Day 5: Sapa

Wow. Did not expect this at all. Train ride to Sapa was uneventful save for the being awake all night part. And the initial landing at our hotel was a bit rough; while there was a place to store our luggage and have a quick shower- it was chilly and smelly. And the water was fine for me but Puja’s was cold.

Breakfast, though, was perfect: Vietnamese coffee, Pho, and a crepe! Nice!

We had arranged (and by we I mean either Puja or Iffet, not me nor Gary) for a walking tour that I thought would be a 5k thing. Turns out we were in for so much more than that!

Our guide for the day (Lisa) is from a Hmong village 12k from Sapa. I fear that if she moved to Seattle she would immediately take my job. At 21, she is smarter, more organized and more cheerful than I. I hope she doesn’t learn how to manage tech projects.

We hiked to a pair of waterfalls. Lush is really the only word that comes to mind. I’ve been lucky enough to see some beautiful places: The Olympic Peninsula, Ko Tau, Maui, The Wonderland Trail, the Swiss Alps, Cappadocia, Santorini, the Canadian Rockies, more.

But this was lush in a different way: Water, falls, rice terraces, fruit, hues of green and red. Absolutely stunning.

Lisa’s telling of her family was incredible: very proud of her culture, a deep knowledge of rice farming, indigo dye techniques, the local history and flora and fauna.

Made me think a lot about subsistence living; despite working as a tour guide – she doesn’t want her culture to be assimilated. Sapa is so beautiful that it is growing like crazy, so it is hard to imagine that the Hmong people will survive as is. But the government is helping: more education on one hand but also things like better infrastructure. So a village can produce more, not have to fight about water rights, and can grow more livestock, too. Water buffalo, pig, chicken, goat, duck.

The terraced paddies are ingenious in their engineering and layout and use of water all designed for maximum yield. And yet – it must be back breaking work.

We stopped for a picnic on the side of the trail, and made what I call a “Hmomg-mi” sandwich (all from Lisa’s backpack): Baguette, sliced pork, hard boiled egg, cheese, butter, tomato, cucumber. Washed down with Asian pear and apple.

From there we actually descended about 1,000 feet through a Hmong Village and farm. We learned about green tea cultivation, rice farming, indigo, and hemp. The “throw away” stuff included growing onion, corn, apple, and more. This particular village is entirely self-sufficient: they eat what they grow and farm. (They do pay for electricity, but that’s it). Again, it sounds charming, but also like back breaking work.

The rush to economic growth might not be a perfect match for all. Most, maybe. For the moment, I’m glad that here in Sapa the Hmong people get to choose.

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