumping and I couldn’t be the only one not to do it. So I jumped.

A year later I found myself in South Africa at the world’s fourth largest bungee jump, also the world’s largest bridge bungee at 719 feet. My stomach dropped when I saw how high it was. The other volunteers I was with on the weekend safari tour at the time were all excited to try it. I survived the one in Ecuador and was content with that. But deep down, I knew I had to do it. I couldn’t go back home and tell someone, “Yeah, I went to the world’s fourth largest bungee there, but I didn’t try it.” So my legs were tied together and I placed my arms around the shoulders of the two men who helped me to the edge. Every fiber in my being was telling me not to jump. I honestly didn’t want to. I didn’t even want to look over the edge. But my desire to prove to myself that I could do it outweighed my fear. Knowing there was a camera on me, I painted a nervous smile on my face and tried masking the fear with adrenaline. I took a deep breath, and on the count of three leaped from the ledge.

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The pit in my stomach was lifted airlessly as I fell through the sky toward the ravine below. The cord smoothly caught with tension and I began bouncing upside down through the air as the momentum settled and I simply dangled underneath the bridge. It was a thrill of a lifetime. I could feel my heart pound against my chest. Everything around me was suddenly silent and the blood began rushing to my head as I swayed back and forth, upside down beneath the bridge. I remember laughing to myself, “Here I am, halfway across the world, dangling upside down underneath a bridge. Everyone at home is sound asleep and has no idea.” Looking back now, I can honestly say jumping off that bridge was one of the greatest decisions of my life.

Having conquered my fear of heights for the second time, I went on to go skydiving with some friends a few months later when I finished my undergrad studies. My mother asked me if I had a death wish. After giving it some thought, my answer was: “It’s not a death wish. In fact, it’s really quite the opposite.” (I still had to promise her before I left that I wouldn’t do any bungees or sky-dives in the Caribbean).

Some people have called me an adrenaline-junkie or a thrill-seeker, but I don’t consider myself as such. I’d be perfectly content with keeping my two feet on solid ground. But when these opportunities came along, I wanted to prove to myself I could overcome my fear and do it. Almost daily, my students here ask me if they can watch the videos of me jumping from bridges and planes. They find it interesting and exciting. Therefore, I suppose Buffett’s got a point here.

“That’s the way life is. We all try to make something out of our lives, and some of us are just luckier than others.”

A fellow Volunteer recently asked me if I felt guilty for serving in the Caribbean, as opposed to the more challenging and isolated Peace Corps posts across the world. It is a valid question and one that I have admittedly grappled with since arriving here. At first I did feel guilty, as comparatively speaking, I have it good. I have electricity, access to wi-fi (when I’m at home), running water, and beautiful weather. That’s not to say there aren’t any challenges, it’s just the challenges we have here aren’t the same as the ones a Volunteer in a remote African village might have.

But here’s the thing: I saw this opportunity and took it. Anyone could have applied to come here. But I’m the one that prepared my resume with the necessary experiences, applied, interviewed, and accepted the invitation to serve. I am absolutely blessed to be able to live in a place people dream of visiting. Something that I’ve come to terms with since moving here, one I didn’t think I’d have to learn at that, is that there is nothing wrong with relishing in your blessings. It’s okay to get lucky sometimes, it’s okay to be blessed. Just recognize that you are blessed and do your part to pass on those blessings to those less fortunate than you are. It’s as simple as that.

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Life in the Caribbean has not been without its perks.

“That to me is the way any good romantic would look at his life: Live it first, then write it down before you go.”

When I began this blog back in June, I wasn’t sure what the nature of it was going to be or how I would go about writing it. I’ve since fallen into the routine of letting things happen on their own and waiting for something that makes me go, “Wow, now that was pretty cool.” Luckily for me, that happens just about every day down here. My blog has become a tool for me to reflect on various parts of my Peace Corps experience and share what they have come to mean to me. It also is a form of expression and stress-release, a productive hobby that I’ve come to enjoy. I don’t go out and write things down as they happen, for if I did that then I wouldn’t truly be experiencing my surroundings. Therefore, I guess I’ve taken on that, “Live it first, then write it down before you go,” mentality. Someday, hopefully I can look back on this experience and re-live the lessons I’ve learned from my life in Grenada. It’s just important not to let writing it down part get in the way of living it first.

I never considered myself either a writer or a romantic. But when it comes to this blog, I suppose I fit the profile. Either way, it’s important to live your life first and experience it with all your surroundings, emotions, and feelings. Just don’t forget to write it all down. Someday you’ll have a life-story to tell, as someday our time on Earth will be up. When that day comes, will someone have to tell your story for you? Or will you have your own story written down yourself? There is no right or wrong answer here, as that’s entirely up to you.

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I try to take time every couple weeks or so to write things from my day-to-day life into a journal. (Photo courtesy John Lyness).

“Life does not come without risks. You learn to take them, or you stay home and watch life on TV.”

