By the time we completed our first day
trek around the Sapa
region, we were all exhausted. As a reminder, we slept on an overnight train the night before and got little sleep. We were hoping by morning the thick mist enveloping the entire region, occluding the supposedly spectacular views, would have lifted and we would have been greeted by a blue morning sky displaying the valleys and mountains surrounding us.
The town of Sapa reminds me of the largest town in the Himalayas in Nepal called Namche Bazaar - the last largest town along the Everest Base Camp trail. The town is full of cafes, hotels and markets galore. Of course, the town has blossomed because of tourism, but it is obvious that we are foreigners visiting the lives of the mountainous villages in Vietnam. The people live on, working and gathering just like they did prior to the French arrival. Here, as a foreigner, you are constantly bombarded by the ethnic minority tribes or shop keepers wanting to sell you items - many of which sell the same items.
We awoke the morning of our second day in Sapa. Pulling back the curtains in our hotel revealed a wall of white fluff - my eyes strained to focus on any one object - there was none.
After breakfast, we were transported by two old Russian army jeeps down into a valley the other side of Sapa from which we entered. My feelings of discouragement, due to the poor visibility, were lifted as the jeeps descended down out of the thick mist. The green valley below revealed to us the lush vegetation and the numerous rice terraces that encompass the entire region - displaying years of hard work the villagers have created, by hand and by tool.
Our trek, as described in the planned itinerary, was modified, since the days prior to our arrival consisted of constant rain - resulting in poor single track trail conditions. Khan guided us along a dirt road that, much like a logging road, ascended into the Thanh Phu village - refered to as Tay people. The villagers were very friendly, going out of their way to say hello or to wave. It is very interesting how other villagers in other villages throughout our 3 days of trekking were not friendly. This is observed when the villagers go about their daily lives
of farming without taking notice of your existance, no initiative to say hello, wave, or no attempt to give you eye contact. Khan informed us that some villages prefer that no foreigners make their way through their lands.
Throughout our trek, we had a cook travel with us providing us with our meals. For lunch, one of the Tay people opened up their home for our cook to prepare our meal. It is interesting to observe the Vietnamese people interact with one another. It is not unusual for someone else to come into a home and have access to resources, especially for cooking. The sense of community is very apparent.
Our lunch was delicious - French style. A fresh french bread covered full of pork and onion, fresh tomatoes and cucumber - and the cheese - oh, the cheese. We all concurred that this was one of the best sandwhiches we had in years. Shannon would love the garlic here. Garlic is often used in Vietnamese cuisine. The garlic is much more flavorful and less robust then what we are used to at home. There was even garlic pieces embelished in our pork/onion entree.
After lunch, our trek continued on an ascent leading us along a path that carved its way through fields of green - bananna trees, rice fields, vegetable rows, and past small villages or single homes secluded amongst the rich vegetation, or animals - water buffalo, dogs, chickens, goats and pigs. We arrived into a Red Dzao village - Sin Chai village - for our overnight homestay. The total trekking time was around 5 hours. Upon our arrival, the villagers greeted us with smiles and children waving or laughing at us. There was the common site of Vietnamese men huddled together - talking, eating or drinking. One man wildly displayed in charade fashion, speaking Vietnamese, pointing to the group of men from which he came, the activity in which they all were participating - getting drunk. This man, eyes bloodshot, laughing and continually displaying himself in some sort of dance was obviously drunk.
The village people here are obviously living in poorer conditions than the other villages we trekked through. It is common to see garbage lying along the trail when we travelled through villages, and this particular village had its full share.
We further trekked past the congregation of village homes and descended down along a path to our homestay. To our delight, it was set in a beautiful environment on a hillside. Our sleeping quarters, 3-4 beds per room, had mattresses, pillows and mesquito nets. There was a main roof covered balcony for eating and congregating to that extended over the hillside in front of our sleeping quarters. Our food was delicious. The night was full of conversation. We were surrounded by vegetation, placed on a hillside, encompassed by the thick nightfall, light rain falling - somewhere in the mountainous region of Northwestern Vietnam. Dim light suppressed by the darkness, set above us where moths of various sizes and colors, and other flying bugs, were drawn toward the light. We ate and further progressed the evening drinking rice wine, learning the Vietnamese chant that led to everyone - only the boys - having shots of rice wine in simultaneous fashion.
By morning, everyone having had restful sleep, awoke to the surrounding scenery secluded by the persistent thick mist and clouds. After breakfast, the sky temporarily revealed the beautiful landscape in view from our homestay to allow for brief photo opportunities and the short duration to marvel at the views of the valley below.
We left our homestay and began our third and final day of trekking. We had 4-5 hours ahead of us. So far, our trek had been going well, except for some exhaustion from the day before (Ma and Pa). We had no idea the struggles that were awaiting us.
Till next time.