“Oh my God!” She gasped. “We can’t go through there! It’s dark and you can’t see anything! There's no path, just darkness!!"
She was breathless from fear and running.
We were standing high atop a hill that over looked a white sand beach and a perfect blue turquoise bay.
Under the midday sun, it was summertime hot and jungle humid.
We'd jumped into the water off a small wooden boat onto this remote island just an hour before and walked a few steps up to the empty white sand beach.
A local told us this path would take us to the cliff top hotel we were looking for.
Just two months before my friend ran out the jungle like she was being chased by a band of cannibals brandishing spears, we were having a coffee at a cafe in Amsterdam.
“My sister just got back! She was on Koh Samui and went to a full moon party on Koh Phangan! Thailand! It’s amazing! Let's go!”
Her enthusiasm was contagious.
She recounted her sister’s recent adventures in Southeast Asia, the great prices on hotels, paired with Thai beaches and blue water.
Amount of convincing I needed to go all-in: zero.
Next thing you know, I’m snacking on ramen noodles out of Styrofoam cup in the far back reaches of coach class on Thai Airlines headed to Bangkok.
We were traveling around a small cluster of “Kohs” (the Thai word for island.)
We'd been hearing about this amazing hotel on a remote part of Koh Phangan. The boat taxi had gotten us halfway there.
“Follow the path up the hill. It will take you right to it.” Said a stranger on the beach who seemed like he knew. We were off to see the Wizard.
That’s how we came to be standing in the hot Thai sun with a "scary" jungle between us and what we’d been assured was “Shangri-la for less than $20 bucks a night!”
My friend was slowly recovering from her jungle scare, yet before we could contemplate an alternate plan for getting to the dream hotel, something unexpected happened.
From the same place my friend had just run from in a panic, a woman, about our age, walked serenely through the trees and out into the sunlight.
She was so carefree and light on her strappy-sandaled feet, I thought of a butterfly.
“Butterfly girl” (my intsant nickname for this flowery stranger) had cleverly fashioned a chic sundress out of locally bought flowered sarong (a fashion trick I planned on copying that very night.)
She was clearly on vacation, but dressed up for some reason. Silver jewelry on her wrists and fingers; she even had a flower in her perfectly arranged blonde hair. (A FLOWER, people!!!) She wasn’t even sweating!
I'd only walked 100 yards up the hill from the beach and the sight of me would've given a mountain gorilla PTSD. She looked like she was headed to a beauty pageant audition.
Obviously, she’d come from the place we were trying (and failing) to get to.
My first thought was, “If a butterfly can find her way through the jungle path, I know I can!”
She disappeared down the hill.
Have you ever noticed that the people who do things you want to do inadvertently bring possibility and set it at your feet?
I've seen this inspire jealousy and resentment out of envy or love and gratitude from the inspiration it gives; for whispering to us: "You can do this, too."
Whatever had scared my friend, had to have been an anomaly.
This stranger brought an imaginary note and dropped it at our feet.
And I picked up faster than a hundred dollar bill in a shopping mall parking lot.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," is what it said.
I made a beeline for the path and the jungle.
It was eerily dark, but mostly because I'd just stepped out of the blinding Thai sun.
Only a few steps in, the path was as clear and wide as a concrete sidewalk in the suburbs. You had to look for it, but it was there.
A few minutes later, I walked out of the jungle into the paradise of the hotel grounds overlooking two semi-circle lagoons like something straight out of James Bond. It was everything we'd been told to expect and more.
The five days we stayed there were a once-in-a-lifetime blast. These pictures don't do it justice. No picture could.
What if that young woman had not come out of the jungle and made us realize there was nothing to fear?
We got an do-over delivered by an unknowing traveller headed in the other direction. We walked through the now not-so-scary jungle to the best freaking time of our lives!!
So, go for it. The good stuff is not on a display table. It's on the other side of a veil. You have to pass that test. Sometimes it's summoning the courage to walk into a jungle, sometimes it's to make a phone call or a request or to apply and risk rejection (like 100x!!!) or push back or soldier on.
Whatever it is ... Go.For. It. (And let me know how it turns out!)
Lā k̀xn Courtney
P.S. That's "Goodbye" in Thai.
P.S.S. Sunset over the gulf of Thailand.
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