Friday, July 22, 2011

The Cliffs of Cangrejal

It's hot in New York.  It hit 104 in Elmira this week breaking records from decades ago.  It makes me think of those years in Honduras where you started the day with a shower and ended the day with a shower.  On the worst of days you'd take three, or even better, you'd pack up the Nissan truck with a large thermos of iced tea and some towels and head to the Cangrejal River that runs through the mountains right outside of La Ceiba.  The beach was just as accessible but we preferred the river by far.  The water was colder, a nice contrast to the bathwater-like-temperatures of the Caribbean.  And though the white sand beaches outside the city were beautiful, there was nothing quite like the river that snaked its way through the canyons off the Northern Coast of Honduras. 

Steve and Gale were our young American neighbors living across the street from us in our new neighborhood of El Sauce.  Steve was a teacher at  Brassavola, the bilingual school where Angela and Joel attended their first year.  We hadn't been in La Ceiba long when they invited us to go to the mountains with them on the following weekend.  "The river is especially nice there,"  they said.  "And there are cliffs."

It was just a mattter of minutes before we were out of  La Ceiba and onto the mountain road that Saturday morning, climbing higher and higher, the river in view down below.  About fifteen minutes later Steve had us take an exit,  one used by trucks to haul gravel from the riverbed.  We descended,  parked, and grabbed our stuff  before following him onto some large rocks that lined the river, the perfect place to lay down our gear and spread out towels and blankets.

I got situated then began to take in the view.  The water seemed to be moving pretty fast through this section,  cliffs on either side of different heights, the highest perhaps thirty feet or so.  And though it was beautiful, that's not the first word I would have used to describe this place.  Untamed, even a little dangerous better fits.  I was awed and mesmerized by those who ascended the cliffs to dive into the waters below.  But I also held my breath each time as there were rocks jutting out from the banks.  Was there any guarantee that they'd not miss them and break their necks?   The young Honduran men that were there, dark skins and hair glistening as they dove again and again showed no fear whatsoever.  And eventually the white skinned foreigners climbed the trail up to the highest point and had their turn.  Steve dove,  Gale didn't flinch.  Larry chose to go down feet first and  I breathed a sigh of relief.

We would return to those cliffs again and again during our years in Honduras.  Our kids were young at first, very young,  but they jumped the cliffs more times than I could possibly count.  Joel was in the first grade and could hit the water without his head ever going under, as if it were made of cork.  Even Fawn,  four years old our first trip out, would find her way to one of the lower cliffs.  The water was swfit as I mentioned, and as soon as the kids hit the water, they would be carried downstream a ways and would come out where the water slowed. From what I understand, white water rafting is pretty popular on the Cangrejal now.  We were already doing that all those many years ago, just without a raft. 

I'm glad my kids were up for the challenge.   Even though they were under our watchful eye everytime they plunged into that river, we never feared they wouldn't make it back to the bank.    We knew them as strong swimmers and achievers and I've no doubt that gave them all the more confidence to jump those cliffs.  I hope that lesson will help carry them through their adult lives, especially when they need the courage to take some risks.

Fawn and I had a conversation a few days ago.  It went something like this.  "Mom, don't you think what we did as kids was kind of dangerous?"  "What do you mean?" I asked.  "Well," she continued. "You had us jumping off cliffs in Honduras."  "You didn't have to jump off the cliffs if you didn't want to," I countered.  "I know, " she said.  "It scared me to death, but I wanted to do it.  I just remember it taking me forever because  I was so scared."  So I asked Angela, Fawn's oldest sibling by five years, how she had felt about the whole thing.  She didn't see it quite the same way.  "That was our life." she said matter-of-factly.  "That's just what we did.  And then she added, "And it was a great childhood."  There was no debate there.


The following video is not of us, but it will introduce you to the beautiful river of Cangrejal:

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