They say you save the best for last, so I saved this quote for last as it is my favorite from the whole book. Blunt and calling it as it is, Buffett himself is calling out me and everyone else that is jealous of his life. It’s no secret that in today’s world, we are all absorbed in the technology that has become ingrained in our lives. When I first arrived, I was disappointed when I discovered I had a television and cable already set up in my apartment. I was looking forward to the challenge of living without it. So I cancelled the cable, despite the internal concerns I had on how I would fill my time without one. I was nervous about it, but as it turns out, I hardly notice I’m without one. Instead of staying in and watching television, I have come to develop other hobbies such as reading, writing, and playing basketball.

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My TV now gathers dust in the corner of my sitting room.

People have a hard time believing or understanding me when I tell them I don’t have a Netflix account. Honestly, not having one is something I’m kind of proud of. It’s not that I think I’m better in any way, television shows have a tremendous benefit for us. Do you every wonder why we even watch certain shows? Television shows provide an escape from our life by placing us in a fictional one, or someone else’s that we sometimes wish we had. We all have our favorites: my personals being Seinfeld, M*A*S*H, and Friends. Movies provide the same type of entertainment for a solid two or three hours at a time, in the same way also serving as an escape. When you think about it, the stories that play out on the big-screen are often very relevant to our day-to-day lives. That is why we become so attached to and invested in certain characters and shows, because we can relate to them on a personal level. We can relate to them because they’re us. They’re telling stories about life, our lives.

I’m not saying television is a bad thing. But the characters and people on your favorite shows are the very people going out and living their lives, whether it’s a fictional one or not. We spend countless hours of the week watching other people live their lives on the big screen, sometimes even longing to live out what we see ourselves. In reality, though, that very life does await us. Just like what Buffett says himself: sometimes we just have to turn off the television, step out the door, and find it.

The same goes for the life of Buffett, who has lived in exotic places ranging from Key West and St. Bart’s, to Paris and New York, all the while traveling across the world. It’s easy to admire what he’s done and be jealous of him for living in all the beautiful places he’s lived. I for one am jealous.

Originally, I had first opened his book out of curiosity to learn about the man behind the music and the “island-escapism” lifestyle. While reading it, I was pleasantly surprised and inspired. I found a man who was incredibly down-to-earth and just trying to find his way in the world. He’s not afraid of putting in the time and effort to his work, as evident of his overwhelming success across various mediums. But he strives to not forget that although we all must work, we can’t let it get in the way of us living our lives. I have come to admire him not because of the sunshine, beaches, and margaritas. I admire him because it seems like he has it all figured out.

He isn’t escaping life.

He’s living it.

Cheers!

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P.S. The Rainforest Is You

Julien Fedon, a Grenadian revolutionary, set out to abolish slavery and rid Grenada of British rule in 1795. The destination of my second hike of the year was to the site of his base camp during the rebellion. From this high point overlooking both the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts of Grenada, Fedon successfully and simultaneously coordinated attacks on the towns of Grenville and Gouyave. This was a particularly impressive feat; especially given the fact that he conquered two large towns, on opposite sides of the island, at the same time. Fedon’s Rebellion continued to the point where he had gained control over the entire island outside of the parish of St. George, where the British government was seated in the capital city of St. George’s. Unfortunately for Fedon, his rebellion was put down in June of 1796 and British order was restored across the island. Slavery would go on for another 38 years, not being abolished until 1834.

As I was gathered in a circle with my fellow hikers, this brief history lesson left me captivated. It was a dreary, overcast morning complete with a persistent drizzle. The night before, a rainstorm poured heavily throughout the night, promising a muddy hike in the morning.

I took on the hike the same way I’ve taken on the others, sticking toward the back to allow myself time to enjoy the surroundings and take a few photos along the way. This hike, however, I must say was the most challenging one yet. The mud sucked in my boots, dragging my feet like a child bear-hugging his father’s leg. The hills were incredibly steep, forcing me to rely on vines, branches, and trees to pull myself up. It truly felt like I was hiking through a tropical rainforest, surrounded by the sounds of the birds in the trees and trekking through the mud with a cool breeze blowing mist onto my face. At certain points along the way, viewpoints on the mountain opened up so I could overlook the forest-covered hills that stretched all the way out to the coast. Unfortunately, the true potential of the viewpoint was compromised due to the low-hanging, stagnant rain-clouds. I wasn’t upset, however, because the ominous clouds gave the rainforest the kind of foreboding aura that something big was coming; you could feel the impending doom like a chill in your bones. It felt almost as if I was walking through a scene in Jurassic Park, where the fog and mist eerily creeps between the trees. Despite the heavy fog and clouds of the morning, the viewpoints along the way were nonetheless absolutely stunning.

