The woods were our playground. We searched for treasure, built castles in the trees, and discovered fairy pools along the way.
We lived on a busy road so our neighborhood’s meeting spot was our backyard. Whiffle ball championships were a weekly occurrence. Trying to balance on the Mancini’s giant pink ball was our biggest challenge. Beyond the hollow tree hosting the raccoon family and the prickly raspberry bushes was a strip of woods that divided Middle Road and Skyline. When backyard games weren’t enough, we traveled into those woods to find an adventure.
An abandoned shed became our fort. We steered clear of the skunk cabbage as we chased after frogs. Our days ended with bouquets of Jack in the Pulpits and white bell wildflowers in our hands. We hesitantly explored the open well, daring each other to go closer to the black hole in the ground. Curiosity always overrode our fear.
So when we traveled to Kanchanaburi last weekend I was able to explore one of Thailand’s natural playgrounds.
A winding bus ride out of Kanchanaburi brings you to Erawan Waterfalls where you can hike and swim. The seventh and highest waterfall gives the falls their name by resembling the head of Erawan, the Hindu God. A hiking trail leads you up the mountain, needing you to rock climb some sections and jump over boulders. You can cross over lazy streams by fallen trees and wade out to the middle of shallow pools.
The trails and falls were formed in perfect synchrony. Natural impressions cradle your foot as you pull yourself around a boulder. The roots of towering trees become steps to lead you to the next tier. Limestone rocks form seats for you to relax in the turquoise water. A rush of cool water creates an eternal waterslide. Monkeys hide in the trees overhead, waiting to show themselves when the food below looks worth it. Nibble fish rule the waters and greet you with small teeth to dine on your dead skin.
As we ran, swam, hiked, climbed, and slid through the woods and waterfalls a wave of pink shirts surrounded us. Weekends are our break from teaching and hyperactive Thai children so we value the silence. However, not surprisingly, crowds of Thai adolescents were enjoying a field trip to Erawan that same day. Those highlighter pink shirts were everywhere. The barking voices of hormonal teens drowned out the sound of rushing water. They ran with no direction or regard to those around them.
At first I felt defeated. Irritation gnawed at me as my hopes for a relaxing day dissolved. I came to the falls for peace, not expecting it to turn into an amusement park. However as I watched the young teens race each other to the next tier and shout with delight at the views, something clicked – they were actually playing. I soon felt relief and thankful that the children were outdoors and playing as I find that it does not happen too often in this country.
At work I see students memorizing facts rather than feeding their imaginations too often. The children arrive at our school an hour and a half before the Flag Ceremony. Some chase each other outside while the majority are tied to their seats finishing yesterday’s work or getting started on whatever the Thai teacher projected on the blinding screen in front of them. After they scarf down their lunches and indulge in far too many sweets, they do not have a proper recess to use up their excess energy and take advantage of their sugar high - most return to their respective classrooms to do more work. After School programs keep the children in the purple fortress until dinner time. There needs to be a balance of learning time and play time for these young minds. Not enough hours are spent letting seven year olds be seven year olds.
So by the fourth tier I waved my white flag and surrendered to the pink army. These children were outdoors, moving, and exploring – a grand feat in my perspective. Their chatter transitioned into white noise as I tuned them out and refocused on my present moment. No matter our age, we will forever need time for play and exploration outdoors. Whether at a hiking trail in the mountains, hidden waterfalls in a jungle, or islands in the Adriatic, we need to make the most of nature’s playgrounds.