A Rainy Weekend in Sapa

After 8 months, the pollution and noise of Hanoi is beginning to wear on me a bit. So, this past weekend, I fled the city. I spent two and a half days sitting on a porch in a small ethnic village called Ta Van. Vietnam has 54 ethnic minorities. The village I stayed in was mostly Hmong. It was about 10 kilometers outside of Sapa, an old French hill-station located in the northern mountains of Vietnam.

The weather was rainy. Cold and rainy. Very cold and very rainy. If I had gone to Sapa to trek through the rice paddies as most tourists do, I would have found myself quite wet but as I went to sit on a porch and watch the world go by, the weather suited my purposes just fine.

I was lucky that the porch I chose to sit on, Lucky Daisy’s, fronted a road that most trekkers used as they moved through the village towards the mountain paths. This means that, in addition to the chickens, I had humans to watch as well.

Chickens at lunch!

Now, I said that the weather was cold in rainy. In all honesty, though, what I meant was that the weather was absolute shit. I had a roof over my head, however, and coffee and cigarettes warming me. So, I sat and watched. As the travelers passed, I noticed some things about them.

Everyone I saw was soaked to the bone. Some may have had expensive ponchos or Northface gear on. Some may have had cheap plastic sheets and trash bags around their feet. No matter the method of protection chosen, they were all soaked.

Everyone was muddy. The only way to tell whether someone was heading towards or coming from the trails was the amount of mud on them. A light splashing of mud from the knees down and maybe some on the hands and forearms? Heading to trek! Legs and ass completely coated in mud from numerous slips and slides down the mountain? Mud smears around the lips and eyes from scratching your face with dirty hands? Heading back home!

Despite being identically cold, wet, and muddy, they were somewhat distinguishable by their expressions. Everyone wore one of two: a laughing smile or a scowl.

A lot of people wore scowls. It was clear they were miserable. They were focused on the rain and the mud. They were focused on the miserable weather and how the rainy Sapa they were experiencing was nothing like the sunny pictures in the brochures.

Some people wore smiles and laughed as they walked and the water dripped down their noses. They saw that even cold, wet, and dirty, Sapa is gorgeous.

The smiling travelers saw this. The scowling travels did not.

I noticed one gentleman in particular as he walked by. He was alone and, like the others, he was wet and muddy. But as I watched him, his head turned from left to right trying to take in the beautiful scenery. Walking through the rain, he smiled broadly as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.

View from the door

As I noticed him, I wondered how frequently I miss the beauty of the things around me because I am uncomfortable. How frequently do I fixate on me and whatever internal monologue I am delivering to the exclusion of a very exciting and fun world outside?

My life has changed a lot over the last few years and I like to think that I have rolled with the punches admirably. But, just between us, I admit to being a scowling traveler more often than I should.

Life can be uncomfortable. We all know that. But even when it’s absolute shit, it’s still pretty damn amazing. Maybe we all need to notice that more.

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