Friday, December 28, 2012

Sapa. They didn’t lie! There are mountains!

We awoke to the same thick, obscuring cloud as the previous day, but decided to go on our big hike anyway, because presumably we’d be able to get below the clouds at least, like we did yesterday. So off we went, and as we were leaving town, we managed to make our way through the gauntlet of village women hawking wares, but we noticed two girls starting to follow us. They kept this up for at least two kilometers, not saying anything, but stopping when I stopped to take a photo, and giggling, then picking up the chase again when we started. (It kind of reminded me of that ghost from Super Mario Bros.) We thought they’d drop off when we left Sapa, but they kept on, and it wasn’t until a good half hour later that they started to initiate conversation with the standard (“soft sell”) questions (where are you from, what’s your name, how long are you in Sapa, etc).

We chatted casually off and on, and it became clear that we were going to be accompanied for the duration of our hike, whether we wanted to or not. So when they asked us where we were going, we showed them the route we were following on our map, and attempted to make it clear that we wanted to do the hike on our own. Yet after a little while, our determined shadows were no longer our shadows, and through some sort of persistence or sleight of hand became our guides. And we found ourselves following Mai and Vu (aged 10 and 8) for hours, over hills, across rivers, through rice fields and villages, on paths we never would have found on our own. Mai wore plastic flip-flops that were nearly torn in half, and I had my sturdy hikers on, but guess who slipped down a slope and got mud all over the back of her pants? Mm-hmm. Yup. I did.

As we hiked, the cloud ceiling lifted, revealing more of the steep mountainsides, and through occasional windows in the upper clouds we caught tantalizing glimpses of the mountain peaks, hanging impossibly high in the sky. And around every corner we had a new glorious view of the terraced slopes.

Mai and Vu concluded our hike at a fairly touristy village where all the tour buses go (giving us a convenient way back into town); and all they wanted for their time was for us to buy some of their handcrafts. As they laid out their wares, other village women nearby swooped in and tried to get us to buy their stuff instead, but after 5 hours and 12 km of hiking with us, Mai and Vu had earned our loyalty. So we bought a couple of hand-embroidered bags. An interesting day for sure!

When we came back to Sapa, the clouds had lifted so we sat on the patio outside our room read, doing some yoga, and just watching the clouds sweep up the valley, alternately obscuring the town and shifting past to reveal the extraordinary heights of the mountains. It was absolutely mesmerizing watching the tendrils and wisps of cloud shift and dance. And quite something to experience the quick and drastic temperature swing from being in the sun to being inside of a cloud. Just awesome.


Holes in the upper clouds revealing the mountain tops!

Getting below the clouds.

Showing Mai and Vu our intended route on the map.

Beautiful, structural terraces.

One of the many villages we walked through on our hike.


Our intrepid leaders, Mai and Vu.


Umm, yes please. Can I do yoga here everyday?

Compare this photo with the first one from the last post!

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