Below is a reflective essay by a 2014 Footsteps of Giants participant, Jacqueline Peralta. She was given the opportunity to travel and explore the world, and herself, thanks to the Geography of Hope Foundation.
Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would ever stand on top of a mountain, breathing in the beauty of Norway. Me. A 14-year-old Mexican-American, coming from a single parent, low-income household. Never did I imagine I would be surrounded by natural beauty, by the roar of a waterfall dropping off a cliff edge, the cawing of the birds, the gleam the jellyfish sparkled once the sun hit the top of their soft heads. Never did I imagine that I, Jacqueline Peralta, would make it this far.
“Kayaking. Traveling through the Baltic Sea in these banana shaped boats. Fantastic”, I thought to myself as I realized that yes, we will be kayaking for the next 5 days or so. At first, the nausea kicked in. I don’t know how to swim, and being in a tiny boat in the middle of a sea for most of the day? Um, crazy idea. I then realized that hey, maybe it won’t be so bad. After all, I had a life vest. So I ran across the frigid water hugging the shoreline the first day, and jumped into my banana shaped form of transportation. I had one of my group leaders, John, as my partner. I was kinda bummed out, because c’mon now, he was a group leader. He was probably going to nag me with all the rules for the rest of the day. I sighted, as I positioned myself, and helped paddle our kayak off the shore line. It was quite a struggle at first, for a girl with no upper body strength, kayaking through the Baltic Sea. It had its difficulties. I remember often falling asleep while kayaking from the exhaustion. But John, he was always there to paddle for both of us. I felt horrible, yes. I tried not to fall asleep much. I usually got distracted form me being tired though. This was by looking at the scenery and trying to soak it all in, or just talking to John about my life, and hearing about his. I remember our second night of kayaking. We had to hike for about 45 minutes to our campsite. For a girl that got tired walking to the fridge outside her room? That was torture. I didn’t give in to crying, like most girls. Nope. Gotta show ‘em that even though I might have been young, I had grit. So I made it to the top. Slowly but surely. And that, that’s when I realized that this trip wasn’t going to be something easy that I could just blow off with no physical exercise.
White water rafting what triggered my love for adrenaline. As I mentioned before, I can’t swim. Sailing through an inflatable boat with a Danish guide that the same sarcastic personality I had, well, it was quite interesting. I think the most challenging part was the fact that I had to make an attempt to swim off to the raft that was located in the middle of the river, so that I could prove that I could do it. That was the physical challenge. The metal challenge was to not think of my friend, Silas- who died drowning. I remember pep talking to myself, saying how I had made it so far, I couldn’t die now. But I was afraid of getting stuck under the raft if I fell, of hitting my head on a rock maybe too hard, of getting washed away with the strong currents. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much thrill, such of feeling of being alive; the moment the first ice cold wave hit me square on the face. That’s when I knew things had just gotten real. I forgot about my inability to swim, my dear of dying, my fear of not making it, and I focused on paddling. “Paddle. Breathe. Hold on. Paddle. Breathe. Hold on.” I chanted to myself, over and over again. Finally, our guide, Russmuss, told us we survived the first part- just 3 more to go. Overall, it was quite an action packed experience. I now plan on trying out white water kayaking.
Hiking was the section where I seriously considered breaking my arm in order to get sent home. I just couldn’t do it. Carrying a 40 pound bag on my back, walking through rough terrain, mud, water, unsteady bridges? I felt like I wouldn’t survive. I whined so much to John, I’m surprised he didn’t beat me with a stick. John and Hannah were my saviors. They motivated to keep me going. John told me, “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you get there.” I use that in day to day life now, when I feel like I’m not fast enough in whatever situation I might be. I also heard this saying, I’m unsure on who said it, but it went something like this, “The mind tends to give up faster than your body.” I live by this now. Every time I feel like giving up, I think about this. I reflect, and realize that I can keep on going. That I have to have drive, and just do it.
I have not touched a bike since I was seven. And hey, guess what? Mountain biking was part of the activities! I had already accepted the fact that I was going to make it home in 3 pieces at the least. The first day was hard. I had to learn the basics- controlling the bike, gaining balance, and knowing the appropriate gears for the appropriate terrains. It was all good. I got addicted to the feeling of freedom, of the wind whipping my hair, of the bike going in an immense fast pace, that I forgot about the possibility that hey Jackie, you’re going to fall if you’re not careful. And I fell, boy did I fall, so many times. I finally had the chance to us the whole “Do you have a band-aid? Because I scraped my knee falling for you” pick up line once I got home. I got deep cuts and such. I tried my best not to give up, even when I had gravel up my nose. I did not say. “Oh, don’t feel like doing it today, I’ll do it later.” I put the pro in procrastination, and this was not a place where I could practice my art. No, I had to get stuff done, when they had to be done. So I did what I had to do, hopped back on my bike, and rode the road to happiness.
Before this trip, I was a different person. I allowed depression to take over my life. I didn’t want to live, what was there to live for? I didn’t care. But now… how have I changed. I realized that I need to do something with my life. While most teens want to get drunk, I want to go camping, get more in touch with nature. Feel alive. Feel the crisp air of a mountain once again. Sleep in a tent, serenade yourself to the song of a native bird. I’ve matured. I’ve realized that mother nature is beautiful, and that we have to take care of her, before it’s too late. This trip has inspired me to travel to new places. This trip, it molded me to a whole new different person. And for that, I am eternally grateful.