One, two, three. Jump! Be free. Fall. Feel wind rush by –
Crash below. Breath knocks out.
Water envelopes you,
Baptized in the moment.
Mondulkiri, Cambodia, 2016
We came to drive in the countryside on motorbikes and to visit waterfalls. We wanted to smell the fresh air, feel the coolness of the mountains. It was a needed escape from the busy city.
With a hand-drawn, photocopied map as our guide, we went from village to village in Pnong country. The ethnic people of the Mondulkiri mountains have been here as long as tradition can remember. The map took us down long dirt roads for kilometers before we crossed anything even resembling an indicator mark. A few times we came to forks in the road and were forced to stop to ask for clearer directions.
Local homes were easy to distinguish with their round design and intricately woven walls. As my Cambodian friends began speaking in their “city Khmer” I observed the faces; eyes back, brows drawn, brain working – translating to themselves, from Khmer to Pnong, then Pnong back to Khmer. I have held that same expression on my face countless times before.
Finally, we arrived. Not to the famous Boo Sra waterfall, the one everyone comes to see. No, Sen Monorom is more local, smaller and easy to jump. A 15-foot fall into a pool of water below. Local children often make the jump so tourist groups have something to photograph. I decided to do the jump for myself.
Standing at cliff edge, I looked over to the pool below. My heart began racing. It was difficult to tell what, if anything, was in the water below. I only held the knowledge that a few local children had already made the jump and come to the surface safely.
Stripped to my bathing suit, a crowd began to form at the edge of the water. Now I was the tourist attraction. Adrenaline pumped through me. Now or never….
I ran to the edge and leaped, there was no going back. I felt suspended in air for a moment, and then felt the crash of the water beneath me, around me, through me. The hand that covered my nose was thrown away by the force of impact. Water rushed into my nose. I sank deeper into the water.
Surrounded by water I beat my legs. A moment of fear gripped me for the unknown things hidden in the pool, but I had to make it to the surface. Water had already made its way down my throat and I needed air. I kicked and pulled my way up breaking the surface. Cough, gasp, deep breath – then a scream escaped my lips!
I made it! Laugh, yell, whoop – the sound bounced around me. My friends cheered from above. In a daze I swam to the side of the pool. My head spinning, heart still pumping. I gripped the roots of the trees and pulled myself up, stumbling and weaving my way up the gorge.
“Did you get the picture guys?”
“No…Can you do it again?”