Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mud trekking and cold, wet weather - this is beautiful Sapa!

21st Feb

I arrived in Lao Cai at around 5.30am and then took the bus to Sapa Summit Hotel which was to be the trek start point. As luck would have it I had to walk all the way to the end of the train as my carriage was in the middle, so I had to cross the track and backtrack down towards the exit. It was already absolutely freezing cold so I wasn’t too apprehensive about the weather for the trek! On the bus a Vietnamese girl was sick.

We arrived at the hotel and got our free breakie and meal vouchers and were told where to store our luggage. We had until 9am to freshen up/have showers, have breakfast and meet some of the other trekkers. It turned out that even though Iris and I had requested separate tours (as we wanted to meet other people and be on our own for a bit) we’d actually been put in the same group – but it was ok, we’d spent a night apart on separate trains! Lol

Breakfast was a weird mix of noodles, fried rice, fruit, bread, pancakes and...Pasta Carbonara?! During breakfast it had started to rain so we all decided to rent out wellies and buy some rain ponchos – wise choice as it turns out they came in handy! By the time we set out it had luckily stopped raining but was still damp and foggy so we didn’t see much at first.

So at 9am we met our guide, Chai (she), and were introduced to our group. We got lucky and had an awesome group, who for the two days were all a great laugh, we had some awesome fun, they were all talkative, friendly, up for a good time and we all worked as a team, even though a few barely spoke much English, everyone tried! We had a dutch couple  - Peter and his wife, a French/swiss couple, Leila and her husband, then Iris, I and Maddie, an Australian girl from Brisbane, and then Ashley, the American girl who we did Halong Bay with! Along the walk at the start we also saw Greg and Elise the Norwegian/English couple from Halong Bay too – small world, or popular route!

Several groups set off together so there were loads of us, and a group of H’mong women, for the first half hr or so and then everyone split off on other routes. Already about an hour into the trek we established that whenever we were greeted by the H’mong women you were always guaranteed to be sked the same 3 questions: Hallo, where you frommmm? How old are youuuu? You have brothers or sistaaaaassss? So we got a little bored of telling and asking the same things over and over again and it became a joke throughout the rest of our two day trek!

We were to walk/trek 12km to lunch and then a further 3km after lunch, so I’d prepared by dosing up on Ibuprofen and foot rub as my foot still wasn’t 100% but I surprised myself by completing it without much pain – yay!

We walked through Sapa town and then downhill towards the rice paddies, over mountains and down tiny dirt tracks, which would take us on a really hard route to the black H’mong tribe village. I am not kidding, this was probably the hardest trek I’d done in a long time! 12km is not a lot but when you are on uneven paths, rock climbing, sludging through muddy knee-deep-in-water rice paddies and balancing for your life on the slippery edges of the hills – with nothing to stop you from falling – it was damn hard!! However it was so worth it as the views when the cloud broke were just out of this world amazing! Just mountains and mountains, and lush green fields full of rice paddies for miles and all the way down into the valleys.

However it was a very entertaining 12km trek! I befriended a H’mong girl and she thankfully stuck with me the whole way, helping me through – and it was lucky she was there as halfway through I got incredibly stuck in the mud in a rice paddy (I was actually knee-deep in the stuff, good job I got those wellies), and had to be pulled out by two H’mong women using all their strength! Then Leila the French/Swiss lady fell down into the mud, not once, not twice, but 3 times! And on the 3rd time she actually fell down a massive hill! I feared for her life on this fal, I’m not kidding she literally fell head over heels and then rolled down until she came to a harsh stop broken by a bush. However she just got back up, brushed a load of mud from her face and screamed ‘photo photo!’ while laughing after the initial shock of it and waited until Chai and another woman came to her rescue to help her back up onto the still extremely slippery path.

Meanwhile me and Kevin, the American on a trek with one of the other groups following us, were in fits of laughter, not only because her fall was like something out of you’ve been framed, but because her husband just watched her fall, shrugged his shoulders, turned away and walked on!! However, minutes later he took his own mud bath, when he fell down a ditch and bounced off the side, splattering us all with mud. Again me and Kevin were in fits of laughter, and then seconds later the Danish guy in his group did the same thing up ahead in a rice paddy, Iris got splattered with mud this time! Needless to say it was a messy death trap this trek! It was basically mud-sludging, mud-rock-climbing, mud-splattering...and for the Swiss/French couple – mud-rolling (or bouncing). Along the way I met a guy from New York on his own guided trek who wrote children’s books and illustrated them and had even worked for Parragon in the past! He was in Vietnam visiting a school for a week to teach them about publishing and writing and doing a little holiday on the side. So we got chatting for a while, making the trek go a little faster.

At 12.30pm we arrived at the Black H’mong Village for lunch and were pestered by a load of women trying to sell us stuff. I tipped the girl who had kept with me the whole trek by buying a handmade purse from her for 50,000 dong, to say thanks for saving my life several times! Lunch was good – chicken, rice and a cabbage dish with Vietnamese coffee. Chai told us a little about the people – apparently they marry between 13 and 17 years old and are expected to have babies by 20. The men choose the women, the women get no say in who they marry. The girl I had been with all morning was only 25 (well she was 23 in Vietnam years as they count from when they are conceived, and on the lunar new year they also have a birthday) and she already had two children and had been married since 18, they are taken from school when they marry and learn most of their near perfect English from the tourists. She also had 9 nieces and nephews already!
Sitting down made us all feel super cold so we then made the last hours trek to our village homestay, which was all uphill – yay - and the fog had really started to close in now so we couldn’t see much. When we arrived we were a little disappointed as it wasn’t technically a homestay with a family, so much as a Vietnamese house that we all stayed in together on mattresses upstairs and had our guide and a cook come and cook for us. However we did see the cook’s family that evening before dinner! The toilet and shower were outside and we had the kitchen and dining table downstairs and the mattresses were all up in the attic. It was a really basic dwelling and very cold (except when sitting around the chip pan fire while cooking garlic fried potatoes/fries).

We then all decided (apart from Maddie and Ashley who wanted to catch up on some sleep) to head on up to Bamboo Bar – the only dutch-run bar in a h’mong village; hell it was probably the only bar you’d ever find in a H’mong village! We met some of the other groups here who’d had the same idea and we all sat around the coal fire drinking hot chocolate and bailey’s, beer, mulled wine, swapping stories and chatting about today, as it was so frickin’ cold – it was like Christmas in a H’mong village, in the middle of February, especially as the bar was all lit with fairy lights and candles! It was so lovely.

Then we came back to the homestay and sat around the chip pan fire chatting and writing in our diaries and after, ate the garlic fried chips while waiting for dinner at 6.30pm. We’d made plans to head back to Bamboo Bar later for drinks and card games.


So we had dinner, which was a feast! Spring rolls, chicken and pork dishes, the cabbage dish from earlier, rice and a tofu dish – all absolutely amazing! Then, as it was getting pretty cold by this point we went on up to Bamboo Bar and spent the rest of the evening there, with a few from the other groups, drinking mulled wine, eating roasted almonds and chatting around the fire again until closing time at 10pm. Then we headed back to our homestay for bed, layered ourselves up with all the clothes we’d bought with us, got extra blankets and me and Maddie took some sleeping pills to help us last the cold night, and went to bed!

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