05 January 2014

Sa Pa and Day 35

Somehow every day is interesting and virtually every day has a twist or something of note.  Some are minor (like eating more white rice in a given week than over the last 10 years), some are potentially life-altering (like missing instead of hitting a sideview mirror by 4-5 inches at a closing speed of 70+ kph). Today's happenings were minor and interesting...

Yesterday, upon our early morning arrival at the Sapa Summit Hotel, we were given the breakdown of our activities for the next two days... two "treks" to different local villages.  I spoke up (really? ;) and said that I had asked to visit one of the two local markets, both of which are known for their diversity of peoples and handicrafts. They told me that the Saturday market in Can Cau (Flower H'Mong, Zay, and Phu La tribes) is 110 km away.  I've been in-country long enough to know that this means a 2-3 hour drive over rough roads.  Having had enough of that for this year and next, I opted for the trek.  They told me that for an extra 180,000 VND (US$9), I could go to the Sunday market at Bac Hà on the Chinese border (Nung, Phu La, and Flower H'Mong tribes). Deal!

The morning "trek" was ~3km downhill to a Black H'Mong (named for their black traditional costume) village. As we walked, I kept thinking that the return is going to be all uphill... ut oh... Our guide is one of the tribe who lives in a different village. Her name is Wu and she is very personable with very good to excellent command of American English. 
Our Guide Wu (on the right) and Sho Sho, one of the artisans who accompanied us on the trek and from whom I bought a few pillow covers later in the day. I bought do much from the Black H'Mong that I should've also bought one of those baskets Sho Sho has to carry it all.

There are seven in our group, including a father/daughter from Sydney, a couple from Holland, and an Asian couple from I didn't ask where, and me. All are very nice.  As we walked, we were barraged with shop owners saying, "Buy something from me! Please look my shop..." Wu warned us that most of the shop owners get their wares from China--and it was pretty obvious she was right. Since we can buy cheap crap from China at home, we passed them by knowing that the village we were going to had plenty of hand-made items of higher quality. Buy local!

I was the first to fall for the charms of one of the artisans and purchased a Black H'Mong-style hat that I plan to wear under my motorcycle helmet instead of a do-rag.

The Artisan

The hat

Then we passed a family with colorful bedspread/comforter tops... and I was also the first of our group to fall under their spell. Like some people, it's brighter in-person:

Unfortunately, since I was holding up the rest of the group, I didn't take a photo of the second artisan.

As in the rest of northern Việt Nam, the Sa Pa area is overcast/hazy/foggy in the winter. In addition, most of the crops here are not grown in the winter, so the rich green terraces that are omnipresent in the other seasons are mostly brown now. 

After a while, we stopped at a very picturesque waterfall after crossing a very sturdy bridge that swayed as you walk across it.  My first thought was that the bridge was unstable because my first few steps were like those you'd take to keep your balance on a small boat in choppy waters. Then I saw locals walking across and knew it was just how the bridge is constructed.

After the waterfall, we started the return portion of the trek.  Unfortunately, my earlier thought was spot-on... it was all uphill. STEEP hills! We all resisted the temptation to take one of the many mototaxis offering rides to the top and we all made it... smiling!

The people we met were all very nice, though a few of the tribeswomen were a bit too persistent when none of our group made a purchase from them. When we did, the other women would flock around and cry, "Buy from me, too!" It feels bad to say no, especially when I have the cash. That said, I pumped almost US$100 into the very local economy today, so I did my part; and got a few very nice hand-made items in the process.

Yes, two is a couple.  I also purchased a pillow case (couch, not bed) and a couple smaller items.  Therefore, a few.

I cancelled my participation in tomorrow's market tour when I learned late this afternoon that it is 120km from here and three hours the other side of the train station.  That means almost seven hours in a bus just to get there and back to the train. No flippin' way!

When I asked the woman who told me that the Saturday market is 110 km away why she failed to mention that the Sunday market is even farther, she said she was sorry.  Remembering that most native Asian cultures are uncomfortable with confrontation, I kept my inner-asshole in check and quietly suggested that this is information best divulged up-front--especially when someone passed on a shorter trip because it was too long. She seemed to agree, so maybe I saved the next person a bit of "aggro". Maybe not.

She did refund my $9.

Did I mention that it's COLD here? Especially when NONE of the buildings I've been in over the past 35 days have heat...

Time to crawl under the comforter and say g'night.

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