The hike started early, and we had awoken on top of the wrong mountain.
It was a mad rush to get back, sleeping bags stuffed haphazardly into rucksacks, bicycle helmets quickly donned, and mopeds hurriedly clambered upon. Then we were zipping downwards, the forest a blur of green to our left, taking corners too sharp and throwing up small showers of stones.
We made it, and spent the next few hours lolling in the back of a minibus, turning down the proffered dried crickets from a small French child who was eating them like crisps. One of the roadside stalls we’d passed had sold them to him. We were in Chaing Mai, Thailand, winding our way into the depths of the forest. Our destination? Another mountain top.
The climb upwards was steep and sticky. The road was exposed, the sun shone down furiously, and we kicked up red dust with every step we took. It was dull work, with the few afforded glimpses of a view below revealing only the same monotonous spread of trees.
We reached the top sometime in the late afternoon. It was unexpected: the trees suddenly stopped and we found ourselves in openness. A rickety platform, carefully edged along, gave us our first real look at where we were. It was pretty; with dusty hills folding neatly into the distance. But it was the feel of the place that was magical. There was something about the quiet sparseness of it all. It gave a sense of peace.
We were to sleep in huts strewn with mattresses and mosquito nets and shower in crude wooden boxes which half-exposed the bather but had a view to kill for. Clinging determinedly and almost impossibly to the mountain edge were rough platforms on which to eat and rest and stare outwards and think.
It was sitting on one of those platforms, clutching a cold beer in one hand and watching the sun go down, that is the single happiest moment of my existence. As the first of the night chills caressed my skin and the sky burnt out into a heavenly spread of millions of stars, I felt a completeness and unity with the world that has never been matched since. I did not think about the past or wonder about the future. I lived wholly and truly in the moment, and understood the true meaning of the word content.
I slept well, and the next day we travelled through jungle. We played Indian Jones, jumping between stepping stones, wobbling on top of boulders, shrieking as we dunked our heads and shoulder into the iciness of a discovered waterfall. The people of the mountain, now possessing iPods and trainers but with necks still stretched by tradition and gold manacles, posed for pictures and sold us souvenirs.
Back in the van and rolling back towards the noise and bustle of civilisation, I found myself missing the mountain. It was so still, so peaceful. So perfect, if only for a moment.