Like mosquitoes slowly draining strength from a weary body, the necessary details of travel: where to go when, for how much and how long, sometimes cling overly preoccupying a weary mind. But, just as pressing as these concerns can seem, they often pass quickly, at the moment when everything comes together again. I left San Pedro, crossing the northern end of Lake Atitlan to the very dissimilar town of San Marcos where the quiet vibe makes one easily forget such hassled details. No overpowering gringo voices, passé American pop or any bars from what I can tell either. Many of the structures on the property of where I am staying are in the shape of pyramids. I am inside one as I write; looking out through the open window the sun makes newly wet plants glisten; a glass of water, likely safe to drink, washes down my sun-dried, yet lake-rinsed throat. Here comes the rain again.
Half an hour ago was now like a frightful sweat before the rain. On a flat area of the rock face, lining the shore 400 meters from the town’s main embarquero & fronting a winding forest-encroaching trail, I lay looking up at massive white puff clouds backed by bright blue sky and occasionally 50 ft. down to the whisky lake ripples, lightly wind swept and tried to forget thinking. An unseen voice said: “Hola” in a non-native accent. “Hey,” I responded as I located its source back up on the trail. By perhaps gauging my appearance or perhaps by instinct, he self-assuredly switched to a non-native English.
“We are looking for a place to jump, but we don’t know how deep it is.
“Are you going to jump?” he continued.
“I thought about it,” I found myself responding though really it had been but a passing thought.
He was a young man of medium build, reddish-brown hair, freckly face and almost definitely not Guatemalan or North American. A second young man now emerged from the vegetation eagerly awaiting his chance to jump. They both made their way down to me at the rock platform to size up the jump. I mentioned that it might be a good idea to check the depth of the water by foot-first surface dive, which the young freckling foreigner shunned subtle with a slight shoulder shrug and then he was gone; off the edge and into the air before I could ask where are you from? I looked over to the other foreigner now standing where his friend had been. After a glance of complete confidence in my direction, his eyes fixed on some distant point straight ahead. Two steps and a strong foot-push off the ledge and he too flew down to the water tucking into a pencil-dive before breaking the calm surface. Both mystery men swam leisurely over to a flat rock seating area where, looking up they could see me nervously evaluating the jump. Fear ran down my throat like a poisonous snake’s venom and found a way to my heart, which sped up considerably. “C’mon,” one of them yelled encouragingly, yet at the same time laying down the challenge.
Five minutes earlier, I was lost in my world and now I’d been shaken to worry. Not so much of the jump itself, but of the disproportionate amount of fear the jump instilled in me and how contrastingly easy it was for my new acquaintances. A passing notion of future regret offered enough resolve to jump. Then, I went. For a second you weigh nothing and then splash.
“Where are you from?” I asked as I swam up to the flat rock seating area.
“We could speak Spanish if you guys prefer?”
“Don’t worry; we speak English, German, French & Spanish. It’s the same for us.”
His friend nodded the truth of the statement and they started to climb a steep tree-root haggled route heading back up the rock face. What’s in a name anyway?
“Do you want to come with us to find a higher jump?” one said.
“Why not?” I blurted out to which both laughed approvingly. The power of suggestion lay thick in the air.
I followed the two young Italians and their adventurous spirit up the rock face to the path at its edge, which would lead to a higher jumping rock. The fear, which had subsided since the successful last jump, returned with a vengeance at the sight of the jump’s height. Not since I was 18 and working at a small summer camp exploring unknown lakes and climbing and jumping their foreign rock-faced cliffs, had I felt this strength of fear or its inherent adrenaline that could allow one to overcome it. It dawned on me that I had lost touch with a former youthful need to overcome physical challenges in this shade of fear.
The young Italians had haphazardly found me & quickly re-activated a youthful response mechanism that had long been dormant. Their fearlessness displayed especially in taking the second and greater jump without pause was just contagious enough to send me off the edge after them and down into the cool water and a feeling of immediate release from that which had contained me on the rocky face’s edge high above.