Category Archives: Guatemala

“The Distance between Two Blocks” – Jan. ’15

Aaron Roth – – “The Distance between Two Blocks” – Dec./Jan. 2015

Greetings everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season and a great start to the new year. For the last three months I’ve been in constant travel, with three trips to Guatemala, one to both coasts of the United States and back to Lima Peru.

I have great news to report that we are gaining momentum with the program in Lima, Peru and have just signed an agreement in Guatemala! It’s been an exciting time with many new additions to Edify’s programs and teams, and transitions including my own upcoming transition from Edify to take some time off before I move back to the east coast to start graduate school this summer. I’ll cover that transition in the next newsletter, but in this one I’ll be writing about Guatemala in the newsletter below. -Aaron

In December, I was in Guatemala City working with our newest microlending partner FAPE (Foundation for the Assistance of the Small Business) and we had planned to work on the agreement between Edify and FAPE in the executive director’s home after a meeting. As we pulled into the residential community where the executive director lives I thought to myself, “Hmm, this place looks familiar. Why do I know this place?”

I asked Manuel, the executive director, for the address and wrote down “Zona 13, Aurora II” to research in the afternoon. For some reason, I thought maybe I’d stayed near this place when I first came to Guatemala almost five years ago. When I got back to my computer I went through my old emails to track down some of the places I’d stayed. Sure enough, deep into the archives I came across the very first place I stayed in Guatemala: a bed and breakfast (really a hostel) that had the address Zona 13, Aurora II. “But these areas are pretty massive anyway, it’s not like it’s that close to his house.” I thought.

So the next day, I asked Manuel, “Have you heard of this bed & breakfast?” and gave him the address.

“Well yeah, that’s just two blocks from my house,” he answered.

It was then that it dawned on me. In almost five years in my journey in Latin America I had progressed just two blocks!

Two blocks.

It felt odd knowing that I’ve gone thousands of miles just to arrive a stone’s throw from where I first began. It feels like I haven’t gone very far, like all the 3am-4am wake up calls for two and three connection flights, logging six to eight, even 10 hours on bus rides into distant communities didn’t add up to a grand total of anything. Maybe I felt a bit disappointed, like a hiker who prepares half a year for the difficult ascent, and arrives to find that they closed the trail and now  the summit is accessible by a 30 minute gondola lift.

But that’s not how it is right? There is an enormous difference between the 30 feet that separates the entry-level employee and the CEO. It’s not the measurement of the physical distance at all. If we were to extend out the years and the experience that separate those two positions the distance would be unfathomable.

Five years ago that first night in Guatemala, I was an anxious young man, fresh out of my corporate job, with feelings of excitement and uncertainty after realizing that the decision to go to Latin America could potentially shipwreck my career or carry me to a new, never before imagined destination. I couldn’t envision what the future would look like, it just looked like a never ending winding road clouded by fog and rain. My only real resolution was to just stay on the path, and try to maintain my momentum and excitement.

So then, five years later from that first night filled with uncertainty for the path laid before me, I was sitting a few hundred yards away, right next to the Vice President of Latin America for Edify, Luis Sena (appears above in the second picture) in the home of the executive director of the Guatemalan MFI discussing the details about opening up the Edify program in Guatemala.

In that meeting, I didn’t speak of conjecture, but rather from experience. Guatemala is the third country I have worked in, and my responses were from the decisions I have been a part of with my team based on experiences with schools with directors that I knew personally.

I’ve visited hundreds of schools over the past few years, spoken with 12 microfinance institutions and even more training and para-church organizations. I’ve helped write operating manuals for several microfinance projects, written dozens of reports, logged endless hours in meetings, and presented to leadership teams in English and Spanish.

If only I had known that five years later I’d be a more confident professional sitting with colleagues in a comfortable environment, I would have been relieved of my doubts and fears.

But I know now that in life there are many things that we don’t know at the time, and they aren’t for us to know in that specific time and place where we currently reside.

