The day I became “Peace Corp Member”…
(this one may seem long—but its my favorite one so far!! You can just skip to the end if you like)
If you were to close your eyes and imagine what a Peace Corp volunteer would look like, I guarantee you I have none of those qualities.
Before I came to peace corp, I had blonde hair, loved MAC makeup and never wore anything that could not be further accessorized. I am a girly girl. I enjoy happy hour, high shoes, and dancing the night away. I like going to the movies, working out indoors, and smelling extremely good.
Well, that’s all changed now.
And it happened on Sunday…when I biked Guimaras.
After my bucket bath I quickly chugged down some vitamins and yogurt and headed out with my cluster mates (Sean, Denise, Hanna, Amari and Jaron).
We left from Jarons house. The first 10km was riding the bike to the boat that would take us to another island. It was a long 10km, biking at the gym is NOTHING like biking in real life. Especially not like the Philippines. It felt like biking in a Sauna, the air is thick and hard to breathe all while the sun beats down at your skin.
The road to the boat felt like it was a mix between Mario Cart and Grand Theft Auto, where you get extra points for knocking people over. So many cars whizzed by, you could hear them and you shut your eyes hoping they don’t hit you. It sounds scary, I mean it scares me, but its normal here. All I could think about was we had to do this on the way back as well!!! Just getting to the boat was exhausting; would I be able to make it?? But I kept pedaling….
We finally made it to the boat, and guess what?!!? You have to walk across a balance beam over water to get into the boat. I was carrying a lopsided backpack praying that I wouldn’t fall in so soon in our adventure. Luckily I made it across, no problem. The people who ran the boat also crossed this balance beam, but carrying our bikes! I don’t’ understand how they do it! My friends and I piled into the boat and watched the mountains touch the skyline suddenly realizing we were going to travel to the top of that mountain.
We started on one side of the island and worked our way across to the highest point, a point that that is marked with a cross. For Easter, the island celebrates the life of Christ by re-enacting Jesus’ death; including carrying and attaching a person to a cross. I’m not quite sure how this works, but that’s the jest of it. That would be our goal, to make it to the top of that hill.
The first hill was the hardest hill I have ever biked. My heart was coming out of my chest, my legs burned, and every pedal felt like I was pushing 100 pounds into the ground. Hoping that would be the hardest one, I was wrong. There would be many many many more hills, and ones I just couldn’t do. Several of us had to walk our bikes up these hills (which by the way is still a LOT of work and definitely no break at all). When you are riding, even at a slow speed air is blowing against you. When you have to push your bike, the sun feels like it is attacking you, and you sweat so much it’s hard to keep a good grip on your bike and you worry it might slide back down. Your pushing at such an angle that your calf muscles suddenly start to feel like they might give out because they burn so bad.
The terrain was unlike anything I had experienced. The night before (like most nights here) there was a down pour that sounded as though the heavens were ripping to make room for this massive amount of water. Due to these heavy rains, we had to bike through mud. I’m not sure if you have ever biked through mud, but it’s almost like running on sand, you have to work double as hard to keep the bike going. Most the time when I go biking it is on a nice trail or pathway, we made the pathway. On this trip however, we rode in between cows, goats, trees, and bushes, we passed bamboo huts, roosters, poverty and of course pop music! I think I heard a Lady GaGa song at least once an hour, as the farms blaired the radio as we rode past them.
Finally we hit concrete!!! And that meant an 8km downhill ride!! The downhill was the best part of the ride. I felt scared that I was going too fast, but the way the wind blew my hair was unmatched by anything I have experienced since I’ve been here. Almost like the best part of a roller coaster, but for minutes instead of seconds.
What happens when you go downhill?? That means you have to go back up hill!! Suddenly I realized: Isn’t life just the same, you really enjoy the easy part, but it doesn’t mean as much until you worked hard to get there.
Somehow we all mustered the energy to tackle the next section of island, the hill where the cross laid. This part was way steeper than anything I had seen. The people who live up there have no way to get water, besides to carry it from below. I watched young and old carry gallons of water with ease as they etched up the mountain. My friends and I rode our bikes, and then pushed our bikes, until finally we reached a point that the bikes couldn’t go any farther. It was time to hike.
Hiking was much easier at this point, because after being on a bike all day, your bottom gets really sore!! Saddle sores they call them. Using my legs in the way they were meant to be used felt amazing. This is not to say it was an easy hike, it was straight up hill, and together we pushed ourselves to reach th e top. Eventually we made, and it was completely enchanting. There was even a church up there, and I could only think about the poor people who had to carry the materials to the top of the hill. I can’t imagine having that job.
The view was amazing. We could see all of Iloilo City. Upon staring at the scenery, I felt an immense amount of happiness. It was a hard journey. One I can’t really describe, but none of us gave up. My whole team made it to the top.
Sean and Denise (members of my cluster) climbed their way into a tree. I told them I had never climbed a tree before, and at this point I felt invincible so I did. I touched spiders, sat on an ant hill and I was okay. I was dirty, sweaty, smelly, disgusting (apparently these elements make a delicious appetizer to the bugs) but I was okay. Better than okay. I jumped out from the tree and accidently cut my finger on the tree. As my finger bled and began to throb, I felt strangely proud of myself.
This was not me. This was an extreme. I have never been so out of my element, and yet so at peace. I had no idea I was capable of such an adventure, and to me it was worth the pain, the sweat; it was worth everything because it showed me a new version of myself. One I didn’t know was even there.
It then of course started to pour, just like the mountain metaphor, the scenery at top of the hill was easy and enjoyable, which meant it was time to work hard again. We raced down the mountain and through the rain to the nearest boat that took us back to Iloilo. We then had to dodge cars, jeepneys, trykes and people through the rainy streets eventually finding home base. The rain easily lasted the last 10-15k. It served as an additional challenge, yet completely refreshing. Pulling up the house, I was in awe of what we had accomplished. We left at 7:00 and returned at 4ish in the afternoon, it was 9 hours that really changed everything I thought about myself.
Moral of the story:
Yes, before I came I changed my hair to brown in preparation and realized that my wardrobe was going to be limited to essentials. But that was an outward makeover. Pushing myself the way I did, that was an inward makeover. I never thought I could be that person. The one who liked getting dirty, biking in the rain, or actually enjoy the labor that came with ounces of sweat. But here I am. And I hope when you read this, you don’t limit yourself to what you think you are capable of, because I promise you, you are definitely capable of more.
Thanks for reading,