Photo by Emily Long
My passion for traveling has allowed me to experience different parts of the world and see some amazing landscapes, try exotic foods and get lost in new environments. Yet, at times, I have found that my travels feel a bit selfish and just contribute to my own need for adventure and escapism. I only get a taste of the culture from an outsider’s view and never fully understand the lives of the native people or make a genuine connection.
Deciding to take a chance on a new kind of travel experience, my boyfriend and I signed up for a volunteer trip with Waves of Hope (WOH) in Nicaragua, a country we have always wanted to visit. Without knowing what to really expect, we went on the trip with open minds and a hope to at least bond in a new way. Upon arrival at El Coco Loco in Manzano Uno we were greeted by an enthusiastic group of North Americans committed to improving the lives of the surrounding community and to providing a memorable experience for all volunteers.
A typical day with WOH started with a morning surf at sunrise, connecting with the other volunteers and enjoying the beauty of the Nicaraguan coastline. For me, surfing requires patience, courage and presence to fully experience the moment and connect with the ocean. Thus, the perfect start to the day! A much needed, breakfast was comprised of homemade peanut butter, bread and granola as well as seasonal fruit and a full hot breakfast. Incorporated into daily meals were superfoods from the region, raw ingredients and antioxidant rich fresh juices. The food was creative, delicious and served in appropriate portions that left us satiated without the typical American food coma.
Next we headed out for the service part of the day with three local Nica WOH employees; Katya, Lester and Ezekiel. These three were the perfect hosts, guides and leaders who were always quick to help us with our broken Spanish or answer a ridiculous question or keep us on track at the worksite. After spending a week sweating, playing, laughing and talking with our new friends I learned a lot about their lives, their perceptions of gringos and our shared aspirations for the future. At last I had found the connection with locals I’ve been seeking while traveling!
The main reason we were in Nicaragua was to help build a new elementary school. Upon seeing the state of the current school I felt sincere gratitude to have the opportunity to help give the children a new structure that will provide shelter and cultivate a much better environment for learning. As the kids were taking lessons under a thatch roof held up by a few poles and corrugated steel we were 15 meters away digging trenches for the foundation of the new school. The new school is being built with concrete to protect from the wind and rain and keep the kids, desks and school supplies safe. Let’s be honest, digging trenches, carrying bricks and moving rocks is not exactly my strong suit, but it was by far my favorite part of the volunteer experience. Working with the local contractors, seeing our progress and giving back felt extremely gratifying. And of course interacting with the kids and finding ways to communicate without sharing the same language was a humbling experience.
We wrapped up each day with a restorative yoga session in a beautiful open-air, raised studio. The hour allowed our bodies to relax while listening to the ocean, birds, breeze and insects. The yoga provided a time to reflect on each day and reconnect with our intentions for the trip. I cherished the evenings after yoga when we all shared stories of the day and dreamed up ways to further help the community that had given us so much during our stay. As I left the eco-resort I felt that I was leaving a smaller footprint than I usually do on my travels, and had a greater understanding of the Nicaraguan culture and people.
Looking back on the trip now I can say that the experience greatly exceeded my expectations in many ways. Having had a few days to reflect and process it all, I realized that working with Waves of Hope resonated so well with me because the founders, staff and overall vision align so well with my personal beliefs. As a health coach, I incorporate physical activity, good nutrition, community involvement, spiritual practice and overall connection into my everyday life and was so excited to meet like-minded people on a trip so far from home. It all seems like a fleeting memory, but I am keeping the Nica and WOH people in my heart until the next trip.