And that’s ok, the only requirement is that we have faith in the Maker of the paths. The paths of the past, and the paths of the future.

In Edify, we are incredibly excited about the future in Guatemala. We’ve met with two microfinance organizations and visited almost 30 schools around the capital and in three different regions to explore the potential for our microlending program to low-fee independent Christian schools.

It’s been such a blessing to work with our Guatemalan friends, Manuel Garcia and his team, from our first microlending partner in Guatemala. They truly share our mission to work in the economically poor communities to improve and expand these schools that want to serve the families in their communities.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (NIV Proverbs 3:5-6)

So I realize then, that instead of being disappointed in only traveling two blocks, I’m incredibly grateful to realize that the greatest distance the Lord ever required me to go was just two blocks.

If I had really known that and believed in His plan, I wouldn’t have been so worried about the great uncertainty that lay before me. Had I known it would have been just two blocks, I would have jumped out of my seat and started walking, relieved of any great doubts about the plan ahead.

From where I am today, I can rejoice in the great distance between two blocks: for this great adventure with the Lord and his people in Latin America. For all I’ve gotten to experience personally, walking with these school leaders, with men and women so passionate about impacting their communities because that’s what Christ called them to do. He knew that was what was up ahead, and I’m glad they trusted Him and I did too, with only small glimpses of the future he’s preparing. He was, and is, and will be, the Maker of good paths.

I pray that even in moments of uncertainty you have reassurance to know that the Lord has planned out the path you’ll take — even if it is only just two blocks.

Blessings to you all back home,

“A Culture of Value” (June. ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “A Culture of Value” – June 2013

Hi family and friends, I had an excellent two weeks back in Nicaragua and Guatemala doing some follow-up research on small, low-cost Christian schools for Edify. I was also able to help with a project with starting savings groups in local churches for HOPE International in those areas as well. I’ll be in the States for about two weeks before heading to the Dominican Republic to work with some family camps for Edify. We are going to be working with a few small Christian schools in the Dominican Republic with a few churches and families from the United States. This newsletter is about my experience in Guatemala, a country I have really grown to love over the past three years. Blessings, -Aaron

My return to Guatemala last week was a homecoming to where the adventure began almost three years ago for me. I learned to speak Spanish in the school of San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. This lake, considered one of the 10 most beautiful in the world, still holds the same enchanting beauty as it did when I arrived almost three years ago. It is where I first learned to value the experience of living with a Mayan family that spoke only Spanish and Tz’utujil. I learned that we valued the same things in life: family, relationships, and dinner around a common table.

As I’ve written in previous newsletters, with all the traveling I’ve done in the past three years, there are a set of behaviors and beliefs I’ve gotten used to. I consistently abide by the same rules for safety, pack my suitcase and backpack the same way, and continue to galvanize my stomach or local foods. But every once in a while I get caught off guard by a statement or a view of something so unusual, it makes me feel I just stepped off the plane from the US for the first time.

“After the girl fell and bumped her head, I remember a woman telling me not to worry; if it had been a boy, it would have been a problem, because a boy needs to take care of his brain for thinking and studying, with a girl it’s not so necessary. Girls don’t need to use their minds.”

June-13-News-03This statement was retold to me by a loan officer of a local Guatemalan Microlending Institution who was teaching rural women about the inequality of gender, and how they should value the female gender and should stand up for the rights of their little girls to attend school and seek educational and vocational opportunities. Inequality still exists in many parts of the world, not just in money or power, but in gender. Very often, when we think of poverty, it’s a description of inequality in economic class, education, or opportunity, but I’ve come to see poverty also as a lack of values or appreciation of life.

June-13-News-02Now keep in mind, even in the tiny rural village where this training took place, culture is a behemoth that everyone can see, but very few can move on their own. It takes years to form itself, and sometimes it sets in like concrete, which means it takes years to reform or change. When any development or missional organization talks about transformation of any sort, be it economical, behavioral, or spiritual, they are entering into a long term process. I’m always hesitant to speak of rapid transformation in the work we do with microlending to schools, because when we try to improve the quality of education, and build on projects to schools, we’re talking about beginning a process for change with a diverse group of individuals who carry their own vision for the school.

