Gusts and Gales Sweep Through a Hidden Vietnam

It was as if we had suddenly stepped into an entirely different world. A wild world that threatened great unknown, but also promised treasures not yet dreamed of… if you would only venture on to explore it.

We were on a bus traveling down a roughly paved road from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne. The typical roadside shacks and garages, interspersed with palms and rice paddies, trailed along with us. As is customary when traveling by bus in SE Asia, we stopped at a restaurant designated especially for tourists. The restaurant boasted plastic picnic tables, the luxury of somewhat clean bathrooms with no plumbing, and mediocre food at best. Even though the food looked unimpressive, I was hungry so I ordered vegetable coconut curry with plain white rice. In Thailand and Cambodia, even the least of curries can offer an appeasing satisfaction and flavor. But the least of Vietnamese curries simply don’t.

Just after I ordered, Massimo (the Italian I was traveling with) came over and urged, “Laura come see this. You’ll love it. Bring your camera.” The Vietnamese man who took my order nodded a wordless reassurance that he would bring my order out when I came back, so I grabbed my camera and followed Massimo down a gravel trail that led away from the back of the restaurant. At first, I could only see the odd mixture of palms, ferns and pines, further down the trail, lining my horizon. But, as I drew closer, I glimpsed a vast lake with sunlight dancing along the surface and a stunning fortress of mountains encircling it. I gasped, looked at Massimo flashing him a “You were so right!” grin and ran off ahead to take in the hidden treasure. Emerging through the foliage, I saw a handful of boats beached on the shore in front of me. A few local villagers were on the water: a browned elderly couple wrinkled with time, a young woman drawing in yards of fishing line in a waterlogged boat…

I stopped to take it all in… this unexpected and spectacular landscape. And JUST as I inhaled my pleasure with a long, heavy breath, a sudden onslaught of forceful, gusting winds swept down from the heavens. In an instant, the sun went into hiding behind a veil of darkening clouds, white mists filled the valleys and jagged mountain ridges. Gales fell like drapes along the water. It was as if, suddenly, there was some unseen presence swirling among us. Mighty and untamed, but soothing and enlivening all at once. Our hair whipped around our faces with frenzied fury, but none of us, foreigner nor local, felt alarmed. Instead, we felt filled with gladness, as evident through the smiles we couldn’t help but flash at one another.

And that’s when I made these two pictures…

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