Posted by Jennifer in : travel , trackback
My excitement for a Belizean jungle adventure was tempered by an eerie feeling. The night before departing to volunteer at an all girls’ chess camp in Belize, I told my mother and boyfriend: "I don’t know, I just feel I may die on this trip." In the end we all dismissed it as melodrama, but I am not afraid of flying, so I had no idea where the fear came from.
On my way to Belize, I stopped over for an opening party at the Saint Louis Chess and Scholastic Center. The chess club is the most beautiful I’ve seen in America, and I also got a chance to see the Pullitzer Museum and the Saint Louis Museum of Art. The trip was off to a great start, and when I met my 9queens partner in Houston to travel on to Belize, my fear of dying had subsided. Upon arriving at the Caves Branch jungle lodge, we were greeted with tropical drinks, nachos and screaming monkeys: This was getting better and better! Then I started teaching at chess camp in the middle of the jungle for talented girls aged 9 to 12, from all over Belize. Read more on that at 9queens.org, uschess.org and the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation site.
Here I am playing 20 Belizean girls in a simultaneous exhibition
Two nights after settling into Belize, I woke up at 2 AM in my jungle cabin to a raging fire. The fire had been set off by a combination of wind and an oil lamp. I’ll never know what exactly I did wrong—the cabin encouraged the use of the oil lamps, since there was no electricity, but they’ve never had a fire in the past so I’m guessing that most people don’t sleep with them on. Luckily, the cabin was about 300 square feet, and I was on the right end of the square footage. I screamed "fire" and a hotel guest came running to help me extinguish the fire. Somehow, the fire, which was pretty big, about the size of a small car, only destroyed a small mattress and a DVD. A lot of things could have gone wrong: I could have a third glass of wine (that may have knocked me out) or chosen that evening to experiment with sleeping pills. I usually hate to wake up in the middle of the night to meaningless noises, but now I am grateful for any and all survival instincts, no matter how annoying.
After the fire, I sensed the danger had passed. The rest of the week I conquered other fears: I jumped off a 20 feet cave waterfall; rocks in front of and behind the deep landing spot scared me into good aim. I went tubing, urged along by a 12-year-old who I’d just taught King and pawn vs. King. My courage almost ran out when faced with rappelling gear and a 100 feet cliff. My fear of falling backwards is so extreme that I used to be unable to play "Trust" with anyone, even boyfriends. I mustered the courage not only because of two fit and attractive guides encouraging me but mostly because of the group of 9 and 10-year girls below me who had already jumped. If I hadn’t done it, and just walked back down 100 feet through the jungle, I’d have to change my moniker from Chess Bitch to Chess Chicken. Yes, the latter is worse.
The girls practiced rapelling on a tree before going down the 100 feet cliff
Despite traveling to over 20 countries, I was blown away by the new things I saw and did in Belize. I’ve never seen the rainforest landscape or felt the moisture of the jungle make my skin like butter. That’s why I chose Belize for my friends Mike and Gretchen’s "Honeymoon Lottery" later this month. Every wedding guest chooses a place for Mike and Gretchen’s to honeymoon. The winning destination will be chosen at random, with my brother presiding with a microphone and bingo balls. I’m rooting for Belize because I can’t imagine anything more romantic than kissing your newlywed at the top of a cliff you’re terrified to jump off of or rappel down. First, you’d kiss him out of paranoia and then again at the bottom, you’d kiss him out of relief.
I've smiling because despite my dirty white pants, I am close to the mouth of the cave!
On my magnet collection at home, I have my favorite cheesy quote, by Eleanor Roosevelt: "Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You." Belize should take care of my quota for the rest of the year.