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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Pushing On

Here we were, sitting on some rocks in the small cave near Vang Vieng, and a thought occurred to me – how did I get here? How did I go from my nice cushy life in Suburban America to being in a small pool of water in rural Central Laos? Let’s take it back a few steps.

35 days ago, I stood nervously in the Los Angeles Airport, seeing new faces for the first time. Nervousness and excitement pulsed through me as I got ready for the next chapter in my life. Three weeks followed in China, bringing with them treks and homestays in on the Tibetan Plateau, coffee shops and bookstores in Dali, Kunming and Jinghong. Crossing into Laos brought a slower pace of life, as well as the gentle lulls of the boat on the Mekong, the hot nights in Luang Prabang, and finally, on the horizon, out the window of our van, Vang Vieng.

Once in Vang Vieng, we spent the majority of our time relaxing and reflecting at a small organic farm, looking back on the previous month of our trip, and coming up with goals and ideas for the next two. Monday afternoon, however, brought on a tuk-tuk excursion. We made our way to Jung Cave, a park with a small river that passes through caves, situated at the foot of large limestone mountains. I enjoyed sitting at a table off to the side, watching the river flow, but didn’t enter the water because why would I? The water is cold. We’re leaving tomorrow. My clothes won’t dry by the time we leave. We’re experiencing and doing so much, what’s missing one small thing?

Excuses passed through my mind as I watched my peers exit their explorations, looking intrigued and excited. They asked me why I didn’t want to see the caves, and the excuses from earlier rolled easily off my tongue. However, I wasn’t prepared for the encouragement that followed.

“Ben, you have to go. It’s amazing! Seriously one of the coolest things I’ve seen.” Olivia, Joya and Lae said to me. “You’re missing out if you don’t go.”

I saw the masses of Chinese and Korean tourists leaving the water, and felt my time was calling. I continued to make excuses, but the cave was calling me. Finally, I took a leap of faith and entered the water.

The cold of the water enveloped me, but as soon as I dunked my head, I found the temperature pleasant. I followed everyone into the cave, the strong current pushing against me and making progress slow. But people helped out, pointing out rocks to hold onto and giving helping hands. We made it to a raised section, where the rocks were above the river level, and climbed up, sitting and letting ourselves relax and catch our breath. Moving on, we explored a small secondary cave, going until it got too small and cramped to continue. Finally, turning back, we let the current push us back through the cave and into the open air.

The caves were amazing. The water wasn’t too cold. My clothes mostly dried. And most importantly, I got another example of pushing myself to try new things and how it pays off. Now I know that the next time I find myself swimming against the current, I’ll be able to push on.