June-13-News-05I think it’s better to say that as a development or missional organization from the States we are joining a team with a common goal. When we work together for long-term results, not just short-term projects that look good on powerpoints and photos, real transformation is possible. Real culture change is possible.

Last week, we met with an organization that is committed to long-term change. La Casa de Alfarero (The Potter’s House) is a local Guatemalan ministry that provides health, training, education, vocational, and spiritual empowerment to families that live in and around the enormous landfill of Guatemala. They told us that the community is made up of almost 3,000 people that work in the trash as “scavengers” looking for any material or item of value, and almost 9,000 people that work in and around the landfill. Families make at best $5 a day, with an average of $2-3 for a household.

As the director, Hector Rivas, explained to us, trying to reshape the culture of those who live in the trash is a difficult one. With their programs, clinic, and school, they consistently impart values to the students, by starting June-13-News-05primarily with telling the students that they themselves are valuable. He elaborates:

“We meet people all the time that say ‘Soy basura porque trabajo en la basura.’ (I’m garbage because I work in the garbage). We know that we can’t take these families and move them to another place because there would be no work or emploment there. What we try to do is simply take the garbage out of the person, knowing we can’t yet take the person out of the garbage.”

Culture change takes time, and Potter’s House has been working near the landfill for almost 20 years. Scavengers in the garbage dump know that the people from Potter’s House who come to serve them and educate their June-13-News-06students in the school value them because they came to help, and because they stayed. They invested in the community, and the community trusts them.

What we do in Edify is invest in local leadership and local communities. In every country I’ve been in over the past six months, and in every school I’ve walked into I usually say, “Our desire is to invest in this community, and you will work with people of your community, and we, the Americans, want to be part of the team.”

I believe that by truly investing in the local community, fully investing in the long-term change necessary to help change the mindset that all children, all boys and all girls, should be able to go to a good school and develop their talents as God gave them. This is a culture change of value. That we were all made with value, and that we all deserve to be valued, and to be valuable members to the communities where we live.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (NIV: Jeremiah 1:5)

I pray that God would show you how you can help shape positive values in your community.


Somebody Stole My Wallet at a Jesus Parade

I suppose you can only evade getting robbed or pick-pocketed for so long. For me, it was 2.5 years without a problem. I’ve had to dodge many a sketchy situation and make Irish exits out of plenty of street conversations, and even more conniving, pretend that I don’t know either English or Spanish. Just now, as I write this, I’m reminded that just 2 hours ago some guy was talking to me saying “Hey friend, friend! Listen, wait a second.” I just breezed on by. Why? I don’t know him, and if he really needs help or directions, there are loads of Peruvians nearby that can attend to him.

Anyway, to make a long, fairly uninteresting story short, somebody stole my wallet at a Jesus parade. I’d like to say that I made a donation to the Catholic church so I feel better about the episode when I look back.

I was standing in the multitudes watching the “El Señor de la Caida.” (Just Google it) And after checking that my phone, camera and wallet were securely in place at least four times, and after a wave of pushing. I knew I had to get out of the crowd. I still had everything before the second wave of pushing, but somehow, somebody, probably a young person, reached their hand into my front pocket and grabbed my wallet.

They got away with some cash, an expired drivers license (nobody really checks the date here, or back home) and my bank card. Had it have been my phone, it would have been even more terrible, but it was simply my wallet. I mean, that’s bad enough, but I’d be dead without my phone. I use it for work, logistics, flights, hostels, everything under the sun. So thankfully, with my unstolen phone, I proceeded with the necessary arrangements to wire myself some cash and a new debit card to my hotel in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Thanks Bank of America!)

Someone said to me recently that statistically I’m less likely to be the victim of pick pocketing or theft, but since I’m viewing this as a tithe to the Catholic church, will I have to make a donation next Sunday?

