I was talking to my Dad on skype for the first time in too long and he mentioned how waterfalls seemed like my drug of choice. I think he has a point. I mean a friend of mine bet on me not making it out of Europe due to this addiction, figuring I’d fall or drown somewhere along the way. Sounds like a heroin habit to me.
Alternatively waterfalls could also be compared to women, easily capable of catching me in their currents, beautiful, dangerous. (I tend to drown in love). Either way, I love waterfalls, and ‘getting some’ as my friend Stuart calls it has become a trademark Luke move.
You see it is my humble opinion that you have not truly experienced a waterfall until you have gotten some. The basic concept of getting some involves getting into, under or on top of the falls by any means necessary. Until you’ve felt the rushing water sweetly whipping over and off your skin, you don’t know the soul of the waterfall. It is this concept which led my friend to expect to read of my death months ago. Well I’m still alive somehow, and I’ve seen quite a variety of cascades since leaving Canada in 2012, big and small, short and tall, and all of them wet and wild.
There is a human obsession with ranking things and while I’d love to hold myself above it, I can’t. I’m always comparing things, trying to crown a winner, though I’ve no idea to what end. Waterfalls are no different. Now the questions start to flood my mind: How can you rank shards of perfection? I mean Each one is special, each one is different, and each holds a special place in my heart. What criteria could you rank them on? It seems utterly impossible. But, surely there has to be a way. A lot of people simply rank based of size, but as in many things; (cough cough) size is only one element. Accessibility is a big one for me. Probably the biggest. Surrounding Scenery is another. Water flow can make a lot of difference, as can Isolation vs. Over crowding. I need some sort of math genius to whip me up a formula for this. And let’s not forget, like in all human rankings, so much is subjective. The time you visited, your mind state that day, your company, how far you were allowed to push the limits of safety, all will have a profound effect on your experience with any waterfall.
Let’s take Niagara Falls for example. An amazing place. A world class waterfall. But far from my favourite. Maybe once I go over it in a barrel that will change, in fact I’m sure it would. Still, The fact remains, for me Niagara falls is too crowded, and as good as the maid of the mist is the accessibility to the falls just isn’t really there for the individual explorer. If you’re anything like me, you want to wade through the waters above the falls and peer over the brink as you fight the current. You want to swim up to the bottom and climb up through the tumbling turrets of water until you reach the summit. You want to Get Some. Well in Niagara’s case any of that is most likely a death sentence or at least a hospital stay. Of course I still love Canada’s wonder of the world, but it just goes to prove the point, bigger is not always better. (I swear I don’t have an agenda on this sweeping idea ladies.)
Now as I look back on my ever growing list of experiences in getting some, i find that most of my greatest moments in waterfalls (and also in life) came at comparatively smaller falls. (You still need some size though, not much to explore on a cascade of three inches) I’m talking about Waterfalls that open themselves to you fully, cascades you can really get to know. The kinds of places you can properly explore, climb on, drink from, swim under, jump right into in every sense of the phrase. Basically Waterfalls where you can get some without guaranteed death. In my short life I’ve found countless moments to lose myself in these Oases. Some highlights flash through my mind. The waterfall nestled in the jungle in Montezuma, Costa Rica comes to mind, Kravice falls in Bosnia was immensely explorable, Krka falls in Croatia was a place of inspiration and proved utterly unforgettable and those temporary spring run off falls in the black forest in Germany were incredible too.
In the past week I’ve had the chance to visit and revisit some pretty amazing waterfalls down in southern Laos (the ones in Luang Prabang weren’t bad either) including the biggest falls in South East Asia Khone Phapeng.
I’m staying on Don Khone a small charming little island; home to countless small falls and the more major Li Phi falls as well as countless charming Laotian people but who really cares about them right?
Li Phi falls are frustrating but beautiful. First off keep in mind each day here is hovering around 40 degrees and shade is hard to come by, so when I first made it there I was not in a pleasant state. Drenched in sweat, dizzy, and feeling like the witch from Hansel and Gretel. Still, I was wowed by the beauty in front of me. These falls of the Mekong are a collection of cascades which cut through jagged and picturesque cliffs through different channels all emptying into a single roaring riverbed between the massive rocks. The falls may not be all that tall but they are impressive and incredibly beautiful. But now the frustration, these falls are immensely beautiful, some of the most enthralling I’ve ever seen, but getting some here is a very risky proposition. I did manage to ignore the warning signs and climb down to the roaring channel, dipping my hands in the pure unadulterated energy, but any more than that would have been insanity as many tourists have died here doing less over the years.
