Going back a second time: Is it ever the same?

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A common theme among travel bloggers is: “To visit a second time?… or not to visit a second time?… that is the question.”

Visiting a place a second time, especially a place that you loved, is a very touchy subject in the travel community. From related readings on that topic, I’ve gleaned that most bloggers would never rule out the possibility of going back somewhere. However, there’s a grand caveat– be prepared- things will not be exactly as you remember… well, things might be the same, but you won’t be!

Last week I went with a group of 16 of my students to Nicaragua to break ground on a new school in El Trapiche, an isolated community twenty minutes down a dusty winding road situated along a precipitous cliff outside of San Marcos (about an hour towards the coast from Granada). (Think: no running water, no electricity, etc. Fortunately, Me to We– the facilitators of our trip- had already dug latrines there previously, as this is one of their established communities.) As my beloved and amazingly dedicated fans already know, I spent two weeks in Nicaragua in 2011 on my solo-backpacking trip from Belize City down to San Jose, Costa Rica. I was excited to return to Granada, one of the coolest cities I have ever visited, but I was afraid that something would have changed while I was away and that perhaps I would not enjoy it as much as I had in the past… I ended up enjoying it as much as before, but indeed, something had changed, and it wasn’t Granada.

The places we visit are catalysts that help us to become more open to life’s experiences. Ironically, being in another country makes one hyper-aware of one’s own self– am I able to adjust to the culture, am I able to communicate my needs and curiosities in another language, can I be open enough to allow myself to fully enjoy everything this other way of life has to offer?

One of the biggest flaws in the human condition is that we are always asking the wrong questions. We are all so superficially-oriented, so I was asking myself, “What will be different in Granada?” Will the pizza restaurant still be there, will Olé still be there? (it was!) Will the gorgeous canary yellow on the cathedral be still as gorgeous? Of course! Really I should have asked myself, “What about visiting Granada again will make me aware of what is different in myself?”

When I was in Granada in 2011, I had nothing but boots and a backpack. I was on a budget of maybe $4 per day. I took buses through 5 countries by myself. I was tan as a piece of leather, had the beginnings of dreadlocks in my dirty hair, couldn’t even afford a razor to shave my legs, I was practicing my Spanish for the first time outside of the United States, was hiking up mountains on Isla Ometepe and riding rope swings into lakes. While I still have the same spirit, I can say I am now focused. I woke up one day in 2010 and decided I was going to “save the world.” Simple as that. (For proof, check out my articles in Haiti, my first foray into international community service.) As time has gone by, and as I have read more amazing books about development work and have found some personal heroes (Nick Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, Jacqueline Novogratz), I have focused in on education as the way that I can do my small part to attempt to make the world a better place. Breaking ground for a school in Nicaragua with amazingly inspiring students from my school was a perfect fit, no? Whereas two years ago I was going to “solve world hunger!” with my backpack, two aspirin, and five USD, now I am equipped to lead groups of incredible kids to do good work abroad within the theme of education. I am so fortunate to find myself in a situation where I can be facilitating this grand process; I am so lucky to work at a school that is so internationally-oriented. (Last week, students went on trips to Asia, Europe, Oceania, and Latin America.)

Although my students are privileged enough to already be seasoned travelers, it was indeed the group’s first time in Nicaragua. I was the only one to be making a second trip. Here is a link to their group’s blog that we set up together, using WordPress of course! The kids filled it in as the week went by:

http://menloinnicaragua2013.wordpress.com/

Here is a picture of my amazing group of students. I was so privileged to travel with them. They range from 9th – 12th grade. They are so far ahead of the curve. I didn’t think of international development until I was 24. The youngest of them is 15! Think what they will accomplish if they are already abroad on their time off from school building schools for others!

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So the thought I leave you with is this: Yes, visit again, but be responsible enough to be prepared for some introspective consideration. The external stimuli of a seemingly unchanging gorgeous colonial church dating from the 1500s coupled with cobblestone streets will force you to realize how much you have changed in such a short time. I’m glad I went back; Granada, dating back 489 years, showed me how much I had changed in a mere 20 months.

(NB: It may seem that I have depicted myself as mature now versus overly adventurous two years ago, but it’s not that simple. I mean, who goes to post-earthquake Port-au-Prince armed with nothing but a tetanus shot and a tent to go “help out?” However, I never would have found myself on this perfectly-orchestrated group service trip to Nicaragua with my amazing students had I not gone rogue two years ago with my $500 life savings, a one-way ticket to Belize City, and struck out with my tent to go see what was out there in the world. [It’s only when you have nothing that you can do anything…] As they always say, a life’s journey begins with a single step… or in my case, a gigantic leap into the unknown. The unknown turns out to be gorgeous and full of love!)

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6 Comments on “Going back a second time: Is it ever the same?”

  1. Bill February 20, 2013 at 07:59 #

    I to see the experience showing through on you Blog. In retrospect, maybe all teenagers should experience a couple weeks where they volunteer and help others in many areas. Whether its building a school, a garden, a water system, the experience will give them something of value that these same students are not experiencing in today’s society. In order for that to occur, the exposure to students needs to happen in school as they already exist in their church and clubs. Funds are needed for transportation, lodging and meals and this can be accomplished through fund raisers and sponsors. Even if its just down the road, volunteering can enrich many young people’s minds. I, we can only hope that something like this can be an option for students to earn credits in school in our future. But we are thankful that we have your blog to read. Will be looking forward to a New York Times Best Seller from you.

    • Marisa LaValette February 20, 2013 at 11:25 #

      Thank you, Bill! One of my #1 devoted readers! Yes, I hope there can be more service and development trips at more schools throughout the US to get the global need for access to education on everyone’s radars.

  2. Karen February 20, 2013 at 16:57 #

    A fabulous essay! Bravo!! This is my favorite of your stories so far…Long Live “Making a Difference!” however we all may do it.

    • Marisa LaValette February 20, 2013 at 19:02 #

      Thank you, Karen. Shane liked this one, too. He said it was his favorite.

  3. WH February 20, 2013 at 17:20 #

    I fret over second visits but even on first visits I wonder how my experience would be different if I visited earlier or later… How was this city different 5 years ago? What will this park look like 5 years from now? Would I be different now if I had seen this at seventeen? There are always questions to ask ourselves when traveling, which I guess is part of the fun of seeing the world.

    • Marisa LaValette February 20, 2013 at 19:03 #

      Thanks for reading, Winnie! It would be great if you could subscribe to the blog or Like Savvy CitiZen on FB or follow @SavvyCitiZen on Twitter. Your blog is lovely, too!

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