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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Falling Off a Cliff

As you know, we spent the other night in a jungle. We hiked to our campsite the first day, rushed to build a shelter before the sun went down, and ate and slept by the stream. We hiked out of the jungle the next day, walking for a little over four hours and breaking for lunch. Sounds like a cool adventure, right?

Here’s the piece you probably hadn’t considered: It rained.

It rained the night before we set out, so it was slippery and muddy the morning we began. We had a nice, somewhat steep uphill trek and a leisurely lunch before setting off down the first mountain in the afternoon. So we’re walking down a steep hill, the trail being a one-to-two-foot ledge carved into the almost vertical face a of jungle mountain. Our guides chopped down some bamboo and young trees for us to use as walking sticks. And then the sky opened up.

This was the hardest hike I’ve ever been on in that it was nearly impossible not to fall over. I don’t know how to articulate how muddy it was, so I’ve attached photos of our campsite from the following morning. Sometimes, all you could do was slide down the slope, so you tried to slide gracefully while grabbing trees and bamboo for support. And all the while, it’s still pouring.

The rain did stop at some point after we’d set up camp, but mud doesn’t dry overnight. Our hike the next day was just as unstable, with just as many screams of people tumbling and having narrow saves. I hiked at the front with our guide, Sai, trying to get to the path while it was fresher, before all the footholds had slipped away.

It was on one of those narrow cliff edges that I tripped. My shoelace caught on a rock in the path, yanking my foot back unexpectedly. That’s odd, I thought, as I moved to catch myself with my other foot. But that foot slid in the mud. And then it slid off the edge of the trail, over the cliff. The slipperiness of the ledge surprised me, but luckily I’d grabbed onto a tree and caught myself.

Then the tree broke.

And I thought to myself, Umm…? Because, in my experience, trees don’t break under my weight. I’m quite small.

I was in a predicament, you see, but it was all happening so fast that I only had time to process my surprise. Luckily, in the same instant, I realized I could stop my fall with my bamboo walking stick.

I was once again surprised when I realized my walking stick was gone.

So, in this moment, I am sliding down the top of a nearly vertical slope, pressed up against the muddy cliff face in a terrible half pigeon pose, quite sincerely surprised at the events of the last second. My leg slid onto a rock, though, so I was safe.

And then the rock slipped too.


I stopped sliding. When I looked up, I saw Sai had grabbed my arm. I climbed back onto the trail, completely fine.

Really. I was emotionally fine. I actually think it’s pretty funny. I fell off a cliff, but I didn’t have time to realize I was about to get seriously injured until after I was saved.

Thank you, Sai. Khawp jai lai lai duh.