Meet Ralph. Otherwise known as Ralph Lauren. He’s of Mayan decent, father of an adorable little boy, and works at Hidden Valley Resort - 11 days on and 3 days off. Ralph was our tour guide, body guard, teacher, and jaguar defender. He proudly has a PHD. (Pot Hole Dodging) He was not a fan of my Teriyaki Beef Jerky, but liked the dried apple chips in small amounts. Ralph taught us so much about the Mayan culture that he obviously loved and took great pride in. Our first lesson involved the concept of time. He taught us that 4 miles and 45 minutes is a little different in Belize culture than it was in the US culture.
During our excursions, I got to sit up front because I was still suffering from excruciating headaches due to my previous concussion. While we rode along, Ralph and I shared stories of relationships, family, job history, and his own love of Belize. I told him about my blog and its purpose of sharing experiences in letting my guard down to try new things. The next day he told me that he checked it out because he thought I was joking! He stated that he really liked it, which made my day and may have planted a little seed from which the book you now hold followed.
My favorite thing about Ralph was that not only was he well educated, funny, caring, and an excellent tour guide and driver, but Ralph was the most amazing at finding unexpected adventures like when we saw two jaguars trying to mate. Even though our van got stuck in the mud, he made sure we escaped safely and had us laughing the rest of the way to the yoga platform where we were expected next. Brad was nice enough to come looking for us, worried that something terrible had happened, but we were in great hands. So if you ever have a chance to go to Belize, stay at Hidden Valley and make sure to tell Ralph Chasing Stormi says hi!
I ate a bug. I seriously put a live termite in my mouth, and ate it. It was minty fresh, but that’s not the point. How the heck did I end up eating a LIVE BUG?! Oh yeah. I was with 15 strangers who kept chanting, “You have to do this for your blog!” every time I turned around.
After a while, I found myself doing all sorts of things I never thought I would be doing. I began to wonder if it was a bad idea to tell these people that I had a blog. Then I realized that even though I was testing my limits, and stepping outside of my comfort zone, it was really all small stuff in retrospect. These 15 strangers had me stepping outside of the box like never before! And honestly, I loved every second of it. For the most part that is….
So today… I ate a bug.
When the itinerary said that we would be doing “light hiking,” I am pretty sure they don’t really know the definition of “light.”
I had hiked through the Puerto Rico Rainforest twice, but that was a walk in the park compared to the trails in Belize! We spent the day hiking and visiting three waterfalls. I climbed to each site slower and slower. Although my body hated me, the bugs loved me. Yet I still accomplished them all.
That morning started out foggy. We struggled to see the first waterfall that we came across. We had a great time taking pictures all the same. The second waterfall was definitely less fun to get to, but totally worth it. Funny Frank didn’t hesitate to jump right in. He’s definitely a fearless and adventurous spirit. We did finally manage to reach Butterfly Falls.
The group couldn’t wait to touch the picturesque water proudly displayed before us. Well, until they felt how really cold it was. I stood back to take pictures and catch my breath.
Phenomenal Phil jumped off the side of the waterfall with ease. Extreme Emily required a little coaxing to conquer her fears, but she too was soon jumping into the freedom of the pool below her.
The fog gave us grief once again for the Thousand Foot Falls; however, there was a small enough break (once I left the area) for some more great photo ops of which we thoroughly took advantage of. By the time we were finished, I was beyond ready for a nap. If every day was going to be this butt kicking then I was in serious trouble, but nothing was going to keep me from having the best experience ever.
Eight years ago couple Brad Wigh and adoring wife Jessie traveled to Belize with hopes of changing lives. Today, they do just that. After quickly falling in love with the country, the two realized that doing yoga in this amazing country would surpass any experience here in the states. Who wouldn’t love to experience the jungle mountains, rivers, creeks, and the warm ocean air grounding you closer to peace and serenity and especially yourself? We’re lucky they wanted to share this experience with the world! Residents of Belize, soon to be a family of five, this amazing couple travels around the country finding only the best spots to practice yoga, experience the most remarkable excursions in your free time, and simply making your whole experience unforgettable.
