Climbing to the top of the world

3:40 o’clock AM. “Wake up guys, time to climb up!”. Have I slept at all? No, probably not. But I am gonna rock this last leg of my trip. I am getting up.

I had the chance to postpone a possible highlight till the end of the trip: climbing the 3976m high volcano Acatenango. It’s nog only about this volcano, it’s more about its neighbour: Fuego, the active one. So on the previous morning, I find myself in a bus full of fit people, everyone is excited. When we drive towards the start of Acatenango, we can see Fuego erupt big time. Even the guide is overwhelmed and tells me that this is highly unusual. We might not even be able to make our way up, since massive eruptions like these are dangerous. Even though I am confident again after Nepal, I don’t want to end up in the middle of another natural disaster! But let’s just see how it goes. Cause everything changes always.

The first two hours are said to be the worst. I think I already agree after 5 minutes. It’s damn steep and everyone keeps on sliding away in the volcanic sand. The rented backpack they gave me is broken so it doesn’t fit properly and the winter coat that came with it is too small. Above of my own weight, the sleeping bag and matrass are dangling on my back too. Am I doing this? Yes I am. We reach the first stop and have to sign a paper to declare that it’s our own responsibility if Fuego’s eruptions get worse and we will be harmed. I ask the guide how big the chances are. He is easy about it and says that if the wind changes, we just have to come down as soon as we can. Okay, let’s do this.

It takes 5 hours on a tough trek in a beautiful surrounding. The sun is out, the rest of the group seems nice and I am eating my snickers bars again.

11696433_874000529359441_26392962_n 11720507_873998329359661_2005136365_n

What else could I wish for? Well, a horse maybe, to ride on. My god this is tough. It’s cold and steep. Two girls in the group have given their backpacks to the guides because they couldn’t carry it anymore. To me, that feels like failing and I just try to keep on breathing. It works. Everything is temporary, even this exhaustion.

Around 6PM we finally reach Base Camp. We set up our tents, make a fire and cook are cup noodles. The full moon comes up above the clouds on the left side of our view and the stars shine bright above us while Fuego keeps on coughing up bright red lava from the inside of our planet on the right side of our panorama. It’s smoke is black and looks like giant mushrooms.

11706009_873998212693006_1389361432_o

The total view is incredible and I can’t pick where my gaze is going. We burn marshmallows, take sips from the bottle of Guatemalan rum, sing songs and keep on “wow-ing” about Fuego’s eruptions. It is so insane and so unreal to be here and to see all of this. Life is just perfect and I keep on pinching myself. This is why I travel. This is living life to its fullest and I love every bit of it.

11667030_873999899359504_1036665854_n IMG_7512

Later on we try to catch some sleep in our tents, I share one with six guys. I really can’t sleep, I am extremely cold and still trying to take in all the beauty that I have seen tonight. It’s just all so amazing!

The next morning, only half of the group gets up at 3:40AM to go up to the summit to see sunrise. The guide told us last night that girls usually don’t go up. Well, screw that. I can do this. There is one other girl that is brave enough and I am grateful that I am not the only one! I am in the back of the group constantly, to be honest, I am the last one, but I have agreed with myself that I’ve won this competition already anyway. It’s dark, the trail is even steeper than yesterday and I keep on falling down, trying to crawl my way up. I have to take a break every two meters since it is so exhausting at this height. I keep on telling myself that with every step I take, I leave something behind that I don’t want to take home with me. But I find it hard. It’s not that I want to quit, it’s just that I want this hard struggle between my feet and the volcanic sand to be over.

And then, almost at the end, the first few rays of sun make their way through the clouds and I can see the top.

IMG_7566

For some reason, the sun seems to be my saviour, and I make my way to the top while I hear the guide shouting at me from above: “Anna, you are almost there!”. And I am. I take the last steps with pride, a shitload of pride. I can’t believe I have made it. The guys high-five me and I feel like the queen of the world. I am super proud of myself and extremely happy and excited. The smile on my face is big and bright and I can’t stop laughing and yelling.

11716035_873999846026176_912049207_n

The view is stunning. The clouds and the sun make a perfect painting together with the several volcanos we can see from here, including the still erupting Fuego.

IMG_7580

11716052_873998369359657_296096425_n

It is perfect, just perfect. More than perfect. I let the sun warm my frozen body and I just sit here for a while, still with that huge smile across my face. I am so proud. So thankful.

I have made it. Not only to the top of this volcano but also across 6 amazing, challenging, unique, interesting and tiring months. It’s been truly inspiring and I have loved every minute of it, good and bad. Ups and downs together make the best mountains. And I apparently just love to climb.

Thank you Acatenango. Thank you world. And mostly, thank you people. It’s been an amazing journey.

