I was torn between taking a risk, and not doing so at all. Taking the risk could end up bringing me a vista into the future of my life, or it could be a perilous last straw that would break the camel's back. Not taking the risk however, would bring me no benefit at all. I could have just stayed home that February vacation, do nothing, and just live in my illusion world, denying that there was something wrong, denying that there was part of me missing, denying even though I knew that in my state of mind I'd be pondering upon the burdens middle school had so easily thrust upon me. It almost seemed that middle school seemed to inexorably stack upon me. Educationally I was fine, however the social hierarchy system was a weapon of great human ingenuity that just easily targets a person's heart and tears it up. After it ruins you emotionally it then spreads to mentally, which in turn ruins your will and ambition to do things outside of just sit around and do next to nothing, which in turn does no good for you physically. In turn I know for fact that this weapon has caused people to commit suicide. So in a way this weapon kills people suicide is the result of people who cannot fight this weapon, so in a way suicide is part of an unintentional homicide, and I needed to avoid this homicide. So I packed my bags and headed out setting my direction about three-thousand miles southwest along with a handful of other Auburn Middle School students, parents, and then some other people to Quito Ecuador for a whole new experience, and in search of friendship.
The planning took a little less than a year. It was certainly a long wait. During that time I had to ask myself, "How can I earn the respect of the handful of people going on this trip without changing who I am and include my other friend if I can do so?" It all became anticipation, could this trip be one of unmatched enjoyment in my life, one so influential that I could take so much out of it or even just one really good lesson, Or would it be a waste of my time, and just another heartbreaker?
I awoke before the dawn on February 14th of 2008. My mom and I had to be up early to load the luggage into the car. After a thorough inspection to make sure we had everything. We would then depart from our house and head to the middle school, where we would assemble with our team, and soon after depart from via bus, and head to Logan Airport in Boston.
After about a forty-five minute drive we arrived at Logan. We went through all the security, and the baggage checks, and all those other boring events that I will spare you the arid details of. Of course after going through all that we came to a realization that three teammates who's sub-team was also my team the Harpy Eagles. Naturally we promised to wait for our teammates, I mean there was still about an hour and a half before are flight was expected to arrive. By the time that there was five minutes left we had to say forget it and walked to our gate. Of course not only was the expected there, but our three "missing" teammates. All I could think was, "this is how much my classmates care about us, they care so much they completely forgot about us, that is definitely not a good sign."
We went through all the traveling, Boston to Miami, Miami to Quito, and from the airport to the hotel via tour bus. The hotel (Café Cultara) was prepared for us with refreshments, and sandwiches despite the fact that it was past ten o'clock. We then proceeded to our rooms where we would rest our bodies and minds that were weary from the traveling.
The early bird gets the worm or in this case the scrambled eggs cooked to perfection with a fresh divinely ripened tomato, a warm delicious croissant, and to top it off, a juice of your choice of three masterpieces. Of course little did any of us know that we would get sick and tired of scrambled eggs, and tomatoes. The reason for being up early was hardly to eat breakfast though. We had a whole entire city to explore. First stop the Quito zoo where we saw many different native animals, and animals that come from where we live. Some of the highlights were the squirrel monkeys, Galapagos tortoises, exotic tropical birds, a jaguar, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my). We would return to our tour bus for lunch. For lunch we had Kentucky Fried Chicken, and all I could think was, "we traveled three thousand miles from Auburn MA, USA, to Quito Ecuador, and we are having KFC for lunch that makes a ton of sense." From there we headed to the equator; you know that line that marks zero degrees latitude. It was at the equator where I realized I had lost focus on my goal. I hadn't yet struck up a halfway decently sensible conversation with anyone during the trip. It was actually very disappointing to me that all my classmates were socializing with each other, excluding myself. I figured, "it will probably be easier to talk to them when we are actually in the rainforest anyway."
The next morning we were up early again, and had the same breakfast as the day before. It didn't matter it was only two days in arrow. We boarded the bus to head to the airport. We took a twenty-minute flight from Quito to Cocoa. We would then take some vehicle that you could either sit inside of like one would normally do, or sit on top of it. However if you sit on top and get in a car accident there is nothing to save you from falling off. I unlike everyone else took the safer option and sat inside the vehicle. Of course this option was safer in more ways than one. It was safer for physical reasons but I knew it would isolate me from my peers as well. This whole adventure was about taking the risk and trying to get to know my peers, and trying to get my peers to know me. Obviously that wasn't working out so well right now because I couldn't seem to "find the nerve to talk to them."
