Sapa is the tourist-trekking destination in northwestern Vietnam, with its lush green mountains and H'Mong women wearing traditional clothes selling handicrafts throughout the streets. Homestay visits to homes of different ethnic minority groups are a popular part of the package. I did a few of these, as well as one very soggy hike with Mario through the rice paddies, on the wettest day I've seen out of more than three weeks here.
It was raining before we started off on our 'Terrace Views Trek' and in between breaks in the rain, it poured. The skies emptied and rivers formed beneath our feet. It was a sea of mud and water and wet. After getting completely drenched we came upon a small wooden shelter along the path, where some other trekkers were waiting out the worst of the storm. We joined them and it was there that I met Doug, fellow CIDA colleague and Chinatown resident in Ottawa, who lives about 5 streets away from me, works one floor below me (together in the same building for the past 7 years) and who I'd never before laid eyes on. Travelling makes the world small alright. First I met my neighbour from 8 houses away in Colonia, Uruguay, in February, now in May another neighbour and colleague.
Doug, his trek-mate Chelsea, Mario and I all had lunch together at a small food stop along the way, before they headed on to a homestay and we continued to the village of Ta Van, where we got a drive back to SaPa. Despite the rain, or maybe because of the ridiculous amount of water, everything was funny, and it was a beautiful walk.
My next trek was the following day, where I joined two Norwegian best friends on an overnight hike to a Red Dao homestay outside of Ta Phin village. Dagny-Elise and Kaia were friendly and impressively mature for 19 year olds. The weather was sunny and bright, my boots were still wet, but the walk was gorgeous – some fantastic scenery of black rock jutting out between rows of corn plants and terraced rice fields.
We saw men plowing fields with water buffalo, families including little kids plowing fields by hand and scraping grassy growth from the side walls of the terraces. I was sweating non-stop under the hot sun and panting up the steep slopes, thinking that I wouldn't last any time at all swinging wooden shovel-plows over my head into sticky mud. When we arrived at our homestay, part way up a hillside in the midst of trees, banana plants and a small farm, I laid down on a bench and fell asleep.
Our hostess Man May prepared my new favourite, french fries with garlic, as an appetizer before we helped make spring rolls in the smoky dark kitchen. Dinner with Man May's family started with shots of moonshine rice wine, followed by deep-fried veggie spring rolls, fried tofu in tomato sauce, stewed morning glory (apparently not quite what we have at home) a bitter vegetable with egg, along with the obligatory pork. It was tasty and filling and a bit of an eating marathon as our hostess wasn’t satisfied and kept pushing us to eat more, more. Apparently the homestay owners think that people don’t like the food if they don’t eat it all.
After dinner was the real treat – a medicinal herbal bath in a large wooden barrel bathtub, something the Red Dao do as a speciality. It was hot and steamy and wonderful after a sweaty day.