24 September 2006

Stormy Weather

Seriously needing a break from life in the teaching mines, I went back to Phu Quoc, the island I had visited last May. Granted, it is still the rainy season, but that usually means a few hours of rain and then back to hot and muggy. And since for the past few weeks it has been quite stormy, some times all day long, I reasoned that this weekend would be calmer. I was wrong.

I flew out at 6:30 Friday morning, which meant that I needed to leave my house by 5am. Not wanting to take the chance that it would be too early for the usual clump of taxis parked outside the apartment complex, and not trusting a 5am call to the taxi company, I arranged with my Thursday morning taxista to pick me up the following morning. I had done this all in Vietnamese, and he was there when I walked out at 4:50am.

At that time in the morning, it only took thirty minutes to get to the airport, so I was in plenty of time to catch the one hour flight to my island paradise, where I would again stay at Bo Resort. I already knew that the owners were still away on vacation in Europe, and that there probably wouldn’t be many people there. It turned out that there was only one other guest.

By the time I had arrived in Phu Quoc, got my bag, and walked to the taxi, it had started to drizzle. My driver on that end moved slowly through the dirt roads that had seen a full season of rain. As we plowed along, the rain increased. Half an hour later, I was at Bo Resort, and it was really coming down. Someone grabbed my bag and took off down the hill towards the bungalows. Not about to start running downhill on stone and dirt paths, I meandered along, loosing sight of the man with my belongings. One of the gardeners pointed to my bungalow, and in I went.

Last time, I was given the only bungalow available. This time I had my choice of any and boy, did I get a good one. They are all lovely, but this had a far better view of the beach below than my last stay. Best of all, I could actually hear the sounds of the sea. Farther up the hill, one can’t hear the waves crashing. I stopped in long enough to realize that the weather was continuing to worsen, and if I wanted to make it down to the restaurant at the bottom of the hill, I needed to boogie. Umbrella unfurled, I gingerly walked down the last section of the path on stone steps, now somewhat cascading with water, wishing there were a hand rail.

At the restaurant, which is an open air, thatched roof building, I noted that the storm curtains were down. Large pieces of plastic; attached to think bamboo poles, top and bottom, kept the rain out. I admired the extension to the dining area that they had been assembling last time I was there. I was greeted by the same young man who I had met last May. He seems to run everything. I got a cup of coffee and looked out at the weather. It did not look promising for a sun tan, but all the same, it was beautiful. And I was cold! Yes, yet again, I had brought all the wrong clothes. If the weather were to stay the same, I would be wearing the same two pieces of clothing for the next three days.

The friend of the owners, who was managing things in there absence, showed up just as the full-blown storm hit. Had I taken a later flight, I would still be in HCMC. Not much I could do but appreciate the natural forces around me, eat breakfast, and hope it would let up at least enough so that I could get back up to my bungalow without getting drenched. It was too cold to get wet and only have a bikini to change into.

The weather spirits were with me at around 1pm. The rain stopped, the skies cleared, and although it wasn’t perfect-perfect beach weather, it was more than adequate to take a stroll and start collecting shells. As it does, the stress and tension drains out of my body with each step along the beach. I walked and walked; the beach all to myself. I passed the jellyfish graveyard. I suppose the storm was just too much for the poor guys. The largest was over a foot in diameter, and although I sort of wanted to play with him and turn him over, I figured it would not be a prudent move.

Two hours later, a new storm front arrived and I went back to my bungalow to take a cold shower, (no sun = no hot water), and changed back into my layers of clothing that really were not sufficient. Then back to the restaurant for cups and cups of hot tea. The last time I was there, the restaurant always had people coming and going and it was quite a different feeling to be the only one there most of the time. The other lone traveler showed up, but she was hanging with the friend of the owners. I actually enjoyed the solitude and could just walk back to the kitchen should I need more hot water or if I wanted something to eat. Part of that is also the laid-back ambience of The Bo. Even when the place is full, I bus dishes, or grab an extra plate.

I awoke to a grey Saturday morning, but it wasn’t blowing or raining. By the time I had finished breakfast, the sun was out, and I hurried to get into beach wear. I might only have a few hours of tanning time, and I was so pale that I scared myself. I tried to remember the last time I had had a decent tan, and it must have been about four years ago. To hell with sunscreen; I’d made that mistake in the past. You slather it on, get two hours of sun, the rains come, and that is it for the rest of your vacation. You are left with no color whatsoever. If I only had limited tanning time, I was going to make the most of it.

