This trip was born when I was hungry. Let me explain. Yann Martel’s character Piscine in The Life of Pi says of moments of excitement that push us to seek an escape, “All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.” And so I would explain my life.
I needed an out. What was to become one of my favorite days starts at 4:15 am. By late afternoon, Juice, Lisa, Amber and I have been guided by our English speaking friend Miguel, a native of San Buena Ventura, Cortes, to Pulhapanzak – a brilliant cascade almost 200 feet tall. I was taken away by the spectacle of the jungle-invested cliffs surrounding the mist, transforming the forceful water from molten lead to liquid light. Tourists are carefully making their way through the switchbacks, bracing their slippery steps with generous branches lining the decent. I was distracted by a figure who jumped from the top of the falls into the white frothy stir of the rapids and could immediately confirm to you the notion of bedazzlement, awe, and lust. I needed to meet the super boy, the hero of my existence. I ran in hope of a close encounter and came face to face with the Tarzan figure himself. A gringo!? “That was amazing,” I pleaded. “Show me where to jump.” He returned blank stares. Mario was catracho. Latin loving engulfed my being in a rapture of bliss. No tourist could jump, he explained to me in Spanish.
Mario, the twenty-year-old, green-eyed prodigy from Santa Barbara made himself a Pulhapanzak guru. He knew every rock, under toe or jimmy the river disclosed. From a family of 17, Mario knew that his life held no fortune. He was hired as a bricklayer and with his savings bought a used oxygen tank. When the river was low, Mario scraped the bottom. German Olympic kayackers hired him as their guide when they attempted the world-class rapids. Absolutely amazing!
We proved our swimming skills and Mario took us off a couple of smaller jumps. The second was a thirty foot waterfall: swim across the river upstream, jump off the solo rock on the edge, clear 4 feet and land in the small dark circle of the bottom, catching the side before the current takes you to the next falls. I survived. I could breathe. Next attempt at proving myself and perhaps my undying love: climb the side of a 55 foot cliff and throw my body off, landing in the same small circle of rock-less water under the same falls. Over and over again Justin, Mario and I played with life as if we controlled the universe. Prerequisite: know how to scream like Tarzan and sing the word masiso after every jump.
It was a rush. The sun was going down and we started walking back to the wooden shacks to change. We ate a mango, drank coconut milk and caught a ride to the bus station.
Mario wasn’t a lost cause. His home was San Buena Ventura. And good adventure it was. I would be back.