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  • Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

    Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

    Sunday 27th July  

    Sundays are days off at the retreat! I was very grateful to have a sleep in for a change. Since the end of the Academic year, I’ve been on the go, and a slower pace, even just for a day was nice.

    What would I do with myself for a whole day in a place where I can’t speak the language? sleep? naaa! The sun is shining and the air is clean! I should fill my lungs up with as much of it as possible while I have the chance. But before I decide, first order of business is; breakfast!! I dressed hastily, made sure I had everything I needed in my hand bag and my camera, so that I wouldn’t have to come back to the room if I decided to head straight out.

    By now, I knew what the nutritionist had planned for my breakfast off by heart;  a glass of fresh juice, a slice of toast, cottage cheese, a slice of Emmantal cheese, 2 small 50 gm triangles of processed cheese, 2 boiled eggs, yogurt and a bowl of oats. Meh! is right! It is quite bland to the palette and doesn’t sound or look anywhere near as appetizing as the croissants, slices of tea cake, fresh pineapple, scrambled or boiled eggs, BUT I am here for the purpose to drop my weight and to clean my insides of a decade worth of poisonous crap that I had consumed, so I will suck it up! It’s amazing how a little dash of pepper and salt can change how food tastes!

    Just before I was done Rana walked into the restaurant with her father. I went up to greet them both, she was very surprised to receive the little box of chocolates that I had left, “shoo hay, wahdi be wahdi’ , she said in her strong  Lebanese accent, s “what’s this? one for one.” I told her it was a simple thank you gesture for giving me something I loved so much. “I want to see you in Beirut next time. I’ll send you my contacts so you can call me next time you come.” I promised the next time, I was there I would most certainly contact her. I wished her and her father both safe travels in case I didn’t see them before they both left.

    After breakfast I went in search of the small travel agency (again), that organizes short trips to neighboring cities both in Slovakia and countries close to its borders. I followed my mother’s description to the letter and I couldn’t find it. I was slightly perplexed about it but I decided to continue on with my stroll and worry about it later. As I walked the island and saw the other hotels that shared the area, It was without a shadow of a doubt that I had booked into the jackpot! The other hotels were of modern architecture and from what I could see they didn’t give off as bright and relaxing ambiance com as Thermia Palace. I’m sure the service is good, there too, but I like the places I stay in to look cheerful both inside and out. I snapped a few pictures along my walk and kept a look out for where I might be able to rent a bike for the hour or for the day.
    The thought of riding a bike was exciting as well as Terrifying! Since moving to Egypt in the early 1990’s I haven’t ridden one. I was genuinely worried that I had forgotten how to and that I would fall and that would be the end of my holiday and I’d spend the rest of it all bandaged up like a mummy! When I last rode a bike the world wasn’t as safety conscious either, I didn’t want to violate any rules or collide into another biker, pedestrian or car. So, I also took a mental note of where the bike lanes were, so if I ever did find a bike to rent, I had some idea of where I could ride.

    I had no such luck, so I went back to the hotel after a lengthy walk and decided to check in with my family. As I was about to go up to my room, I bumped into Rana again. I stood chatting with her and her father, and was then introduced to 3 more Lebanese gents who live and own a travel agency here. Rana introduced me to Farag and said, ‘This is Nadia, she’s a lovely girl,  please keep an eye on her. Nadia, Farag is a very old and good friend of mine, if you need anything please don’t hesitate to ask him.” It’s moments like these when you see the true spirit of the people from the Middle East, hospitable, helpful and generous. The media has plagued their image with false assumptions that we are all blood thirsty born killers, who have only thoughts of terrorism on our mind. It was very nice to see abroad as well as back in the region. Once they left and we said our final goodbyes, I went up to my room and sent my mom pictures of the area she had described and asked her to pin point exactly where the travel agent was supposed to be. After a lengthy discussion it turned out I had walked by the place quite a few times! So, once we had ended the conversation I headed back downstairs to check it out.

    I headed down stairs and went directly to the place, my mother had described only, only to find a tiny note pad size piece of paper stuck to the window, that said they had relocated. I took a picture of the new address and asked the reception at the hotel.  They informed me that it was on the bridge to the left of the hotel but would be closed on a Sunday. I asked if they knew of anywhere else I could rent a bicycle and I was told the  hotel Balnea Esplenada rents them. They called the hotel for me and made sure that they had bikes available for me.

