First day trekking-
Sa Pa, or Sapa, is a frontier town and capital of Sa Pa District in Lào Cai Province in northwest Vietnam.
We started with the highest mountain in Vietnam in sight. Our guide Louis called it Fancy Pants, at least that is how I can remember it. I think it is Fan Si Pan. We had our own entourage, and as good as that sounds, it was not…. We had three Hmong woman following us for the first half of the day. They are eager to help you find your footing, ask you where you are from and ultimately get you to buy their handicrafts. I did not mind any of that. What was invasive was their constant chatter. I could not hear much of what Louis was saying, and when our trek could have been a walking meditation, they were one step behind me, loudly chatting away. It took all my resolve not to be rude. Rachelle and I finally complained to Louis. I ended up buying from two of them, and Louis convinced them to let us go on without them. After that experience, I learned to pretend I did not speak any English.
The hike was spectacular. It’s spring, which means baby animals. It’s a good thing we have cameras with a delete button, or most of my pics would be ducklings, chicks, puppies, baby oxen, piglets… Of course, the children are beautiful and sweet, but we are among the hill tribes, and most people do not want to be photographed. Sometimes I can be discrete, sometimes I can take a pic with Rachelle in the background.
Louis has his favorite route, so earlier this morning,when he asked if we wanted to take the shorter route and end up at a Homestay with wi-fi and massage, or take the more scenic route, he was happy we opted for the extra hour. We made a wise choice. Most of time we were on back roads through and between villages or up and down river beds.
People are starting to prepare the terraced rice fields. Sometimes they use an ox-pulled plow, but if the land is too dry, they go at it with a pick-ax. There is only one crop per year in the north, as opposed to 3/year in the south. The winters up here are too cold for cultivating rice. This week is unseasonably hot. It is in the 90s. We’re drinking tons of water.
There is plenty of evidence of torrential rains. The ruts in the road are parched dry but deep. Every so often there is one shoe literally stuck in the mud. Like LA, they need more rain.
Louis gave us a historical overview of the hill tribes, their names, when they came to the reign, and from where. (Mongolia) He showed us indigo growing, different species of bamboo, plants grown or gathered for human consumption and plants for animal feed.
Before lunch, we crossed the river at the bottom of the valley, over a bamboo bridge, and started up the other side. Lunch was in a little place outside the nearby village. With a couple of pans and a two burner stove, we were treated to a feast. We finished with fresh, strong brewed coffee over ice with condensed milk.
We stopped often in the afternoon, first at a village where Louis showed us how hemp becomes cloth, then the indigo dye process. I spotted a grinding stone identical to the one Gary and I found years ago. Now it is in our side garden on a stone pedestal. We never understood how it functioned, so it was a treat to see Louis demonstrate it for us. And I have the video! Here, they use it to grind corn for animal feed. We saw many of them today.
By late afternoon, we were invited to sit and have tea with friends of Louis. Sitting in front of their shop, they chatted in Vietnamese, and we people watched. Eventually, we made our way to the homestay, a large barn shaped building.
We arrived at the Waterfall Homestay just as the sun was going down. There was hot tea waiting, and hot showers. Except for Rachelle, who showered last and ended up with cold water… We washed out some clothes as we packed very light for this three days.
There were two young French women who arrived before us. We all got along very well, and with our guides, our Hmong host and his family, we made a sweet, if brief, community. All was not fun and games however, Louis gave us strict instructions to promptly get to the kitchen area to make spring rolls. After brief, precise instruction, we set to work and managed to create culinary masterpieces. Rachelle showed up a few minutes late and to Louis’ consternation, created free form rolls and proceeded to eat one before it was fried. By then we were all ready to eat. A long table was set up for everyone, Trekkers, guides, our host and his family.
The rest of the evening turned into a blur of rice wine toasts. I turned in early. Rachelle stayed up talking to the woman who hosted us. They talked about birthing practices and the conditions of medical care.
Upstairs, our beds were mattresses set on the floor, each in a mosquito net, in two rows of 6. Breakfast was sweet coffee, and crepes with bananas and the best pineapple. We said our goodbyes to our hosts and our French friends, and set off for different villages.