I went to Central America in October this year, along with 19 other people who I didn’t know at all. We traveled through the country of Guatemala for nine days, learning each other’s stories, making up songs, laughing and crying together. We came to this country as strangers, and left it feeling like a family.
Every person on this trip brought something special to it, and if you know me- you know that my love language is words of affirmation, and I have the tendency to believe that some people dish out love the way they receive it. So, let me tell you about my unbelievably wonderful, hilarious, awesome team.
Alli is from Japan. Well, she’s actually from New York- but right now she lives in Japan, because she’s teaching over there. (Casual, right?) She is one of those artsy, imaginative, and thoughtful kind of people. Before any of us had even left for the trip, she made it a point to reach out to a number of us, and took interest in our lives and our stories. When Alli talks to you- she really listens to you, she really looks at you and listens- and when she tells stories, she paints a picture for you with the way that she speaks. She’s spontaneous, and bold- she isn’t afraid to dive off of a hot waterfall, or to be the first girl walking around in a sports bra when it’s hot as hell outside. She was affectionate and loving to every person she met. She exudes confidence and kindness.
Blake and Reysha go together only because they’re married. They live in Kansas, and the two of them are pretty different, if you ask me. They have a love story that people dream of. They’re in their early twenties now- but started dating when they were in the 7th grade. The. Seventh. Grade. Blake kept everything laid back and light-hearted on our trip- if I could place a picture of a person next to the definition of “chill” it would probably be Blake. Blake is also really kind, and he loves his wife a ton. He was the one between the two of them that actually told me their story. (example: at their wedding, they read letters that they had written to each other when they were in the 10th grade. Um… my heart? Yeah, that’s it shattering, because so cute) Reysha is the kind of friend that is going to be honest with you from the get-go. She has a ton of sass in her, and she says exactly what’s on her mind- but, it’s also easy to tell that Reysha has a really soft heart, and cares for people, and that’s something really beautiful about her. Also, she literally has an eye-roll that could kill. It’s amazing.
Briona, which sounds like Brianna, but will also go by Bri- but I just call her B was one of my best friends that I made on this trip. She’s from Arizona, but has seen so much of the world. If I were to describe her to someone, I’d use words like “big-hearted”, “fearless”, and “talented”. B spent multiple late nights with me talking about life, and would sit with me at 6 AM while we scrolled through pictures and journaled. She runs her own business, travels, loves people well, and lights up a room when she talks. I feel lucky to get to call her my friend. At this moment, my friend Bri is in Belize. She’s backpacking, staying in hostels- and just experiencing Belize casually. She’s the kind of person you want to be when you grow up. I want to be more like her, and that’s for sure.
Carl can make you laugh so hard that your stomach cramps up. He also can make you feel like you’re the funniest person in the world if he laughs at one of your jokes. We spent about 4 hours on our bus together after we left for Rio de Dulce. Carl spilled tea left and right the whole week we were there, but he’s also the kind of person that will take care of you without a second thought when you’re having the worst day, and he’s a great listener. He also kept our group rolling with the things he would say under his breath or to all of us. He had enough attitude for our entire group, and definitely didn’t need the next person below this to add to it, however, she did.
Oh, Chelsea. Where do I even begin? Chelsea was my first roommate in Guatemala, and I’m really glad she was, because Chelsea was the most honest and blunt person on this trip. (example: “Chelsea, is my outfit ‘too much’?” ….. “Yeah, you should change. You look extra as hell.”) Don’t receive this wrong, we all loved Chelsea for this- because this is just who she is, and she sticks to her guns on these things. She knows who she is, and she won’t apologize for it. She’s someone I admire and would love to be more like; to be apologetically me, and if someone doesn’t like it- I really don’t care. Also, I want her to marry my brother. Her and Carl were like an unstoppable force during the week and would call out people for their bs if necessary. When together, the two of them were hilarious. But, I feel the need to also say- Chelsea is a really good friend. My first day I had a minor meltdown because I realized that I had never traveled alone to a country where I didn’t know anyone, and got really scared. She didn’t just talk me down and tell me that I would be fine- but she told me that my feelings are normal. She validated me. Chels is a good one.
Connor can be anyone’s best buddy. He’s 1/4 of the Vivid Roots Founders and spent our service days with us. The first day he arrived, he was unpacking in his room with the door wide open, so I walked into, sat down, and immediately started talking with him. He didn’t even skip a beat with a total stranger showing up in his doorway, but welcomed me in and immediately engaged, despite being tired from his flight. When you meet Connor, you immediately like him. He is genuine, he really loves people, and he believes wholeheartedly in what his company does.