By the time I reached the summit, a simple stone monument marked the site of Fedon’s Camp. Allegedly, this is the only spot on Grenada where you will find Fedon’s name. This is because after his rebellion was put down, the British essentially wiped his name from from the history books. In the small clearing atop the mountain, we stood idly around the monument surrounded by short, green foliage. Beyond the foliage, the clouds were so thick around us that we quite literally were surrounded by a wall of gray. Since this is the site where you can supposedly see both Gouyave and Grenville, I admit I was a little disappointed that the fog was so thick. But it was still enjoyable, though, because I still couldn’t get over how eerie and cool being surrounded by the clouds seemed. It was like I had quite literally hiked my way into heaven.

After a slippery and often-times treacherous trek down the mountain (during which I can proudly say I only fell once), I was exhausted. I rinsed off my clothes and boots in the stream and switched into a dry set of clothes I had stored in my backpack. Climbing into a car that served as my ride back to Gouyave, I passed out the moment we hit the winding roads. Upon arriving home, I stumbled inside and proceeded to shower and go straight to my bed for what became a glorious two-hour nap.

When I woke up, I went through the photos that I had taken that morning and began editing them. As I did this, I found them to be quite jaw-dropping. It was almost hard to accept the fact that I had actually hiked through the surreal beauty of a natural rainforest just a few hours prior. When it came time for me to sit down and translate my experience into this blog, I quite literally was at a loss for words.

But then I had an idea. I found this to be a unique opportunity to switch things up and explore something I’ve been meaning to for quite some time now. I did find the words that accurately reflected my experience hiking to Fedon’s Camp; they come in the form of a poem.

Now before you roll your eyes (as you may already have), bear with me.  Poetry is a complex field of language arts. It often takes time and effort to truly understand and appreciate a poem, which is why it can be often overlooked and neglected. However, when read appropriately it can be an enlightening experience for the reader. Consequently, when I found myself a bit puzzled on where to begin this next post-I turned to poetry to guide me.

Before you begin your own reading of the poem, let me pass on a word of advice from an old college professor of mine: when reading a poem, you must read it at least three times. The first time to become introduced to the main idea or theme of the poem; the second time as an attempt to grasp an understanding; the third time to appreciate and capture meaning from it. It may even help you to read it out loud. Now you don’t have to read it three times over or even reflect on it yourself, as I have done this already. When you hike through a mountainous rainforest, a lot of thoughts cross your mind. Multiple viewpoints offer various opportunities for reflection on many different aspects of life. My thoughts and reflections on this hike covered many things related to life, the rainforest, and the relationship between the two. I have come to find that this poem appropriately and accurately depicts my experience hiking to Fedon’s Camp:

P.S. The Rainforest is You

a young rainforest has yet to know of the world 
the harsh reality of mistrust, humiliation, and disappointment  
but maybe thats the charm of it all 
trees strung about in a wild fun mess of branches 
smells of flowers and mildewy ferns on the floors 
welcomes me to close my eyes and be comfortable 
every little detail has its own story to tell 
every little creature a character of its own 
in between the plants it whispers to me 
songs and tales of the forest’s past, present, and future 
the surface of it so bright and colorful 
and the bottom so dark and wonderfully cool 
for each drop of rain that falls feels warm against the skin 
embracing me as one of its own 
not knowing of what I have seen and felt before. 

But that does not matter, 
for the rainforest is handsome, compelling, and full of surprises, 
it takes when it can and gives even more- 
optimism that everything is alright, 
that when I am in such a beautiful place, 
there is no reason to worry- 
 
in truly heartbreaking silence, 
I think to myself- 
I hope I never have to leave. 

-Victoria Ellison

This first time I read this, I breezed right through and moved on to the next one. Yet, like any good poem, something about it remained in the back of my mind until I couldn’t resist returning to it. The more I read it, the more I found it captured not only my experience with the hike to Fedon’s Camp, but also my relationship with the rainforest and how I have come to fall in love with hikes such as this one. Focusing on simple excerpts at a time, analyzing this poem enabled me to put words to the contemplative experience this hike became for me. What follows is the introspective, line-by-line breakdown of the poem. It is a poem that captures the reflective nature of my hike and what an experience like this truly means.

a young rainforest has yet to know of the world
the harsh reality of mistrust, humiliation, and disappointment
but maybe thats the charm of it all

The rainforest, much like the one I had just trekked through, is largely untouched by human presence. It is purely raw and natural, uncompromised by the development of cities, towns, and communities. Human contact with the rainforest can be deceitful; as although many explore and delve into the forest to appreciate its natural beauty, others take advantage of its resources. This can come in the form of the logging, housing, and trophy-hunting industries which in turn lead not only to the deterioration of the rainforest, but also diminishes the natural habitats and population-rates of the animals existing within. The rainforest, always welcoming the adventurous explorers with open arms, can often be betrayed as its resources are abused by the very same people it aims to please.

