The overnight buses in Vietnam were different than any we had been on before. Three rows of almost reclinable, double-decker semi-beds. I slept like a baby. We woke up in rainy Sapa in Northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border.
We immediately hooked up with a trek through the terraced fields and Hmong/Zhou villages that included a night at a homestay. From the get go, twenty Hmong women joined our group, introduced themselves, asked questions about our lives and practiced their self-taught English. I asked if they were going to walk with us the entire journey. “Yes! We do it every day!” They wore rain boots (smart), neon colored scarves (the trend has made it!), all their wealth in jewelry and carried backpacks full of wares to sell.
We spent the morning trekking through serious mud, so much I had to tuck my pants into my socks. The rain had stopped, but the fields were wet and my fashion (already lacking) paid the price.
Without my Hmong friend, I definitely would have been face down in this mess.
After a successful crossing, she gave me a gift. I couldn’t figure out what it was or what I did to earn it (but I later found out by the tip she asked for).
Once we had passed the Hmong villages and bought our compulsory souvenirs as thanks, we were handed off to the Red Zhou people. Apparently, I was a mark because this woman ran up and tagged me, so no others could befriend me on the walk. She made sure I had a great experience, learned as much as she could teach and interacted with the elements which is why my hands turned blue for a few days when she told me to rub the indigo around in them.
It took us most of the day to make it to the village we were staying for the night. The family welcomed us into their home for dinner, gave us mats to sleep on and had a PUPPY. So although, we literally all slept on top of each other on the floor, I was pleased to get plenty of time to cuddle with a sweet dog in the evening.
It was very interesting to sit by the fire while the family cooked. The young mom was no older than 24. She had 4 kids, the eldest was 8. She and her husband also supported their parents who in turn took care of the kids while they hosted us. Joshua and I have realized the value of family on this trip. There’s no talking bad about each other, fights over money, putting “grandma” in a home…there is just happiness. Some cultures have such strong familial bonds–it’s amazing to watch.
Our second day began much like the first, walking through mud.
And then I was picked up by this woman, who attached herself to me because of my height. Through our guide, she was able to tell me that she was more than 100 years old (really?) and she needed help getting to town because she couldn’t see well. So I walked with her and held her wrinkly old hand.
And then she ruined my affection, by telling me I needed to pay her for the chance to get to walk her to town! She stroked my cheek and talked softly into my ear and I smiled and laughed and held her hands and told her no. What a trickster?!