We would stop at a spot on the Napo River where we would board boats that would transport us to our next destination. Two and a half hours on a boat with no one to talk to is, as you would predict it boring. Not to say I didn't have opportunities. I mean I had classmates to my left, right, front and back, and what do you think I did? I didn't talk to any of them. Of course none of them said anything to me like "oh jeez Matt feel free to join our conversation you seem lonely." I only listened in to their conversations because I had nothing better to do. Of course I heard some gossip, and some of those do you remember when this happened in second grade and all of that stuff. I know eavesdropping isn't exactly looked up to in society but I knew I was going to forget it long before the crack of dawn the next morning anyway. Who knows maybe I'd hear something about me, then again people would be pretty stupid to talk about someone in a private conversation when the person they are "secretively" talking about is right there. So two and a half hours worth of opportunity gone, bye-bye, see you later, never coming back.
Upon docking we hiked for about ten minutes on a not so stable boardwalk to get to canoes. The canoes would bring us to La Selva Jungle Lodge. We were too awestruck to talk while on the canoes. We were in these lush green jungles bountiful with exotic life just waiting for us to see. Just on the canoe ride we saw parrots, toucans, a mot-mot, and several other birds. Upon arrival to the lodge lunch was waiting along with a very fruity delicious juice. Each separate team would meet with their guides for their first jungle adventure. My team (the Harpy Eagles) went for a canoe trip around the lake we just had taken to get there. We did see a lot of the same creatures, but to tell you the truth they are so uncommon to us we could stare at them all day just because they were so amazing. We would return to the lodge for dinner where I socialized with nobody. Missing opportunities became a cliché for me during this trip. After dinner the Harpy Eagle team went for a night hike where we saw more animals, various species of frogs, spiders, and bats. We would then return to the lodge for a couple hours of socialization, which was something that I never seemed to take opportunity of, and then off to our cabanas for a much needed rest.
Two more days go by, the same old same old. Even if I did make conversation it was miniscule, and the meaning behind the conversation was zero. Needless to say I was miffed at the progress made, or the lack there of, whatever you would like to call it. The constant failures drove me near to insanity, but I didn't let people see it. If I needed to break down I did it away from where I could be seen. There was a constant pandemonium-like feeling was inexorably, and vigorously tearing at my heart. Once my emotions subsided I would return to where ever I had been before, and acted as if nothing happened. Then the cycle would commence again.
The next morning I wasn't feeling so good in anyway. I was drained, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I figured maybe breakfast would help me feel better. Of course I didn't know what was waiting for me for breakfast. It didn't even take a second for me to pick up the smell of scrambled eggs, a slice of tomato, and a warm freshly made croissant. Needless to say I was not feeling any better. Due to my feeling of wear and tear I stayed in my cabana for the morning hike that my team took, after resting up I felt a little better, ready enough to face the day anyway. My group would return an hour later and we would get ready to head out for a one-night camp out. Now our group was the only group going that night other groups had gone the nights before so naturally I wasn't going to blow any opportunities that night because there would be none to be had. Of course after tonight we would only spend one more full day in the jungle time was running short. Of course maybe I could use this night to just be away from. Maybe the break would do me just as good as not having to eat scrambled eggs, tomatoes and croissants or even hearing about them for the rest of the trip. At the campsite before I headed off to my tent for bed a large snail caught my eye. I don't know why but I couldn't get it out of my mind. I probably dreamed about it that night. I would wake the next morning to find that the snail had moved about three inches from where I last saw it about eight hours ago. I made a connection between myself, and the snail. That snail was making just as much progress in its movement as I was with my classmates. So what does that snail strive for, it wouldn't take much to knock that snail back just like it wouldn't take much for me to be knocked down and shut out by my peers. I guess the snail, and I both figured that we still have our lives, so why not live it and just keep going forward, because we were both at least going forward.
We made our way back to the lodge for breakfast, and the good news was not a sign of tomatoes, croissants, or scrambled eggs. After breakfast we went back to the Napo River going up stream a little ways to get to a school located in the forest. From the outside the school looked like an old run down place, like ones you see in the movies, but inside the building was magic.