I ended up visiting these falls three times and tried for hours to find crossing points, which has to be possible since locals appear across the channel every now and then, but I couldn’t find a way and feel like you likely need a boat to take you there, while approaching the falls from an entirely different angle. Still I did eventually find a place for a quick dip just downriver from the falls, though swimming out into the actual current was out of the question. Just getting in and not being swept away was a small adventure.
Now, these waterfalls in terms of their surroundings were pretty spectacular, the way the water goes from lazily drifting along above the falls to rushing and crashing in instants is astonishing, and the countless cliffs which make the canyon for the riverbed below the falls certainly makes it picturesque. Watching the locals fish with crazy net contraptions and watching white birds which look like egrets play around the smaller cascades is certainly entertaining too. The falls also provided an excellent place for writing, as I found a few small enclaves with shade and a view (though 40 in the shade is still way too hot) and i’ve made some good progress on current novel Home there, so I am thankful to them for that gifted inspiration. Still, not being able to get into the falls proper drove me insane a little bit, so It was a good thing these were what the locals call The small falls and far from the only option in the area.
Today I paid to go the big ones. They’re further away and therefore much more expensive to get to, but when I heard these falls were the biggest by volume in South east Asia, as well as God’s big Fuck you to people for hundreds of years as they sought to use the Mekong for trade routes to and from China, I knew I had to go. If they couldn’t navigate a way through maybe I could right?
Volume wise it reminded me of Niagara Falls, in this case I don’t mean amount of water, I mean noise. The rushing water drowned out even the millions of cicadas which frequented both sets of falls here in the 4000 islands.
The amount of water rushing past me in a single instant made me marvel at the vastness of the world, at the journey each drop must take (and how that journey might mirror our own lives). Honestly, the thunderous roar of the falls could have masked almost any sound. The countless crashes and explosions of water against rocks, like fireworks blooming in the sky… you know what? I can’t adequately describe this place. Here, just have a look at the pictures.
Now I hope you’re thinking, “Luke you didn’t dare go climbing into that. You wouldn’t be writing this blog if you did, you’d be dead. And Lord knows both Angels and Demons should have something better to do than blog. Hell even most humans do you vain self interested prick.”
You’re right, I didn’t climb into the main falls, I’d have been swept away in an instant, that said I did get as close as I possibly could, before accepting these were too big even for my gaping opening (In My Soul. You know the one needing to be filled by waterfalls. Come on, get your minds out of the gutter).
That said the amazing thing about this set of falls were the smaller channels off to either side of the main falls. I spent an hour climbing around them, wading through them, further wrecking my shoes and scaring locals and tourists alike before finally finding a swimming hole with a current just strong enough to keep it from being relaxing. In other words, I got some. Waterfall style (Snoop you got nothing on this).
For me the crazy thing about waterfalls is I never regret it, even when it’s costly. Even when I almost plummet to my death which did not happen this time but almost has in the past (I’ve learned and I’m more considered in my explorations now).
Since I was going alone the half day trip cost me almost 30 dollars (A fortune in Laos). More than I spend most days on lodging, food, everything over her. But the bliss, adventure and joy that filled me the whole time we were together was worth every penny. (Yes I am worried that waterfalls are becoming people in my mind)
You know how with Heroin Addicts you can usually guess it’s going to kill them one way or another? Well I understand why my friend Stu suspected the same of me and waterfalls. That said I think he’s wrong. Why? Because I love them; but I respect them to. Cascades are not to be trifled with. They are dangerous and deserve fear and respect as much as they do reverence and admiration. Everytime I prepare myself to get some, I remind myself of that, and take a deep breath before I wade in and start exploring. After all I don’t want to be swept away. At least not yet. Because let’s face it, if I had to choose a way to go, wrestling a tiger to protect the world on a boat that’s on fire as it’s slipping over Niagara wouldn’t be too bad a way. Failing that just the waterfall bit would be better than a lot of other options. Anyway, I can’t wait to explore some of the South American falls, which I’m told are absolutely amazing. As my journey continues I feel sure I will find: new loves, new highs, new perfections. All in the form of these roaring cascades which dot the dirt roads of my life. Come on feet don’t fail me now, get me to the next one.
As I sit here and prepare to say goodbye to Laos I’m left wondering one thing; Why isn’t the world just all waterfalls?
End of Treatise
Related Post Script:
You know the crazy thing about these waterfalls, they rush like this in the dry season. I have to come back to Laos during the Monsoon.
Unrelated Post Script:
I’m leaving Laos tomorrow. This country has been amazing, full of unique and rewarding experiences. The people are incredibly friendly, helpful, and good, and the landscapes are just unbelievable. And the waterfalls, did I cover that above?
If you ever get a chance, don’t wait, go to Laos.
A whirlwind journey through Cambodia coming up, and I’m told it’s only going to get hotter. My Canadian blood objects but still I smile.