My first night was spent in the hostel where the rest of the group would meet the next day. I wish I could say I spent that night wandering the city street and drinking in the sights, but I slept for 14 hours instead. My first flying experience had been about 20 straight hours of travel and I was exhausted. Once the taxi dropped me off in front of the hostel, the only thing I did was check in and crawl into bed. I was woken up at 6 am by a bird with a call I can only describe as like a scream from around a mouthful of marshmallows.
That morning, as I waited for my group members to arrive, I watched as the street outside came alive. People rolled their food carts into their spots and began cooking breakfast. I was surprised at the number of people stopping at these carts for breakfast, but I later learned that it is often cheaper and more convenient to buy meals than it is to make them at home. Students in uniforms were walking and riding past on their way to school. I didn’t expect to see young children driving, but that was one of the first cultural differences I noticed. Kids that looked as young as twelve were driving to school on scooters and motorcycles. I would have loved to have been able to do that in elementary school! I passed the time waiting for the group to arrive like this for a few hours, just absorbing the sights and sounds of a typical morning in another culture.
When the rest of the group arrived, we spent the next few hours introducing ourselves and settling into the hostel. Our first meeting as a group was spent going over the expectations for the program and the itinerary for the next few weeks, and I think it was only then that the reality of my situation hit me. The next six weeks were going to expose me to the ecology and culture of two tropical countries, and I was sitting amongst people who would share in this experience with me twenty four hours of the day. It was an exciting and daunting thought.