We would walk into the building not knowing what to expect. How will the kids react when they see us? What do we do when we walk in? That question was answered right away, when we sat on a long bench on the opposite side of the school as the kids. To tell you the truth nothing brings more joy to a contrite heart than a hundred kids, each with a heart more valuable, and pure than platinum. Little did any of us know that tradition had it, that a couple of the native boys, and a couple of the native girls chose girls and boys respectively from our school to be there partner to dance with them for a song. At first we thought they were just coming to shake our hands or give us a high five or something, but when we felt that tug, we knew that first of all you need to lose the second left foot if you had one (like I did and still do), find a right foot, and put on your dancing shoes. Now naturally because of my good looks (or the lack of boys in the crowd I still haven't decided which is the reason) some unlucky girl picked me. She was unlucky due to the fact that I couldn't dance to save my life. Well when that was over we all showed them a traditional dance from back home. No dance has American pride written on it like… the Hokey Pokey of course (how could you not see that coming). After that it was time for some of us to play some of them in a soccer (or football) match. The home team would end up running away with the win, but it was fun. Then it was time to bid them farewell, which came all too soon. We would take the boats back to the lodge, but the party had only just begun.
Although we were deeply saddened to leave the kids we were going to have the lodge games. We would compete in a blowgun competition, a canoe race, and in skits. It was all fun but I still hadn't really accomplished my goal.
We went inside the lodge for even more traditional events, except these ones weren't as favorable. Corazon del Tigré part one consisted of eating beetle larvae, and drinking Chicha the beetle larvae wasn't that bad to tell you the truth, I would do it again given the opportunity. The chicha on the other hand was a different story I would never drink that again. We spent the rest of the night with the lodge staff just having fun telling stories, and playing card games. We knew tomorrow morning would be coming soon, and it would be a tough one to get through.
Early that morning it was time to get up, and have breakfast. The time here had gone by too quickly. Having blown every opportunity to even get to know one person I was slightly disappointed. I was grateful for the things I saw, and did outside of that, but we only had one day left before going home opportunity was on its last run. We headed back to the Napo, where we would board our boats, and head to Cocoa, go back to the airport, take a twenty minute flight to Quito, and from there we would see what more the city had to offer. We toured through cathedrals, churches, and other places. We bartered at an Otovalo market. We checked out some shops, got gifts for loved ones back home, and headed back to the hotel. Soon it would be time for Corazon del Tigré part two; we would have to talk about what we will take back from this trip.
I had two ways I could go through this the safe way or the more dangerous way. I had been taking the easy way out for far too long, but I didn't want to take a huge risk either, but there was nothing else I could do, you really cannot get anywhere in life if you don't take a risk. When we got back to school though what will my speech have changed? The stakes were high my ambition was low and before long the hours I had time to prepare had passed like seconds. It came to quick; I was standing up in front of everyone time slowed down yet. I hesitated for what seemed like forever, but in reality I know it was only fractions of a second. I knew that throughout this whole trip no one had looked down on me. In fact the feeling was kind of good. If I had a chance it was right here, right now, and I had to tell them in someway I don't want to be looked down upon, however I also had to tell them that if it involves changing who I am then I'd rather stay where I was in their social totem pole.
I began "The reason I came here (all of a sudden I noticed that didn't sound right so I corrected myself) or I should say one of the reasons I came down here was to make strong bonds with the natives, and to make stronger bonds with the people I call my classmates. When I'm here I want to be looked at (I had messed up again I didn't want to be looked at like I was at school that would just be a nightmare I had to pause to gather my thoughts). When we are back at school (now tears were starting to come I wanted to stay hear, I didn't want to go back) I want to be looked at like I am now." I then sat down. I remember praying, "please don't let this be in vain. I just laid all the cards on the table, and opened myself up for them. I had confidence enough to do that. All I was looking for now was respect, they didn't have to like me; just let them respect who I am."
What is in vein anyway? I'll let you be the judge. Just let me put you where I was. You have had little to no positive impact on the people you are spending time with for almost six hours of your day every week day for 180 days a year. All you get is disheartened, and torn to pieces. What would be vein after I just basically poured out my heart and soul in what I said? I'll let you be the judge.
To this point I cannot say whether the speech was vain or not. My life is far from over, and there were many other outside lessons to be taken from this. If nothing else it made me aware that I could take some kind of risk, and I just needed some confidence to do so. That confidence to actually take a risk has been growing in me very slowly since then. Like the snail however moving forward is still progress. It has grown to a point in which I have started to become someone that I have never known. This in the long run may help me earn the respect that I seek. For me this Amazon adventure is far from over; for me it has only just begun. I am still looking for the respect. I am still doing what I started to do in the Amazon gathering up confidence. The forth coming of a loving community that I have strived and yearned for is visible, as long as I can be confident and open up. Sometimes doing so is a risk and only brings rejection, sometimes it works but only for a time limit so miniscule that it doesn't even matter, but with the right people it can bring you a joy unmatched throughout life. That is why it is worth taking the risk. That is what I strive for.