Watching the movie Thirteen Lives from the edge of my sofa, the shots of a deluge of water pouring down mountains and through crevasses in the rock, filling a Thai cave to impassable levels, brought memories of experiencing monsoons flooding back into my mind.
The first time we experienced the power of the rain was on our honeymoon in Sri Lanka in 1990. It was the summer of the World Cup, and we watched England’s games in what was basically an attic room in the hotel, doubling as a TV lounge for those who were interested in following the fortunes of their country. In this case, us, an ale-seeking Yorkshireman, and about a dozen Germans. There still weren’t many visitors to the country as it was still in the midst of a civil war.
The four and a half hour time difference meant we had to watch some games at midnight, which is when our first serious monsoon hit. At first, we though it was simply heavy rain pounding the roof, but the sight of staff in full rain capes rushing about at the entrance to the attic TV lounge, mops, and buckets in hand, suggested it was maybe a bit more than that. By the time the match was over, and we were heading downstairs back to our bedroom, a river had formed in the hotel’s proper lounge and great chunks of masonry had been gouged out of pillars. It was like stepping into a mini disaster zone.
The second time was also in Sri Lanka, ten years later. We were on safari, just the two of us and a guide walking through the brush looking for signs of the local wildlife. There hadn’t been any rain for three months and the terrain was looking dry and brittle. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, apart from a cluster of fluffy white ones hugging mountains that were miles away. A rumble of thunder way off in the distance had our guide glancing nervously at the heavens.
‘Perhaps we should make our way to the truck,’ he advised.
Fifteen-minutes later we were wading through water up to our calves, raindrops bouncing like machine gun bullets of hats meant to protect us from the sun. From being a pleasant hike in the jungle, it turned to a race against time to escape the rising flood while we had a chance. We’d experienced nothing like it before, the speed with which dry plains could become flood plains. The scenes in Thirteen Lives especially made me think of this experience. Even when we reached the truck, a sturdy old military vehicle, the danger wasn’t over. The vehicle lurched and bucked violently along a track that had become a river, as we watched the water rising and rising in our wake. Everything was sodden, all equipment – camera, brand new video – ruined. But at least we escaped nature’s wrath.
People probably don’t associate the Canary Islands with monsoon-like rain, but there are times when the rain comes down with such force and volume that waterfalls cascade from the hillsides, manhole covers are pushed upwards by the force of the water, man-made ravines whose concrete floors lie devoid of water for years are filled to overflowing point with turbulent waters, and cars sail down streets like boats.
The worst was possibly in 2002 when eight people lost their lives. We experienced change-of-season monsoon weather many times during our seventeen years on Tenerife. One time, we drove a friend, who worked on the golf course next to where we stayed, home through rain which had turned the road leading to our house into a small river and filled twenty-feet-deep concrete barrancos to the point we could see the water on a level with their tops. In one barranco, behind the beach of Playa Jardín in Puerto de la Cruz, which was used as a car park, most of the cars there were washed away.
Although the rain had eased off by the point we drove our friend home, otherwise we wouldn’t have attempted it, we still had to leave him some distance from his house as the road leading to it was impassable due to huge boulders the river of water had scattered like pebbles across the surface of the tarmac.
Experiencing the power of the monsoon first-hand made what was already an atmospheric and tense depiction of the twelve boys and their young coach even more nerve-wracking.