How do they pull off such magic? It’s simple. They put you first. From taking care of any needs of the invited yoga instructor, to carrying the equipment themselves, to helping hysterical guests to try something new, and to taking care of the flights, meals, and room and board there’s really nothing these two aren’t willing NOT to do for you. How do I know? Because I spent a week touring Belize with Belize Yoga and would do it all again in a heartbeat! Don’t be surprised if you only see Brad or Jessie. They alternate in order to take care of their adorable kids. You’re in good hands with either! Jessie is a yoga specialist and Brad sticks to the snorkeling for a specialty, however, you won’t find a single thing that these two can’t conquer, handle, or simply eliminate altogether if needed.
So for my yoga teaching friends, you’re CRAZY not to reach out to them and have an experience like never before! For my yoga takers, well…no matter your level you will go home dreaming of returning to Belize because your experience will be so mind-blowing that you can’t stop thinking about it! And you are bound to make several new friends along the way. So don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from making one of the best decisions of your life! You will never feel more safe and comfortable than in the hands of Belize Yoga.
In this past year I have learned a lot. I have learned a lot about myself and what all I am capable of. However, I learned the most about dating in the 21st Century, and BOY was it a different ball game than I had remembered! We’ve faced several variations of the dating ritual. Some come with arranged marriages for the sake of the family and social standing. Black and white tv taught us that married couples slept in twin beds and children just seemed to magically appear…ha! The days of Doris Day taught us that you could be beautiful, funny, innocent and a total hot mess and Prince Charming would fall in love with us despite the grief that got them there to begin with. Disney showed us that no matter the evil family members or the curses we were forced to face, Prince Charming would come to the rescue even if he knew us or not. Teen romantic comedies gave the awkward misfits hope of being the princess in the end. Glittering vampires showed us the strength of love, and whips and chains led to the most realistic love story that stayed a piece of fiction.
You’re told that you’re beautiful and can accomplish anything because everyone loves you as we grow up from little girls into young women. Then you go to high school and find out….um, not so much. In the beginning there were flowers, door opening, and whooing around every corner. Now your phone is spammed with naked pictures, you see if you’re compatible in bed before you think of starting a relationship, and the internet and apps are the number one decider in your fate. You now take personality tests that people can lie on and you still get stuck with a psychopath. You answer questions to see who matches you best based on common answers. You swipe right or left based on looks promoting the adult version of high school. Awesome. Cause THAT went so well the first time…. Sadly there’s even more out there and yet you’re still doing all the chasing and no one comes to you out of free will or without an agenda up front. In fact, there’s as many ways to get connected as there are people telling you that you should get out there and then some! Sure the anonymousness of the World Wide Web gives us a little more security then having to walk up to a random stranger old school style. But how was modern technology going to make getting through what once again feels like adult high school easier?...
I wanted to be married once, with little ones running around, and living happily ever after. Then life and reality took control and all three were wiped from the slate forever. So what now? Was this all I had to look forward to? Being stuck in the adult version of high school?! PLEASE say it isn’t SO! Then I realized something. No matter how hard I tried I will always be a people pleaser. It’s in bedded in my very being, which is why I have unsuccessfully been able to keep myself without sacrificing in order to make someone else happy. So let’s look at this giant adult playground with some perspective….
Sometimes when we’re ingrained with such old habits, whether good or bad, evolution comes along to force you to change your ways or sink in the ever growing quicksand. Maybe it’s time to play by new rules and end up on top no matter what. Maybe it’s time I stop running around pleasing everyone but myself. Maybe it’s time to stop chasing a dream that wasn’t meant to be mine in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with spoiling children even if you can’t have them yourself. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your current freedom where you learn to love yourself first making you able to have the fairy tale story that’s so amazing people can’t put it into words. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy life without playing the statistic game of match making. And maybe it’s dating in the 21st century that forced this hopeless romantic to do what she should have done a long time ago. You can swipe right or left. You can take all the quizzes you want in order to find your best match. Or you can step out of your comfort zone and simply live for yourself for a bit. Which are you willing to try?...
