Tibetan prayer flags – despised in my youth as the literal flag of cultural appropriation and liberalism, now the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen – soaring from canyon wall to canyon wall leaving me in awe. Fluttering high and roaring rapids below – the Tibetan holy waters of Za Chu. This is the Mekong River, and it was hard not to get emotional.
It was hard not to get emotional because of what the Mekong means to me. Six years ago I moved to Cambodia and found myself living on the muddy banks of its lower stretches. I will never be able to describe the transformative rapture which these waters swept over me. I will never be able to tell the way this river fused with my soul and captivated me to my core. It was hard not to get emotional.
It was hard not to get emotional when, hitchhiking a ride with a monk, we whipped around a corner and I caught my first glimpse of the headwaters high in Tibet. Hard not to get emotional because this is the image that has haunted dreams and waking thoughts for I-don’t-know how long. Was this the culmination of a year and a half traveling – when I set out only knowing that I didn’t want to fly and that I wanted to trace the Mekong from start to finish – wanting to explore and finally understand the space which has linked my life and destiny to this mighty river? Or does the journey go back further – to the first time I ever dove in and let myself be wrapped in the churning waters? Or was this simply what I was born to walk? It was hard not to get emotional.
It was hard not to get emotional with one of my best friends at my side. Ed had flown out to meet me in Xining, China – knowing how important this river is to me and venturing to join me on my 3,000 mile pilgrimage from source to sea. With him I finally had the one thing I’d been desperately needing these many lonely months: a partner and true friend. Suddenly the miles and miles of constant anxiety facing the road alone evaporated. It was like an enormous load I hadn’t even known I was carrying was lifted and suddenly I could breath again. It was hard not to get emotional.
But mostly it was hard not to get emotional because of what we were doing. Ed had not come out merely to travel together, but rather to help me tell a story. Bringing film equipment and fresh energy, we intend to follow the river not just as tourists and friends but as documentary film makers. And it was hard not to get emotional knowing that downstream of us, 60 million people have their livelihoods directly and intimately tied to the Mekong River. Hard not to get emotional knowing that right now catastrophic dams are under construction which will forever alter the course of history in the Mekong basin. Dams which spell death for countless species, communities and whole ways of life. And so Ed and I set out to document the river as we see it during this pivotal moment in time. Before it’s too late. It was hard not to get emotional.
So here we stood. Two friends, one river, and 3,000 miles ahead of us. We don’t have enough money or time to make it, but somehow we’ll manage. Challenges will come and challenges will be met, but for now we just stand in awe of dark running water high on the Himilayan Platau. Standing and staring. And yes: getting emotional. You can follow our progress through our website at LostontheMekong.com. We probably won’t have fully edited episodes until Ed returns stateside, but there will be regular updates and more pictures/clips than you can shake a stick at.
See you there!