Arrival in Nghia Lo
During the last hour of driving, we entered the Hoan Lien Son mountain range. The north of Vietnam is very mountainous, and that's part of its beauty. We drove smoothly from village to village to arrive before nightfall.
We could already feel the cold that reigns in the mountains. Even with my winter coat on, I could feel the icy humidity piercing my skin. It was about fifteen degrees, which, along with the wind factor, felt ten degrees colder on the motorcycle.
The last hour of the ride was pretty rough. My fingers were frozen to the handlebars. Along the road were markers indicating the mileage to the next town. In my head, I was doing the countdown.
40 km. 30 km. I bend my fingers to warm them up. 20 km. I roll my toes in my shoes. 10 km. I put on my scarf to prevent the air from entering my helmet.
We finally arrive in Nghia Lo. Trung takes us to a small hotel on the edge of town. As it is the low season, we have no trouble getting a room. In fact, I think we were alone in the hotel that day.
As it is customary in Vietnam, we went to see the rooms before taking them. The hotel clerk escorted us to the second floor.
The horror. The room was not heated. Not only did it have no heat, it was not even insulated. You could see a three-centimeter gap under the door. The bathroom window was actually a hole in the wall with glass slats that opened or closed like a blind.
Trung then asked for my approval: "Good?" to which he added with his eternal smile: "Very cheap, you know." Without really knowing what to do, and fearing to offend my friend, I answer him with a nod of the head.
The sun was now down. The forecast was for a low of seven degrees tonight.
I then walked to my motorcycle to untie my bag. Back in my room, I couldn't believe it. I was so cold that I couldn't get my coat off. In fact, I was so cold that I couldn't think.
While waiting for supper, I decided to lie down in bed. Of course, I got into bed with all my clothes on. But the sheets were cold and damp. The comforter was cold and wet.
An hour later, Trung and I meet at the hotel restaurant, which is a large open-air terrace. Still with our coats on our backs, we took a seat at a low table.
Trung started the conversation. I asked him some questions about his job. He tells me that he loves his job as a guide. He adds:
- You know, me last year, very sad. Very, very sad. On motorbike, mind is free. On motorbike, I’m happy.
Like many Vietnamese, Trung has trouble pronouncing the "r" which does not exist in their language. So, he doesn't pronounce "motorbike" but rather "môtôby", which I find absolutely charming. So much so that I decide to adopt the expression myself.
- Sometimes no good. Sometimes dangerous. Last month, I crash.
Trung then lifts his shirt to show me the bandages on his stomach. He apparently had an accident last month, from which he got several stitches. The wound still hurts.
After the meal, we returned back to our respective rooms. But before leaving, Trung showed me the itinerary of tomorrow. We will go to Sa Pa. The road will be long: we will have to drive 250 km, that is to say approximately 7 to 8 hours. He finishes by telling me :
- Tomorrow, very cold. Very very cold. In the mountain, maybe fog. In Sa Pa, maybe snow.
In the darkness of my room, a despair came over me. I was no longer just out of my comfort zone, I was downright uncomfortable. I felt lonely and isolated, and assaulted by this creepy, unfriendly environment. Plus, I was now afraid of having an accident in the mountains.
Curled up in a ball in my bed, I wondered how I was going to sleep. Even worse, how I was going to survive the day tomorrow.
That's when I remembered a quote I had once come across. I remember sticking it on my office wall. It read:
"Just beyond your comfort zone await wonderful things."
That quote was the only thing that had brought me any warmth that night. Indeed, I had no choice but to take refuge in my deep faith that this journey was worth it. That I had to make this journey.
I fell asleep as I repeated this sentence to myself.