Back in 2006, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity visit the Mayan Riviera region in Mexico. What fascinated me most during my trip wasn't so much the resort life, rather being able to visit the local scenery. I felt a deep connection to visiting ancient artifact sites such as the Ruins and also had a breath-taking experience of climbing an ancient pyramid located in the Coba village. During this excursion, we were able to visit a cenote. This story is based on what I experienced when visiting the cenote and how I learned that overcoming (any) fears that hold us back can lead to amazing experiences.
a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes ground water underneath
The Coba Cenote
I'm at the entrace of the cenote. It has an old wooden stairway that descends in a spiral like fashion into the darkness of the sinkhole. I'm in a line of people who are descending the stairway step-by-step. Each step I take takes me further away from the bright sun hovering directly over the entrance. At first I can't see a thing as I'm immersing into the dark. There's an artificial light that's been installed inside the sinkhole so that people can make their way around. My eyes eventually adjust and I can start to make out the inner features of the cenote. It's beautiful! As I'm descending, I'm fascinated by the way the inside of the cenote is naturally formed: jagged spikes of rock on the ceilings and walls, a pool of crystal clear water at the bottom.
As I'm making my way down the stairway, I notice that there's a deliberate opening in a section of the railing revealing a small ledge. It appears to be a jump off point that one could plummet into the depths of the waters below. I take note of how high the ledge is from the bottom. "There's no way I'm jumping off that", I say to myself. I descend further down, I notice there's a second opening in the railing revealing another ledge. This one is closer to the water, yet still quite a jump. Ahead of me, a young man, probably about my age takes the plunge. I watch as I see his body crash into the depths of the water. He emerges from underwater unscratched and unscathed. "Maybe...", I say to myself.
I finally reach the bottom of the cenote. There's a sitting area where people have left their belongings before taking a dip into the underground pool. "Absolutely beautiful!", I think to myself. I set down my towel and underwater camera by the sitting area, and prepare myself to take a swim. I walk toward the edge, where the water meets the surface. I stick my foot in the water to check the temperature. "Man, it's cold!", I shout. I figure I should just to get it over with, and jump straight into the pool. My entire body instantly chills all over as I'm underwater. My head eventually pops back up above the water at which point I start to enjoy my time in the water that I hardly notice the chills I felt when I first jumped in.
Soon after, Sarah jumps in the water and swims about gracefully. Talley dips his foot into the water and shouts, "Whoa, that's cold dude!". He gradually dips his entire body into the water and hovers closely by the edge with a big smile on his face. Naika decided to take a pass on swimming in the cenote, but she watches from the edge, standing by taking pictures. She's having just as much fun as the swimmers.
As I'm treading water, I hear a few crashing sounds at the other side of the sinkhole. I realize that a few people have jumped into the water from the ledges. It intrigues me and I begin to feel something deep inside of me. It's a slight feeling and I ignore it temporarily. I watch as I see another fellow on the ledge leap into the water. CRASH! Wow, that was cool!
An Englishman who we had met earlier on the tour approaches me. He was watching the same fellow when he jumped.
"You're young! You should be jumping off of that!", he says. "What about you? You should do it!", I reply.
"I'm too old! If I were younger then maybe I would. But you have no excuse, you're young! You should do it!", he says with enthusiasm.
At that moment, Sarah swims up next to me. Her eyes are fixated on the lower ledge above us. She was watching a few of the other people jumping from the ledges as well.
"Do you wanna do it?", she asks.
"I don't know.", I answer, but part of me wants to. I can't ignore the feeling anymore. It creeps up on my entire being as soon as Sarah asks me that question. I don't have many words for this feeling. I can only describe it as an inner calling, an inner desire to conquer something.
"I'll do it if you do it.", she says.
I hesitate and try to think about it logically, but in that instant my logic is overtaken by that urge inside of me. Before I know it, I reply "Ok, let's do it!", and we're both walking up the stairway toward the lower ledge. "Who said that?", I think to myself. Was I momentarily possessed by some unseen force? No, it's me. It feels like an uncontrollable instinct. Part of me worries, but the other part of me craves the adventure and needs to do this.
