|We have made it back to Hanoi safely and soundly after what proved to be probably the most wonderful excursion yet of our travels. wow. we headed to Sapa, in northern Vietnam, only a few kilometers from southern China. We went with a small tour company, and booked a 3 day trek/2 night homestay package. The hills of Sapa are home to multiple ethnic minority hill tribes, some descendents of Chinese many years back. (The red Zao, Tay, Black M'hung to name a few). They live among the most gorgeous rice terraces, lush canyons, gushing waterfalls and rivers. It was unbelievable. The photos we (hope) to put up today on the website can only give a small glimpse into its beauty. We trekked to our first overnight homestay, past the most remote, gorgeous thatched-roof villages, meeting along the way native hilltribe peoples selling their handicrafts, and gorgeous children trying to sell us their goods and bamboo walking sticks. There was a constant mist and a pretty dense fog, making it truly mystical and perhaps even more gorgeous than it would have been on a cloudless, sunny day. After seeing so much third-world living, I thought I had seen a lot, but I have seen nothing like the villages in these hills. The children are filthy dirty, mostly naked, many of the older ones (7,8,9 years) are carrying their baby siblings on their backs. A lot of the young girls are dressed in their native wear, and wear big bamboo baskets on their backs which contain all the family's goods for selling (mostly textiles, jewelery and other handicrafts.. beautiful things). the girls spend their days following the now plentiful tourists that pass through these hills, and their English is exceptional. They have learned it all from us westerners, they say. "buy from me!" they say "What your name?" "you have brother/sister?" "you very beautiful" (they're very clever, these young girls, and know how to charm). They follow you and look up at you with such beautiful little smiles, holding out their goods, proving to be pretty irresistable. But beware if you buy from one, for you will then be bombarded by 5 more girls, all shouting "why you buy from her and not meee????!"'
Accompanied by another lovely couple (Peter and Suzanne- from Amsterdam) and our Vietnamese guide, Nu, we made a muddy way to our first overnight homestay. I have to admit I was a bit nervous. By this point, I sleep pretty much anywhere, and those nasty smells that were putrid 7 months ago are (almost) nothing to me now (Jon would contest that statement)... but still, I can't say I don't crave my creature comforts. It was a very primitive home- but really really peaceful and really.. nice. The family cooked us a great meal over the fire,(pork with ginger/green onions, beef with veggies, fried morning glory/garlic, fried potatoes, rice) and we shared a few glasses of rice wine (tastes like whiskey), played with the sweet little 7 year old girl who has come to enjoy all her visitors, and then had a really peaceful sleep up in the loft, next to a big pile of corn. its a simple, nice life. The majority of the people are farmers, and the young boy spends his days taking the family's water buffalo out to graze in the hills. The bathroom is shared by all the surrounding villagers, and is a small little hut, with a hole in the ground, with the river water rushing through constantly- pretty ingenious. But- of course the bad part is you pee or poo, and it just goes right into the river. couldn't get used to that.
The next day was a full day of trekking- and wet trekking at that. very rainy, very muddy, but the most beautiful scenery you could imagine. small boys with their water buffalo, barefoot children running past you, women working the rice terraces, young mothers with their babies latched on to their backs- and rolling, gorgeous green hills and beautiful waterfalls.
The next night's stay was a little less rustic, but still with a river-shitter, the family ducks, pigs, chickens and water buffalo not too too far from our bedside. Cozy on our floor mattresses and sheltered by mosquito nets, we couldn't have had a more peaceful nights' sleep. Not a sound but the slight quack of a duck or croak of a tree frog.
At this point most of our clothes were soaked, our shoes muddy and wet, and we were longing for a hot shower.. or a shower at all. all those things that can bother the crap out of you at home... seemed a lot less important out there. These people struggle each day to get by- their wealth often measured by how many water buffalo they own. so simple. They are happy- they seem, and so welcoming, and so content with their lives. Until of course, they watch western television and are able to see all the things "they don't have". Its a strange world. As westerners, we PAY good money to take a muddy climb, eat boiled bamboo shoot, and sleep only a few meters from the family pig, carrying with us our digital cameras, ipods and quick-dry towels... nervous as to what will happen if we were to lose those things. Whatever would we do???!!! You are brought straight back to reality when you see how these folks live, and how WELL they live off of the land. They know what they're doing. It was a great pleasure to be in the kind and serene company of these villagers. Breathing the fresh air, drinking green tea, balancing atop beautifully manicured rice terraces, sharing smiles with young village girls, and a meal with a Tay tribe family, even the constant dodging of water buffalo shit, was truly medicinal for us. It would be for anyone, I believe. We are so happy to have experienced Sapa...