Despite what could go wrong, the rainforest maintains the naivety and innocence of a child. It is ‘forever young,’ expecting the best of everyone and always trusting for no rhyme or reason. To the rainforest, everyone arrives with a clean slate. It’s the very same fresh outlook and genuine spirit that we find so appealing in children and seem to have lost ourselves somewhere along the way during our self-righteous, “know-it-all,” teenage years. We can all learn from this confiding characteristic of the rainforest, in the same way we can always learn a thing or two from the unwavering, trusting nature of our children.

trees strung about in a wild fun mess of branches
smells of flowers and mildewy ferns on the floors
welcomes me to close my eyes and be comfortable

Did you capture a visual image in your mind with this passage? Maybe you envisioned a tree standing curved but strong, surrounded by other trees with branches so intermingled, you don’t know where the first one begins and the other one ends. Maybe you pictured a tree fallen over. Held up by its unwavering counterparts, the fallen tree is covered in a thick coat of moss and draped in vines. Maybe you inhaled deep breath of fresh scents coming from exotic and vibrantly-colored flowers. Maybe you envisioned the patterned-layers of green ferns across a sun-spotted forest floor. Visual as much as it is experiential, this passage begins to describe the relationship between man and rainforest.

The forest, not concerned with any opinion you may have of it, exists as itself unapologetically. When you can appreciate and acknowledge this aspect of the rainforest, recognizing there’s no concern for any judgment to be passed, you can free up yourself to be unapologetically you. You feel at home, at peace with yourself: who you are, how far you’ve come, where you’re headed, and why you’ve come here in the first place. You close your eyes, comforted by the sweet seclusion the forest offers you.

every little detail has its own story to tell
every little creature a character of its own

As simple as a forest may seem, it’s truly complicated within. Do you remember those ecosystem graphics in the science textbooks of your early school days? In the river there’s fish, in the sky there’s birds, and there’s various animals pictured in the forest between. Cyclical arrows are drawn around the page to signify that something is always happening. The sun with its light feeds the plants, which in turn gives off the oxygen we breathe. Some animals eat the plants, while other animals higher up in the food chain feed on them. When the animals and plants die, they decompose to feed the soil, which in turn feeds the plants and the cycle begins all over again. The cycle is never-ending and constantly moving. Each plant and animal plays a vital role, whether it’s as a minor or major character in the story of the forest. Yet no matter how large or small the role each character plays, the forest would be incomplete without it. On top of it all, each of these “characters,” has its own story entirely unique to itself. Therefore, the variety of characters and their stories are what truly brings the rainforest to life.

in between the plants it whispers to me
songs and tales of the forest’s past, present, and future

Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking alone through the rainforest. Now ask yourself, “Do you feel like you’re alone?” If you’re like me, you never feel alone in the woods. Whether it’s the birds chirping in the trees, the small lizards scurrying on the ground, or the rustling branches in the breeze, there’s always something that seems to give you that ominous feeling that you are not alone. Much like this passage describes, it’s almost as if the forest speaks to you. It speaks to you in a language that you hear, but may not always understand.

Yet, you can feel the history breathing within. It’s like you’ve stepped back into the past, to a time when a small army of rebels and escaped slaves are stalking through the woods to find a proper place to set up camp. It’s a time when your next day isn’t guaranteed, much less your next meal. It’s a time where you have to rely on the natural resources that surround you: the fish in the rivers, the fruits in the trees, and the game in the forest.

The rainforest you find yourself in is one that seems lost in time, enabling you to return to the past despite existing in the present. This rainforest seems not to care about the development of the outside world: where cities literally scrape the sky, stadiums light up the night, and airplanes soar through the air. The forest just continues on its stubborn path, disinterested in the changing world we live in and seeking only mind its own business. It will always maintain this mindset, as the present forever chases the future with each passing second.

the surface of it so bright and colorful
and the bottom so dark and wonderfully cool   

This excerpt simply expresses the beauty of your surroundings in the forest. All around you there are assorted, vibrant shades of green. The rain-soaked palm leaves sparkle from its glimmering coat of rain. Bright red and yellow flowers blossom by your side, opening its bell to take in what rain it can. The fog pushes through the canopy of trees, oddly enlightening the scene around you despite its intimidating presence. The forest floor is thick with mud that stains the otherwise clear streams. Freshly-fallen green leaves, along with the lackluster brown of decomposing ones, blanket the soft ground beneath your boots. The incessant breeze brings the mist, cooling you off with a refreshing, yet hair-tingling chill. The canopy of the trees provides concealment and cover on your hike, as if you were penetrating the forest in secrecy from the omniscient sun.

for each drop of rain that falls feels warm against the skin
embracing me as one of its own
not knowing of what I have seen and felt before.