Happiness is a Lack of Interruptions

I noticed something disturbing going on in my head after my second month of being in Guatemala. It wasn’t the presence of something, but rather the absence of many things. Simply put, I wasn’t so interrupted as I used to be. Instead, I had clarity and continuity in my thoughts. Strange, how clarity can be so alarming, but it certainly was to me then, and after 14 months of being outside a normal American lifestyle, it is still pleasantly unsettling now. Clarity of thought is kind of like its cousin, “peace of mind” but you’ll be able to hold better conversations with clarity of thought at the dinner table.

I think what I discovered was that when I was able to focus on something, I could get a lot more done and certainly, I enjoyed a lot more what I was doing. When there weren’t a few hundred things racing around in my mind constantly interrupting me, I guess I could really pay attention to what was in front of me. I remember back to when I was in the States playing in a soccer league, in the middle of a game, I’d think about what I was going to be doing later that night, or how I still needed to change the oil in my car, or how I needed to send out a few email reminders, or respond to some text messages. You know it’s a terrible way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon with your friends isn’t it? Focused on everything but the game itself.

It’s a simple principle really, but it’s incredibly hard to keep up with. I think one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in relation to this is:

“Making a ‘to do’ list is good, and probably more important, is making a ‘To Not Do’ list.”

The key ingredient in my new life and in the overall composition of my mind was the deliberate prohibition of interruptions. I’ve heard more and more productivity experts say that multi-tasking is a myth. We can only process things in a serial manner, just one thing at a time. If we limit the interruptions, we can be more effective in our work, and have more fun in our free time. I believe that. I really do now. Most of my experiences traveling and living in another culture have been some of the most inspiring and fulfilling in my life.


It could be that it’s because I get don’t interrupted much now, and I still have a pretty full schedule. I don’t have a smart phone. I don’t check face book regularly. I don’t check twitter regularly. My TV holds a few clothes that I plan to put away, and I’m pretty sure the last time I used the remote, it needed batteries. I purposely go do things for hours and try not to interrupt the time I have with my friends or my roommates. What is most important is the here and the now, the tasks and obligations have their time, but all of that is later, all that is important, is now.

A life without interruptions is a simpler, easier, more fulfilled life.

Now, get back to what you were doing!

The Transparency of Kindness

I’ve experienced some amazing moments of kindness since I started traveling in August. Moments where I stop and realize that there is goodness in this world, and even though someone does not have money or status, they can change someone else’s life. To me, I thought that to make a difference in someone’s life, you needed to have enough money and education. You had to be in a position of power to positively affect someone else. But there were many moments, and continue to be experiences, where I realize that being educated, having money, skills or talents is irrelevant. Absolutely irrelevant. What matters most is desire, and the willingness to step forward and make yourself available.

Out of many, many examples over the past 4 months to illustrate this point, I’m going to talk about Antonio. Antonio is a Guatemalan in his thirties (possibly early forties). Early on in his life, his diminutive status and diminished mental capacity limited his ability to work led his family to cast him out in the streets to survive on his own. He’s an orphan, and because he never grew up around a family or had consistent relationships until he was 12, his language skills are limited. He doesn’t even speak Spanish. When you want to talk to him, you either have to know Tz’utujil or use body language, and work at it both until he understands. He has no wealth nor the potential for earning it. In the modern world, he has nothing to offer, but yet, he has a room in a home, three meals a day, and a family to call his own. How?

When people ask me what I’ve thought about Central America, I usually respond that people are so kind, so incredibly gracious and welcoming. I say it because it is a point of contrast between the United States and the Central American culture. I say it because I’m a single, young American, without any dependencies, and everything I consider to be safe, secure, and good has come from hard work and the protection of what I’ve been given or earned. Sometimes, I think that to survive in this world you have to fight, and that to admit weakness, or softness is a dangerous admission into vulnerability.

