Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  , Tak,
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

And there they were.

I turned the corner and was afraid to look. This was the one place in Thailand I was most excited to see. The pictures I had seen of the falls are why we had spent so much time and trouble getting to Ti Lor Su. It's why we had ventured north as soon as we left Bangkok. The falls are best viewed in early December, just after the rainy season. The volume of water coming through makes this the perfect time to visit the largest, and what most people consider the most beautiful, waterfall in Thailand. I knew the statistics: 400 meters high and 300 meters wide, dozens of falls streaming over limestone cliffs surrounded by thick jungle, set in the midst of a wildlife sanctuary. It sounds thoroughly impressive. But of course none of that is like actually seeing them. If it were, we could all just read about them and forego the 10,000 mile journey.

I stood in the clearing, listening to the din of thunder coming from just a few meters away, looking at Lindsey stare open-mouthed at the falls, and I found that I wasn't quite ready to see them. I wasn't afraid I would be disappointed by them. I knew they would be spectacular and were even more amazing than my mind's eye imagined them. I was afraid of losing that sense of anticipation that had carried me so far. It's like staring at that giant present under the Christmas tree for so many weeks, running your hands over it, picking it up, shaking it, measuring it in your mind, trying to guess what magical object lay beneath the paper, then finally having it in your lap on Christmas morning, knowing that in a few minutes it will all be over. Soon the paper will be crumpled in a trash bag in the corner. Soon the ornaments will be removed and the tree put away. Knowing that you are about to be rewarded with what you've so desperately longed for is sometimes overshadowed by the knowledge that your sense of wonder will be lost. I found myself on the precipice of just such a moment, and couldn't make myself give up that sense of anticipation.

All of this may sound ridiculous. You may not be able to place yourself there in that clearing, at the foot of the falls, feeling what I felt. But this is what I am passionate about. These are the moments I seek out. The way other people dream of marriage and kids and family holidays, my hopes and aspirations carry me to these places and these moments. These are the things that are important to me. So for a minute or two, I had trouble turning and facing what lay at the end of my journey thus far.

But I did turn. And I was not disappointed. My first impression was that it was too much to take in. I had to blink and turn my head for a moment, like when your bedroom light is first turned on in the morning. I decided to look at it in pieces. Ten meters in front of me and 20 meters below me, was the foot of the falls. The river faded into the distance to my left, back toward the camp ground. There were several pools above small falls just above that. The next set of falls were two stories high and brought the water up to eye level. There was never just one fall or pool to look at. It was always several falls flowing into a single pool, then sliding down into another, separating, then coming together again. The falls moved up like a V, spreading out as they climbed the cliffs. More pools, boulders perched all around, trees growing up from the edge of the water, streams of white and light falling from the edge of the rock in sheets. I looked up and up and just found more falls, more water, more beauty in a seemingly endless cascade of fluvial grandeur. It's a sea of green and white of every shade. The dark green of the forest is mirrored in the water, but when you look through the reflection, the pools looks like melted emeralds, translucent and shimmering. The white foam of the falls contrasts brilliantly with the colors enveloping them.

Finally, several hundred meters above, the beginning of the falls can be seen, seemingly tiny in the distance despite their enormity. Even here there are several tributaries beginning the cascade of water from source to the pools at my feet. It was easily one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

So it was easy to reflect on what allowed me to be here: what choices I had made, what efforts, what assistance, what compromises, what sacrifices. And I was immediately happy with all of them.

We all take stock of ourselves from time to time and look at the tapestry that is our lives. And it seems that we are trained to look for holes in it. What's missing? People start listing their wants. They want a new car, a bigger TV, a wife, a child, a better job, a nicer house, more money. We're all guilty of it. I want newer gadgets, a faster computer, a better camera, more money. But it's so terrible to look at this magnificent life and see only the few things that are missing, and failing to see all the makes it so rich and complete and impressive.
I've made some decisions that force me to go without some of the aforementioned comforts. But I must look at what such a life affords, and I thought:

I find myself standing at the foot of these falls, their roar in my ears and mist on my face, my eyes pealed open in an effort to memorize every crag of rock, every curve, every cliff, every tree clinging to a stone amongst the deluge, every drop of water...I see this and all the holes in the garment disappear. While the fabric lacks jewels and adornments, it is vibrant and beautiful. And it is not simply a momentary respite from the knowledge that my life is not complete. It ceases to be incomplete. It may take many incidents of misuse or moments of misfortune for the tapestry of our lives to become damaged, but there are amazing moments, singular moments, when all can be repaired.

That first day at the falls was time for reflection. It made me feel at peace with where I was and what it took to get there. It was nice. But it wasn't something I can do too much of. I can't take life too seriously for very long. So I smirked, laughed at myself a little for my seriousness, and moved forward to enjoy the rest of my time there.

Day 2 was a lot of fun. We hiked over early in the morning and spent 6 hours exploring every part of the falls we could reach. We got lost once, and Lindsey gave me dirty looks until I led her back to safety. We swam in the brisk water (brisk means frigid. My nipples are still hard). We took an obscene number of photos, and we found that the falls are even more impressive as you move up toward the top. It was an incredible couple of days. I told Lindsey that if I had to leave the country and head back to the States the following day, it would be fine. The falls had made it all worthwhile.

It's been a few days and I have since changed my mind. They were amazing and stunning and I would say one of the top 3 most incredible things I've ever seen...but I could not go back home yet. We have another year or two of this and I'm thrilled about it. I'm sure we'll have several more amazing moments like we did at the falls. And I'm sure we'll have more miserable moments like we had on the road to Um Phang. But they'll all be memorable and I'm excited about all of it. Now, back to Um Phang, then back to civilization.
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