Sunday, February 24, 2013

SEAsia Day 16 - Hilltribe Trekking near Sapa Day 1 in the fog

The overnight train from Hanoi to Loa Cai was fairly uneventful. We shared our berth with two young Austrailians who had stinky feet, but were otherwise pleasant. For sure, this train was much more comfortable than the overnight train we rode in Thailand. Still, I didn't sleep very much and neither did Drew. From Loa Cai, it was a 1.5 hour van ride up the twisty mountain road to Sapa. The fog was thicker than pumpkin soup, a bad portent for the day. Once at our hotel in Sapa, we needed to decide what to do. We walked around the town a bit to get our bearings and talked to the tourist info center people. I found out it would be possible to start a trek that day, do a homestay for one night, and continue the trek the next day. No bother that we had by little sleep last night; the alternative was to kill a day in Sapa and mess up our Sunday market schedule. Back to the hotel to arrange the trek and change our reservation. Since we booked the trek through them, they would upgrade our room. I would be very excited about this 24 hours from now.

A quick shower and breakfast at the hotel before meeting our guide for the next two days, Nhu (pronounced "new"). Nhu was a 26 year old mother of two from the Black H'mong people. We started walking out of Sapa and immediately were adopted by a 45 year old woman and a 12 year old girl, both Black H'mong too. They would follow us until lunch where they would make their sales pitch. We had been forwarned by our friend back in SLC about this tactic. We started hiking.
Drew, an innocent bystander, Chi, the 12 year old, and Nhu.
We specifically wanted a trek that would take us as far from the tourist track as possible and with the most difficult hiking. Boy were we in for it! There was light rain in the morning, and Nhu knew all the little trails and small steep roads to take us from village to village.

With the thick fog (clouds really) we didn't see any grand vistas today, but we did see some cool stuff up close. Nhu's English was quite good and she was good about explaining what things were. This little hut is a water buffalo barn for one animal. It seemed to be quite far from any homes, but maybe they were lost in the clouds.


And we soon got an up close of the buffalo.



We spotted the plant that is used to dye their clothes indigo. Nhu rubbed some leaves into my palm.

Which started like this,

But 5 minutes later was like this.

The reed horse figure was a gift from our merchant tag-a-longs. The dye would stay on my hand throughout 3 or 4 hot water washes with soap.


The hill slopes have been almost completely deforested and cultivated for rice, but these logs were brought down from the mountain top and hand hewn.


Pigs were everywhere. Not the pink kind I had on the farm growing up, but these kind somewhat resembling a wild boar. They were very tame.

I thought this pig sty was interesting in that the floor was not solid but made of slats. The pig did not seem to mind.


We stopped for lunch at a hill top that supposedly had great views, but we were socked in. Lunch was baguettes, sweet sausage, tomato, cucumber, and Laughing Cow brand cheese.

Our shadow hikers pulled out their wares and gave me the hard sell. I bought a few nice things from them; I felt better giving them the money directly than through a middle man or middle woman in Hanoi. The handicrafts are really nice.


We continued into the mist.



After approximately 12 km (8 miles), we were given the option of the easy paved road or the trail through the bamboo forest and rice paddies. We were both tired, neither of us having had much sleep the night before, but the thought of sitting around when the alternative was walking was still not appealing, so we chose the long way. I think Drew regretted that later, but he was a good sport and slogged on through the sticky, slippery mud with me.

The trail was laughably slippery.


And finally near the end of our 16 km hike, we were rewarded with some views of the rice patties we were traversing.

We paid for the good feeling of a long workout with our very muddy shoes!


We would spend the evening in the Red Dzao tribe's village of Ta Van at a "home stay". The situation at these home stays really isn't what I expected. I envisioned hanging out with the family and maybe sleeping in their spare room. Instead, it is much more like a bed and breakfast experience, except dinner is included too and we shared their bathroom. This home stay had a large common area, four guest bedrooms to the left of the picture, a loft with 8 or 10 mattresses on the floor, the couple's bedroom to the right, a big kitchen, toilet room, and sink and shower room. Most importantly, there was a cooler full of beer.

This family kept two friendly, skinny little cats that immediately made friends with Drew.


The coolest thing about the home stay was that we were invited into the kitchen while they cooked dinner. Nhu was there to interpret and she helped prepare dinner.

We even helped! Our job was to roll the spring rolls.

When we finally sat down to dinner with Nhu, the husband and wife running the joint, and their son, our mouths were watering.

It was the best food we have eaten so far! There was a ginger pork stir fry, a chicken, pepper and onion stir fry, smoked new-year's special pork and spinach-thing stir fry, the spring rolls, french fries, fried tofu in tomato sauce, cabbage, and a wonderful soybean and rice sweet fried cake. Do you see the theme? Everything was fried, and fabulous! After dinner while the woman cleaned up and Nhu went home, Drew and I sat with the man inside around a pan of charcoal. We could barely communicate, but it was interesting anyway.


The after dinner activity was typical of male and female roles in Vietnam. The women do all the work, as far as we could tell. Nhu made reference to this fact many times too. She repeatedly called the men lazy. It wasn't just our Westernized view of more equal sex roles; even a woman raised in an outlying village in traditional roles thought so. We saw it all over the country.


After dinner activities included some cat snuggle time.


At the late hour of 8:30 p.m., it was lights out for Drew, Lucy, And Jean Luc at the home stay.


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