“It’s a gorgeous waterfall coming right out of the rocks.”
A European couple offered us a hiking recommendation when we introduced ourselves in the hotel lobby.
Feeling the need to get out of the city and into the green air, we decided to make an afternoon trip of it on our last day in Mandalay.
With the help of our new friend, Su, we arranged a taxi to bring us to the trail-head of Dee Do waterfall. It’d be an hour hike up, and an hour down.
The time in nature was a welcomed break from the dusty, smoky city of Mandalay. The mountain was a mixed terrain of rocks, woods, and dirt path. Sprinkled along the path were primitive houses and vegetable gardens. The people on the mountain lived in extreme simplicity.
It felt great to be on the trail,
talking about different moments on our journey and the upcoming places we will go. We came to a few forks in the path and used our best judgement to pick a route.
At one point we headed down to a farm field and around to a gathering of giant boulders. Maybe this was the end of the hike? We took photos and peered around.
No, this couldn’t be it.
We retraced our steps and hiked a new bend.
“There are voices over in this direction,” Joe said, hoping to have found a clue on where to go.
We trotted toward the voices.
When we arrived at the clearing, we found two monks in a bamboo hut. After an exchange of a few English sentences and Burmese responses, we were no closer to determining which way to go.
“I think he’s trying to tell us this is a monastery and to go away,” Joe said.
We left the clearing and turned down another route. Within a minute or two, one of the monks walked our way and signaled us to follow him in a different direction — using his bamboo walking stick as a pointer.
The monk led the way and every so often motioned us to keep following him. He brought us to a pagoda surrounded by trees, which we had seen from afar earlier in the hike.
“Ah,” I thought, “He thinks we wanted to see the pagoda.”
But the monk continued walking.
After making a few more turns, he pointed again with his bamboo staff. This time it was down — down into the earth, below the ground.
Joe and I exchanged a look. This certainly looked nothing like the waterfall we had envisioned.
We followed the monk down a set of stairs, into an enormous cave hidden below the earth’s surface. Joe flipped on his phone’s flashlight app, and we began to explore the ancient cave. The monk spread his arms as if to say, “Here it is! This is what you’ve been looking for!”
It wasn’t what we were looking for, but it was spectacular none the less.
The monk led us further into the cave, revealing ancient Buddha images and dozens of stalagmites.
“Wow!” Joe exclaimed as he investigated deeper into the caverns. The monk patiently waited while we explored.
The cave was fascinating, long, and winding. We never expected something like this.
On our climb back up to normal ground, the monk offered his staff to me as a hiking stick. I was happy for the help, and when I tried to return it to the monk, he motioned that it was for me to keep. What a sacred souvenir!
We thanked our hiking guide monk and directed ourselves back down the mountain.
“I wonder where the waterfall is,” I said to Joe, as we reflected on the unexpected cave discovery.
Apparently we had been on the wrong trail the whole hike. We should have asked for directions before we began, but we figured the trail-head would lead to the destination: the waterfall. It turns out there were two hikes at Dee Do — one for the waterfall and one for the cave.
After help from an eager boy who lived in one of the mountain homes and knew the English word, “waterfall,” we finally made it to the initially desired pinnacle.
Water gushed from above over rocks and crevices. It was a lovely spot for us to eat snacks and refresh for a few minutes. We took in the clean air and green landscape. We had make it to our envisioned “peak.”
Discovering two hikes and two destinations was fortunate and exciting. In fact, the better and more intriguing destination might have been the cave.
This happens to us in life sometimes.
We have certain destinations, junctures, or visions built in our minds.
We think or dream up particular points in our life journey and how wonderful they will be. I’ve thought about different jobs I might have, when I’d likely marry or have kids, where I’d live, at what point I’d achieve certain milestones, and to which places I’d travel.
Over my lifetime I’ve constructed mental images of where I’d be, what I’d be doing, and when they would happen. When those milestones arrive, they are often incredible and may even surpass our dreams. Sometimes, though, they’re not what we thought they would be like, or how they would feel. We may then set new goals or visions for ourselves.
And sometimes we arrive or travel through a place or situation we never expected.
While the unexpected — in whatever form — is challenging, it can also be inexplicably wonderful. Just the novelty or surprise of the unexpected can bring us joy and enhanced experience.
I tried to notice the incredible aspects of both the waterfall and the cave. I wanted to soak in the unique characteristics of each place, along with the monk and other people we met along the way.
What resonated with me is the importance of appreciating a particular destination or period for the beauty of what it is — whether I had previously envisioned I’d be there or not.
When life brings me to either type of destination, I want to appreciate and savor the beautiful and enduring aspects — of both the expected junctures and the unexpected summits.
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