11657503_873998712692956_1589547259_n (1)

HUMANS OF BELIZE

Meet my new inspirators: Kevin (middle) and Stephen (right). World-improvers pur sang. We met on Kevin’s 25th birthday over a week ago. I fell right with my nose in the butter, as we would say in Dutch (; In the middle of the Belizean jungle I met my kind of people: conscious people with the wish, need and determination to make the world a better place. Kevin works as a counsellor with HIV-patients for the National HIV Programme, Ministry of Health, Belize. He works in a clinic in Belize City and goes out into the rural areas to do HIV outreach work: giving information, free HIV-testing and helping patients to cope with their life-long-struggle of HIV or AIDS. His friend Stephen should have ‘NGO’ as his middle name. He has worked for several in the past and is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights as we speak, but together with Kevin also just founded the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change. With this organisation they are improving the chances and opportunities for the youngsters in Belize. Everyone knows Belize has amazing beaches and reefs, but on the other side of the beauty, there’s loads of challenges here: discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, crime-related-pressure, early sexual advancement, physical and emotional abuse and racism. Stephen and Keving help out wherever possible and give the young Belizeans a voice. I am telling you, these guys are making the world a better place and I wish you could all meet them in person. And guys, just so you know, the world already ís a better place with you in it. Mesi & Damou!

Mister Pete

I met this beautiful old man yesterday. He is 95. Can you believe what it’s like to be 95? I can’t. And let me tell you, this guy is so full of life that even a 18-year-old should be jealous:

Yesterday I hitchhiked all the way from Bacalar, Mexico, to a tiny little town called Chunox across the Belizean border. It took me 5 hours and 4 rides to get there. Everyone was so generous and I heard so many beautiful stories again (its great how they all speak English here!!). As I walked through the tiny village after my last hitch, trying to find the only bus stop in town, I was greeted by Belizean kids “Hola Gringa!” from their garden and barked at by random street dogs. Then I reached the bus stop. There was a little family-gathering and it took me at least an hour to find out who belonged to whom. I played with the 5-year-old Lucy and chatted away with her 14-year-old brother Samir. “What does your country look like?”, he asked me. “Well, eh, it’s very different. We have no banana-, coconut-, avocado- or mango-trees like you do”, I told him. He looked at me with amazement: “So what do you eat then???”. Great conversation (:

As soon as the family left, this old skinny man who owned the shop next to the bus stop came and sat next to me. “There is no bus on Sunday, but you might be able to get a ride soon”, he said. I started to ask him my favourite questions and he told me his life story. It was filled with love-stories and great adventures. “Life is about love, you know, it’s the most important thing. As long as you are loved, you are alive. I am loved by my creator, I thank Him every day for the life that I get to live. I am a very happy person.” He talked for hours and kept on smiling the whole time. He looked stunning, with his gorgeous smiley face. So so beautiful from the heart. I told him that he looked like a very happy man to me. He said: “I was blessed with giving. People can take everything away, but they will never be able to take away my blessing of giving. Do you want some coconuts from my garden? You can take anything you like, really!”. He told me about his plans: “I want to build 4 little cabanas in my yard. I will start this weekend and yes, I will do that myself. And then maybe, when I finish them, I will buy some more land with a few ruins over there”, and pointed across the jungle. “Tell your friends about me cause in two years from now, everything will be finished for you and your friends to come back!”. I wondered how old he was, since this seemed like a life-long-plan. He wanted me to guess. I started at 64 and kept on going up, while he laughed out loud and kept on yelling “Up!!! Up!!!”. He appeared to be 95. My god, 95! I had never met anyone that old in my life ever before. I told him that he seemed so full of life that I could just not believe that this was the truth. “Well, I am going to be 120 years old you know!”, he said. He told me he was trying to build the property because he wanted to leave something for his granddaughter. She was 17, about to turn 18 on the 17th of August. I looked at him and smiled: “that’s my birthday too…”. We both had a glance in our eyes.

There was no bus on Sunday. He was right. And apparently there were no cars either going in my off-the-beaten-track-direction today. I think I had to thank Him and my new friend Senor Pedro, or as he wanted me to call him, Sir Pete for that, as this afternoon with him was one of my all-time-favourites. After three beautiful hours of listening and waiting, I got picked up by a 35-year old Guatemalan girl named Noëmi, who gave me food and shelter. She even let me sleep in her swinging bed and I was therefore safe from the scorpions that were crawling over the jungle floor. So nice. So generous, again.

This morning I went back to the bus stop and hung out with Mister Pete again. I was an hour early, since I had no clue I had arrived in a different time zone. He kept on smiling about my ignorance. He said I would be picked up for my last hitch by two primary-school teachers in a white car. He said they would arrive at 7.20. He was exactly right. They wanted to give me a ride and I said my last goodbye to my favourite 95-year old.

God bless mister Pete.