Diego lives in Guatemala. He was one of our tour guides during out 9 day trip, and he loves to show people his country. His heart for his people is one of the most beautiful things that I saw on this trip. In addition to this, Diego is also insanely hospitable. On my second day in Antigua, during breakfast we began talking about his family and he was showing pictures of his daughter, wife, and dog. Later in the day, our group was preparing dinner and Diego shouts across the room “Tori! You wanna go meet my family?” and I shrugged, and said “Ok. Let’s go!” and we left- we just left the group, and walked two blocks to his house- where not only his wife and daughter live- but also his parents and brothers and sister. Before I knew it, I was sitting at a kitchen table with his whole family talking about Guatemala and eating pizza with them. They are exactly like him. Hospitable, welcoming, and kind. He even sent me home with a gift- a pine-wood tea candle holder, that’s in the shape of a horse (because he remembered that I love horses.)
My favorite thing about Fedora was how she loved to call people out for nice things she noticed about them. She loved pointing out the good in people- especially when she noticed them doing something. Fedora was one of the easiest people to talk with on this trip. She listens well, takes interest in your life, and asks questions. On our third day in Guatemala we hiked up to volcano- except for the two of us. Us? We rode horses up the volcano. How many people can say they’ve done that? Specifically up a volcano. She says “Yes.” to things like this. She is a “Yes.” girl, and I love that about her.
Helena is thoughtful and extremely empathetic. She’s from Brazil, so speaking Spanish wasn’t exactly hard for her to do. This wasn’t just handy for the rest of us when it came to translating with the locals, but to get to watch her connect with the people she would meet was so cool. Helena bonded so much with the mothers in Chiquimula, and her heart broke for them as we left. Right after we left the school on Day 6, we were taken to a beautiful view point outside of the village we were in. Everyone was emotional, but Helena and I couldn’t exactly come down from all that we were feeling as fast as everyone else. While others were taking pictures and exploring, Helena and I stood by a guard rail and talked about the affect this was having on us. She talked about the young mothers she met, and how much her heart aches for them because they hardly have anything, and still are so loving and positive. Helena is such a beautiful person, with an even more stunning heart.
Helle also lives in Guatemala. She was our other guide during our stay, and was the last person I’d expect to become so close with (because, like, who becomes BFF’s with the tour guide?) Helle really cares for her people deeply (her people = us) before I knew it, I could physically see how much she loved all of us. She made a point during our visit to get to know each of us, and to actually be with us while the majority of us were experiencing Guatemala for the very first time. She didn’t just get us from point A to point B, but would be in it with us. You could tell easily that one the rewards she loves getting to work for Vivid Roots is seeing how people experience and are affected by these adventures. She loved all of us so well during the trip, and was basically our trip “Mom” during our 9 days.
Laila, which sounds like Lyla- not Layla, has a heart of gold. One of the things I admired so much about Laila was her desire to know more. She wanted to know more about you, she wanted to know more about the culture, the “why’s” of this and that, she was in constant “sponge mode” on this trip (a phrase coined by Peyton, thank you!) You could tell that almost always, Laila had something on her mind that she was wondering about, processing, or something along those lines. Her curiosity about people and the place we were in was encouraging, and I want to be more like her in that sense.
Everyone liked Megan. She was by far the coolest out of all of us. If you didn’t read earlier- she literally jumped onto a power saw on her first day working at the school. A power saw, you guys. She also free-climbed a cave wall that we explored, which yes, was not safe, and yes, terrifying to watch, but YES, was SO COOL. What I love about Megan is that she has this “all-in” mentality. She is the person you want with you when you’re being spontaneous, because she will look at you and say “Hell yes, let’s go, I got your back.” She makes you want to be adventurous, she makes you question whether you really have a reason to be scared of something, she made me want to be more bold.
Similarly, everyone loved Mehdi too. Mehdi is from Belgium, and came a day late- but established his place in the group immediately. What I expected out of him was this quiet, observant dude who I would probably hear 5 sentences from. What I GOT from him, was this wild, hilarious, life-filled, dancing-fool, who just wanted us to have the best time we possibly could. Mehdi could recite word-for-word almost any rap song we would put on, and for some reason- every time he did this, ALL of us would LOSE IT. If there was ever a lull, we could count on Mehdi to liven it up. He blew my expectations out of water, and really taught me to not judge someone so quickly- because I was SO wrong.
