Guatemala #10 Xela

Greetings from Xela. Two days ago I had the pleasure of climbing the local volcano Santa Maria. Through this arduous trek of 6 hours round trip I realized that climbing a mountain alone in extremely dense fog is the perfect metaphor for life.

To start out your full of energy, it is actually quite sunny at the base and you find yourself bounding up the trail as the climb has barely started and the grade is still shallow. You are full of expectations of a wonderful climb and the bounty of amazing vistas you shall be rewarded with as you proceed. You stop and sniff the flowers, admire the corn and beans growing alongside the trail and happily skip over the copious piles of cow shit littering the path. This is the childhood of your climb, and you bask in the innocent freshness of the world.

As the grade becomes steeper you begin to feel slightly uncomfortable, breathing heavier and breaking out in a slight sweat. The climate has changed as well, more humid and definitely colder than at the base. Due to the moisture the trail has become slightly muddy and you may slip and slide a bit, but of course you always continue upward. Some small vistas come into view and give you a preview of the awesome sights that surely await you, and as your expectations of the future build you feel confident, strong and determined.

Then BAM out of nowhere the clouds roll in and descend upon you as the innocent gaiety of your adolescence turns into the cold, damp, totally obscured reality of your adult ascent on the mountain. Suddenly you find yourself lost in a foreign world. You are trapped in the present moment of the climb with only a tiny bit of visibility behind you and in front of you. You are suspended in this present hazy moment, unable to see where you have come from and unable to see where you are going. Only one thing is certain, you’re still going up and it’s getting harder and harder. Suddenly you realize, “wait, there are no views if the mountain is shrouded in cloud!, why am I climbing this mountain if I won’t see the reward from the top?”. You begin to question your purpose on this mountain, your purpose in life, what is the point of it all? Climbing a mountain without the reward of a view is like the myth of Sisyphus, forever destined to toil in pointless and trying labor. But you toil on because that is the human condition, to toil. And so for 2 hours of the adult phase of your climb you’re stricken with self doubt, thoughts of quitting are as constant as the burning sensation in your legs and calves! And then just when the fog is at its thickest and the trail is at its steepest an angel appears out of the fog of your future. This angel carries a machete and herds goats down the mountain. He also tells you that the summit is close, only 30 minutes further on if you hurry. You feel elated, your heart pounds with excitement. However the fog remains and for all of your toil you have no sensational unforgettable panoramic photos stored on your memory card.

Now this is the point at which you find yourself at the midlife crisis of your climb. You have worked too hard and climbed too far to quit now, but with the mountain still shrouded in cloud there is little hope of the reward. You stop to rest in the mist and in your fatigued stupor slip in the mud and fall. Lying on your back in the mud, utterly alone, cold, damp and tired you begin to laugh hysterically thinking of the ridiculousness of the situation and completely surrendering to your suffering. In this moment you have the profoundest realization you’ve had the whole climb; that the reward is not the view, the reward is the climb itself! The thought flows into you like a fresh wind and you laugh even harder, even playing a bit in the mud like when you were a child. You pick yourself up off the ground, settle yourself and with a newfound determination continue up to the inevitability of the summit that awaits you as surely as death.

The climb steepens further, you must be close to the summit as you can feel your physical condition begin to deteriorate. Your breathing heavily with every step as the altitude begins to affect you. You’ve reached the elderly phase of the ascent and your body tells you this. And then in a brief moment of clarity as you ascend you glimpse a bit of something you haven’t seen in hours. Yes! Its true! Directly above you is a patch of blue sky! You are now essentially climbing straight up, and it is not just a figure of your imagination, the world is growing brighter! More sky, and you can actually make out cloud patterns moving above! Then suddenly as you ascend what appears to be the last boulder the world breaks open in white light as you are showered in sunshine and warmth! You have made it, and its sunny here at the top of the world. You gaze out in awe as you find yourself slightly higher than the cloud bank and peering out at the tops of a cloudy landscape. You collapse in gratitude for this amazing gift that has been given to you, even after your profound realization back on the ascent. You have transcended; Death. You conquered your worst enemy, yourself, who failed to realize the beauty in the climb and only sought the gratification of the reward.

The beautiful thing about mountains is that you get to descend them too, taking with you all that you learned on the ascent and spreading that wisdom into your future. Mountains are wonderful teachers.

One response to “Guatemala #10 Xela

  1. Oh man, awe-inspriring and joyful account of mud-covered exhausting laughable destiny to the sun that says “Ya, I was just holding out til you got here to see you realize that I was there the whole time!” and you learned that all the paths – even the mundane, the painful and the frustrating – are their own reward, a gift of learning about you and me and he and she and all that mystery you love so much. And yes, I am experiencing that the view does get pretty bright and amazing the higher we go up, it is not a figment of the imagination!

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