A safe harbour

“Hola Anna!”, says a little Belizean children’s voice while I pass by on my tiny bike. It’s unbelievable how this village welcomes me as if I am one them. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, which language you speak or what religion you practice, you are safe here. Even if you don’t believe in electronics and have 17 children because birth control doesn’t suit you, like the Mennonites just around the corner. They have travelled through Europe (The Netherlands!), Northern America and Central America before they were able to find a safe spot to live their lives in the way their God wants them to live it. They were never welcome, until they reached Belize.

I have only been here for a week but everyone seems to know that I am the white girl called Anna who stays with Nathalie at Backpackers Paradise. And, more importantly, they seem happy that I am here, the only gringo in town. How generous and warm could you possibly be welcomed? Just ask the Belizeans. And I love being one of them.

My bike takes me to the little pier but to be honest, it doesn’t matter where I leave my bike behind cause no one steals anything from anyone here. Again, I am safe. I sit down with my feet dangling in the water and stare across the green ocean in front of me. There is no one in it. It’s all mine. And I love being alone. Until a little dark-skinned 6-year old taps on my shoulder. “No quieres bano?” he asks me. He takes off all his clothes and jumps into the water. Very naked. Well, if you are taking a bath, you might as well be naked, right? He asks me to come in. We play with the water and the smelly mud that’s on the bottom of the ocean. He thinks the mud-beard looks good on me. After a while I notice that he is holding on to me and is very decisive not to let go.

And there I am. In that still, gorgeous, green ocean, with a 6-year old clenched around my waist. It’s all ours. He digs his beautiful little face into my neck before he stops moving and then is quiet for minutes. I can’t do anything else but melt. He relies on me. For only this moment, I seem to be his harbour, his safety. I give him all the love I have because maybe he doesn’t receive enough wherever he may live with his 6 older brothers. After 5 gorgeous minutes of loving care and silence, I ask him if I can be his friend. He looks at me and nods before his head goes back into safety and silence. I love being together. The world has just stopped moving.

It’s all you can eat

“I hope you like mango’s”, she says, “it’s all you can eat here”. I stare out over her yard. The Belizean soil is filled with mango’s that have just fallen from the numerous trees. Those trees could probably feed everyone in this country. Too many mango’s to eat. I see coconut-, banana- and avocado-trees surrounding and trying to conquer the space. But here there’s definitely enough space for all of them. There’s enough space for every human being here. Maurice, the lazy but dominant dog strokes his snout against my arm. I look into his puppy eyes that have grown up to adult eyes but their trick still works. I pet his head and tickle under his muzzle. His friend Bush runs past the cabana with an iguana in his beak. He tosses it around and is the dominant one too, if only for the morning, while playing around with his haul. The sun strokes my hair while the sea breeze blows it to the other side of my shoulders. I take a sip of my coffee while the smell of it’s fresh roastedness tickles its way into my nostrils. The warm tasty liquid fills my mouth and it feels like I can distinguish every little bean that was used to make this cup. This tastes great. Everything seems to taste great when its planted with love, harvested with care and prepared by a relaxed pair of hands. And consumed in the here and now by a happy person. May God bless my life. It’s almost too blissful to be true.

HUMANS OF MEXICO

“My name is Juan Carlos, I am 12 years old. I go to school from 8AM till 2PM and then start working as a shoe polisher. I want to become an artist and need money to be able to go to college when I am older. It is my dream to become a painter. I don’t want to be in the picture alone, but you can take one together with my friend.I just polished his shoes. He is an amazing guitar-player and dreams of traveling to Europe to play in the Concert Halls there.”

HUMANS OF HONDURAS

“We are on our way to Houston, Texas. We will have to spend 16 days on busses to get there, but that’s fine because we have a lot of fun together, especially if we talk about or with la chica’s on the bus! Do you have a boyfriend? You are too tall for us! We will try to get jobs in the United States to have a better future. It’s our first time so we are really excited!”

HUMANS OF INDIA

“My name is Ashwani. I am disabled: only physically. I am spastic which makes it hard to talk and people think I am stupid. I am not. I sell apples on the street, everyday, and with that money I can take care of myself and my family. My parents are too old to work. I want to make them happy. My brother is also abnormal, but way worse than I am. It’s in his brain too and he always feels sick. So I am taking care of them all. I’d be pleased if you could buy my apples. And even if you don’t, I will greet you happily every time you pass me by.”

HUMANS OF INDIA

“The only difference between your Catholic and our Muslim belief is that Allah is our messenger instead of a God. We are teachers too, in English and Computer Science. We have an arranged marriage like almost everyone else in India. It is often very difficult, but we think love marriages and love relationships are difficult too, right? Can we take a selfie? We can not post pictures of ourselves on Facebook because we are not allowed to expose ourselves. You can post it but please don’t tag us. We will keep our picture as a sweet memory of our talk.”