About half-way up I tripped on one of the stones that served as steps. Stumbling, I felt a sharp pain in my left leg. Two years earlier one of my quadriceps had torn – a genetic weakness I inherited from my grandfather along with his myopia towards Leyton Orient – as I was crossing the street in Bangkok. Fortunately, there was no passing traffic at that time and I had managed to crawl my way to the other side. Now, it felt as though my muscle had gone again. A volley of Hugh Grant Four Weddings obscenities flowed, only partially curbed by the oncoming stream of Thai and foreign tourists that were passing down the hill I was so singularly failing to ascend. My partner in climb paused as I sat on a rock and guzzled down some water and painkillers. After a few minutes respite I was able to continue, my leg only slightly bruised, my dignity much more so.
The ascent reminded me of a climb I had undertaken in Sarawak, Indonesia some 15 years earlier and the same number of kilos lighter. Then, with my ex, I had taken on the Pinnacles, a steep climb through jungle along a path up a challenging mountain. Our guide had apologised himself from the walk as he had a stomach ache that morning. For some reason lost in the mist of time, we saw nothing suspicious in his absenteeism.
Five hours later we had somehow managed to amble, walk, stagger and eventually haul ourselves up to the summit. Only to see – nothing. No glistening bellavista rewarded our honest exertions – just a few sharp rocks and passing birds of prey sensing blood. So, much disgruntled, we started our steep descent only to be greeted by our guide who had awoken like Lazarus from his slumber, a further five hours later. Apparently, his conscience was piqued at the thought that we may have wandered off the trail and been eaten by a tiger. That night I felt parts of my body I had never previously known existed, and still now do not know the medical name for.
At least the climb to the Phraya Nakhon cave only took around half an hour. And what awaited us at the top was well worth our labours.
Two chambers greeted us. The first was vacant apart from a dried-up waterfall and the occasional tree. Light filtered in through the large cavernous hole that led to the skies. Above us lurched a stone bridge known as “death bridge” for the many beasts that have fallen to their death from it.