Antonio lives with the Cortez family, and has lived with them for over 20 years. They found him on the street and felt sympathy for him and gave him a home, and more importantly, they gave him a family. He’s got a role in the family and it matters that he follows through with it. He has to fill the water into the outdoor sinks and replenish the firewood, or the food making (which starts at 6:00am) will not happen. I’ve seen him many times at 5:00am wearing a stocking cap and a winter coat carrying firewood up to the second floor. He always wants me to pass by him, and he won’t let me wait for him to finish his trek up the steps.

My perspective has been changing about how this world can work.  I have seen too much already to continue with my old mindset. While I haven’t usually taken the time to record my thoughts on this blog, or captured the moments with a photo, in some ways, I don’t want to. There is something special and unique about knowing that when a moment exists it will pass and will forever never be recorded in words or images. I believe these moments are precious, and they have become some of my fondest memories.

The first time I saw Antonio’s room was when I went up the steps one evening up to my room. The experience made me stop, mid-steps, and think about what it means to be an orphan, or a son, or a traveler in this world. His room, in a word, is “security.” The family gave him something that will always be his. He has a single bulb that lights up his small dwelling place. I saw a picture of the Cortez family, a picture of Jesus, a dresser, a neatly made bed, and his boots placed next to his shoes underneath his small coat rack. I paused on the steps, and thought about the preciousness of having a room to call your own. To have a place where you can set your stuff, fold and store your clothes, and rest in privacy. The times I’ve felt most comfortable while traveling in the past four months has been when someone has given me a room to my own. It’s then that I know that this place will be mine, and mine only, and I and my various possessions, will be safe here.

Antonio’s room is his firm grip on this world. Even though this world has been cold to him and deserted him so many times, this room is something that will not be taken away. It is his, and his only.

I don’t have a picture of Antonio’s room, and I will never have a picture of it. It’s his room. It’s where he feels safe. I’ll leave it in his possession.

I guess, one could say that you really need to leave the borders of the western world to see such kindness of the Cortez family, but I don’t think that’s fair to our society. Kindness exists in our culture every day, but it is so easy to overlook. We get lost in our schedules, in our obligations, and in our entertainment.

So I suppose what happened to me was not that the world was suddenly filled with these moments of real kindness, it’s that I was finally able to see them.

And now, I see it everywhere.

He Hiked a Volcano Within Two Hours of His Arrival

Last week, Tim Carroll came to visit me in Guatemala. His flight was arriving into Guatemala at about 11:30 on a Saturday, and I asked him if he thought he’d be ready to hike a volcano that afternoon. I figured that with him having to get up at 4:00am and traveling all day to a country he hadn’t been to, where he doesn’t speak the language, would lend itself to having the desire to leave to hike a volcano within the hour of arrival. I mean, the afternoon was free, and we needed to do something to fill in the time

I was right, but of course, Tim is usually up for anything. It was a good thing he has such a flexible attitude because I arrived in Antigua at 1:15pm, an hour later than I expected, and our shuttle to the Volcano was to leave at 2:00pm.

Turns out we had quite a few errands to run in 45 minutes:

  • Check into the Hostel
  • Find an agency that would let us go to the Volcano
  • Book our travel for the next day and decide if we were going to plan out the next six days ahead of time or go as the wind would lead us.
  • Find a camera shop and buy a camera battery
  • Use the bathroom
  • Find a place that could get us lunch in 5 minutes
  • Visit a store to buy snacks and water for the trip
  • Pack our backpacks for the hike
  • Eat lunch

We were eating our sandwiches when the shuttle pulled up. Plenty of time. There always is.

Volcan Pacaya

Tim had been in the country less than 2 hours and here he was just a few kilometers away from the Pacaya Volcano. This was the first Volcano I had hiked, and I was really excited to climb it to see the lava. For this special journey we nicknamed our fellow traveler, “Rosie” though we were pretty sure it was a dude dog.

Up at the top of the Volcano they let you roast marshmellows. Some people in our group decided they were going to toast sandwiches.

