I was introduced to [who is now] one of my best friends in the Denver International Airport. We had mutual friends and were both headed to Nicaragua. In the years to come, we would bond over our opportunity to kill, clean, and cook a chicken, but for the week ahead of us, we were going to be a part of a bicycle repair clinic in Nagarote, Nicaragua.
Considering the main method of transportation for city we visited is bicycles, it was essential that in order to make any practical impact on the community, we bring spare bike parts. Wherever possible, we trimmed our personal belongings checklist and filled checked bags with hundreds, if not over a thousand dollars, of various gears, brakes, seats, clamps, and wheels.
It was a summer volunteer trip in 2013. We set up shop for over a week in a local church. Individuals from the neighborhood quickly heard there was an opportunity to fix their bicycles, which was usually their primary tool for getting to and from work and other commitments. A tangible relief and joy was felt by all when a project was completed and someone was able to ride away on a bike that had inhibited them only days earlier.
Families who would come together typically left their kids outside to play, so we had organized a day care for games and other arts activities. These day care activities allowed people like me (with elementary Spanish speaking abilities) to interact with a younger and less intimidating crowd and actually practice conversation… because, let’s be honest, how many adults like to be asked their favorite color or animal or how many siblings they have?
Working with non-profit groups like this has given me marvelous opportunities and also made me value independent travel significantly. There is always the blessing and the curse, is there not? Occasionally there is a thrill in flying by the seat of your pants as you jump from city to city in a new country. Other times it is a relief to have a trip planned for you with each and every detail noted on an itinerary. And other times, you have to fight for a moment to escape from the plan and explore on your own… One day a friend and I went for a sunrise walk before the day’s activities. As the city awoke, the sound of bristles swept the sidewalk and water hoses washed the streets. We strolled through alleys and watched metallic garage doors being flung up to reveal tiny bakeries and knickknack shops. Soon our path led us to a set of rainbow stairs… and at their crest a child asked us if we wanted to climb a tour to capture a unique cityscape. We gratefully obliged.
My humility is always checked when I journey as part of a group, and I am thankful for the patience of those who observe how particular I can become when it comes to traveling abroad. It takes a lot of work to organize a trip for an entire group of people. And that “stranger” I met at the airport just minutes before our departure? Perhaps our continuing friendship of four-and-a-half years is attributed, in part, to her lack of judgment when I felt the need to de-tick a puppy who liked to hang out by the church. I heard a year later that a family had adopted the dog… and me and Jamie Lynn, a girl I met at the airport, seemed to have adopted one another as sisters.
We couldn’t imagine then how many more adventures we would take together. One year later, we would travel again to another country in Central America, but this time she would choose not to return home…
Read more about Thirty by Thirty here…