That’s the beauty about the rain, it falls on everyone. The rain is unbiased and beautifully color-blind. It treats everyone the same. It doesn’t care about who you are or what you’ve done, good or bad, it falls on you just the same. I find the rain to be a fascinating thing in this manner. It’s funny-people often carry a negative connotation with the rain. After all, the rain is synonymous with dreary, lazy days curled up on a couch with a good book. In my time down here, the slightest rain has also come to mean the fear and likelihood of catching a cold (which might sound bizarre at first, but believe me: when you’ve been in the Caribbean long enough, it happens).

Yet despite this negative connotation, I find the rain to be soothing and refreshing in nature. Early on in my Peace Corps journey, I came across a quote from Bob Marley that simply states: “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” I first came to appreciate this quote when I reached the top of Gros Piton Mountain on a rain-soaked morning in St. Lucia. That morning I cast a glance to the sky, rain falling through the canopy of the trees. My arms outstretched, I embraced the feeling of the rain falling on my skin. It was cool, yet soothing. The rain can certainly be dreary; but more importantly, it can be cleansing. It washes away your past and impresses a self-reflection into the present. When it falls gently, it calmly offers you an opportunity for a fresh start and promises you a clean slate after it passes.

But that does not matter,
for the rainforest is handsome, compelling, and full of surprises,

When I came across this part of the poem, I found the word “compelling” to be a particularly striking way to describe the rainforest. Yet, after some thought I find it accurate. There is a presence about it that convinces you to move forward. It necessitates action on your part, all the while somehow convincing you that the decision to move forward was one of your own accord.

This goes without mentioning, of course, that the forest will always throw a curveball or two your way. You dig your heels into the mud, careful of each step and mindful of where the vines and trees are in the event you need to catch your fall. But right when you think you’re in the clear, your foot slips and gives way. Arms flailing, as if crossed up between the decision of reaching for something to grab or stubbornly thinking they can maintain your balance, you land in the thick mud.

You can’t help but laugh…Rainforest: 1 You: 0. That’s the underlying beauty of the rainforest, it’s not afraid to knock you on your ass and remind you who’s boss. Which leads us to the next excerpt…

it takes when it can and gives even more-
optimism that everything is alright,
that when I am in such a beautiful place,
there is no reason to worry-

The rainforest is by no means a gift-giver. It can disorient you, take advantage of you, and manipulate you unforgivingly. But as much as it takes from you, it leaves as compensation that beautiful word called, “optimism.” To have optimism is to maintain hope. This hope can take the form of many things: hope for a better future, hope for a successful career, hope for a healthy family, hope for a peaceful world. There is a saying that goes: “Hope is seeing the light in spite of being surrounded by darkness.” This reinforces the point that as long as we have hope, in reality that is all we really need. Hope provides the motivation to make our dreams become reality. Hope inspires us to overcome our setbacks and challenges us to reach our goals. So for every setback and challenge the rainforest throws your way, as long as you maintain hope that you will make it to your destination, you will. The rainforest teaches you patience, as you may not reach your destination right away. But as long as you maintain that hope and continue moving forward, there is no need to worry. You will reach your destination and your goal. I find comfort in this.

in truly heartbreaking silence,
I think to myself-
I hope I never have to leave.

Ahh-the feeling that comes at the completion of every successful hike. Your limbs ache with exhaustion, but spiritually you are rejuvenated and alive. You’re disappointed that your journey has to come to an end and you have to return to the world of schedules and responsibilities. The rainforest is the epitome of an escape, a sanctuary from the stressful and often irrelevant cares of the world. It provides an opportunity for self-reflection and promises hope for the future. It reminds you that there are things in the world larger than you. It humbles you and reminds you to be patient, re-assuring you that you will overcome your struggles all in due time. It serves as a distraction from the seemingly overwhelming responsibilities the societal world forces upon you. It takes you back in time, all while appreciating the present and contemplative of what the future holds. It reminds you that even on a rainy, dreary day there is awe-inspiring beauty to be found in this world. It leaves you comforted by the thought that one day you’ll return to the sanctuary of ‘escapism’ that the rainforest has become.

Above all, perhaps, it reminds you of the most important thing: you. It reminds you of who you are. It reminds you that you must first understand yourself, before you can truly be yourself. Once you’ve accomplished this, much like the rainforest, you can unapologetically be yourself. You can keep that innocence and trust of a child, seeing the best in people regardless of their past. You can appreciate the various characters that play vital roles in your story, no matter how big or small their roles in your life may be. You can recognize your appearance on the surface and find value in both its beauty and its blemishes, the flowers and the mud. Much like the rain, you can embrace the fact that we are all in this life together, despite how checkered our past may or may not be. You can acknowledge the fact that despite the challenges that darken our surroundings, you don’t ever have to worry because you always have that flashlight we call, ‘Hope.’

Now let’s return to that final line:

I hope I never have to leave.

Now allow me to let you in on a little secret…you don’t have to.

Remember the title?

P.S. The Rainforest Is You

Cheers!

 

Which Would You Choose?

