“Cowabunga!” Lindsay cried as her frail body splashed into the icy river flowing out of the waterfall. Her head popped out of the pool of blue, and with a sly smile, she looked at me and yelled “your turn!”
Without hesitation, I plowed into the shallow edge of the river, and with that leap my two best friends and I embarked on our trek to the top of Dunn’s River Falls. As the eighth wonder of the world, Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls spans 600 feet of smooth rocks perfect for climbing and mysterious caves asking to be explored. The natives call it Xayamaca – land of rivers and springs – our tour guide Shana explained as she prepared us for the climb.
“It’s going to be a long day, but if you can make it to the top, I promise it will be worth it,” Shana assured our skeptical group of tourists.
Shana, a slender and smiling 23-year-old, explained how she grew up around the river. Both of her parents had been guides, and she knew the river like the back of her hand. She guaranteed us that this would be a day to remember.
After finding a pair of tight-fitting water shoes and slathering on layers of sunscreen, we splashed into the river. We waded through waist-deep water as fish tickled my toes and mud clung to my swimsuit.
“This isn’t that hard,” I whispered to my friend Elia. Shana overheard and replied, “you haven’t seen anything yet.
Above me towered my greatest challenge to date; slippery stones with water rushing over so quickly I could barely see the steps. Then I understood – this might not be as easy as I expected.
As a typical, out-of-shape American teenager, a fear of failure flashed through my mind. I can’t even run around the 100-yard track without panting for air, so how could I possibly overcome this monster of a mountain? But I couldn’t give up already; so with Lindsay’s hand clutched tightly in mine, we began the climb. Within the first hour, our group became breathless and Shana led us to a cave to rest.
Instead of catching my breath, my curiosity took hold, so our trio began exploring. We delved deep into the cave where rodents scampered about we felt our way around the murky atmosphere. When break-time ended, we said farewell to our secret haven and headed onward to the top of the waterfall.
During the climb, our disparate group of strangers became one. A man from Nebraska extended his hand for support as I crawled over a jagged boulder. I, in turn, helped a little girl from the UK find her mother when the two became separated. On the river, we were all the same – rich or poor, European or American, fat or thin – we all existed on an egalitarian playing field where everyone needed help.
After hours of ascending, we finally reached the peak of the falls. I turned to see my accomplishment, and for the first time the girl who was voted ‘Class Chatterbox’ was left in silence. Completely awestruck, I peered down at the 600 feet of terror that is Dunn’s River Falls. Standing atop of my unfathomable achievement, I found the mere sight of the colossal waterfall to be comforting, humbling, and liberating.
There are moments in which everything, absolutely everything, changes… falls apart, comes together, a veritable life epiphany. On my journey up Dunn’s River Falls, I understood how we are all ultimately living the same simultaneous miracle. We all fear failure and loss, but together, we can achieve the impossible.
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