Friday, January 26, 2018

Girl Scout Destinations: Catching Waves and Life Lessons in Costa Rica, as Told by Bella M.

Last summer, I went on a Girl Scout Destination trip to Costa Rica that changed everything.

The group’s first nightly meeting of the trip would affect our entire journey. The saying “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” was the first quote that we heard from Bailey, our trip leader, and to me, it was the most memorable thing I heard all night. Looking back, I think Bailey knew exactly how much this trip would push all of us to step out of our comfort zones. I remember how we were all standing outside of the base camp in San Jose trying to process everything Bailey had just said about what we’d experience over the next two weeks. At that point, I couldn’t possibly imagine how many new things I would do and try over the next ten days or how hard I would push myself.

I would describe myself as someone who loves adventure and is always up for a challenge. The first few days of our trip were filled with activities that seemed like they were meant just for me. On the first full day, we hiked up a mountain before zip lining down the other side with a perfect view of San Jose below. We passed rivers, flew over the great green mountainside, and even saw some wild goats. On the second day, we had a two-hour white water rafting trip down a river up in the mountains. The water was crystal clear, and there were vines and palm trees covering us from the heat of the sun. We were all amazed at how beautiful and untouched everything around us was. Every now and then, we even got to see wild horses that would come down to the bank of the river for a drink.

Here’s the thing: if the whole trip had been like the first few days, I would have had a perfect time, but I would have also stayed safely in my comfort zone and missed out on so much. It wasn’t until the third and fourth day of the trip that I started to understand, on a different level, what Bailey was really hinting at during that first night together.

A few days into our journey, we woke up around five in the morning to pack all of our things and drive to the western coast of Costa Rica, where we would spend the remainder of our trip camping at Marino Ballena National Park. On the van ride to the beach, we were all chatting excitedly until Bailey asked, “By a quick show of hands, who’s been camping before?” I remember looking away from the window, and seeing everyone's hand raise but my own. At first, I was surprised that every other girl had been camping before and started to worry that I had no idea how to even pitch a tent. Then I quickly realized it didn’t really matter, because I had nine other girls who knew what they were doing and would help me. That’s the great thing about Girl Scouts—you’re always in a community!

“Not a big deal!” I thought. Oh, how wrong I was! I didn’t realize how big of an impact the weather would have until it started raining every night. On one particular night, there was a huge thunderstorm that seemed bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever seen before in my little town just outside Boston, Massachusetts. I couldn’t even think of ways to prevent the rain from soaking our tents until another girl passed out four garden shovels we had and gave everyone else sticks to dig trenches for the rain. What might have seemed like a miserable situation to others, we turned into fun.

What really stuck out to me was how we all jumped in to dig trenches around the whole campsite. It didn’t matter whose tent it was, because we were all in it to help the larger group. Although it may not have been the most pleasant experience, I understood that I would have never done something like that had it not been for camping or the bad weather. Afterward, our instructors used the thunderstorm as an example of why Girl Scouts are their favorite groups to host on these trips—we are always ready to step up to the challenge and take the lead in any situation.

Most of the days after that passed in a blur, and we spent them making friendship bracelets, getting to know one another, and enjoying the beautiful views. Everything about this trip seemed like it could be like any other outdoor program, except for when challenges or problems came up. Then, it seemed like we were all ready to figure out what to do, work together, and keep trying if it didn’t work the first time. I don’t think that being a Girl Scout has ever been as much of a part in my life as it was during that trip. That’s when I really started to notice how we were all ready to step up and be leaders, team players, and friends whenever needed.

In the beginning, it seemed like we had a limitless amount of time to explore Costa Rica. In the middle, it was exhausting trying to fit in as many adventures as we could to each day. Finally, by the end, we were more focused on the group as a whole and our friendships with one another.

If I had to pick a favorite day, it would be the last evening we had on the beach and into our last afternoon before heading back to the base camp. That night, we all sat around a fire after dinner making s’mores when our instructors brought out their ukuleles. We could see the stars so clearly, and it added a sense of fun that there were storm clouds rolling in and we could see the dry lightning crackle through the sky.

It was the first time I think that as a group we were sad, because we knew that the next day would be our last. But before anyone had time to get too sad, another storm hit, and we decided to call it a night and crawl into our tents. Little did we know that we would have to grab all our things and run to the park ranger’s house because the wind was blowing over our tents so hard. In any normal group, I think we all would have panicked and the whole situation would have been a nightmare, but we grabbed our things and then went back to make sure the instructors had the help they needed as they tried to save as much of the campsite as possible.

Hours later, when the storm had passed, I remember moving all of our things back into our tents, and we all just started to laugh. Whether it was from being tired or having a little too much adrenaline, it was one of those small but meaningful moments that we knew we’d never forget. Looking back, it wasn’t the best trip I’ve ever had, nor the easiest, but I value it so much more knowing that stepping out of my comfort zone is never supposed to be easy. From trying new things to learning to be OK with the unknown, I definitely pushed past being “safe” and filled my days with experiences that I never before would have wanted to try out of fear.

Bella, 18, is a Girl Scout Senior from Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. She enjoys running cross-country and track, playing guitar, babysitting, surfing, and horseback riding. Her favorite part of being a Girl Scout is all the connections she’s made and the people she’s met. In fact, she still keeps in touch with everyone from her trip to Costa Rica as well as the girls in her troop, despite difficult schedules. 

In the future, Bella hopes to live in Spain or Italy for a few years after college and learn Spanish, Italian, and French. For her career, she plans to become a doctor and work with Doctors Without Borders.  

Check out Girl Scout Destinations, the ultimate adventure for girls ages 11 and older. With a ton of different trips to choose from every year—from surfing camp on the east coast to breathtaking hikes out west to the crazy-cool wonder of new cultures abroad—there’s something amazing for everyone to experience. The deadline to apply for a 2018 trip is coming up soon. Please check with your council for the specific date, and apply today!