Sometimes you start a journey with a destination in mind and find out along the way, that it’s really not the destination that matters. It’s what happens along the way.
On a gorgeous weekend afternoon, after lounging in the sun at our new apartment for a little bit, the three of us—me, Sam and our friend Dave who teaches in Pak Penang—headed out on our bikes for an adventure in the nearby mountains. Ai Kheow Waterfall (pronounced Eye-Key-Oh) was our destination. We checked the map and departed for our goal around 1 in the afternoon.
Zipping off on the bikes we headed north-ish. First stop, roadside ice cream. Dave, with an insatiable craving for something cold and sweet on our sweltering afternoon, flagged down a mobile Nestle ice cream truck. The great thing about Thailand is you can always find move-able food. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming blog about Thai food.
Moving along, ice cream craving satiated, we hit Road 4141, which, according to the map, would lead us right into the waterfall. West-ish was our direction. Drunk from the heat and our own confidence in our destination, we drove fearlessly toward the mountains, assuming the road would halt right at the cliff-side just before plunging headlong into the waterfall.
Alright. We took a left. That direction looked promising. Not sure what road we were on, but still confident of our direction, we motored past juicy green foliage and some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen. Quaint green-domed mosques, men in white robes walking along gravel road, women riding side-saddle on the backs of puttering motorcycles, local folks sitting in clusters of threes and fours on concrete patios before their front door, enjoying the lazy Saturday afternoon.
We passed jungles drenched in the golden light of the afternoon sun.
We rode along winding curves, not needing to shout over the loud rumble of the motorcycles but pointing and nodding in certain directions. Just along the road past the intersection we spotted a small roadside stand with large glass Fanta bottles filled near brimming with lemon-colored liquid. Gasoline. Vendors often sell liters of fuel from recycled soda bottles, displayed on simple stands outside minimarts or on the concrete picnic tables outside their own homes.
Quick fill-up then a nod in the direction of the small restaurant across the street. Ice cream long gone, a new hunger crept in. The restaurant looked cozy with a few tables outside, plenty of foliage surrounding the rim of the outdoor patio and a warm interior decorated in a country-home style. The owner introduced herself eagerly before we could dismount the bikes. A Muslim woman, named Forida (Four-EE-dah), dressed head to toe in a yellow sequined matching dress and headscarf. With open arms she showed us to the table near the water fountain on her patio. Forida doted on us like we were nephews and nieces returned from a long overseas journey. In some ways, I felt it was true. She reminded me of an aunt back home, her warm smile and insistence on making sure we left with full bellies and a light, jovial spirit. We noshed on Islam-style noodles, roti (similar to Naan bread) and curries, thanking her generously, promising to return again with friends. Remembering our waterfall destination, we headed back out again.
By now it was 4 o’clock. Ai Kheow, however, seemed elusive but we motored on anyway, presumably in the direction recommended by the map as well as locals who muttered Ai Kheow and pointed the same direction.
But after awhile, we figured the road to the waterfall had been obscured by foliage. Little to no signage would make the waterfall nearly impossible to find in the waning afternoon sun.
Just along the side of the road, we passed a sign for Wang Lung Waterfall. Wang Lung. Not Ai Kheow. ‘Well,’ we thought, ‘it’s does say it’s a waterfall. Not the one we originally intended, but still a new destination.’
The winding road toward Wang Lung led right into the sun just dipping behind the trees, climbed up a steep curvy hill and stopped abruptly at the hill’s precipice in a shaded parking lot. Near a wooden carved sign that read “Wang Lung, Two Hearts” in Thai script, a short concrete path raced down to a wide opening in the rocks where a stream trickled across the path. Footprints led us away from the path and followed the stream to the edge of the rocks where it sloped gently down toward another waterfall. The stream from our path joined with the other rushing waterfall at the base of the rocks. The ‘joining’ of two hearts.
Just before twilight could engulf the surrounding jungle, we skidded off along the path leading into the woods, pausing to inspect the coconuts strapped to the nearby rubber trees that were collecting a sticky, white glue-like substance.
Back at the waterfall, we sat on the edge of the rocks, watching the sunset drip a sherbet pink and orange across the clouds above the water rushing its way toward a lower elevation. The crickets and other apiary friends provided a chattering soundtrack to our sunset.
We’d made it.
No, not to our original destination. But in the creeping crepuscular evening, it seemed that arriving at the destination wasn’t the point. We’d left together. Made a few friends along the way. Arrived together and enjoyed the journey together. Mission accomplished.