ADIEU BIG MUDDY
BABELDAOB, Palau The trail peters into slickrock, waterfalls and deep bathtub basins. Then comes the squelching mud, tripwired with roots. Next a thigh-deep river to ford. In the rain.
"No one told me to bring appropriate footwear," a colleague snarls, her orange suede Mary Janes lost in the soupy dirt.
My old mountain-guide instincts take over: leave no child behind! "They'll rinse clean in the river. C'mon," I help her spring among the rocks and thicker roots.
Together we lurch to the waterfall, a great gap-toothed monster. I step into the muddied swirl, then bellyflop and scull downstream. I have to "hippo" over the more shallow sections: fingers prying holds in the riverbed, legs floating loose.
Around the bend, I pause and float alone in the jungle. In seven hours, I'll crumple into an airplane and begin the slow hops back home: Koror to Guam to Honolulu to Los Angeles slight detour to Phoenix to see the fam then Seattle.
This moment, however, is mine. Stones cut my soles; my thin blood ribbons into the flow. And so do I, in many ways.
I could find a place here, really and truly.
But for now, adieu Palau.