    I walk to the hotel and went to the reception. I thought I had been transported back to Cairo and began to panic. The place reminded me a lot of the Intercontinental- Semiramis Hotel, near Tahrir Square. It was a modern architectural structure, with black tiled floors, tan colored leathers seats in the reception area and full of Gulfies.

    (Yeah, I’m definitely staying at the classiest joint on the island! Phew!)

    At the reception I gave my name, and the room key card holder with the details of how long I’m staying at Thermia Palace and room number. To rent the bike, it’s 5 Euros for 4 hours. Once all the details were taken and I paid cash, rather than have it charged to my room, I was taken a long, a long corridor to where the bikes are kept. I chose one, adjusted the seat, took the key for the bike lock and went on my merry way.

    At first, I had forgotten, how one should actually start to peddle. So, I had one foot on a peddle and the other was pushing along the ground, like you would a scooter. Eventually, I got both feet up on to the peddles and I started to move forward, holding on to the handle bars for dear life, as I wobbled from side to side, like a drunk! I eventually found my equilibrium and was riding the bike! I rode along the bikers path along the river banks, the more I rode the more confident I became. By lunch time my thighs, abs and my butt cheeks were in agony. In addition to that I was famished. I headed back to the hotel, parked the bike outside, inhaled my lunch and was soon out again.

    I rode for another hour, until the sky turned a gloomy dark color. I rode the bike back to Esplenada, took it to where I had been told to leave it when I was done and locked it, turned the key into the reception AND the heavens opened with a loud CRACK of thunder and a whip of lightening flashed across the sky!

    Monday 28th July 

    I love walking! I find that I see more and learn more about a place and it’s people, when I’m on foot. On Saturdays, I join a small group of photography enthusiasts who, walk around areas of Cairo to take pictures. I enjoy it a great deal, not only because I take pictures, but I get to walk and see some of my ‘real’ countrymen/women going about their day to day lives.

    First on the agenda for today is Nordic Walking.

    All I knew is that it involved sticks and walking (obviously)! After a very quick breakfast, I went to the spa building Irma, as it stated on the paper to await the person who would be leading the group of people on the walk. I was greeted by a tall blond, blue eyed, fit young man called Jan (pronounced Yaan). In fairly good English he informed me that he would be leading the walk and it looked like I would be the only  one participating. He adjusted the length of the sticks, showed me how to strap them on to my hands. I thought I looked like a marionette or some kind of shadow puppet. which then queued the ‘Pinocchio’ song ‘I’ve got no strings’!

    The sticks took some  getting used to. Jan told me to have the arm go with the opposite leg and to not focus on it, otherwise I would trip myself up. He was right the less I thought about them the better I was at walking with them. I asked him questions about what life is like living in Slovakia and how he got into fitness to distract my mind from the sticks. We walked a circuit for about 20-30 minutes at a fairly quick pace. It was great cardio and my lungs appreciated inhaling the fresh morning air.

    Once done, I ran to my room to get ready for my other sessions…   I had a fairly easy day, I only had 4 sessions.  An hour after the walk I got into my robe, because second on the agenda was the mud pack.  An experience that takes some getting used to at first. I don’t mind having the warm mud slathered on my bare skin and being wrapped up like a shawerma. It’s trying to get the mud off in the shower! No matter how thorough, I try to be, I always end up missing some!  The Mud pack was closely followed by my Electro Magnetic  treatment for my back , where I was greeted by the ever so lovely and very friendly and kind Elena. A middle aged Slovakian woman, with short hair and kind eyes and face.

    My last treatment wasn’t till later in the afternoon, so I went for a long walk around the town, discovering new areas and just taking in the scenery and architecture, stopping every now and then to take pictures with my phone. I also went to the mall to get some long sleaved tops. I had only packed short sleeved t-shirts and if the forecast predicted rain for the week, I would need something warmer to wear. , (Another excuse to shop and spend money! Why not! I’m helping the economy, well at least that’s what I tell myself 😉

    I was looking forward to my work out class GG Slim, last time we bounced around and exercised on balls! This time we had a different instructor, who looked a lot like Rhald Dhals character, the Trunchbull from his book ‘Matilda’. A medium height, square looking blond Russian woman, with knee length shorts, socks half way up her calf, white nurse like shoes and her hair tightly tied back. One look at her and I knew this would be one session where my muscles would be so soar by the end of them that if they could scream mercy, they would. Even the Saudi woman taking the class with me, looked as though she was scanning for an escape route. “Laa Laa Laa, mu hathi, Wahda thanya”, which in Gulf Arabic translates to “No, No, No, not this one, another one!”

