Friday, April 4, 2014

swimming lessons

I know how to swim. I'm not a fast swimmer, nor a talented swimmer, but I can hold my own through any body of water. It is important to my dad that his children (and grandchildren) know how to swim. From pools, to lakes, to oceans, I can tread along slowly through a breast stroke or a front crawl. Not many residents of the Yucatรกcan say the same.

This past week, I've spent every single day in the water. From the Gulf of Mexico, to the Cenote Ik Kil, to the Caribbean Sea, I experience joy every time I dunk my head beneath the water and come up for air. I just swim, without giving it a second thought. The cenote at Ik Kil is 150 feet deep, but I didn't even notice the sign. Instead, I jumped off the side of a cliff (the fi
rst time was scary) into the deep blue, and came right back up. I knew I would.

The deep waters of Cenote Ik Kil

This cenote (like all others) sells life jackets. When I first saw the booth for orange life vest rentals, I thought, "what a nice safety net for over-protective folks." As I jumped into the cenote, I saw lots of people floating in the life vests. I saw others clutching the side of the cave. I decided to inquire with these water-loving folks about why they weren't swimming over to the sunny (and warmer) part of the sinkhole. In Spanish, I was told every excuse for not swimming - everything from "I'm scared that I can't feel the bottom" to "I don't know how to swim." That's when I realized - the only people sans life jacket were American. So I asked again- and yes, none of the Mexicans (or Europeans) in the water could swim. But they wanted to enjoy the water. Kudos to them!

While in Honduras, if I was planning to actually go swimming, I would explain to my neighbors that I was going to the river (or lake or beach/sea) to "bathe" not "swim." I always thought this was a colloquialism. That is until I went to the beach with my new Yucateco friends. Just before Jessica got into the water in Progreso, she told me she couldn't swim. Then she ran into the water and hung out for a long while. When she came back I wanted to yell, "you swam in the gulf!" But Jessica didn't actually swim; there were no swim strokes going on. Instead, she went into the water and did what the Yucateco fishermen do before they enter the water every day to fish; they pray for permission to enter the water and pray that they don't drown. These fishermen wade into the water (as deep as they need to) and proceed to work hard to hopefully make their living. Most survive, but several fisherman do die beneath the waves every year.

Fishing boat taking off from El Corchito

These are the fishermen who bait fish and troll, by hand, with hook, line, and sinker. Some fly fish. Many drop nets, from both on land and on water (in their motor fishing boats). All go out to fish in the early morning, as well as at dusk, often times holding a Coleman lantern out over the side of the boat and scooping up squid. One thing's for sure - this is the way many families on the gulf coast of Mexico survive, and have survived, through tough times. In the 1980s, the marine industry exploded as farmers moved up to the coast after the collapse of the local henequen industry. Farmers are now fishers. But they're still not necessarily swimmers. Actually, they can't swim at all. But they enter into the water, no life jackets provided. To be this brave takes dedication, practice, and a little extra praying to the gods.


  1. Anonymous4/04/2014

    Wonderful story; great observations. Your dad loves to swim!

  2. Anonymous4/16/2014

    Sounds like you are having fun. Is that Cenote Ik Kil really as small as it looks? --Sue