Monday, May 6, 2013

Trekking in Sapa

Our last excursion was to Sapa, after spending several days in Hanoi exploring the old city and of course paying our respects to Ho Chi Minh who lies peacefully in his mausoleum, worshipped by the Vietnamese people.
Sapa is in Ha Chiang Province, eight hours north of Hanoi by train. If you continue further north you arrive at the Chinese border. The overnight train was clean and confortable, getting into Lao Cai at 6 am. There a taxi drove us up the winding road to the town of Sapa. This has long been a place to visit going as far back as the French colonizers who came here for cool mountain air and beautiful vistas. The Tonkinese alps that stretch all the way to China are very impressive. Rice paddies are built in terraces cut into the sides of the mountain. They are presently in various shades of green, depending on whether the grains have just been thrown and not yet seeded, or whether the seeds have taken and the tiny plants have grown big enough to be transplanted.

                                                            Rice fields near Sapa

We were able to walk down to the next village of Cat Cat  on our first day and see the local Black Hmong as they work in their fields, tend their animals or sell weaving and trinkets in little stores. These Hmong are dressed in dark colours. They carry baskets on their backs and walk to Sapa market everyday to sell their wares. Some of them accost you in the street and ask you to "buy from me"or "where you from?". They are persistent sellers. On our way down to Cat Cat, one woman followed us for about 1 kilometer until she finally gave up on us buying anything. Then she climbed back up the hill and waited for the next person to come down. As these women walk, they spin hemp that is wrapped around one hand, twisting the fibres with the other to make a thread fine enough to eventually be woven into cloth. The thread is dyed with indigo, which grows abundantly in the hills. The clothes of the men, women and children of the black Hmong are thus very dark blue or black.

                                                Indigo dye from leaves rubbed into hands

                                                    Cat Cat village with Tonkinese alps

Our trek on day two started out in the rain, and we were in clouds most of the day, although every so often they lifted to allow us a view of the mountains and valleys. We climbed through the forest on a narrow path used by the villagers to get to Sapa town. We saw cardamom, yellow berries like raspberries, pumpkins, hemp fields, indigo plants and of course rice. Once we reached the top and were on a plateau, the clouds lifted for a while and we could see the beautiful Tonkinese alps around us. Little villages are built on the hills and workers tend their fields, with the help of water buffalo who break up the earth and move it around. The water buffalo roam around the roads as well, sometimes herded by little children, sometimes not. Although we were reassured that they are harmless animals, it was a little nerve-racking to meet one as we walked down the steep narrow path. A baby buffalo ran after us part way down, and as we walked to our picnic spot I slid on a big pile of buffalo poo. and fell....adding a little spice to our day.
This area abounds with waterfalls. After the rain, water was rushing down the mountains. Walking  for the last part of our trek was difficult as we trekked down over rocks, muddy paths and rivulets of water.  It was slippery and dangerous at times, requiring vigilance at every step. What a relief it was to get down onto level  ground again.

                                         Flower-wreathed trekker followed by baby buffalo

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