    We both took a deep breath and did as we were instructed. We got our mats, lay them on the floor and did what reminded me of the early 80’s Jane Fonda work out, minus the music! We did all sorts of stretching, lifting of arms and legs and stomach crunches. I could felt my muscles wince in pain, as I pushed myself to the exercises, while  reminding myself, this is why I am here, to get fitter, thinner and healthier! Without any pain, there will be no gain!

    By the time the session was over, I was exhausted and the Saudi woman was panting and gasping for air. I thanked the woman for the session, took my card and went to my room to change and go for another walk around the premises before dinner.

    After dinner I went back up to my room and sat down and began writing part I to my experience at Thermia Palace.
    I got so carried away with what I was writing that I lost track of time. I had been asked by one of the Egyptian women, Su, whom I had met on my first night in Piestany and had kept an eye open for me everyday to see how I was getting along asked me earlier on in the day, to make sure that I spent some time with her and her friends later on in the evening. Su and her husband were due to depart the next morning to head home back to Egypt after spending a month at Thermia Palace. I was very fortunate to find them all still sat around the round table that they had reserved for tonight. When I walked in I was greeted warmly by all those who were there. I was invited to sit and take part in the on going discussion. I was the youngest person at the table, sat among two doctors, an ambassador and 3 other highly intellectual individuals of 3 different faiths. It was while we sat and talked and exchanged contact information, I had a ‘moment’… ‘I am sat at a round table, with Christians, Muslims and Jews, there is no conflict or hate, just people.’ How poignant and more symbolic could that moment have been? If only the media, would stop fueling the hate and showing more moments like this.

    Tuesday 29th July

    It was another very early start to the day kicking it off with Nordic Walking. I fared much , better today and I was able to keep up more. The time seemed to just fly by. I felt cheated and would have gladly done the circuit once more. Since my arrival, I had been trying to figure out where the gym was. In the end I just asked Jan, where it was, since he was the fitness instructor. He showed me which door I had to go through and which corridor, I needed to walk along. The place is like Hogwarts (less like a gloomy castle thought), more like a maze! There are so many doors and corridors, that it’s easy to lose your way. (Now that I had an idea of where it was, I would definitely make an effort to use it (I hope!).

    The rest of the day, was spent between Irma and the Napoleon III and 1B buildings. Bustling about across a courtyard between buildings with a gym bag and flip flops in a robe can be a workout in itself I tell you! It was a busy day, with Electro treatments, Parafango, Water gymnastics, Mirror pool and 20′ Massage.

    The water gymnastics was lead by the Trunchbull! It wasn’t the usual red headed lady with a somewhat cheerful air about her. The members of the class looked worried. I related to their fear. There’s one thing to do those exercises on a mat on a floor, but in a pool? I hoped I wouldn’t drown!

    The class went pretty well to tell the truth, the water created resistance and I felt like I had worked a lot of my muscles, especially my upper body. From there I showered off, changed into my robe to make my way across the court yard yet again to Irma, to take a much needed 20 minute dip in the warm sulfuric water of the Mirror Pool.

    I usually shy away from getting naked. I don’t even like looking at myself with no clothes on. I’m fine when I’m looking at myself from the collarbone up, because when I look below that’s when I see all my faults and areas of imperfection that are so loudly pointed out and dictated to us by the media. So,  I was genuinely quite surprised at how well I was adjusting to the numerous of times I had to bare-all and be in the presence of other women too. (I wondered what Freud, would have to say about that?)

    In an odd way it was starting to feel more natural. When that thought crossed my mind, I even shocked myself! One of the many outspoken voices in my head, piped up; “More natural! Have you lost your mind girl? Next thing, you’ll be thinking about how cavemen or tribes people in the Rain forests of South America, are more civilized than we are, and we are over complicating life! The sulfur must have gone to your head!” I’m not saying, I’m by any means ready to give up my wardrobe or start vacationing at nude beaches or becoming a nudist. What I am trying to say, that perhaps we have been going about things the wrong way. There is a lot of shame that is brought on to those that don’t have a certain figure or that breaks the mold shall we say. A bodies shouldn’t be ‘a one size suites all’ mentality. If you look at the statues of women from the time of Ancient Greece or Rome or portraits from the Renaissance, women were not stick thin, they were busty, voluptuous and curvy. Why is it in the past few decades that perception of beauty has changed?