Sarah trails close behind me as we walk step-by-step, closer and closer to the lower ledge. I reach the lower ledge and place both feet on it. I look down at the crystal clear water below. "Whoa, this is quite high!” I think to myself. I stop myself from saying it out loud; doing so would only scare me and Sarah out of taking the leap. Enough thinking about it, do it. I take the plunge and I'm falling. My body crashes into the water, and I open my eyes to see what the surroundings are like underwater. All I see is a blurry blue colour. Beautiful, nevertheless! I float back up and swim to the edge, pulling myself out of the water. Just then I hear a crash behind me; Sarah's jumped.
I help pull Sarah out of the water, and we're expressing how exhilarating that experience just was. We walk back toward our original spot, where Talley and Naika are congratulating us as we approach. We enter the water again and continue swimming around, treading water as we were before. Although that last jump satisfied the feeling burning inside of me, I notice that it hasn't gone away. CRASH!!! An even bigger crash than before. "What was that?", I think. I peek over the other side of the cenote again. A fellow arises from underwater screaming, "WHOOOO!". I see him look upwards, waving at someone to come down; or jump rather. I look up toward the lower ledge, the one I had just leapt from; no one's there. I look about ten or more feet higher from the lower ledge, and see there's another fellow standing at the highest ledge. His friend from the bottom is calling for him to jump. He seems hesitant; it looks like fear is kicking in. But after a few moments of contemplation, he leaps. Falling...Falling...CRASH!!! He comes up from underwater and swims over to his friend who was urging him to jump. High 5!
"Ok everyone, the bus will be leaving in a bit so we'll meet back in the front.", Marisa, our tour guide announces.
I look up toward the empty ledge at the very top. The feeling inside me burns full force. "Should I do it?", I ask myself.
Talley notices that I'm concentrating at the top ledge.
"Dude, are you gonna do it?", he asks.
"I think I'm gonna do it.", I answer.
"Guy, you're nuts! That's crazy!", he says.
"Just do it. I can tell that you really wanna do it.", says Naika joining in on the conversation.
I turn toward Sarah hoping that she's with me on this one. She anticipates what I'm gonna ask and immediately replies, "I'm not doing that!".
I pull myself out of the water, and keep staring at the top ledge. Thoughts race through my head. This is my only chance. The bus is leaving soon. If I don't do it now, will I regret it? I'm here, right now, what's stopping me? Fear? Fear of what? Others went before me and survived without a scratch. So what is it then?
I'm walking up the stairway, step-by-step toward the lower ledge. I stop by the lower ledge and pause to take a look at it. "I've already conquered this.", I think to myself. I look ahead of me at the ascending steps and continue forward. I'm getting higher and higher. It's funny how it never felt this high when I was up here at the beginning. I see the second ledge getting closer and closer. My heart's racing. It's beating faster and faster and it feels like it's gonna pop out of my chest. I approach the ledge and stand with both feet, looking down at the water below. The water looks dark from up here. I'm afraid of heights but for some reason I'm able to look down from where I am without feeling vertigo.
"Oh boy!", I say out loud.
"Go Rob! Woohoo!", screams Naika.
"You can do it Rob!", yells Sarah.
"Robbydoo! You can do it!", says Talley in his Rob Schneider impersonation.
I have to do this. I'm already here, I've made the effort to come this far. I can't just back out and walk back down. There's only one way down and it involves getting wet. No regrets! I need to conquer my fear! I need to conquer my fear! I need to jump! And so I jump.
Thoughts race through my head the moment I jump as I'm plummeting down toward the water.
Oh my God! This is too high! I'm scared! I'm gonna die! What have I done?! What did I get myself into?!
At that moment, I realize that I can't turn back time. I can't change the fact that I've jumped. I can only let go, let myself be, and surrender to the inevitable. CRASH!!! I'm underwater, and I've gone further below than my first jump. I open my eyes and see the beauty around me; the bright blue water, the bubbles racing to the surface, the fascinating rock shapes in the deep. If only I had my camera. So in that instant, before it's over, I decide to take a picture with my memory. Snap! Got it! I float back above water.
I swim toward the edge and pull myself out of the water. I notice a slight pinching pain on my right arm from the impact into the water at such a height; a small pain that comes with the experience, but with a payoff that can't be described in mere words.
My adrenalin is pumping! I feel rejuvenated! I feel like a man who's just conquered the unconquerable! I feel reborn! I feel so alive!
I make my way toward Sarah, Talley, and Naika.
"Wow! Let's do that again!", I think to myself.