Halong Bay mist

Everything on the ship was wet, but it wasn’t raining, it was just so incredibly misty. Together with some 20 people I had just boarded the Dragon’s Pearl junk for an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

During the previous days I had studied the weather forecast with great interest, hoping for the overcast days to end just in time for my trip. And the forecast did indeed show that the sun would pierce the clouds just around my boarding time. But the otherwise rather pessimistic site that I regularly consult (yr.no, I like it just because it is slightly pessimistic and it’s much nicer to get a positive surprise than to be disappointed) proved to be wrong this time. No sun. Just thick clouds.

But as soon as we had left the busy harbour my disappointment turned into sheer fascination: the seascape was unreal, all black and white (except for the flags adorning the junk), with the tiny islands and cliffs almost floating. It was nothing short of magical.

I soon got used to everything being wet too.

We moored in a little bay where some people, most people actually, went canoeing. I wouldn’t ever have dared. What if I couldn’t find my way back?? Sometimes my imagination is just a bit too vivid.

While we were moored the captain raised the sail, I suppose only because it looked pretty. There was absolutely no wind and the ship wasn’t going anywhere.

As darkness fell, the magic continued.

As soon as I got out of my cabin early the following morning I felt that the air was different. I touched the railing and it was dry! There was still some mist, but it didn’t look the same.

The morning programme was one of these tourist visits to a pearl farm, where my fellow passengers on the junk showed very little interest in buying anything at all. However, I had just the previous day lost a necklace with a pendant in Hanoi, so I actually welcomed this visit since I thought a little pearl on a chain might be a good replacement. I found what I was looking for, and that indeed awoke the buying instinct in the others! The pearl farm made good business that morning.

 

Why do I always get lost?

I love going for walks in the beautiful countryside around Mirabel-aux-Baronnies, and for that purpose I have a couple of guide books with itineraries, easy and difficult, short and long. The descriptions are rather detailed, with little maps and instructions telling you where to turn left and right, for instance “keep left and pass in front of the large cypress”, or “take the small path on the right and pass behind the abandoned barn”, or “pass below the medieval tower on your right”.

Although I do my utmost to follow the instructions to the letter, I almost always get lost somewhere along the line and find myself on a small winding path going uphill instead of a straight road going downhill. Not that it matters so much, I normally find my way back, but sometimes it shortens the walk, to my great irritation, and sometimes it makes it rather longer. Usually this is no problem either, provided it isn’t a hot day in the summer and I’m running out of water.

A couple of weeks ago I nearly managed though! I just took the wrong path at the very beginning and thus I found myself in front of the abandoned barn instead of behind it. This was easily remedied (although the right path was so overgrown that it was hardly visible), and I continued the walk without any further mishaps. And just a few days later I managed a whole circuit without getting lost in the slightest until the very end where again the path I should have taken wasn’t visible. I think that is a fairly good excuse for not noticing it. But overgrown paths are usually not why I get lost.

When I stroll around inhabited areas I hardly ever lose my way – I think I have a fairly good sense of orientation. So what is it then that makes me take the wrong turn so often in nature? I believe it is … nature!

The landscape, the views, the vineyards, the light – all these catch my attention to a much higher degree than the dry and factual descriptions in the guide books, especially if I walk with my camera, which is often the case.

Also in my defence I must add that it may happen that the indicated cypress just isn’t there anymore, perhaps due to a fierce autumn storm, or it may be that the abandoned barn has been restored and turned into an inhabited house and is no longer recognisable as a barn, or it may have been torn down. Sometimes it really is the guidebook and not me.

The embroidering ladies in Sapa

“Come sit down with us”, said the lady with a warm smile (the one looking at the camera in the photo here below). Rather, that’s what I concluded that she said since she gesticulated to me to sit down as she pulled out a traditional very low Vietnamese stool for me, like the ones they were sitting on. She was embroidering with a group of friends in the village Nam Cang, in the Sapa region.

The inhabitants in Nam Cang are of the Red Dao minority tribe. Ladies very often wear the traditional head dress you can see here and look at their pants: embroidered all over in a geometrical pattern. And they all seemed so welcoming.

Of course I accepted the invitation and sat down with the ladies. The verbal exchange was somewhat limited: I spoke to them in Swedish and English, and they addressed me in the Red Dao language. But they had no problems understanding what I wanted to know about their embroidery: yes, they had made their own pants and they often sat in that particular spot, central in the village, together. They sold a few items, including bags and purses (which they showed me and which I found difficult to resist buying), but no pants. At least they didn’t have any available there and then. I would have loved a pair.

On the previous day I had had my first encounter with a Red Dao lady with a warm smile. She was with some friends at a popular panoramic view stop on the road from Mu Cang Chai to Sapa. They sold a few items that they had embroidered and also other things such as ginseng roots.

On the way from Sapa town to Nam Cang there were ladies embroidering along the way and as we arrived at our lodge, the Riverside lodge, the ladies working there were sitting by the entrance, busy with embroidery.

One of my worse subjects in school was embroidery. I was very impressed by their skills.

After dinner there was a surprise concert for us six guests in the lodge. Three ladies were singing and three men played traditional instruments. The trumpeter had some issues with his mouthpiece, so he went to the kitchen to sort out the problem in order not to disturb. All the while the ladies were singing. He blew forcefully. His efforts were more than audible in the dining room and it was hard not to laugh at the cacophony when the wailing trumpet sounds mixed with the singing. I admire the ladies who just kept on, totally undisturbed. The mouthpiece problems were eventually sorted out and the performance could go on as planned, ending with us all, singers, musicians, staff and tourists, walking around the dining room in a procession.