Thwack. Thwack. Thuuud.
Calculating the crappiness of the karma received from inadvertently killing butterflies, I ducked my head to avoid hitting yet another gorgeously sequined turquoise butterfly.
They intruded in gnat like swarms covering the perimeter of the sixty-kilometer road to Pala U Waterfall.
After the first few thuds vibrating solidly within my metal helmet, I forwent my futile attempts to guide the motorbike in an awkward anti-connect the dot demeanor in avoidance of the butterflies.
Trees erupted from the mountainside at all angles in toe touching proximity.
They met in unison with tips arcing across the road, encompassing the torn cement in a canopy of moist nature.
The slightest of sunburns, and a couple liters of water later, my dear Indian friend Ashutosh and I screeched into the pay station to buy our tickets for the national park.
“Cun naksiksa!” “Me student!”
I pleaded with the woman working the booth, pulling out both my Webster University ID card and my best starving college student look in an effort to bargain with the 200 baht entrance fee for foreigners.
Returning victoriously to Ash who waited idling on the motorbike, I informed him of the spectacular 100 baht discount I’d haggled for us.
Approximately three American Dollars.
He beamed and proudly informed me that I was becoming Indian.
Pulling into the steep rocky parking lot, already drenched in salty sweat from the hour long butterfly dodging motorbike sprint we partook journeying to Pala U, we secured a spot between two tour busses, one packed with Chinese, the other, Indians, and we set out to do a bit more sweating.
I knew no more about Pala U Waterfall than the road signs depicted, which was an assortment of Thai lettering, something to the effect of น้ำตกสิบสองกิโลเมตร.
Apologies if that spoils the ending too much.
Needless to say, I was unprepared in the best of all possible ways for the beauty of this mirage.
After a concise bridge-crossing walk, surrounded by every possible shade of green, we ended up at a small pool of water collected from several billowing waterfalls.
With the enormous sacrifice of a pack of coconut crackers I’d purchased that morning on a rest stop to a roadside 7-11 wannabe on the bumpy road to Pala U, we crushed the crackers to pieces and dropped them into the water.
Only to leap back at the hordes of catfish so thick I could have utilized them as stepping stones, that immediately began jumping on cue and hurdling over one another, flopping desperate for a taste of powdered coconut cracker.
Whatever nostalgia I’d originally felt at parting with my crackers evaporated instantly at the degree of coolness with which these fish were freaking out, plus the condoling knowledge that with another twelve baht I could purchase another, considerably drier package of my own.
After the complete consumption of my crackers, the catfish flocked together beneath the water, idle at the edge of the rocks waiting for motive to move and another innocent bystander.
Pala U Waterfall has five levels to it, each plateau a significant hike further uphill and the cascades increasing grander and becoming far more intricate with the augmentation in elevation.
I overheard a couple of hairy potbellied men wheezing on their way up to the third level joking that after reaching the fifth level you’re so high up, you meet God.
It was only after the climb.
Twisting beneath boulders and slipping barefoot between rocks.
In that gorgeous creek bed style of half walking, three quarters running, leaping from rock to rock skimming the icy clear water.
That I realized they weren’t kidding.
Because I did meet him.
God, that is.
It was a nice moment of silence where the sunshine fills every possible spot of any word at all you could ever come up with to slip in the spaces.
I was standing at the edge of the stream on a simple mossy wet boulder that fit precisely into the panorama, identical to every other boulder you’d find up, down, or around for about twenty meters.
Except that I was in a grove of translucent butterflies.
Beautiful beyond belief.
And elegantly graceful in equal proportions of gentle wonder.
Reaching my hand up, I felt the legs of tens of tiny little beautiful butterflies trusting me.
Blue and purple and white and just the most incredible yellow, they were all so delicate and pinky up for a cup of tea sort of dainty.
Skeltering up and down my arms.
Absolutely surrounding me in a thin shelter of beauty.
Not flying, no destination.
In the sunlight, precisely as I myself was doing.
I reached up into the sun and it felt like it’s only real purpose was lighting up my boulder.
And I saw little raindrops almost as elegant as the butterflies themselves.
Falling from the sky so lightly that they disappeared before ever hitting me.
And I saw God.
And I felt God.
And above all, I knew that he was there.
Driving back from Pala U, several significant hours later, sopping wet from so much sweat and too many dunks in the waterfall to count, our clothes exhausted from all that drying out, only to get drenched yet again and again, we sang an off key top of the lungs assortment of Beatles tunes whenever we could remember the lyrics.
Halfway through a unique rendition of “Eight Days a Week” artistically merged with “Yellow Submarine,” Ash stalled the motorbike with a thwacking of it’s ancient brakes.
I peered around him mouth open in mid-“Yeah yeah yeah shanananana” to see an elephant standing in the middle of the road.
Standing isn’t necessarily the best word in this case.
It was more like, venting, or, needing to vent, as it appeared to be.
There was one extremely enormous, very pissed off elephant in the middle of the road.
Didn’t see you there.
Something like that, more or less, describes my conscious stream of thought.
Ash’s must have taken a more neanderthalic approach, with the fight or flight route running rapidly through his skull. As he floored it.
No really, I was impressed because even with the extreme lack of floor in the motorcycle, or, presence of open air where a floor potentially could have been, Ash really did manage to floor that beast of a motorcycle.
Heading precisely and directly towards the elephant.
I, in addition to the elephant as it turned out, assumed that Ash’s plan was to swerve to the right, fitting neatly into that little slice of street that the big grey guy hadn’t yet covered.
However more full of ferociousness than of not, he stampeded towards that empty space of road and, more frighteningly, towards us, in one powerful trot of a tantrum.
With a screeching skid, Ash turned the motorbike around and we fled backwards, in a horrified mixture of shocked laughter and disbelief that there was indeed an extremely pissed off wild elephant that seemed to be have knighted himself king of the road and wanted us to Billy Goats Gruff it across the asphalt.
He also seemed fond of stepping on us with those big old wrinkly clubs of feet of his and grinding us into oblivion, but that was a thought I slipped out the side of my brain for dwelling on at a different time.
Waiting for several other cars to pass, and watching the elephants benign reaction to their presence, we decided to try to slip in behind an automobile and quickly, and painlessly cross by the elephant.
It was a nice plan in theory.
As soon as he spotted us, the interracial motorbike, he set out stamping and guffawing to keep us from crossing his blessed asphalt.
In a shriek of sound and speed and the smell of too much confusion and a lot of petroleum.
We somehow managed across that blasted barrier and away in a flash of Hindi curse words that had sprung a leak from Ash’s mouth.
A couple kilometers down the road, we spotted a few more innocent Thai passer byers on their motorbikes and honked at them shouting and pointing, “CHANG!!!!! CHANG!!!!!”
Fortunately that was one of the few Thai words floating around in our foreign vocabularies, thanks to the way in which the cheapest laundry detergent in Thailand is brand named “Chang.”
Essential knowledge for any college student.