Two hours later the sun was still out, so I took a walk up the beach and collected more shells. I got some exceptional specimens to use in any of a number of my various art projects. I got to see a beautiful rainbow. I passed some graves a short ways back from the shore. People are buried where it is auspicious, and I couldn’t think of a more auspicious location. Eventually I walked back, and took a break out of the sun.

I went out for a little more sun that afternoon, but could tell that I was mildly fired, so packed it in for the day and spent the next few hours reading in my bungalow. The skies remained clear, and I hoped for a beautiful sunset.

The sun sinking into the sea started out with your basic golds and yellows. Not postcard spectacular, but lovely all the same. I sat on the shore and watched as with each minute, the intensity of the sky became increasingly more magnificent. Bit by bit, moving from the center outwards, more of the horizon filled with color, now ranging into pinks and deeper yellows. The formations and backlighting gave it an other-worldly effect; like I was watching a sunset on Vulcan. The air was warm; there was no one but me and the sea. I sat transfixed by the sky, and alternately, the tide flowing in and out at my feet. It seemed to last forever, changing with every breath. When darkness finally fell, I walked back to my table at the restaurant and looked out over the beautiful sea with lights from fishing boats in the far distance, listening to the waves and the peace.

I shut off my lights at ten, but couldn’t seem to fall asleep. A few hours later, storm number four hit with unbelievable power. Lighting was striking down all around me and I really hoped it wouldn’t hit my thatched roof. My little bungalow shook with every thunder clap. The winds were stronger sounding than I had ever heard, and the rain was ferocious. Possibly it would be interesting to watch, but I might die in the process, so stayed in bed listening. Every time I thought the worst had passed us by, another wave of ferocity hit. I started to wonder how strong the foundation was and imagined my shack sliding down the hill. I was glad for my semi-fried body as I knew there probably would be little chance of sunshine in the morning.

The storm eventually did stop, but Sunday morning was grey and foreboding. Out at sea, one could only see dark grey skies, indicating the incoming weather front. I had to leave at 10:30 to get to the airport in time which meant that the next few hours would be spent in the restaurant and not on the beach as I had hoped. There, I started to get nervous that if the weather did not clear, as it hadn’t on Friday, I would be stuck in Phu Quoc. I couldn’t deal with the guilt of calling work to say I was stuck out at sea. When my taxi arrived, I still doubted that any airplanes would be taking off any time soon, but went ahead to the airport.

At the ticket counter, I was told that my flight was delayed. It looked as if the weather was clearing, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too long. An hour later, they announced that we could check in. Unfortunately, the check-in was for the people who were supposed to be on the 9am flight. My plane was still in HCMC. I went up to the counter and asked if there might be a seat on the flight due to leave in thirty minutes. The counter agent took my ticket and handed it to the guy at the computer, so I had hope. At that point, a young American woman walked up. She was in the same predicament. I told her they were trying to get me on the flight and she just dropped her ticket in front of the man on the computer.

Eventually, they let us both on and we went running to the gate, assuming that the plane was in the final boarding stages. The plane hadn’t even arrived yet, so we sat down and waited. Talking with someone certainly made the wait and the flight go very quickly.

At the luggage carousel in HCMC, I saw my bag rolling towards me and also noticed that it had wet patches all over it. Maybe it was just condensation. My friend, being young and healthy, grabbed it off for me and I leaned over to take a whiff. GAG! It was covered in fish water! Obviously, my bag had been next to the fresh fish box, which had leaked all over it. I sounded irate and was making all the Vietnam air people bend over for a smell, but then realized, what could they do? Hopefully, it hadn’t leaked or fumed through to my belongings.

When I got home, I opened my bag and dumped it all on the floor. Thank goodness, nothing seemed too fishy. I went to turn on the light, (those dark storm clouds cutting out the sun again), and found I only had electricity in part of the house. I don’t get this travel, come home to no utilities, thing. Last time I had no water. I called the management company, and two electricians came over.

Of course, when they tried it, the lights went on. I was really starting to feel stupid, but then the lights dimmed, glowed, and went off. The men took apart switches and looked at the fuse box, tightened some screws and everything seems to be working. All I really understood form one of them was that I should not be using anything over a 40 watt bulb, because of course either a 60 watt or 100 watt would cause these problems. Or maybe that is not what he said.

My little vacation wasn’t quite long enough or warm enough, but I cannot complain. I got out of the city and away from work. I will go back in two months, and I have already booked my special bungalow for four nights. I will take jeans and sweatshirts and bikinis and sarongs. There might still be some rain, but nowhere what I experienced this weekend.

Time to get the fish bag out of the washing machine.