Nate is the kind of person you can’t really put in a box. During the trip, I brought up Enneagram’s with the group, and started listing off what type I thought different people were, and I couldn’t really figure out Nate’s. What we found out later, is that Nate can’t really figure out Nate’s either. Tests aren’t always accurate, but Nate took two tests and got like 6 different numbers. But what I loved about Nate, is how you can talk to him for hours about everything. Nate is a really interesting person, and he is another person on this trip that cared a ton about people. Almost every day you could catch him trying to take care of someone on the trip that needed it. Later on Day 6, I rolled my ankle ~three time~ and boy took off his socks and made some kind of make-shift splint around my foot. He’s selfless.
Peter was someone I didn’t get to spend too much quality time with on the trip, I’ll be honest. But, there are a number of things to say about him. For starters, if Peter wasn’t with us- it would immediately be noticeable, without Peter, it didn’t feel like our group was complete at all. He was consistently the most positive person on the trip- always looking for the humor in things, even when we were tired, hungry, and smelly. But, my favorite thing about Peter was his desire to make a conversation about you. He has this awesome talent for putting other people in the spotlight. He points out the funny thing that you said, he revisits it later so you still feel funny, and he lifts you up.
Peyton was the very first person I met on this trip, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to keep this ball of sunshine with me as a friend for forever. I couldn’t believe she was 19 when I met her, because this girl has traveled the whole world, y’all. She’s been to Thailand, London, and honestly a ton of more places I can’t think of right now- but my point is, is that this girl has experienced a lot. Peyton was the light of our group. She has sunny disposition, the cutest laugh you’ve ever heard, but she could also probably kick your butt if she needed to. Peyton became my little sister the first day I met her- but also became one of my very good friends. On Day 1 when I was feeling overwhelmed about everything, she let me put my head in her lap and she scratched my back for what felt like an hour until I calmed down. She has a heart that is as big as the sun.
Rabia is sincere. She’s from London, so, obviously we all loved to hear her speak during the week- and also, she is stunning, but my favorite thing about this girl was how sincere she was. She comes off pretty quiet when you first meet, and you can tell that she’s so much going on in her head. But, once you begin a conversation with her- whatever you’re talking about, it just feels like she really means every word that she’s saying. Does that make sense? I hope it does. She’s also imaginative and thoughtful. She’s the kind of person that makes you wish you could read minds- because there is SO much going on in her head.
Describing Samantha is kind of hard, because there are a lot of characteristics about her that don’t always go hand-in-hand. She is an observer. I watched her watching people from the very first day, and she has a ton of thoughts going on in her head. It’s clear. She’s also an insanely, naturally talented photographer. She captured multiple gorgeous shots during our trip. She’s humble about her talent, though. I didn’t even know she was a photographer until the end of the trip. She’s also a listener, and sassy, and laid back, and just a melting pot of different attributes. But, that’s what makes her so unique.
Sam Potter was the reason a large number of us came on this trip. It’s how some of us found Vivid Roots in the first place- from a random post by a creator that we followed who lives in Hawaii. If you’d asked me to describe him before this trip, I would’ve said: adventurous, creative, and carefree. These things are still pretty true, but what I realized during this trip is that Sam has layers. He is the kind of person that will be the life of the party, telling stories and jokes- but can turn around and go for a 2 hour walk at 5 in the morning by himself- just to be alone. When you walk around a city with him, he wanders off from the group mindlessly and you can literally see him getting lost in his head while he’s admiring what’s around him. Something I loved about Sam was his intentional-ness with everyone that came on this trip. Throughout each day, whatever we were doing, you would see him sitting with a different person that came on this trip, and taking time to know them. When Sam talks to you, he makes you feel known. I expected that he would be nice, funny, and spontaneous- and he was, but like I said, there are layers. He’s also compassionate, tender-hearted, and thoughtful. My favorite memory of Sam was watching him play soccer with these kids. He had Connor pick up his camera and film for a bit, and there was a point when I watched Sam look up and say “Hey, man, you can stop filming. We’re good.” and then kept playing for almost an hour, I think? I know this could look small to someone, but I think this is an indicator of who he is. Yes, he likes creating; getting to show people what he’s doing and where he goes, but he loves being present and experiencing these stories. He loves the people he meets, and he won’t leave a place until he knows that they feel that from him, and I like that about him.
This is over 3,000 words now. But, this was my team. In all honesty, I feel like these words hardly give them credit for how great they were. They deserve all the good things in life, and I can’t believe that I- me, this girl from some small city on the Gulf Coast, gets to call them her friends. I have the coolest friends.