Someone once told me that flooded memories of what once was meant that your brain was showing you how far you have come from a certain situation. Well, with my one year anniversary of freedom looming just around the corner, apparently my brain wanted to reflect once more. These last couple of days have been rough, I’m not going to lie. Then a good friend reminded me of what reality entailed. This toxic situation wasn’t going to define me. I had a legal piece of paper stating so! Only I could label myself. And so a brand was born.
So if we’re going to look at how far we’ve come, yes I said we because you have been with me the whole time, then we’re going to do it right. Go big or go home baby! So what has this last year brought for us?... We stepped outside of our comfort zone and began trying random new things. We made a lot of friends along the way. We found out what we were good at and what we were okay not repeating. Heck! We even got on a plane, flew to a random country, and met what was first 15 strangers! Who does that?! Certainly not this girl! As a planner by nature, I fought my normal urge and instead embraced the desire to try something different. I did no homework. I made no plans. Luckily the company that we went with took care of anything you could think of and even what you couldn’t! Otherwise, I’m sure this would be a very different blog post….
I looked at the suggested pack list only and packed my trusty nap sack. It wasn’t until a few days before that I began to get nervous. Had I lost my mind? What if everyone missed the plane and I was left alone in a country I knew nothing about? What if I couldn’t find the freaking cowboy hat?!! All of those “I can’t believe you’re doing this…” and “Do you even know what you have gotten yourself into?...” lectures swirled in my head.
No. You know what? I may end up in Belizian jail or even lost in the jungle forever if I never found that dang cowboy hat of rescue, but I was going to do this. I would figure it out. I always do. I was a survivor! And wasn’t this what being single was all about? No strings, no commitments, nothing holding you back with ongoing adventure ahead? I had my return flight so the only plan I made was to make sure I got back to the airport so I could go home.
But it turned out no one missed their flight. I wasn’t alone. We found that glorious cowboy hat, and I was having the best time ever! I faced my fear of heights as I climbed to the top of the tallest Mayan temple. I even went snorkeling and ate a bug which I promise you was on my “Not until hell freezes over and then some” list.
So what has this year of freedom brought? Self-knowing. Trust. Adventure. Awkwardness. Excitement. Peace. Friendship. Love for oneself. Flexibility. Happiness. Struggle. Independence. Freedom. Satisfaction, and so much more!
This anniversary is going to be a celebration like it deserves to be. And even though memories will come and go, they make you the strong, survivor that so many of us are!
On one of our excursions, we went to the Mayan Ruins in Belize. Our amazing tour guide, who had adopted the name Ralph Lauren, gave us the best experience ever. He was a Mayan himself and he was so knowledgeable about everything his culture had to offer.
As we made our way to the tallest Mayan temple in Belize, I slipped and fell. Banged up and bruised, my new family helped me up. Luckily I had the GoPro camera on. You can see for yourself on the YouTube Channel. When I managed to find my feet again, I turned around to look at the temple. 99 steps. 99 steps to the top. 99 steps I was encouraged to climb. Obviously they hadn’t read my blog post on zip lining, or they would have known of my huge fear of heights that had always limited my adventures to ground level, or thereabouts.
99 steps! Super Sue yelled “Come on, Stormi!” as I hesitantly walked up to the first step.
99 steps. It’s not that bad, right? Oh yeah, I couldn’t even stay upright on the path to the temple, and they expected me to climb 99 steps? Breathe.
How could I do this? Baby steps, I decided. So crawling it was. Focus on the task at hand. Literally. “Don’t you dare look up or behind you,” I chanted to myself. Ralph Lauren followed closely behind offering encouragement like, “Take Your Time”, “You’re doing great”. 99 steps.
