It was the first night in Peru. I had met my fellow expedition members only hours before and we were sitting down for our first meal together before our rafting adventure began. Paul assured us that in a day or two we would all feel like family, but first came introductions; where we were from, what we did for a living, and what we did in our spare time.
My answer: New York City, business consultant, anything that scares me.
That last answer is the reason I signed up for Roadmonkey. I had no idea the demands of white water rafting or of building a playground. I was sure I wouldn't be the most physically fit or that my experience spending a day at a time on various service projects would qualify me to do any more than hammer a nail.
I was right, on both accounts. The two marathon runners in our group put my fitness to shame and I developed a very contentious relationship with a power drill.
What Roadmonkey asks of you is not that you be in the best shape or that you be well versed in power tools, it asks that you keep an open mind with your fellow travellers and the people you meet along the way, embrace unforeseen circumstances and keep a positive attitude even when you are exhausted and sore.
I found that in doing those things, I opened myself up to an experience that has forever changed me. On the tough days, I made an effort to laugh (with 6 people in helmets and wetsuits it's pretty easy to find the humour). When our playground project hit a few hurdles, I took pride that we had created something where nothing had been.
In challenging, unfamiliar circumstances, you come face to face with yourself. You get to decide what you are capable of by pushing your boundaries. If you are open to it, you can surprise yourself. I certainly did.
I was surprised to find that while it was the adventure that led me to Roadmonkey, it was the time we spent on our volunteer project that affected me the most. I have found no substitute for the joy I felt watching the kids on our playground the last day. Those few days changed my ideas about what is most important to me.
I left ten days in Peru with friends I will have for a lifetime and the confidence to go after the things that make me happy.
Jessica Baird, 29, a business consultant working for a international firm in NYC.member of Roadmonkey’s Peru 2011 expedition.