    Three years ago, I wanted to have a body like Megan Fox. I won’t be hypocrite, I’m not going to lie about it.  Having been here less than a week, my perception of beauty is changing. When I’m out walking and riding a bicycle,  I see people who are healthy, active and they come in all shapes and sizes. So, my goal now is not to go back to Cairo looking like runway model, but to be a healthier person, who is comfortable in her own skin. I don’t want to get down to a size 4, I’ll be content if I can make it to a healthy 10/12. There’s nothing wrong with that!

     

    Stay tuned for part III

     

  • Image

    Confession letter

    In October I had come to realize that all my previous efforts to fight the battle of the bulge were in vain. There must have been something that I had over looked and not seen that was my invisible and deeply rooted obstacle that prevented me from reaching my goal of being healthier and fitter.

    I had heard of detoxing but in all honesty, knew very little about it. I got in touch with a woman who does this professionally. I asked her endless questions about what to expect and how it is meant to help me. After several e-mails back and forth, I was less skeptical and more willing to take the plunge into the unknown. I won’t lie, I was terrified of what demons that might surface, because after all, this wasn’t just a food cleanse, it was one for the body and psyche. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I paid to take part in the journey.

    Detoxing, is a way of getting rid of all the junk that you have unknowingly been storing in your body, by eating healthy. For the first 8 days of the cleanse you are gluten-free and vegan. Vegetables and Fruit and lots of water are the source of nourishment. I had no difficulty giving up grain, carbonated drinks, sugary foods and protein, but I did find it hard to wean myself off dairy. Yogurt had been a huge part of my daily diet. I didn’t suffer from caffeine withdrawal symptoms like other members of the detox did, simply because I could never drank it. I learned years ago, that I was allergic to coffee and would get severe heart palpitations, where my heart would beat so hard against my rib cage that, I thought it would rip through my chest cavity and land on the table. The experience was enough to never make me want to try it again. Little did I know that I was on a road to discovering other things I was allergic to.

    During the course of the 8 days, I noticed that I was looking trimmer, feeling lighter and less bloated, I was sleeping better, my mood was more upbeat and positive and it felt like there had been a haze in my head that had been clouding my thoughts and hearing, it slowly began to clear and I was seeing things in technicolor with a more accurate perseption and able to hear my own thoughts more clearly.  It felt as though, I had been awakened from being on auto pilot or I had come to a clearing and left the fog behind!

    When the time came to reintroduce foods back into our diet one by one, I discovered that grains and I don’t mix well. It makes me feel sluggish and bloated. The Nature’s Valley granola bars that I used to eat as a snack or for an energy boost had an ingredient in it that caused nausea and dizziness. There were other foods that had the same affect on me, like birthday cake and Cadbury’s products. Milk would cause phlegm in the throat and make my stomach uneasy,
    (bye bye Easter Eggs, Flakes and Crunchy Bars).

    On this journey, I kept a journal and discovered that I was eating much less than I would usually consume and not feeling hungry as often or the need to munch or snack on something. It was then that the reality finally hit home, that I AM one of those people who self medicates with food. I eat to numb the pain, to relieve stress, to get over disappointments, let downs, overcome the feeling of failure, not feeling pretty or smart enough and heart ache after a break up. I was my own worst enemy! I was the main culprit! I was the one who had been poisoning myself sub/consciously and making myself ugly to justify the pain (in some twisted way). I have been standing in my way of moving forward and achieving my dreams and aspirations. It was ME!
    (now… I have to make up for a lot of lost time!)

    Although the cleanse was for 15 days, I continued eating mostly fruit, vegetables, fish and chicken till mid December. I hadn’t felt that good in ages!!! I was happy again. My mother even noticed the difference and said, “That is the old Irish, that I used to know!”

    Then Christmas came! My family and I spent the holiday in the UK and that’s when it all came crashing down, (again). The temptations of all the delicious food and treats was too hard to fight! For the first few days I was really good and maintained my healthy way of living, but it was too much for me to resist. The real trouble started when the trip and holiday came to an end. Back to work and life, I found it very hard to get back on track. The addiction had its hold on me again. The weight was piling on, the restless nights were coming back, the stress of work was getting to me, I was finding it hard to see the silver lining in things and was becoming more and more negative as the days passed.

