When traveling somewhere new, it’s important to leave the resort in order to say you’ve been there. I loved my time at Secrets Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, but my desire to leave the comfort of the resort in order to see something unique was powerful. With limited money due to our unexpectedly extended vacation, and Mike’s desire to not be gone from the resort too long, we agreed on the Hoyo Azul (blue hole) cenote. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The photos I had browsed online were of gorgeous turquoise clear water. But a friend warned me it was “crowded and cold.” Nevertheless, on the second to last day of our vacation, Mike and I ventured outside of our resort to Scape Park in order to visit Hoyo Azul and see for ourselves.
Scape Park Cap Cana is a natural theme park with several attractions including a waterfall expedition, ziplining, cave tour, and its most popular, Hoyo Azul eco tour. Upon arriving at Scape Park I was immediately turned off by the tourist trap that lay before me. Cafe, gift shop, professional photographers snapping photos they hope you’ll purchase later, and lots of people waiting around. I was not impressed.
Ticket costs vary depending on the attraction and there is a discount for multiples. Our tickets for the blue hole were $69 each and included transportation. Once you identify your guide for the attraction for which you purchased tickets (they have signs) you wait for more people to arrive. Tours leave twice daily at scheduled times, but you don’t have much control over how early you arrive since you rely on Scape Park’s shuttle service from your resort. I am certain they intentionally get you there earlier than necessary in hopes you’ll patron the shops. Fortunately, there are some animals to look at and we enjoyed the monkeys in particular. I also found myself draped in an enormous python. I have no photo to share, though since the photographer shouted at Mike when he tried to take a picture.
Mike and I waited nearly 45 minutes until we finally set off for the mile or so “hike” to the cenote. I say “hike” because it was really more of a leisurely stroll through the jungle with more stops than are necessary: water break, bathroom break, and photo break. What should have taken no more than twenty minutes took more like forty. As far as “eco tour,” that is also a bit of a stretch. It’s a walk through the woods with a few orchids crudely attached to trees with wire.
After the space and exclusivity of the resort, I found myself annoyed to be in a large group of people, at the mercy of the tour guide. I didn’t need breaks on a short walk and was fully capable of following the trail myself. So far, I had found the entire experience a waste of time. But I kept my hopes up that the blue hole would be worth it.
The trail to the blue hole winds up some steps and onto what is more or less a wooden deck. Around us was an enormous cavern. Below us was a natural pool filled with the most beautiful turquoise water I have ever seen. All my frustration melted away. I realized Scape Park was simply the gateway to something magnificent, and worth the minor annoyances.
We descended a flight of wooden steps onto another large deck, much like a dock at a bay, where you could stand against the railing and look directly down into the blue hole. It was conical shaped. Shallow and rocky along the perimeter, but plunging downward to depths unknown to me in the center. A few more stairs on the left lead down to the water’s edge. On the right was a 14 foot high ledge for jumping. I was overjoyed to see it, but more than anything I wanted to feel that water against my skin.
“What are they waiting for?” I asked Mike. I looked around at the forty or so people in our tour; everyone busy taking selfies and gazing upon the blue hole through the lenses of their cameras and phones.
“I’m going in.”
I slipped out of my skirt and pulled my tank top over my head and walked in only my bathing suit down the staircase to the wooden landing beside the water. Lowering my feet onto a wooden board submerged in the water, I felt the cool freshness against my skin. I lowered my eyes and inhaled deeply, taking it in.
This. This is what was missing on our trip to the Dominican so far. I had so badly wanted to see something new, something natural, something besides our beautiful resort to make me feel as if I had the right to say I had been to the Dominican Republic. And for a blessed moment, it was all mine. I was inspired by the magnificence of my surroundings.
“Is it cold?” Remembering I was not alone in this beautiful space, I looked up and saw dozens of pairs of eyes gazing down at me. Me, in only my swimsuit. Them, hanging over railings awaiting my response.
“Not really,” I said. And then, with all eyes on me, I dove off the little step into the cool water the shade of blue like nothing I had ever seen. And for several more wonderful minutes, Hoyo Azul was all mine.
Diving in from the ledge was one thing, but jumping from fourteen feet was quite another. I jumped from a twenty-five foot high ledge when I was a tween, but my fear of heights has grown in intensity as I have grown in inches. As I stood at the ledge of the blue hole, fourteen feet up, fear gripped me. I took a step forward, then back, forward, then back. And finally, shook my hands in frustration, fists balled, and stepped aside, encouraging someone to go ahead of me. I know this so well because Mike recorded my first attempt. He also recorded my second attempt when I chickened out again.
By the third time, I was frustrated with myself. I knew I had to jump, but every time I tried, fear held me back as if ropes had emerged from the cavern and knotted themselves around my arms and legs. A few people shouted that I could do it. And I believed them. So I stood at the edge and waved my arms in such a way to universally signal the need for applause. Everyone cheered and whistled. And there I stood, self-conscious in my bathing suit, but not just the heavy woman afraid to jump. I was the woman who created her own cheering squad and knew how to overcome her fear. It was time.
And so I took one small step forward… then back… then forward once more and off the ledge into the blue depths below.
Applause erupted as I emerged from the surface. My body was shaky and flooded with adrenaline. My smile was brighter than the sun. I could watch the video all day of that brave woman taking a leap in spite of her tremendous fear.
Not jumping was never an option. Letting people go in front of me was one thing, but never once did it even occur to me to exit the line. The energy of the crowd inspired me and gave me courage. Jumping cemented the image of the Hoyo Azul in my mind. It is no longer just a gorgeous cenote in the Dominican where I went swimming, but a place where I encountered a fear, and beat it back.
This story would be quite different had I ran out of time. Afterall, Scape Park didn’t give us much time – fifty minutes maybe. They need to get you back to the hub to sit around and spend more money on $12.00 photos. In my October post, Facing and Embracing Fear to Avoid Regret, I wrote: “Imagine if I had let my fear get the best of me that day on top of that cliff? This would not be a story of courage, but one of regret.”
I could say the same exact thing now. Once again, I wrote a story of courage.