Braving the mud and lost panties in Sapa

Trip Start Dec 22, 2010
1
5
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Trip End Jan 21, 2011


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, January 9, 2011

We wake up to the sweet tunes of Vietnamese Communist propaganda marching music, tuned up to 11 on crackling old loudspeakers. It's 5am in the morning and we have just arrived in Lao Chai just a stone throw away from the Chinese border. Another hour bus ride up endless switchbacks, we bounce trough the thick morning mist. We pass young children in only sandals and thin jackets, women pushing bicycles with all kinds of goods. Men on mopeds with covered faces, only the eyes shows. I shiver, it's only 6 Celsius (30-something F) and the driver has the windows down as they tend to fog up otherwise. I don't really understand how he could see anything anyway, the fog is so thick, you can't even see your hand infront of you. Despite the poor conditions, our driver rallies up the mountain passing other cars in curves and I try to gasp for air when we are just inches away from the steep edge of the step mountain edge.

Arriving in Sapa we are greeted by a little village with beautiful colonial arcitecture. Once a French hill station, the little town has a great mix of traditional Vietnamese with a touch of European flair. LHere in Sapa, lots of minority hill tribe people come to sell handicrafts at the local market and their colorful clothing is a breath of fresh air in the gray mist. The women, majority H'mong, wear beautiful traditional clothing and smile at us as big as they can asking where we are from in close to perfect english as we step off the bus. One of them, Yaa, not much more than 140cm (under 5feet tall) comes up to us and shakes our hands. She will be our trek guide trough the northern mountains of Sapa. She might be small, but this woman is strong as an ox. A mother of four children with a face that tells a thousand stories, this 34-year old has lived a hard life. She can't read or write but speaks three languages fluently and is sharp as can be. She pronunces my name perfectly. I fall in love with her right from the start.

Yaa takes us trough mud, fog and rain the first day and she also has her husband cook us a phenomenal meal in their hut. The following days we walk, slip, balance and straight up climb in steep muddy terrain. There is no mercey. We pass old men and women. Children running after us, waving and shouting Xin Jao! Hello, hello!! Chickens, buffaloes, pigs, cats and dogs. And of course, endless motorbikes loaded up with seemingly impossible loads.The days are very cold, and at night we do homestays in small villages where there is no heat.  I dream of a hot shower and some dry socks.
 
I am, and will always be, amazed by the tough mountain people that we meet along this trip. They have worked every day of their life and manage to stay alive trough these cold, bone-chilling winters with very little clothes. Many without shoes. I find myself rembering how incredible lucky I am to have what seems so simple in my Western lifestyle: a roof over my head, food and hot clean water on demand. Here in Vietnam we a chicken costs 15.000Dong (75 cents) and a farmer earns 4.000.000Dong/year ($200). These people are beyond poor but still smiles at us as we walk by, like there would be no other place they would ever want to be. I admire that. When I ask Yaa what time of the year is the best to come visit she simply answers; "every day is a good time to be here, I'm happy every day".

On the last day of our trek we have lunch at her sister's village. Josh and I sit and watch as Yaa and her sister and her sister's four children help prepare our meal. I try not to freak out about them using the same rusty knife while cutting up vegetables, chicken and well, anything else that we are about to eat. Her sister has made some rice wine (glorified moonshine) and we pretty much have to finish the bottle before we leave the table. At least it made me a little warmer! Josh pulls out some chocolate that we brought and give some to the kids. The smile on their faces is priceless. Somehow between the rice wine and the chocolate Yaa and her sister decide to dress me up in some traditional Hmong clothing and we laugh and take pictures, they can't believe that I actually can fit in their clothes.

We say good bye and go on our merry way and suddenly we hear Yaa's sister call our names. Turns out that when Josh grabbed the chocolate out of my bag, a pair of underware fell out on her floor..... so there we were laughing out of the top of our lungs at my panties in the midst of the cold Vietnamese mountains. It made us all warm at heart, and I blushed for miles.

Back in Sapa town Josh and I took farewell of Yaa and a much welcoming shower was awaiting us. The rest of the day we spent trying to stay warm in our hotel that had no heat. Josh played some tunes and won the hearts of the hotel staff that kept calling him Number 1 and one of the guys gave him a flute as a parting gift.

The warmth of the H'mong women in Sapa will stay with me forever. This was a trek of a lifetime.

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Comments

Gunnar on

Very interesting. I would go there

tina on

Looks awesome! They seem to have the cutest children too. Oh, and as mentioned earlier, you look tall, and Josh looks like a giant :o) I should go there, if not for any other reasons such as the beautiful surroundings and amazing encounters with magical people, just to feel tall...

janet lewis on

MIcaela, your photos and narrative made me well up. What a sweet people those folks are. I can only imagine how moved you were with them. And your photos are breathtaking as usual.
xoxoJanet

Todd on

Sounds like so much fun and the smiles speak almost as much as your story.beautiful!

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