Scooter ride to the sky

July 8, 2012 at 9:18 am | Posted in Asia | Leave a comment
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“So, what will you do?” the Germans asked us.

We were basking in fleeting spots of sunlight, and feeling lazy after the home-cooked feast served by our hotel. The leaves and flowers around us glinted and dripped with raindrops and the clouds above threatened to shower again. I finished off the last of the sizzling hotplate of venison and lemongrass.

“I think we’ll rent a scooter. Hopefully it won’t rain.”

The Germans thought it was a great idea, but lamented the fact they didn’t have a license.

“Neither do we. But it’ll probably be ok.”

As we walked towards the main road in Sapa, we hoped our assumption was right. I didn’t want to be stuck wandering around town for the next four hours. The Germans chose to stay on the hotel terrace until it was time to leave for the overnight train back to Hanoi. I wondered if that wasn’t the smarter choice as we dodged tribeswomen, desperate for us to purchase an ethnic handicraft or three, and proprietors encouraging us to partake of the happy hour at their bars and restaurants.

The rental guy found us first.

“You want scooter?”

He gave us a key, two helmets and pointed us in the direction of the gas station. And that was it. No questions, no safety directives, no discussion of damage clauses. We were out of town in no time, without any idea where we were going.

It turned out to be the best thing we did in Sapa.

I spotted a brown tourist sign that sent us off up a steep route away from the hordes of backpackers and trailing tribeswomen trekking through the muddy rice terraces. To our right was the rock face, plants growing all over in the crevices and water dripping constantly, sometimes gushing down onto the road. To our left was an open expanse, a valley sweeping out and splitting into many more the further we travelled.

We saw a strange farm on the hillside across from us, piles of plastic laid out in neat squares. We passed a woman carrying vegetables in baskets hanging from a pole across her shoulder. With her conical hat she was a perfect postcard image. We spotted a gleaming line on the rock face far ahead where the road twisted around. The closer we got, the bigger it became and as we passed that torrential waterfall, several more appeared during the next ten minutes’ ride.

The road continued climbing and the clouds got closer. Driving alongside misty puffs, we felt the cold damp of water droplets in the air. Hills across the valley played hide and seek in the patches of white. We felt chilled, but didn’t stop.

Then suddenly, we were above it. The sun shone in my eyes. The road curved round and the whole world opened up to us. Tarmac snakes and stone worms wriggled through a furrowed blanket of deep green. A single reflective strand threaded its way through a deep channel. A few toy-block buildings were scattered in the expanse. I felt ecstatic. I gasped. I couldn’t help it.

At that highest point, where the bend of the road was unprotected by any barrier, I felt like I could have walked straight off into the sky.

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