“If you close your eyes it feels like you’re on a roller coaster,” I said to Blaine as we wound our way through the mountains in Laos. “Kind of like Indiana Jones,” Lauren agreed as we were jolted by another gear shift. Somehow we always make it, and this time making it meant a trailhead speckled with vendors and an arrow pointing into the dense green wall of trees and vines. We passed the bear enclosure, where black bears orphaned by poachers tumbled and played. Then there was the tiger, which I could’ve reached out and touched through the flimsy fence. The sign reading “This tiger bites” deterred me, but I could have.
Then it’s just a few steps through the jungle. This is what Thailand is supposed to look like. Crystal clear water tumbling over rocks into a warm swimming hole. Everything blue and green. Even the rock formations that make you feel like the mermaids in Peter Pan perched on the Blue Lagoon. So we swam and swung out on the rope swing, splashing into the water. Timid European tourists watched us play, and I wondered how they could resist. There are times when it’s worth the risk to leave your camera under a tree so you can jump off a waterfall. There are times when it’s worth the risk to carefully carry your camera into the pool of water so you can pose on the mermaid rocks.
And then as we climbed out of the water, nearly ready to follow the streams uphill, a collection of monks in their saffron robes gathered at the edge of the pool. It’s an odd moment, trying to figure out the proper etiquette of hanging out by a swimming hole with a bunch of young monks. We were fairly certain it should involve more clothing than we were currently wearing. For the most part, they seemed unfazed by our immodesty and easily dove into the water, fully robed in bright orange cotton. They flipped from the rope swing, dove off the waterfall, and darted playfully through the water. I couldn’t help thinking they were showing off for our camera flashes, knowing that the idiosyncrasy would grab our attention.
I was sad to leave the little pool, pulled away only by the promise of a bigger waterfall up ahead. I laughed walking up the trail, each turn showing a new little pool, possibly more perfect than the one before it. And then I was standing before the most beautiful piece of nature I have ever seen. A mountain of water pouring down through the jungle, spilling over and over rocks and boulders. And that is always the best part. Getting to that place that you’ve never seen, looking at something new and thinking, “I didn’t know there were places like this.”