Every time I reached a platform I took a cautious look up. More?! Why was there always more?!
The thought, “Oh God, how am I going to get down?...” continued to creep into my mind. I began to visualize a rescue air lift, or a secret escalator that was hiding in the back, knowing very well neither would be there to save me when I reached the top. 99 steps.
Once I finally made it to the top, Super Sue greeted me. With a helping hand, she pulled me up the final step shouting, “You did it!” I carefully turned around and dared to look at the people below. They had us smile as we took pictures of our accomplishment. As I shared a weak smile for pictures, I couldn’t stop obsessing about the 99 steps I now had to find a way to successfully descend.
Everyone suggested for me to go down sideways. I recently went down sideways and crashed and burned. There must be another way. Oh yeah, carefully sliding one step at a time on my butt like a toddler while staring only at the step in front of me.
Some other tourist coming up laughed at me. I didn’t care. I had 99 steps to slide down while getting an extreme arm workout in the process. Ralph Lauren came skipping down the stairs like it was nothing. “You’re doing great!” he would encourage. My friends gave me a standing ovation at the bottom. I’d done it! Not gracefully, but successfully, and all in one piece. And I got to see some gorgeous scenery as a reward for my bravery.
When I was six years old, I was pushed into a pool before I knew how to swim. As anyone would do, I fought to keep my head above water, swallowing a lot of it into my lungs. As I slowly sank to the bottom, I felt someone’s arms pulling me back to the surface. Luckily, in a very crowded pool, a life guard had seen me sink and jumped in to save me.
This was a memory that I suppressed while growing up. However, it became more vivid as I got older. To this day I panic when water hits my face in the shower. I immediately grab for a towel to get it off. I’m even very careful when using a wash cloth to clean my face.
Needless to say, I lost my desire to ever be in deep water. When I saw snorkeling on the agenda during my trip to Belize, I knew it would be my biggest challenge yet. I made up my mind that I would conquer this challenge.
As I prepared to snorkel for the first time, I remained relatively calm until they handed me my goggles and my fins. I began to shake as my heart started to pound. This was suddenly real. Triumphant Trish and Trouble Maker Todd saw my struggle and sent much needed encouragement my way.
The boat ride was a little bumpier than my headache cared for, however, when we saw a pod of dolphins chasing us; I momentarily forgot the enormous challenge ahead of me.
The guides tied a life vest around my waist. Uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. Everyone around me empathized, and began comforting me. I couldn’t explain how hard this was for me. No one knew the origins or the depth of this fear.
Triumphant Trish and Trouble Maker Todd took the lead and came to my rescue. Both got me physically into the water. When I was finally in the water, the darkness that I knew too well came at me from all sides. It surrounded my head, making me feel blind. My heart was in my throat. I began gasping for air. What the heck was I thinking?! Six year old Stormi was sinking before my eyes! As tears exploded down my face, I shook my head violently, screaming out “I can’t do this!” I was so beside myself that I couldn’t even function.
Thankfully, Bold Brad came to save the day. He held my hand while everyone went ahead. I felt awful. Once again, I was keeping this man from enjoying himself. He told me repeatedly it was his job and was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me.
Brad helped initiate me to snorkeling gradually. The first lesson was to get my face in the water and learn to breathe calmly. Ha! Brad told me to stick my head into the water without the mouth piece. “Have you lost your dang mind?!” I thought. “If I could breathe under water, I wouldn’t be having this issue!” The mere thought caused my heart to race anew, and my head started to fill with darkness.
The rational side of my brain kicked in reminding me that this man had never put me into harm’s way. “I don’t think he’s going to let you drown in the middle of the ocean. It wouldn’t be good for business….” said my sarcastic side. A small laugh of relief escaped my lips.
I took a deep breath and cautiously put my face into the water. We practiced this several times while floating, then added the mouthpiece to the mix. I told myself, “You’ve got this.” I decided I was ready to go. However, the panic returned the second we took our first dive.