Tim got bored with the volcano and decided to crack open his book and read a bit next to the Lava Cafe.

Volcan Pacaya erupted in May and changed the terrain which opened up an opportunity to visit the “Volcano Sauna.”

It was so crazy to walk inside the earth, and it felt good to get out of the cold.

After the fun and games at the top we descended down the volcano, mission complete.

(Actually, this is in the light.)

(This was in the dark, on the way down . . . )

Love is a Continuous Investment

Everything we have is from the contribution of others. I’m starting to see that much more clearly. I know that my trip and my service abroad would not be possible without the financial and emotional support from my friends, my church, and my family. I want to say thank you to you all. Without you, this would not be possible for me.

I’ve thought a lot about what I have and what I’ve been able to do, and truly, it has been possible, only by the contributions from others. I think there is something crucial that separates one generation from another, and this happens only with maturity. It’s the belief in investment. The older generation believes in investing in the future. Why? Because it’s a good thing to do? Because it makes them feel good to love their families or financial support young people, or their college, or an organization? Or is it in part, because they know how the process works.

They know that the reason we are able to live in the present has been made possible by the investments of the people who lived before us, and in order to keep this process going, we must invest. Invest time, love, energy and even a little more. I think they recognize that every entity of life is a system. A system of inputs and outputs, and quite simply there will be no outputs if we do not keep putting more in.

  • We won’t have more crops if we don’t plant more seeds.
  • We won’t have better students if we don’t teach them.
  • We won’t have well behaved sons and daughters if we don’t instruct them.
  • And we won’t have love unless first love.

I guess growing up, we just take. We take what people give and we always believe there will be more money, or energy, or love. I realize now, that there was always more because my parents always put more in. I was drawing from an account that was not made magical by anything other than by the magic of the effort made by my parents, my friends and my community.

I’m starting to pick up on this idea more as I travel. I get frustrated sometimes when I meet people who do not acknowledge or recognize what came before them. They are here in San Pedro only to party and to extract as much value as they can out of this location. They aren’t interested in learning about the culture, the language, or the reasons why this place is so nice, they’re just looking for a cheap place to drink.

Of course, not all travelers are like this. I have had plenty of meaningful conversations with people from all over the world that talk about their community, their city, and their family with a glowing appreciation for everything that has been done for them. And many times, they desire to invest in the same system that made it possible for them to be who they are, to work where they worked, and to travel where they travel.

Maybe the difference is in the word “privilege.” All travelers I’ve met, including myself, are privileged. We are a part of the specific group of people who have the funds and the time to travel. Some of us recognize this privilege and feel “gratitude,” others recognize this privilege and feel “entitled.” It’s like they are saying “of course I have money to travel” or “of course I’m from a wealthy nation . . . it’s just how things are.”

I believe that “how things are” comes from thousands of investments. People who make investments in our lives to teach us, build roads for us, clean our communities, organize our sports teams, assemble our churches, and in the simplest of terms – people made investments to love us.

And without these consistent investments the whole system will break down.

So thank you to everyone who has loved me. I am who I am, and I am where I am because of you.

I love you back.

Why Don’t Kids Play in the Street Anymore?

I had a conversation with my Spanish teacher the other day about the games we used to play when we were kids. My brother and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood and spend our afternoons playing baseball in the field across from our house. Our neighbor used to fix up old go-carts and me and the neighborhood kids used to race those around the field too. I felt like everything we did was outside, and we’d only use the phone to call up our friends to come outside. Video games were just starting to get popular when I was young, but they certainly weren’t as important as rallying the kids together to go play basketball in someone’s driveway.

My teacher is from San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. Born and raised in Guatemala, he never had much, and surely, he never needed much. He told me that when he was a kid, activities centered around these things:

  • soccer
  • making and flying kites
  • the lake
  • playing games in the street
  • fruit

I asked about the last one. Fruit? He said, “Yeah, you know when you’re a kid and something grows on a tree its like it’s magic, and you want to rip it off the branch and squish it with your hands or hit it with a bat or throw it at your friends. We made lots of games up when we were kids.”

