Winter travel—think twice

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Ma. Isabel Ongpin

I HAVE never planned a trip in the winter and have been vindicated numerous times. I do not enjoy extremely cold temperatures, much less the wind factor that usually comes with them and effectively lowers them. And I have seen enough snow to last a lifetime. I do not need to see it, feel it, be in it again. Well, maybe see it in a nice photograph.

The last time I had to be in New York in November, there was no snow but cold temperatures from a so-called polar vortex had invaded the city. It was an ordeal. I would get indoors by 4 p.m. at the latest and stay there. The nights I had to go out, I had to walk back a few blocks to the hotel in the freezing cold because the street was closed for repairs (done at night for the comfort of the daytime walkers and the detriment of nighttime plodders who maybe shouldn’t be there in the first place).

People from the tropics are unreservedly attracted to snow as a novelty just as people from temperate climates where winter is an ordeal dream unreservedly of sunshine and warmth. Reality changes these attitudes.

When I went to graduate school in the US decades ago I certainly looked forward to seeing snow. I imagined it to be light as a feather, clean and pleasantly cold. I arrived in the fall when the leaves were turning to the red, gold and orange colors of autumn. The sun was shining, the temperature was pleasantly cool. On the dorm bulletin board was, among some notices, an offer by a biochemistry female faculty member who lived down the lane for someone to shovel snow around her house in the winter with a minimum hourly rate. Under those circumstances, I volunteered.


Then the fun began. Snow is light when newly fallen, but heavy after an hour on. The faculty member’s house was not exactly small and was encompassed by a wooden walkway installed around it for the winter. I was expected to shovel all the snow on it so as to allow the faculty member and her dog (who had his own little door to the walkway from the house) to walk on wood and not slip and slide into the snow. They were both elderly. So, yours truly shoveled for two New England winters and through many snowstorms, at least one of them a record. I learned very quickly to shovel immediately after the snow fell, for then it was lighter. If for some reason, I failed to do it earlier, it felt like I was shoveling sand. My dorm mates who knew better than to volunteer for the job, looked at me in wonder waiting for the moment I would get sick, give up, become delinquent. It was a challenge I met. It makes for a nice memory of a new if odd experience that does not have to be repeated. For years after I came home until the day she passed on, I would get a Christmas card from the faculty member telling me she remembered me vividly as the girl from the tropics who managed to shovel snow for two years. That certainly made for a sense of satisfaction for me, and a curiosity for her. But I had no sense of nostalgia. Been there, done that.

So, this year while I relaxed at home and spent time in my garden all through the holidays as a change from my various peripatetic travels to Europe, the US, Japan and Brunei in the past 12 months, I watched with a sense of fortunate well-being as winter ravaged the temperate zones, caused travel chaos and other disorders, while viewing my orchids in bloom and my saracca plant about to bloom and listening to the birds twittering about in the morning. Good weather makes for good feelings.

I did become disturbed when on television the Massachusetts town of Scituate (on the South Shore from Boston) was shown to have had a storm surge of sorts where waves exploded into the streets and invaded some homes.

My brother-in-law, a retired airline pilot, has a boat in Scituate. He is now an avid lobster fisherman. So, I emailed my sister to ask how things were; she recounted how really low the temperatures were but how lucky they were not to lose power, which means they had warmth to keep the cold away. And that the boat was safe but the harbormaster fell into the water while securing things. He was a pulled out quickly enough because in those temperatures being in the water too many minutes meant death from hypothermia.

Meanwhile, airports are in disorder. Terminal 4 of JFK flooding in experienced flooding in the terminal building and in the luggage holding area. Planes were delayed, flights cancelled. That made airports a mess. PAL passengers on their way to New York were stuck in Vancouver for three days (put up in hotels by PAL) as of last Tuesday.

One friend attempted twice to try get a flight home from JFK. Cancelled flights, so back to the hotel through the snow and traffic dangers of winter.

We can blame climate change for making snowstorms like typhoons more powerful and more destructive, or too many travelers at a certain limited time, or not enough technology to overcome Mother Nature when she is on a rampage.

On that note, maybe winter travel, especially for vacation or getaway trips, should be curbed. Better yet, be careful about wishing for snow.

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