22 May The Slow Death of Casual Danger
That was the shriek I heard from the crowd as I belly-flopped on my face. Well I guess if it is on your face, a more apt description would be a face-flop, but either way, it was loud and painful, effectively leaving my face down to my neck and shoulders bruised and a slow trickle of blood flowing from my lip as I embarrassingly emerged from the river. I made sure to float down stream before attempting to vacant the water so as to let all the agony absorb before I tried to gracefully pull off the “it was all part of the show” routine.
“Wow. How did you do that? I mean the swing just lets you drop down straight and yet you rolled 180 degrees forward? That looked painful.”
“I don’t know. Talent.”
I am secretly terrified of my face/head/the-most-sensitive-parts of my body hitting the water first in any circumstance, much less when flying off a giant rope swing in front of a crowd. I can’t dive headfirst into water. I try. But I always end up pulling up last minute in a brief moment of subconscious, reactionary fear and land on my face. It is a gift. Yet when the moment comes, and I know what the end result will be, I can’t say no to the rope swing/bridge jump/spiral of death/etc.
Rope swings with jagged boulders, bridge jumps with rocks protruding from the water with a guide instructing you to just “jump kinddda left” and dark, slippery caves with no natural light – only a candle with dripping hot wax you were given that specks your face with smelter hot goo as you try to not lose sight of the person in front of you – are the last remnants of true, lawsuit free joy in the world. The place I am referring to is Semuc Champey – one of Guatemala’s nature treasures of evergreen lagoons and a meandering cave system that makes you feel like you are on a Goonie adventure. It is one of the best places I have ever been and it has all the aspects of things you must see and do while on vacation: extreme beauty and lawsuit potential. But this causal and blaze approach to things that are dangerous, the ones you hear statistics about on the news, could be anywhere outside the West. Central America, Southeast Asia, South America…the world is littered with bastions of fun and light danger. Where people are expected, and daresay challenged, to exercise their best judgment. The kind of judgment mom scolded you about yet you haven’t really had to use if you have grown up in the West, where lawyers long ago deemed that coffee served too hot could yield you a $1Million dollar payday and everything has been made moron-proof. Helmets worn at all time, no smoking anywhere that breaths life – has left us as feeble children told you can’t do anything. Life has turned into a Disneyland tour in the West so it seems. I am sure some of the rules come from sound logic and statistical findings, but sometimes, you just gotta let Darwin run his course.
However, just because some abuse the system, or rather act ferociously stupid, does that mean when we go on vacation we should forget all sense of sensibility and let idiocracy reign? What happened to common sense and taking personal responsibility?Last month when I went diving in one of the world’s premier dive spots, Cozumel Mexico, where tourists conglomerate to on giant, mega cruise ships for its crystal clear blue waters and endless stores hawking duty free jewelry and tacky vacation wear, I looked to shave off a couple of bucks on my scuba diving excursion by going with a guy that my buddy found – who appeared to operate his dive shop out of a taco truck. While I am a PADI certified diver, my friend had no such license and the other two New Yorkers who accompanied us had only seen diving “from the police in the Hudson searching for dead bodies”. Needless to say I was a bit surprised when our guide mentioned we might go through a couple of tunnels and 30 minutes later I found myself doing an inverted 90 degree cave dive behind a conga line of divers who have never seen the ocean before. Equally surprising was the guide’s complete confidence in his uncertified dive group’s underwater ability, despite the fact that on the first dive, one of the New Yorkers could not submerge more than 5 meters due to extreme ear pain.
“It’s no problemo my friend. Just plug, pop and go. No pain, no problemos.”
Sage advice. And just like that we were off.
So did the guide make me go on the rope swing where I landed on my face not just once, but twice? Did I choose to take a pass when I found out I was diving with Cheech Marin and Tweedle-Dee and Twiddle-Dumb? Should I pretend I can’t hear my mom’s voice as I jump off the bridge into the
rock bed with some water river with a few rocks around it? I don’t know – but I can’t help but ask – what would Steve McQueen do?