    Towards the end of March, we had a fundraiser at school and pictures that had been taken had been posted and when I saw what I really looked like and not what I thought I looked like, I made a conscience decision that I had to do something about it and now, before it was too late! In 4 more years I will be 40 and as I get older my body will find it harder to get rid of all the fat stored and it will just add to higher health risks. So, as soon as Spring Break started, I went cold turkey again! I have been gluten free and vegan for two weeks. It is a very difficult thing to do here in Egypt, when carbs, sweets and protein are on the menu of every restaurant and eating is THE SOCIAL PAST TIME! (knock on wood, so far so good).

    I have also found that my problem of abusing food dates back to when I was a child. There was a time when I was really unhappy at the school I was attending and when I would come home, I would binge snack to the point of feeling sick. Once I left the school the problem went away, but since I graduated from university it has been a roller coaster battle. Now, that I know what and who I am battling, I have a better chance of defeating it this time round.

    This awakening moment came to me, last week. My cousin in the UK had a project that I said I would help her with. She needed a handwritten letter or note for her university project and it could be about anything. When I began writing it last Saturday, the two page letter turned into a handwritten confession from me to my trapped inner thinner self, apologizing for holding her captive and crippling her behind layers of blubber and that I had been wrong in doing her such injustice and that having seen the errors of my ways, I was ready to let go of the things that I had mentally been holding on to, that had been signaling my body to store fat and eat crap. I would from now on do her right by peeling away the layers that I had been binding her with to release her, so that she could be free from the lonely prison I had so selfishly been keeping her in and to let her be free to live and accomplish everything she had ever dreamed of setting out to do. Allow her to become the rightful person she was meant to be and allow her to love herself and be loved by others. Another trigger to this was Elsa, the character from the hit Disney animated movie, Frozen. Elsa had been locking herself away from the public because she had been afraid of her gift and once it became public knowledge of what she was and she had run away from her prison and felt free, she was on the road of becoming who she was meant to be.

    Now, when I look at my reflection in the mirror, I see her, (my thinner self) gazing back at me. The anger and frustration in her eyes is still there, but she is closer to the surface than she has been in a long time. In addition to eating healthy, I have also made another important decision. For three to four weeks this summer, I will be going to a weightloss specialized center/spa where I will have the help I will need from professionals to help me unlock the shackles of my past and will be left no choice but to focus on the goal that I have set for myself.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HtACLaRDk0

    This journey that I am on, will probably be the most challenging thing I have had to do, thus far. I do not expect it to be easy, there is a high possibility that I will tumble and fall, but I need to stay committed and pick myself up and keep going forward, for me, to be free, so that I can see, what I can do and test my limits and break through 😉

    Wish me luck!

     

    The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

    The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

    If you missed my last blog post I have just returned from my summer vacation. The first two weeks of my trip was spent in Central America, in the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras and shares its borders with Guatemala and Mexico.

    A colleague of mine was an archeologist and used to work on a site there before a career change and joining the league of International Teachers. My colleague’s friend has been running an archeological like camp, (AFAR), for highly selected High School Students in Belize for several summers and extended the invitation to our staff and students. I have always been fascinated with the ancient civilizations and I thought this would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country, experience a new culture and learn about the Maya.

    The morning of the 21st of June, I waited nervously at the airport for my colleague and the two students to arrive to begin the adventure. Once the gang was assembled and we had become acquainted with one another, the long journey across land, sea and ocean began. The afternoon of the 22nd of June exhausted and hungry, we landed safely in beautiful Belize and met up with and were introduced to the rest of the student body and staff whom we would be working alongside for the next two weeks.

    The following day we were taken on a tour of Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks), with Mr. Saunders, Dr. Marc Zender and Mr.& Mrs. Pritchard, they talked to us about the site and the Maya way of life as we walked around and through Plaza’s A and B. Cahal Pech was the site where we were to help excavate. My first impression of the site was how quiet, secluded, nicely shaded and small it was. In my mind I had imagined a much larger complex and a huge temple like the one in Luxor, never the less it was still spectacular in its own right. As we walked around the site there were several excavation projects being carried out by BVAR (Belize Valley Archeological Reconnaissance Project), in my little mind I assumed that we would be helping them. When our tour of the site came to an end, a physically fit man who looked like he might be in his late fifties, with graying black curls, glasses and a big smile came striding across the floor of plaza B towards our group, this man turned out to be the renowned Dr. Jamie Awe an archeologist and expert in the Maya, (he would be the equivalent to the Zahi Hawas of Egypt). He greeted us warmly and explained what it was that his team was doing and what he would like us to do.

