Hiking down 3+ kilometers to swim in a lagoon nestled down inside a caved in volcano was as incredible and adventurous as it sounds. My host nephew (who is our age) took a group of us aspirantes (PC Trainees) to a nearby hike to swim in a lagoon. The hike down was a fantastic workout. For part of the hike, I almost felt like I was back in Portland. As it’s the rainy season, it’s so green here! Moss and leaves surrounded our every step. But instead of cloudy-pine tree-NW feel, it had far more of that muggy-you’re-in-the-middle-of-the-jungle feel to it. Throw in hearing the chattering of monkeys nearby, the bugs, worms, and other critters and your picture is complete. At the bottom, we enjoyed a refreshing, yet warm, swim in the somewhat sulfuric water. Nicaragua is one of the most volcanically active places on Earth and the science teacher in me was beyond excited. Good company, amazing views, cool science to geek out about – what more could one want?
Before we knew it, our time had run out and we needed to pack up and start our trek back up the rim of the once volcano before the sun left the sky. We packed up and set off at a decently brisk pace. If I thought the way down was a little rough, the way up gave me a completely new perspective. We were moving quickly, as we wanted to make it back before dark, but the sunlight seemed to be disappearing faster than we could walk. A storm was moving in, and it was stealing the last hour of sunlight we so desperately needed to make it back up the ridge.
The sound of the monos (monkeys) in the distance suddenly seemed more menacing than just hours before. The climb was very steep, and if it started to rain we would struggle to make it up the top. It’s amazing how your environment can quickly change your perspective and ideas. What had on the way in seemed like an incredible adventure rapidly changed to a fear-inducing race up a dormant volcano slope. On the way in I was loving the chance for exercise and embracing the burn and sweat of a hard descent. The way up now seemed impossible, that I was too out of shape, and that I might not make it.
Fear tends to work that way.
One moment you believe in yourself and your abilities. You feel accomplished or excited or thankful. Then fear creeps in. Whether slow and sneaky like a fog, or rapid, ominous like the impending storm, fear finds its way into the cracks of strength and tries to eat at our foundation. We kept hiking. I kept huffing. Fear kept on creeping.
“Just remember what Jillian Michaels tells us when we’re working out, Emily,” sputters my friend Michaela as she huffs and puffs along with me up the slope. “If you’re not puking or fainting you can keep going. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Michaela is one of my training site mates. She and I have Spanish class together every day. She also has convinced me that working out to crazy Jillian Michaels videos on her computer in the 90 degree Nicaraguan heat is a good idea. She may be on to something. Jillian does give us some intense tough love, and encourages us to keep pushing even when we don’t think we can.
As I struggled up the incline, I thought back to a few lines of a Rabia poem:
“Have wings that feared ever touched the Sun? I was born when all I once feared – I could love.”
What was it that I really feared here and could I learn to love it? I tried to match my breathing to my steps, and thought through the situation.
- It’s getting dark – but we’re in a group, and we’re almost to the top. We also have flashlights. We are also with my host nephew who lives here and has come here often.
- The monkeys sound really scary – but they’re really far away and it’s more my imagination running away with me. There are also a lot of people who live around here as this is a large tourist destination. I feel like I’m in the middle of the jungle, but we’re very close to civilization.
- I feel like I’m dying and am going to pass out before I get to the top – but what I really fear is looking silly, sweaty, and breathing loudly as I trek up. I don’t actually believe I won’t make it up. It’s not that far. I just need to be OK with breathing loudly.
The fears that had crept in didn’t seem to match up with the real situation. My actual fears were more social and judgment focused, and my fears of physical safety were a result of my social fears running away with my emotions. There are times where it’s OK to be afraid. Peace Corps teaches us to trust our gut in those instances. We all have a bit of intuition and when I took two minutes to really think and feel this one out, I was making a mountain out of a mole hill when I needed to be focused on the real mountain in front of me – the physical one I needed to just climb.
I thought I felt alive and happy on the way down, but I found a truer happiness when I reached the summit. There’s something powerful about seeing your fears for what they really are and not letting them keep you in the valley. When you can have a little more compassion and love for the aspects of you that once only solicited fear, the mountaintop is even more beautiful than you imagined.