We didn’t get to the beach until close to eleven A.M. The sun’s sweltering heat grazed my skin and slowly cooked it as I sat on the shore watching my friend, Ham, body surf on the turquoise-colored waters of Cat Co 2. The sand, though not the finest I’ve seen, is cream-colored and soft to the touch and warm because of the sun. Other tourists sat, or were lying down, on the lounge chairs set up by the resort located directly in front of the public beach. I was sitting on Ham’s blanket, hair dripping with salt water, watching the scene. It was a beautiful day. So this particular day was bittersweet.
We had stayed on the beach until almost one in the afternoon. By then, the sun had become so unbearably hot; plus I had to shower and repack my things. Time was ticking. I was the one who reminded Ham that we should go, but in truth, I did not want to leave.
We had found our groove. Not that we had trouble finding it anyway. We clicked the moment we met in Bontoc, back in the Philippines, about three weeks ago. When we met again a few days ago in Hanoi, we caught up and picked up where we had left of. I had found myself holding back and standing behind my wall of safety. But then, eventually, guards are let down. Perhaps when someone helps you swim, when you have once again overestimated your swimming abilities, essentially keeping you from drowning, you just realize that its time to put whatever trust issues you have aside, and just have fun and really get to know the person you are with.
This was my last day in Cat Ba. Actually, my last day in Vietnam. I was leaving on a bus bound for Hanoi from Cat Ba at three, later that afternoon. From Hanoi, I’ll be heading to the airport. It will be the end of my four-day weekend. My birthday trip. Or I suppose unbirthday trip, since it won’t technically be my birthday until I’m on the flight going back to Manila. Ham was going to be staying in Cat Ba. And sometime later in the week, will be heading out to other parts of Vietnam. He won’t be going back home for another few weeks.
It was sad. Goodbyes are difficult. There’s no doubt about it. What I’ve learned, by going on more trips by myself this past year, is that you meet the most incredible people on the road. Some of them you meet in passing and remain an acquaintance you’ll never see or talk to again. Some become your friends. Nevertheless, these people will have some sort of impact on you; maybe through some way small and unnoticeable, but also, possibly in a way that is big and life-changing. You form connections with people because you have shared beautiful, happy, sad, or sometimes even scary moments, on the road on your travels. You open yourself up to them, become vulnerable, and realize that they too have done the same. By then, it becomes difficult to bid them farewell. Although, you find that you always do, anyway. I think I consciously held back because of this particular reason.
We found ourselves later that afternoon in front of Hoang Long Bus’ office, waiting for the bus to start boarding. Lars, the Danish guy we met on the cruise the day before was going to Hai Phong, and will be on the same bus with me. Ham and I stood with him and talked about what we have been up to since we separated the night before, until it was time to board the bus. They shook hands and bid each other farewell. I looked at Ham, not entirely ready to say goodbye, but no actual “goodbyes” were said. Instead, there was a look. A touch. An unspoken farewell. Lars and I got on the bus, and I watched him walk away.
I’m not entirely sure I’ll see Ham again. Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere else down the road, maybe not. Perhaps we’ll keep in touch. Or perhaps I will find myself one day looking for a message on my inbox that will never come. Regardless, I know that whenever I’ll look back at that time I spent in Hanoi and Cat Ba, I will remember the good times: cruising along Lan Ha Bay, beach bumming in Cat Co 2, sharing beers, or just talking about random things while watching the boats from a balcony facing the bay. The time I spent in Cat Ba, however short, was meaningful. A nice, unexpected unbirthday present.
This post is part of a series I wrote about a recent trip to Vietnam. Check out the other posts by clicking on the links below:
- Travelogue MNL ✈ HAN: Aimless Ramblings at 30,000ft
- How Hanoi Became a Layover to Cat Ba
- On Cruising Lan Ha Bay and Unbirthdays
- A Bittersweet Day by Cat Co Beach and Musings on Goodbyes