Our journey began in Ha Noi the evening before, but that was just a fly in, check in, sleep in and spend half a day wandering about.
From Ha Noi we took a train to Sa Pa overnight. One of those old sleeper trains with four people to a sleeper car. So why didn't I take a photo of that? I have no idea except it was late, we were tired, and it was dark and dingy as can be.
Our sleep mates were a young French student who was doing a tour to wherever his wandering heart would take him. Viet Nam was a must for him, given that the French had invaded this country before we did. The Vietnamese called it the "French War". Our other cabin mate was someone who walked in, hopped in bed, and that was it. He looked Vietnamese but hard to tell.
NAIVE JOE: When we got to the train station we were told to look for a certain van. Mind you now it is about 5 a.m in the mornin. We spent a fitful night sleeping as the train was on a milk run with stops here and there. We find the van, hop in, clutching our valuables to our chest. The side sliding door is open and there's a light coolness in the air and people scurying about to and fro. A guy walks up to the van, looks at me and asks me for money. I reach in my pocket and pay the fare.
He walks away.
I think: Who was that masked man? Turn to Sue and say:"Y'know...some guy just asked me for $10 and I handed it to him questions unasked." It could have been anybody. Luckily it was the van helper who said to me when he saw me looking askance at him: "Okay. Is Okay. I work with van. You okay." I was. But I wasn't.
There's almost a full moon....the mountainside is serenely lit....the journey is long and slow, gears grinding to their own tune.
Arriving at the hotel, we're glad we're in the older section of the hotel. It has that lived in charm.
An area to walk was told to us. As we're walking down I'm getting "Grand Canyon Hike" flash back: Long time ago I hiked down into the Canyon. Lots of fun bouncing down the switchbacks. Hey. Only took an hour to get down. Took 3.5 HOURS to get back up. So I'm saying to Sue: "It's downhill, but we're gonna have a nice hike back." She says not to worry..we can do it.
All the way down locals on motor bikes are vying to ride us down for a fee. Our standard answer: "We like walking".
The ubiquitous: "Where are you from?" So I say "I'm from China". Well it's true. That's where I'm living. Without missing a beat he says: "Guess what? My name is China". Quick guy. We'd see him later.
The area was absolutely beautiful and although feeling like an interloper, walking through the local villages turned back the pages of time.
As we started to walk back up yup "Grand Canyon Flashback".
It was steep.
It was hot.
The motor bike guys kept asking to ride us up for a fee. We kept saying as the sweat poured off us: "No, we really like walking."
You guessed it. So how much to take us back to the top? $10? No way...we'll walk.
Later: So how much to take us to the top? $8? No way...we'll walk.
China came upon the scene with his friend and offered to take us to the top for $1 U.S. How could we say no? We ended up giving him $3.
In the afternoon, we did the tourist walk around town to the local outdoor markets, the Radio Tower Tourist Park, and then sat in a park with the sun beating down and gladly thinking how nice it is to worry about sunburn in the middle of December.
Dinner ended up being a Mama Hoo Hoo. That's Chinese for "Ah..so so".
Second Day Remembrances:
- Breakfast at a small family tucked away restaurant.
- Noticed a guy by himself and thought: "...what's it like to travel alone..?"
- Village Trek: We hired to do a hiking tour of a local village. The trek was down a mountain road, across rice paddies on narrow built walls, fjording streams, all with the aid of Hmong ladies who held Susan's hand the whole way and smiling all the time.
- "Slip & Fall" is not a new dance. It's what each of us did on the slippery narrow rack walls of rice paddies
- Tai and Jay our two Hmong lady "Helpers". Yes we knew they were doing it for tips...but their company was worth more than we could pay.
- "Walking stick". I bought one. Found out why. In one of the pics you can see how steep the climb/descent could be
- Village life with a "bride room".
- Many women working. We ask "Where are the men". The guide replies with a sly wink: "getting wood". In other words: "Nothing"
- Hemp: The Hmong ladies were constantly spinning hemp as they walked. We learned it can take 1 year to make enough hemp cloth for one garment
- Jeep trip back. Lunch. And who should be sitting next to us but the "lone guy" from breakfast. Quick hello and find out he's an ad exec from NYCity who had been thinking of doing this for 7 years. His parents recently deceased and as he said: "...I just decided it was time to go.."
- Train ride to end the journey. Bunk mates are a man and his "wife", who looked to be no more than 17 and who we heard crying into her cell phone throughout the night. What was the real story?
- Sa Pa...your journey ended far too soon
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