The following morning I awoke early and knew from experience that the boys would sleep for several more hours. I usually enjoyed this time by myself reading or wandering around, maybe getting breakfast. But I felt an odd surge of energy and curiosity and took flight into the jungle to find me a cave. I got my hands on a poor hand drawn map and bought a bottle of water on the way out of town. According to the map I would come to a bridge on the river and then walk straight for what appeared to be two or three more miles. Easy enough.
There was no bridge, but a primitive taxi service of longboats operated along the river, and for 10 cents a nice man took me across in his long thin boat, He was smiling broadly into a light breeze. Yes, I thought, look at him. He gets it. He understands. My feet were soaked from getting into the boat like a city boy. After hopping out I waved at Captain Jack then followed a deserted dirt path into the jungle. The air was thick and stifling, perspiration ran freely down my face. I came upon several farmhands crouching in a rice field, every one of them stuck in the muck. Behind them, rising out of the ground, stood a granite wall of popping green life, its top lost in a cloud. All around me jungled hills and jungle sounds, birds singing, a few faraway monkeys perhaps and other strange noises for which I would never know the source.
The trail came to a T in reality but not on the map. I guessed left, which was wrong, then turned around, went back and guessed right. The path ran through a nearly dry riverbed with scattered pools of water with strange little things swimming around. A winged creature flew by, and I heard an enormous buzz but saw only its shadow which was large and distorted in the morning sun. My shoes sloshed and squished and slipped on the rocky surface. Then the rocks gave way to sand which caked itself to my wet shoes, increasing the weight of each foot by two pounds. I entered an area that looked like the entrance to a cave, but it turned out to be tremendous overgrowth in the shape of a tunnel. Hanging foliage and vines, fallen trees crossing the path and endless boulders and slick rocks to crawl over, under and around.
For the second time on my journey I felt like Indiana Jones. For a while I doubted that I was going the right way but then stumbled upon the cave and something unexpected. I hadn’t seen another person for over an hour, and standing before me in the middle of nowhere was a tiny, shirtless Laotian man charging admission. Capitalism, deep in the Laos jungle. But I did get a head!
I entered the cave by climbing down into the darkness on a rickety old ladder made of bamboo twigs, my disgruntled headlamp blinking like a spastic strobe light. It was black inside. Everything I saw came in random flashes. I crawled over and under strips of earth then randomly glanced down just before stepping into a hole that had no bottom as far as I could tell. There was a board stretched across it, but barely long enough to reach both sides and thin, so I jumped the hole instead, but then bats began to squeal and flitter, and I twirled in a circle and began squealing myself until my headlamp in mid spin illuminated a super sized golden statue of Shiva hiding in a corner.
‘AAAAAAHHHHHHH!’ The bats continued their rebellion, and I breathed deep then tried to regain my composure and sense of direction. I was clearly lost now. I crawled into a small hole which I hoped would lead me out, but it was the size of a crawl space. I had a sense that I wasn’t alone, and with my headlamp panning around I discovered that I had disturbed the biggest spider I had ever seen, just a foot from the tip of my sweaty, shaking nose. One two one two and out I scrambled backward on scraped knees and squishy toes, stumbling blindly into Shiva once for good measure which startled the bats who began to squeal which made me spin and run, THE HOLE, which I saw at the last minute and barely cleared, sending a shoe full of rocks over the side. With the bats still singing, I climbed up the bamboo ladder and swung on a vine to the other side to hug a tree and ride the mud slick on my ass to the little old man waiting to collect my lamp.
“No time for love, Doctor Jones,” I said, handing back the still blinking headlamp in mid-jog. I got back to the room a muddy, sweaty, grinning fool to find my monkeys still asleep.