Fifteen years ago, a team of six people, me included, hiked from the abandoned mining town of Tungsten into the Cirque of the Unclimbables, which, at that time was not part of the Nahanni National Park. Today it is. The hike took us 14 days to reach Glacier Lake located below the Cirque.
I first saw Charles sitting on his backpack, snuggled between a bunch of Nepalese peasants in the back of an old, beat up, Indian-made truck. He looked out of place with his creamy white skin and in his sparkling white shirt, his leopard-skin silk scarf, his designer, button-down jeans and his brown felt fedora.
Weathered wood cabins with solar panels and cedar-shake roofs frame the man-made Nam Tien Lake that shimmers like dancing diamonds in the tropical sun of Laos.
I follow the scent of frangipani blooming along the walkway and bordering the lush green jungle beyond, to the dining hall where a donation box invites me to drop an always-welcome coin into the coffers of Laos’ first Elephant Conservation Center. In the distance I hear the high-pitched trumpeting of an elephant and seconds later, from the opposite direction, a response.
My skin radiated the sun's heat and dust billowed around my feet as I trudged up the hill. My GPS indicated that I had gone maybe 200 meters, all upward. My mouth was dry and my back was damp. I was hiking to see a capped spring. I had no idea what it looked like.
"How far is it?" I called.
"Fifteen minutes," said our guide, his white teeth contrasting his dark face. He was more than 10 meters above me, and his skin was still dry, unlike mine. I became aware of local people, mostly children, following us. They emerged from huts and garden patches, two or three at a time, and skipped along beside us.