|Belize circa 1998|
Sometimes things disappear and when they reappear, they're not quite the same.
I was in Belize when I was thirty-eight. During the trip we decided to take a kayak trip through the jungle. It was a few days trip with some overnight stays including searching for tarantellas at night and listening for the padded footsteps of jaguars whilst sleeping in the faux armour of a tent. There were six couples on the trip, all laden with gear and each paddling a two man rubber “kayak”. The kayak itself was a fourteen foot long, two and half foot wide inflatable raft-ish thing that steered like a brick in a wind storm.
Ours had a slow, undetectable air leak.
On the last day in the jungle, we came across a twenty foot water fall. The gear was portaged around the falls. Inflatable kayaks don't generally fit easily along a narrow, rocky path through dense jungle. The solution to the problem became obvious while I was carting my pack to the bottom of the waterfall. We were going over.
I looked at my partner at the time and, without hesitation, I was volunteered.
I trundled back up the trail to the top of the waterfall, scanned the water streaming along the river, stared at the inflatable, dingy and thought, this should be interesting. I pushed the kayak into the river, hopped in the back with a pretty useless paddle in my white-knuckled hand and mumbled “are you shitting me” while drifting toward the liquid edge of the Earth. As I drew closer, the sound of water assaulting itself at the bottom of the precipice grew louder, the jungle-scape moved faster, the spray from below became thicker and I'm pretty sure my eyes got bigger. Then, I was at the precipice.
The front half of the slightly deflated, yellow kayak folded downward and disappeared.
Umm... this can't be good.
I re-discovered the front of the kayak when the back decided to catch up and go vertical. Here I am being all manly, wearing a really cool looking Indiana Jones type hat in a fourteen foot inflatable banana sliding down a twenty foot waterfall with a paddle that's just along for the ride and my brain screaming the ever so coherent and helpful phrase, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!
Now, one must understand a bit of physics and the dynamics of slightly deflated, yellow rubber kayaks. Generally speaking, if the diabolical mass of rubber and air goes one way, like a swing in the park, it's equal and opposite reaction is also likely to take place. Namely, that which folds one way will likely fold the other. I slammed into the water at the base of the falls and the inevitable occurred. Within a nano-second I was a floating yellow, rubber taco with arms, legs and paddle sticking out each side.
All I remember is the front of the kayak folding and a wet-rubbery fphump as it slammed into my face, compressed my useless cool hat and attempted to turn my sunglasses into contacts.
The kayak eventually sprung open with a sloppy flop and almost flung me into the river. Soaked and laughing, I paddled to shore where the group were waiting. I couldn't describe what it felt like. I only knew I had a sense of overcoming.
If there is a moral in this story, it's this: try everything once that doesn't harm others or yourself. Trust yourself and your ability to overcome whatever may be in front of you. Those who risk looking foolish generally accomplish and experience much more than those who watch from the sidelines. The sense of pride for having done it – for proving to yourself you can do anything – is a building block that can never be removed or shattered.
And it gives you stories to write whilst sitting in big chair in your altogether on a sunny Sunday morning.