After encountering a surprisingly violent drug culture on the shores around Lake Atitlan, we decided to escape to the water for a few hours to put some distance between the violent hippies and ourselves. We rented a kayak and paddled across the placid water, amazed to have such a view with three volcanoes looming over us. We paddled to San Marcos, where we had heard there was a decent spot for cliff jumping, and parked our small watercraft along some shaded crags. We climbed up to the jumping spot, which was actually a beautifully constructed wooden deck that overlooked the chilly lake and even had a small gate in the fence that gave easy access to jumpers. I had jumped off of higher spots before and didn’t see much reason to be scared on this occasion, so I was quick to take flight off the deck. My body clenched like a brief episode of rigor mortis when I entered the frigid water, but the sun was waiting as I resurfaced and my body became accustomed to the coldness surrounding me. I re-ascended the cliffs and watched proudly as Hilary made the jump and braved the same cold embrace that I had just escaped.
Swimming in San Marcos was my favorite thing we did during out time to Atitlan, and we shared the story of our adventure with the family here upon our return. I had not thought much about that memory until last night, during yet another dinner table conversation with a teacher from Monte Cristo. At around 12am, after most of the family had gone to sleep, I sat across the table from the teacher and we talked about all the usual madness that surfaces when philosophizing at midnight. He shared with me his views of the world and man’s purpose here on earth, a perspective I linked to his Latin Americanism, but it’s one I’m now sure is shared by people in all parts of the world.
He asked me if I thought humans had a purpose other than destruction. He explained that all life on earth spins in its infinite cycle, naturally consuming and producing, diminishing and nourishing according to its assigned role. Humans, on the other hand, have reached the unprecedented level of indiscriminate destroyer. We have harnessed all the power of the natural world, only to unleash it with the most fearsome intensity so that we prey on every living organism simultaneously and unsustainably. We somehow became the all-mighty destroyer of all, including fellow mankind, and the future continues to seem evermore grim. Unfortunately, I agree with him. Especially after my time in Guatemala and the nights I spent immersed in its gruesome history books, I acknowledge that society, including and most especially the US, has been a thief of human dignity and countless lives for far too long. Even so, our outlooks differ when asked what comes next.
The teacher sat across from me, looking hopeless and defeated. He told me his belief is that humans are doomed to out-consume themselves and at this point, we’re really only biding time. I asked him what he thought we should do. He brought up my story of cliff jumping in Atitlan and asked me to remember resurfacing from the water. He demonstrated each stroke with his own arms, naming a revolutionary icon each time he flapped them down. His point was to say that humanity is drowning, and figures such as Chavez, Guevara, and Castro have been a fleeting motion in the struggle to keep our head above water. Eventually the Sun will descend below the volcanoes and there will exist no respite from the iciness that pulls us back down. Struggling to stay afloat is all there is left.
It was very much a dark conversation. In my head I thought of all the people I had met throughout the world that were making real strides in social and environmental change. Though I agree we’re on the wrong path, I don’t feel as defeated as he seemed to in that moment at 2 in the morning. So I asked him: why is he at Monte Cristo instead of chasing other vices? If humanity is doomed, why spend time passing on values to a new generation instead of pursuing the pleasures of the world. Why not give up and just let the icy lake pull him down? He looked at me, smiled, and stroked his arms one last time. “Monte Cristo is swimming, and if it spreads to the world, there may be hope of reaching shore.”