When I lived in Iowa we had a few apple trees and I remember my brother trying to throw them as hard as we could at the fences so that the fences would slice the apple. To me, I felt like I was creating a superior kitchen knife. Not only was I enjoying throwing the fruit at a fence, but I was slicing it up for my brother and I. We used to do this with hours.

My teacher, who is younger than I am, then said, “Yeah, but kids don’t play in the street anymore. They’ve got cell phones and they like to hang out in the internet cafes and play video games, or they’re interested in watching TV.” I still see a lot of kids playing in the street around here. They seem to be playing the same games as my teacher did. So I asked him again, “It still looks like kids are unaffected by the modern world, by America.”

He looked at me again, “Seriously? Go walk around San Pedro and look into the internet cafes and you’ll see kids staring at the screens, or they’re sitting on the corner playing games on their phone or texting each other.”

I took a walk later that day, and it seemed like there weren’t as many kids playing in the street. Only the really poor kids play in the street, but every now and then you’d see a kid kick a ball and then he’d reach into his pocket to respond to a text message.

I guess things have changed.

I’m Afraid of Heights, but I Jumped from a 35 Foot Platform into Lake Atitlan

Every time I step close to the edge of an elevated area, my hands start to sweat. It’s a natural reaction because I’m afraid of heights, and have been ever since I can remember. I don’t like ladders, hotel balconies, or views from the summit. I think I’m getting better though, and rarely do I back down from a challenge to see someone’s roof, spit off a balcony, or pose for a picture with my back to cliff’s edge. So when some of the students from San Pedro School wanted to go to San Marcos to jump off the rocks, I agreed without any deliberation.

If you go to Lake Atitlan, I encourage you to visit San Pedro, the sleepy tourist town where I’m learning to speak Spanish, and take the boat for $1 to San Marcos. Upon your arrival to San Marcos you’ll see a newly built wooden platform that stands about 12 meters, or 36 feet, above the water. You may even see a reluctant voyager nervously waiting at the platform’s edge. He or she will be trying to build up enough courage to take the leap, politely ignoring all the voices from their friends, and listening only to the voice inside that says “I’m pretty sure it’s about 500 feet, and there’s no way you’re going to make it . . .”

Once you arrive at the dock, It’s a 5 minute walk to the rocks, and there’s a nice little cafe next to the rocks where you can debate with your friends on who’s going to take the plunge.

We make it to the platform and I accidentally look over the side. “Whoah. This is way bigger than I thought . . .” I’m concerned about rocks and my general safety, but the locals say that you’ve got over 25 feet of water before you touch the bottom of the lake, and some local workers have removed all the nearby rocks and built a nice platform for a safe depature.

My group is ready, which means that the guys are going first. I’ve got my trunks on so there’s no need to have second thoughts. I toss my shirt and flip flops to the side. I step back to the end of the platform. For me, the thought process is simple. If I think about it I’m not going to do it. So I don’t think, and start running off the edge . . .

It’s at this point where I realize that I’ve got a long way to go.

and . . .


Immediately, relief and joy wash over me from another challenge met. I swim to the side to watch the rest of the guys jump off. The view from the water isn’t as scary as it is from the top. Sometimes it’s the “not knowing” that’s the scariest.

(Here’s my friend Dave jumping into the water, he’s got a better view of the volcano in the background.)

I swim over to the small rocks to relax. With my big accomplishment completed it’s time to have fun. My friend Amy has a nice Canon DSLR and I tell her that I’m going to dive. She’s perfectly situated for a perfect shot.

This is me mid-air as I’m diving off the 3 meter rocks.

I got a 9.5 score for this dive. If I had pointed my toes, I would have received a perfect 10. You might be thinking it’s strange that I dove off the one that was almost 10 feet.

I suppose after you make the big leap, everything seems more manageable.