“Yoga Breathe!” I echoed to myself. I began to relax. The life vest and hand holding were also lifesavers. Although the waves plugged my ears, increasing my panic, we pushed on.
Soon Brad said, “Let’s go out further where it’s clearer.” SERIOUSLY?! I quickly decided that I had come this far, what was a little more? With each passing minute, the fear reseeded a little more.
But when I couldn’t feel his hand or see his arms move across my sight, I instinctively jerked my head out of the water. My heart jumped into my throat while scenes from movies like Deep Blue, The Perfect Storm, and Coast Guard started flashing before my eyes. Did I go too far? Had I gotten separated from EVERYONE?! Then I would see the top of Brad’s head again, and all was calm. Every time I began to panic, he would surface to ask if I was okay. Technically I was my usual hot mess on overdrive at the moment, but I couldn’t exactly dog paddle and explain my “specialness” in the middle of the reef. So I gave a thumb up instead while trying to look super cool, took a breath, and dived into the water yet again.
Ultimately, I got my own guided tour. We saw really cool things like a shark, a Dora fish, barracudas, and a ton more! Before I knew it, I could see the bottom of our boats. Had I really made it all around the edge of the island? Yes, I had!
I had assistance removing my fins and goggles and then waited for my sea legs to stabilize. Everyone asked me how I felt. I was so exhausted from swimming against the current; all I could do was smile and nod. I rested and waited to return to homeland.
This was definitely my biggest challenge thus far. Would I do it again? Probably. With a life vest and a little hand holding, six year old Stormi won’t be drowning anytime soon. I may even let my face get wet in the shower. But there’s no need to get TOO crazy…
Sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn’t just mean that you try a new activity, or jump on a plane, to travel to a country where you’ve never been. For some people, stepping outside of their comfort zone includes letting down their walls and opening up. Maybe it’s even to 15 strangers who help you make lasting friendships.
When yoga instructor, Sue Parks, asked me if I wanted to come to Belize with her, it took me three days to commit with a solid yes. What was the point in asking people to step outside of their comfort zones if I wasn’t willing to do so myself? Would my own willingness to take calculated risks really encourage anyone to do the same for themselves?
I decided to let fate take the wheel. This time I would travel outside of the country with a group of people whom I hadn’t met for the possible adventure of a life time.
After spending the first day traveling, I learned that I was with a very extraordinary group. A family traveled with their mother because it was on her bucket list to travel outside of the country with her children at least once. A couple vowed to have three stamps on their passport before they decided to start a family of their own. (They’re on country two!) Another couple decided to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with us. One woman traveled with her husband, hoping to reconnect with their long lost friend with newer friends in tow. These newer friends included another couple that traveled all over and shared their laughs and love with us all. There was another Storm Chaser who was also trying to step outside of her comfort zone and try new things with her very entertaining husband. They shared yet another adventure together. Also included in this group was our yoga instructor that will catch you when you fall, literally, and encourage you to do all sorts of things! Her loving partner was always at her side. He was a great fisherman, and a great story teller. And last, but not least, was our poor leader, who tried to keep all of our silliness and craziness in check as we traveled from place to place, that is, when he wasn’t joining in the fun himself.
It was easy to call them family by the time we returned to the states. They encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone with activities I had planned and some I hadn’t. They were patient when my previous concussion proved to be a continued difficulty, no matter my attempts and desire to make it stop.
So thank you Funny Frank, Humble Helen, Marvelous Marie, Sexy Scott, Sugar Shane, Super Sue, Jaguar John, Stretchy Sue, Triumphant Tricia, Trouble Maker Todd, Extreme Emily, Phenomenal Phil, Courageous Chris, Awesome Andrew, and Bold Brad for making this experience the best one yet!
A girl just trying to find her way, stepping outside of her comfort zone, trying new things, and making new friends along the way!