    He pointed towards one of the large structures in plaza B, that had stairs and an a rectangular archway and said that, that structure had been excavated many decades ago and parts of it had been reconstructed and conserved, he also asked us to follow the wall to see where it abruptly ends or disappears beneath a huge mound of dirt that had numerous tall trees deeply rooted and growing out of it. He explained that when the Maya abandoned the city, the place was left to ruin and with time the hurricanes caused a lot of structural damage to fall and deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Seeds that had been carried by the wind or deposited (pooped), by animals fell and took root, which caused more damage to the city. He then turned to this fairly big hill and said and pointed at it and said, that he would like for us to uncover the remains of the wall.

    As I stood there taking in the length and height of the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder how, he or anyone else for that matter expected us to uncover a wall with just brushes? Surely that would take forever. He then added that it would take probably the first week for us to find structure… (Yeah, right! I thought to myself). For the remainder of the afternoon, students learned how to measure out units using measuring tape, thread, compass and a construction plumbob, (A plum what? (was my first reaction when I heard it too), the definition from Weikipedia; A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line). The boys got busy carving wooden stakes to put into the ground to tie string around to divide the units up. Others picked up rakes and started raking away small rocks and fallen leaves to clear the ground.

    The following morning the students and staff were divided and assigned to the units that we would be working on for the next two weeks. I chose to be with unit one, “The Silverbacks”. There were a couple of logical reasons as to why I chose that particular unit; One of which was because they came highly recommended (most of them had a lot of experience excavating and had been coming for the past couple of summers), the unit was the closest to the already excavated wall and I was certain that we would find a lot of stuff.

    In all honesty the mound that we were expected to get through intimidated me (GREATLY)! I seriously began to question why I was there and what had possessed me to want to do this in the first place when I could be doing something that would not require me to tap into my inner badger. After a little mental pep talk, I got myself ready for the challenge ahead. I am somewhat stubborn by nature, but I hoped that I had the resilience, stamina and persistence to keep up with five teenage boys and that I would be able to make a difference. I walked over to them and introduced myself to them one by one and that is when I was presented with a pick axe. I looked at the manly tool with puzzlement, (where were the brushes? I thought to myself). I jokingly asked if these were to break knee caps, (I hoped to hide my ignorance and break the ice. I’m not sure how I did). The team leader, a graduated high school senior very politely and patiently explained what we needed to do first and how the tools were used to excavate the area. First we needed to clear the surface of the rocks and make a pile because some of the rocks will be used to reconstruct some of the structures at the site. Once that was done we take our pick axes and start picking away at the layers of dirt. The dirt would then be scooped up into buckets which would then be taken by one of the team members to the big hanging sifts, to make sure that pieces of pottery (clay) or chert were not accidentally thrown away. If pieces of clay or chert were found, they would be placed in artifact bags. At the end of the day an artifact card would be filled out in black pen to explain what the contents were and how many bags of each had been collected. Sounded simple enough, but I tell you…it sounded a lot easier than it actually was. This job is not for lazy bones, wimps or girls worried about ruining their manicure. The students and staff took it seriously and expect those who come to take part to work hard. Some of the rocks were the size of my torso or just as heavy as the bucket full of dirt that had to be carried over to the sift. The shade of the canopy and the light breeze could cause you to forget that you were hot and in need of keeping hydrated. In the first half of the day, I found pieces of clay and beautiful pieces of quartz. These little finds gave me the incentive to keep on going. At lunch time (noon), I was hot, sweaty, hungry, thirst and exhausted! I couldn’t believe that we had been working for almost four straight hours and were expected to continue till four o’clock.

    After a much-needed lunch break, soft drink and a bit of socializing, our hour was up and it was back to the grind. I found it very difficult to get back into the rhythm that I had been working to before. My heart was beating rapidly for some unexplainable reason and I was sweating more than I had been earlier, (I might have been having a mild panic attack, my mind and body might have been putting up a little protest to the manual labor, but being a stubborn person I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me). I tried talking to the team but being the newbie no one was really talking, so I chewed on a stick of gum, took out my iPod and listened to music as I worked away until the end of the work day. When quitting time came about, I was out of fuel and all I wanted was to stand under a shower and wash the dirt and sweat away, drink a gallon of icy cold water, EAT and recharge!