You stand on the side of the road, hands on the shoulder-straps of your backpack as you wait for a car to pass. In front of you there is an open field, a silhouette of trees running along the back. A faded shade of blue spans across the dawning sky, while a burning yellow from the rising sun gently touches the underside of the clouds above them. The early morning breeze is cool and soothing.

A car appears on the road and you point to your left, indicating the direction you want to go. The car flashes its lights as it passes by, acknowledging your request for a ride but politely declining with the signal. A few minutes later a bus appears and your spirits lift, because surely they’ll have room to take you. But the bus, too, flashes its lights as it is already packed full.

This goes on for about forty-five minutes or so, as cars continue to pass you by. You’ve hitch-hiked before; it’s relatively easy here. But this is the longest you’ve ever waited and if you don’t catch a ride in the next fifteen minutes, you’re going to miss your next ride to the hike.

Just as you’re about to give up hope, a white sedan comes up slowly along the road. He pulls to the side right in front of you. He removes the items from the passenger seat as you climb in.

“Thanks so much,” you tell him. “I appreciate it.”

You ride along silently, as the man shuffles through his reggae music until he finds his song of choice. You pass through communities, winding up and down hills and crossing bridges until reaching a road along the shoreline. The sun is burning bright now, hovering just over the top of the horizon and casting its light like a lighthouse through the beachfront shops, homes, and trees to your right.

A small, billboard sign greets you to the town Grenville, the second largest town on Grenada. Usually a bustling hub during the day, the town was evidently still waking up in the early morning as shops began opening and preparing for the Saturday market rush.

“How far you going?” the driver asks.

“You can just drop me up there,” pointing to a spot on the side of the road in front of a shop.

After graciously thanking him again, you step out of the vehicle and gently close the door. He drives off as you strap on your backpack and make your way to the meeting point. When you reach the photo studio, you dial the number you were given of the person arranged to meet you.

“Yes, I just parked and will be right there,” she answers.

A short while later Nevlyn appears, introducing herself with an upbeat personality and giddiness about her. You’ve seen her before as a member of Institute Hikers, the hiking group you’ve joined, but this is the first time you’ve spoken to her. Together you walk to the bus terminal where you await a third person before getting on the bus. You check your watch as it lists 7:15 a.m. The hike was scheduled for 7:00 a.m., but you’re not concerned about being late because she is in contact with the head of the group and they won’t start the hike until you get there. They won’t start on time anyway. You know, because ‘island time’ and all.

After the next girl arrives, you all hop on a bus. Nevlyn laughs with the bus driver, clearly indicating that they know each other well. You rest your head on your backpack, trying to catch a quick snooze while on the way to the hike. You snap awake as the bus halts to a stop and climb out when the door opens. You reach into your pocket to collect the coins to pay the fare but as you do so, the bus takes off down the road. You must have had a befuddled look on your face, as Nevlyn laughs as she tells you we didn’t have to pay because she personally knew the driver. Just goes to show no matter where you are: it’s not what you know, but who you know.

The hiking group was gathered on the side of the road, tucked in behind a red van. The lush, green trees stood tall on either side of the road. The air was cool and the ground was wet with dew. It’s been raining heavily and frequently lately, so everyone is gearing up for a muddy hike. Some were tying the laces on their boots, others spraying on bug repellent, while some others took photos together. As you scan the faces of the twenty people or so gathered, you notice there were smiles all around. It was the first hike of 2018, a ‘Hills and Valleys Challenge’ starting from Black Forest in St. George and finishing in Windsor Forest in St. David. After a two-month hiatus from the hikes due to the holidays, everyone seemed genuinely happy to be back together again.

“Scott!” Peter, a man with glasses and a bucket hat sitting on the bumper of the van, calls out as he puts on a pair of long socks and rubber boots. “Where are your Peace Corps friends?”

“Just me today,” you smile back.

Peter, the head of the Institute Hikers group, then gathers everyone in a large circle and we number ourselves off. After Peter gives a brief, welcoming message and explanation of the hiking trail ahead of us, it was time to begin.

The circle quickly mashes into a column as we line up to make our way into the bush. It stops suddenly, as you realize your feet has sunken into mud an inch-thick. A nervous yet excited laughter spreads down the line as the reality that the weeks of rain we’ve been having in Grenada literally ‘sinks in.’ But you wager on with a smile on your face, knowing full-well that sometimes the best hikes are often meant to be muddy.

The morning was spent hiking up and down hills, enveloped by brilliant shades of green. A stream, deep enough to have flowing waters but shallow enough to step in without soaking your socks, runs alongside and often intersects with the trail. Whenever the trail cuts into the stream, you dance delicately across the rocks until fearlessly leaping to the other side. Trees of various sizes fan out all around you: some with thin trunks, others with trunks broader than your shoulders, some trees stand erect, while others are fallen as if pushed over by a bullying breeze. Broad leaves reach skyward in hopes of catching the few rays of sunshine able to breach the heavy cover of the canopy. A muddy trail appears and vanishes sporadically, often covered by the thick layer of fallen leaves and foliage.

