Midwest adventure: The hospitality of Scottsbluff, Nebraska

On the second week of our fellowship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, our hosts took us to western Nebraska to be immersed in rural American life and the midwestern experience. Since we’ve been staying in Omaha, which is the state’s biggest city, we really haven’t had the time to see the “midwest” we had in mind coming to America.

I’ve always loved long road trips, especially when I’m with great company. So when we were told that it’ll be an 8-hour bus ride to Scottsbluff, I was excited. (READ: Fall in Omaha: 10 amazing places to visit)

A few minutes after we left Omaha, rolling hills, vast cornfields, and flat grasslands filled our windows. It would be the same picturesque scenery that we will see for the entire trip. The view was quaint, plus the cold weather really made the trip comfortable.

A few hours on the road, we stopped by a popular restaurant in Paxton, Nebraska for lunch. Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse took us by surprise when we entered. The entire place was filled with big game trophies – stuffed heads of animals killed in hunting.

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This stuffed polar bear is at the entrance of the restaurant.

The food was great to be honest but it was pretty weird eating with a giraffe staring at you. There’s also an elephant head, a polar bear, and tens of moose and elk heads. I’ve only seen big game trophies in movies so it was quite a unique experience for me.

We were back on the road after lunch. I fell asleep quickly, as I always do after lunch time, but I woke up to some shouts and cries after a few hours. It was apparently snowing – and for many of my co-delegates it was their first time to see snow fall. We wanted to stop the bus so we could go out and enjoy the snow for a bit but the driver didn’t budge. We never saw snow again during our time in the US.

Before heading to Scottsbluff, we stopped by the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area to see some of the state’s unique sights. After trekking a couple of hills, we beheld the plains of western Nebraska with some mountains in the backdrop.

The hills themselves were scenic. Pine trees lined the pathway and we had to cross some areas covered in wheat. Our hosts said there were dangers of rattle snacks in the hills but we didn’t mind. The view was totally worth it.

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Into the woods of Wildcat Hills.

Scottsbluff, a home away from home

We arrived in Scottsbluff around 6PM in October 6. Prior to the trip, most of us didn’t have a clue of where the city is or what is in there. The information available online were also basic.

We were welcomed in a local Christian church in Scottsbluff by our host families. For the next 3 nights, we stayed and ate with American families who were generous enough to open their doors to complete strangers.

My fellow Filipino and I were assigned to a Filipino-American family. Mr and Mrs Russel and Tessie Colby gave us a very warm welcome in their home. They were a very lovely couple who, in the short time we were with them, treated us like family. It was as if Levinia and I were back in the Philippines.

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We made some new friends in Lincoln ES, Scottsbluff!

In the next few days that we stayed in Scottsbluff, as the weather grew colder the people we met became warmer. We visited the CAPWYN Youth and Health Shelters to learn their models for civic engagement and how they solve local issues in the area.

Of all the places we visited in Scottsbluff though, my favorite was going to Lincoln Elementary School and meeting some grade school students. For the short time we were in their school, we were able to build rapport with the kids. We talked about our countries in their classrooms and even played with them on the school grounds. We ended our short time by eating lunch with the kids and promising to connect with them online.

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The walk was part of an awareness campaign on modern day slavery.

Another highlight of our stay was joining the “No Girls for Sale” Walk in downtown Scottsbluff. I was surprised that modern day slavery is an issue in the midwest and that not a lot of people there are aware of it. In Southeast Asia, slavery is a very real threat so it was good to see how the West is coping with the problem.

Majestic beyond words

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The Scottsbluff Monument as seen from the road.

The Scottsbluff National Monument are a series of steep hills (bluffs) in western Nebraska and it is the most visited natural landmark in the area. The city got its name from it and it is part of the Oregon Trail, the historic east to west wagon route and emigrant trail.

All throughout our visit to the landmark, the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was running on my mind. As we were approaching the monuments, it was as if we were taken back in time. These were the same sights that the emigrants saw centuries ago. It was the same trail they took and they must’ve had the same reaction seeing the beauty of the landscape.

We didn’t have time to trek to the top – and the sun was in full afternoon heat – so we took turns riding cars to the top of the bluff.

“Majestic” cannot fully describe the view from the top of Scottsbluff. We saw the cities of Scottsbluff and Gering and the rolling plains of western Nebraska as far as our eyes can see. This was the midwest I had in mind but it was more beautiful than I had imagined.

On top of the bluff, there’s a trail that goes around. We walked for a couple of minutes but we were warned to stay on the path. The rock can easily break off so it was not safe to wander off the sides of the hill. Plus, there we were told there were rattle snakes.

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The towns of Gering and Scottsbluff as seen from the top of the bluff.

This is what I like about traveling – the places I visit always, in surprising ways, take my breath away. Scottsbluff Monument, for the short time I was there, certainly did.

No goodbyes

On our last day, we had a cultural program for our host families. We danced, sang, and presented aspects of our culture. It was like a mini ASEAN fair because all of us fellows were wearing our traditional clothes.

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Levinia and I with the Colbys after our cultural presentation.

We had a great time talking about home. Yet somehow it felt like this place had already become a home away in the short time we stayed there. The smiles and warm hugs we received from our host families after the program was proof of that.

As we went home for our last night with our hosts, the Colbys hosted a Filipino party for us. We met some of the migrant Filipinos living in the area and had Filipino food for dinner. It was a sweet, sweet feast that ended our weekend in Scottsbluff.

What’s more heartwarming was to hear the stories of the Filipino migrants in the area and to be able to share with them my perspective of what’s happening in the Philippines. Our night was filled with stories and wine and we promised to see each other again back in the Philippines.

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We met a real cowboy in Scottsbluff.

The morning we left Scottsbluff was melancholic. Everyone was teary-eyed saying goodbye to their families. Everyone thought the same thing – that we might not see our hosts ever again. It’s amazing how strangers can feel so connected in such a short time.

It was a different experience for me though. Tatay Rus and Nanay Tessie regularly visit the Philippines so I was certain I’d see them again – along with the other Filipino migrants there. If there’s one thing I learned in my 4 years of travel, it’s that people who are connected will always find their way back together.

It’s different though for Scottsbluff. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the chance to see the quiet downtown or experience the majestic view on top of the bluff again. But one thing is certain – it’ll always be a home away from home.

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Peace out, Midwest!
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