    I woke up feeling not as sore as I had thought I would, which I took to be a good sign, (maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought and perhaps I can do this with gusto? I didn’t want to jump for joy yet, it was ONLY the second day). The day played out very much like the first, except this time I felt like I knew what was expected of me and what I needed to do. After lunch time the guys started to open up and talk me, which helped pass the time and a bond between my team mates had begun to form.

    As the week went on, the site of Plaza B changed drastically. It no longer looked like a well-kept garden, it looked like a bunch of gold diggers had set up camp and had torn up the lawn. There were piles of discarded rocks and dirt dotted around the plaza which I think took away from the beauty of the ruins. Tourists who came to visit the site would come and stop and watch us work and would often ask members of the group questions as to what we were doing and what we were looking for. (The little devil who lurks deep within my cranium, though we should have roped them into doing some of the labor, so that they could also witness archeology first hand and like us appreciate the time and man power that goes into excavating… mwaaahaahaahaa!)

    By the end of the first week, my relationship with my 5 team mates had been sealed. I was one of the guys and a fully fledged ‘Silverback’. We had succeeded in finding the ancient floor of the plaza and were well on our way to finding structure. The mound that had looked so intimidating to me when we first began excavating looked unrecognizable, huge chunks of it had been dug out and when I stood back to look at our progress as a whole, I couldn’t help but marvel at all our combined efforts. It was then when I realized that the thing that really stands between us and doing the things that we want to do, is usually our own insecurities, self doubts and fears. The students on the project reminded me of the young teen I used to be and how I rarely ever let anything (except my parents), stand between me and the goals I wanted to achieve. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.

    For our first weekend in Central America, we crossed the border into Guatemala and stayed on the eloquent and colorful island of Flores. Where we toured the ancient Maya city of Tikal and it was there when my tendonitis came back with a vengeance. Luckily I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had brought the medication I would need to reduce the inflammation. Having experienced the strain and pain of this before, I knew that when we got back to Belize and the site, that I would not be able to work as hard as I had been the previous week. It was a big blow to me. I didn’t want to have to give up or sit on the side lines and not be able to help my unit complete the task that had been given to us. I was determined to find away to continue to work at some capacity, so that I could see the project through, not let the guys down and prove to myself that I can still do anything.

    When we returned to the site on Monday morning, I had difficulty getting back into the routine and finding a way to work comfortably without putting too much strain on my heels. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I had to make a choice, to push through the pain and possibly ruin the remainder of my vacation touring the East Coast of the U.S or to take a sick day. I eventually gave in and took the sick day to elevate my legs, do some stretches and ice my heels. Although I was bored out of my mind and felt sorry for myself, I knew I had made the right choice. The following day, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from my unit, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be holding a pick axe and being back in the pit. I wasn’t able to work as well as I had the week before, but I kept on going, stopping and taking necessary breaks when I needed to, so that I could make it to the end of the two weeks. Which I am proud to say I did!

    By the time Thursday had come around, we had found more worms and ant hills than I care to remember. We had seen interesting looking spiders, fever worms, a small snake and beautiful butterflies flutter through our unit as we pushed forward. We had filled hundreds of buckets and wheel barrels full of dirt, as well as numerous artifact bags with clay and chert. Like a colony of worker ants, we had uncovered several layers of white plastered well-preserved Maya floor, the outer remains of a long-buried and forgotten wall, revealed a looters trench and parts of a damaged staircase in just two weeks. Many of the participants were disappointed with our finding, but I couldn’t have been prouder of what we had accomplished together as a whole group and as individual teams! Our discoveries might not have been as exciting or as grand as another excavation team at the site that uncovered a tomb, with skeleton and well-preserved antiquities, but I was impressed in what we had achieved together.

    People working together is powerful as well as unstoppable… but most of all inspiring!

    In all honesty, I have never had to work that hard in my life! The physical labor that goes into excavating must be right up there with training for the Olympics! I might have suffered from tennis elbow, tendonitis, sore muscles and many mosquito bites, but the experience was by far one of the best I had ever had and one of the most memorable and fun summers too. If there was a chance of me being able to go back next summer or sometime in the future, I would most probably do it all over again.

    http://www.bvar.org/

    http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/archaeology-of-cahal-pech.html