When climbing up the hills, you place your steps into the footfalls of the hikers ahead of you. That doesn’t account for a time or two when your foot gives way in the mud as you desperately grab a tree or vine to catch yourself from falling.

Going down the hills calls for strategic planning: calculating the firmest ground and being conscious of the streaks of mud where hikers’ feet gave way before. You delicately step sideways down each decline, as you know that’s the most efficient and steady way down a hill. You’re particularly mindful of ‘stable’ trees, branches, and vines around you, just in case you start sliding and need a safety measure.

A part of the group ventures far ahead, out of sight in the thick foliage of the forest. They call back occasionally, looking to ensure you are still within earshot. You elected to stay back with the slower group, particularly at the end of the line. You recently have taken an interest in photography, and want to stop often to take pictures. You notice some of the ladies in the group struggling getting traction with their tennis shoes in the thick mud. So you often work alongside Drake, one of the lead guys in the group, in helping them along. Their pace is perfect for what you’re looking for. Not only can you stop to take photos, but take your time to appreciate the serenity that is the forest. A soft, cool breeze rustles the leaves of the trees. The trickling sound of the stream provides the melody to coincide with the harmony that is the songs of the birds in the trees. Rays of sunshine poke through the trees to give the surrounding forest a sparkle. Bamboo shoots seem to burst from the ground, congregated at the base but reaching out so broadly almost as in the shape of a fire. You’re reminded why hiking has always been a favorite hobby of yours.

You think back to the time you went backpacking through the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania with your brother. The terrain was very similar, the path going up and down hills and often narrowing to the point where a wrong step would lead you cascading down the side of a hill so steep, it’s as if you’d slide into oblivion. You look around to the spots you could theoretically set up camp for the night, wishing you could do so here like you did back in Allegheny. Life can be so simple when backpacking through the woods.

It’s at this point you return to the old adage you have that says there are two types of people in this world: the “cabin-in-the-woods type,” and the “cottage-on-the-beach type.” You always identified as a cottage-on-the-beach type of person. But now you’re thinking twice. You’ve seen the beauty of the Caribbean beaches, but there is a simplicity to the forest that is unmatched by anything in the world. There’s an appeal to the raw, untouched nature that brings you back to the roots of humankind. There’s a sense of preserved history and a connection with the life of your ancestors that have gone before you. You decide you might just be a cabin-in-the-woods type of person after all.

As you come to this realization, the sound of rushing water echoes through the trees. You hustle through the mud to the edge and grabbing a tree to lean from, find that the stream spills into a waterfall. A natural wonder no matter how big or small, waterfalls never cease to amaze you. Ever since you were little, you always found great joy and amusement from eyeing a drop of water and watch it get thrown from the top and cascade through the air, time seeming to slow down until it’s lost into the turmoil at the bottom.

A short while later, the trail gives way to a road. The road weaves through a humble little community until reaching a preschool that marked the ending point of the hike, as that was the location of everyone’s cars. All the hikers began changing into alternate clothes and shoes while laughing, smiling, and sharing stories from the hike. It was another Saturday morning well-spent.

You check the time: 11:36 a.m.

“Wow, I still have all day,” you say to yourself.

You pull your phone out of your bag and call fellow PCV John Lyness.

After a short conversation, it was agreed upon to meet at BBC Beach to spend the afternoon. You hop in the car of a friend you made along the hike, Lucille, who is originally from England but of Grenadian descent and has lived in St. David for the past twenty years.

She drives you back to town, dropping you near Grand Anse Beach. Meeting up with John, you two walk over the hill to BBC Beach. You lay your towels in the sand underneath a tree in front of the Kalinago Resort. White clouds with a touch of gray underneath flatten out across the sky, while pockets of blue sky attempt to break free from the concealment of the clouds. The sun was hot but the air was cool while you rest underneath the protected shade of the tree.

A short time later you make your way out into the transparent water. A chill numbs your feet and crawls farther up your back with each step you take. You take off your hat and fall backwards into the water, submerging yourself in the cold water; it soothingly cools your body, tired and aching from that morning’s hike. The waves push through you, causing your toes to momentarily lose their grip from the sandy bottom until falling back into place. You spread yourself out, feeling the waves as your arms rise and fall with each passing one.

A blonde woman in a leopard-print bikini had been running back and forth along the shoreline. Eventually, she steps into the water and swims out to you and John.

“You here on holiday?” she asks in a tough, almost-Russian accent.

The three of you strike up conversation. Originally from Croatia, she traveled the world as a model before ending up in Grenada with her husband. After a divorce, her ex-husband returned to Croatia while she opted to stay, running a business of her own for the past seven years. You discuss different features of Grenada, along with the culture of the locals from the shared “outside perspective,” that you all have. You talk about accents, in which she pleads her case that the thick, tough, accent of Croatians often leads to impress an arrogant, pompous personality on foreigners not used to hearing it. It opens your eyes (and ears to that point), that her accent certainly led you to attach that personality to her. But to her point, it’s simply just the way she talks.

