I clenched my fists around the metal bar until my knuckles turned white. Ten in the morning and my clothes were soaked with humidity and sweat. As the truck lurched forward, seven college students, my father, and I, a thirteen-year-old girl, clung to any available surface in the bed of that beat-up truck. During the ride we ricocheted violently, changed positions when our hands began to fry, and discussed how the sun was surely closest to Guyana.
The truck slowed to a squeaking stop by a river and Mike, our guide and among the few Americans residing on the Essequibo Coast, leaned out the window and shouted into the back. “This river runs to Hot and Cold Lake, where we’re swimming. We found a drunk guy here last month with his face eaten off by piranhas.”
â–º quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
We glanced at each other and back to Mike, who was inching the truck through a mob of yelping, mixed-breed dogs. “Piranhas?” Carissa said, allowing a shudder to run up her spine.
John, the most adventurous among us, grinned. “Bring it on!”
Unloading from the truck like a clown car, we were greeted by a dilapidated playground of splintering lumber and rusted metal. Craning my neck and standing on my toes, I could see a lake resting on the sand
“You’re sure this is safe?” I asked Mike as we stepped around the swings.
“Don’t worry about it. Nobody’s heard anything about piranhas in this lake since the drunk guy. They won’t bother a group, anyways.”
Before most of us removed our shoes, John made his way up a flight of creaking stairs to a makeshift diving board. He leapt off the end and into the water.
His head bobbing on the surface of the water, he shouted back to us, “This feels so weird. My arm is in cold water but the rest is warm.”
“It’s called Hot and Cold,” Mike chuckled.
Once I waded knee deep into the water, I felt the same sensation. One leg was in cool water, the other in warm, both sensations fed by springs. Forgoing dry clothing, I permitted my body to sink into this strange experience. The farther I floated into the lake, the less concern I felt about piranhas.
Wait, piranhas! I snapped out of my blissful lethargy as one of the girls screamed.
“Something touched me!” She gasped, treading the water.
“It’s a harmless fish at worst,” Mike said. “Piranhas wouldn’t come over here; we flail too much.” As if to prove his point, John jumped from the pier again.
Realizing this lake wasn’t as dangerous as we feared, our hodgepodge of people gathered on the highest part of the pier and waited for the opportunity to jump.
I placed one shaking foot on the plank and shifted my weight with all the speed of a sleeping turtle. One foot at a time, I reached the center of the board where suddenly I felt myself falling forward. The “diving board” was little more than a piece of splintered driftwood shoved into the pier. It was so poorly lodged that it also operated like a see-saw, tilting to whichever side I stood. As soon as the panic ceased and I could curl my toes over the edge of the board, I held my breath and took one more step.
Time slowed as each body part crashed into a bubble of warm water. Sinking endlessly into the lake, my body alternated rapidly between hot and cold until, without warning, my head burst into the hot Guyanese air.
“I’m so doing that again!”
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