Weather worries

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A cloudy, damp Sapa, Vietnam.

Planning any holiday or trip requires a number of elements to be taken into consideration. Visas for international travel, equipment for activities, accommodation and transport are but a few examples. Yet there is one aspect of holiday making that is completely out of a person’s control- the weather. It has the ability to reduce a blissful getaway into an expensive waste of time, taking up precious annual leave days in the process, or it can make a holiday one of the most memorable events in a persons short life.

Last year, I visited the beautiful mountain village of Sapa in the hills of Vietnam. Sapa has been a place I had always wanted to go. Its cultural diversity and the lure of mountain trekking makes it a must see for many people. Most importantly though, I wanted to take in the breathtaking beauty, the mountain views that render a person speechless. So, with only a few days spare, my friend and I booked a tour.

We were only going to be in town for the one night, however my theory was that any visit, no matter how small, was better than nothing. In that time we were going to trek to some villages, walk with the Hmong people and get a quick feel for what the place was about. In a perfect world, we would have stayed longer but when travelling, sometimes time is the enemy.

As we arrived in town, light rain had begun to fall, just enough to dampen the ground. Even the Hmong women, who were waiting at the bus stop to hawk their wares to new tourists as they arrived, had their umbrellas up. The rain hadn’t dampened their spirit, mind you. They followed us all the way down the street and then camped out the front of the hotel, waiting for us to emerge. By the time we were ready for a short trek, they knew our names, marital status, where we were from and names of our partners who weren’t even there. They also seemed to know what those partners wanted for gifts, letting us know that we should, “Only shop with them,” because, “We know what your girlfriends want.” Such retail clairvoyance is wasted on street hawking.

As we quickly changed and ditched our Hmong stalkers, the heavens really began to open. The rain streamed down in massive droplets that drenched us almost immediately. Wearing white board shorts that become see through when wet was a poor wardrobe choice on my behalf, but then again, clothing choices are not my strong suit.

Our goal was to walk through a smaller village to a hall at the bottom of the valley to watch a traditional Hmong dance. All that required was following a path down the hill but the driving rain made life difficult, turning roads and paths into torrents; a by-product of life on such steep slopes.

Somehow, trudging along in the rain, with a rain jacket that let in more rain than it kept out, was fun once you overcame the fact that there was no other options to get there (we had already seen a car crash because it couldn’t stop on the steep, wet streets).

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The next day was a different proposition. We were due to go on a hike to a village quite a distance away. The only issue was that due to the deluge the night before, the air had become humid and the ground slippery like an ice rink. We were walking along tracks that the locals utilised to get from one town to the next, using the edge of rice paddies along the way.

If you have ever had trouble walking on slippery surfaces, Sapa will test your patience. Even with my hiking boots on, I couldn’t manage to find a graceful way to approach the hike. It felt like one continuous scene from a slapstick comedy where the villain is regularly thwarted by a small child and falls often, flailing his arms wildly every time he does so. This in itself was fine, except for the Hmong woman walking with us to help with our journey. They were wearing thongs as footwear (one even had a baby strapped to her back). they were frustratingly able to jump nimbly from place to place, never looking close to falling, whilst trying to help people, like me, from toppling into bordering rice paddies. My hat goes off to these women. It would have been almost graceful to watch, had I not been concentrating on not going head first into a rice paddy myself.

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Rice paddy traffic jam. Photo by Shane Rippingale

 

We passed other groups on the ‘path’. They were not faring as well as us. Three tall English lads were covered in mud and clearly hungover, battling with the treacherous terrain and the after effects of cheap Vietnamese beer. Another man from the group, a Japanese fellow, had given up. He was perched on the side of a hill, surrounded by vividly green landscape, shoes in one hand, socks in the other, two Hmong either side of him. He wanted out. The only way out, however, was down. Conveniently, that was where he kept falling. To be honest, I don’t know why he had signed up for this walk. He was the sort of bloke that would have found a way to stumble on a piece of flat ground, let alone up and down mountain farmland.

What struck me was how beautiful the place was, no matter what the weather was doing. When it rained, the rumble of swollen rivers cascading through mountain gorges was refreshingly soothing. Then, when the sun came out, the surrounding hillsides were illuminated in shades of green that only someone working in the fashion industry would know the names of, showing rice paddies wherever the land permitted, and even some places that it didn’t. The low lying clouds gave an eerie feel that only further entranced a person.

What do you do when the weather turns on you? It all depends on your attitude. Wallowing in self-pity because the weather isn’t how you dreamed it would be serves no purpose. Sapa is renowned for its breathtaking views that stretch on forever. I didn’t see these postcard views but I’m not disappointed. It’s like getting angry because it starts to rain when you are swimming. You’re wet already.

So, unless it’s a cyclone, hurricane, earthquake or some other natural disaster, don’t complain. You’re on holiday, make the most of your time. It’s a matter of perspective.

Wayward Tip: a famous man once said to me, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just different kinds of good weather.” It makes sense. Therefore, unless you have a direct line to Mother Nature, suck it up.

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