A short while later, you guys drift over to some vacationing Canadians from Winnipeg that were scattered about in the water. Doug, with short white hair and stubble of a beard, speaks in a manner that almost reminds you of Oaken, the “Woo hoo, big summer blowout,” guy in the Disney movie Frozen. Their accent and way of conversation remind you how the term “Canadian-nice” must have come about. They have been coming to the Kalinago Resort annually for almost twelve years now to escape the cold in Winnipeg at this time of year. You guys trade stories of the way life is in cold, northern winters.

Eventually you step out of the water, ringing your suit dry as the sun begins its initial descent from the top of the sky in its desire to be reunited with the horizon. You fall back onto your towel in the sand, under the same tree, but this time directly in the sun. You tilt your cap over your eyes, blocking the direct sunlight but leaving a tunnel of vision to the shimmering water in front of you.

A metallic, tropical sound all of sudden resonates somewhere in the distance behind you. Sitting up and lifting your cap, you notice a steel pan group has begun playing at the resort. With a smirk creeping across your face, you lie back down and drop the hat back over your eyes. You let the familiar tropical sounds of the steel pan serenade you as feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

The steel pan group plays song after song, hit after hit. They were playing songs you never heard of, and songs you didn’t know could sound so good on steel pan. Eventually, persuaded by the music, you and John gather your things and make your way to the resort. A few people sat on the stools of the pool-side bar, but no one was seated in the patio area where the steel pan was playing. You order a beer and take a seat in front of the steel pan trio. All of a sudden, it was as if they were playing just for you. They play their separate rhythms, but their parts all intertwined so seamlessly into a thing of beauty. They were smiling, moving, and literally feeling the music as they played in unison not only with each other, but also the drums as well.

Content with the late afternoon well-spent, you and John make a move to La Plywood, the restaurant with fantastic fish tacos at the end of the beach. A group of SGU students, clearly identifiable as Americans, were playing a game of spike ball on the beach. John, walking a little bit ahead of you, laughs with them about something before moving on toward La Plywood.

“Love it!” you call out to them as you pass by.

“Yeah, you want to play?” the one with a backwards mesh hat and green cutoff asks.

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah,” they all wave you in.

“Hey John, hold up!” you call out. “Cool if I play a quick game?”

“Oh yeah!” he laughs, coming back to watch the game.

While the sun begins creeping closer to the horizon, you pass, shuffle, spike, and dive around the small, trampoline net. You angle your hat to try and block the sun, which now has come to the point of blinding you every time you look to your right. But you were having too much fun to care. You hadn’t played spike ball in over a year, since college, so it brings up some fond memories while you play. Your team ends up winning. With some high-fives all around and an exchange of numbers, you agree to meet up with them sometime to play again.

You make your way through the warm sand until you reach La Plywood, climbing the multi-colored balcony steps fit only for a beach-side bar. You place an order of your go-to, fish tacos, while John goes for the fish sandwich that was recommended by the Croatian model from earlier. After getting a taste of both, you wish you got the fish sandwich. You thought the tacos were good? Wow. You realize you’ve developed a taste for fish in your time here.

A young couple from England takes a seat at the table next to you. You guys strike up conversation. They’ve been traveling on a sailboat all through the Caribbean, and frequently come to Grenada on their trips here. The four of you talk while the sun fades behind the horizon until finally disappearing. While the sun has finally gone down, a burnt orange now paints itself across the sky. Night begins to fall as the stars come out to glitter the sky. You and John agree that it’s time you begin working your way back to your respective homes on the northern side of the island.

On the bus ride back to Gouyave, you begin reflecting on the beauty of the beach that afternoon and evening. From the turquoise waters and blue skies, sailboats decorating the horizon, and rhythmic steel pan sound of the tropics, to the people from from various parts of the world, you acknowledge that a beach is an awe-inspiring place to be. There’s a peacefulness and a greater sense of meaning to life when at the beach. It reminds you not to take life too seriously and to enjoy what time you have. Living out the rest of your life on a beach wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

So you think back again to the old adage: cabin-in-the-woods person, or cottage-on-the-beach person?

For me, right now it’s a toss-up. I’ve always identified as a beach-person, but lately the woods is having a greater appeal. I suppose I’m fascinated so much with this question because someday I see myself having to make that decision, on where I would be happiest to live out the rest of my life. But for now, I am grateful to be able to experience both in one day, from sun-up to sun-down.

There’s a beauty and appeal to both. Ultimately, though, I think it’s a win-win.

But I’ll leave it you, as now you’ve experienced a bit of both: if you had to decide where you would live the rest of your life, either a cabin-in-the-woods or a cottage-on-the-beach…which would you choose?

Cheers!

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