Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Walking on Clouds

Day 357
We were up early and had breakfast at our hotel. It looked like rain and I picked up a poncho on the way. My rain jacket no longer seems to keep the rain out but rather in. It was before 9 am and we were already being followed by women who wanted to sell us things.

I thought that they would eventually give up, but the first three kilometers were on the road and they pressed on. The fog was incredibly thick and we couldn't see anything. When we finally reached the trail I thought that the women would disperse, but they continued on and tried to help us to not slip on the muddy trail.

After a few hours of walking the fog began to lift and we could see our surroundings. It was just incredible. Then we had a choice, the long and hard way or the short and easy way. Nicole and I opted for the short and easy while the rest of our group wanted to do the long and hard. We split up and two Hmoung women came with us. Along the way they made us wreaths to wear from one local plant or another.

It had rained the day before and the downhill path was all mud. The women helped us down. They each had at least 15 years on me and were both very tiny. It was amazing to me how strong they both were. We couldn't have made it down without them. At one point I did slip and went straight into Nicole. Luckily she saw me coming and was able to brace herself. The Hmoung woman helping her was especially tiny and standing right behind her. She may have been strong, but I'm sure that if the two of us fell on her we would have injured her pretty badly. We stood there for a minute making sure that we wouldn't slip before moving on.

Once we were through the tricky part we were better able to focus on our surroundings. The green lushness of the rice terraces cut into the mountains was amazing. It's one of those things that make you feel truly privileged to be able to see it. I feel lucky every day that I am on this trip, but an extra reminder helps me to remember just how lucky I am.

As we crossed the last rice fields the Hmoung women asked us to buy something from them. Neither of us wanted to buy anything but instead wanted to just give them each 30,000 dong. They both asked for me. The one who had helped me wanted me to buy a purse for 50,000 that had taken about 30 hours to make. It made more sense in my book for her to take the 30,000 and keep the purse. Instead of giving them more we invited them to sit with us in the restaurant that was off limits to locals except for guides. We both them each a coke which they decided to take home to share with their families. The women who were outside seemed a bit jealous and kept calling to them.

After a soup lunch we headed down the road. The sun had dried up most of the mud and the path was much flatter now. We walked thru some villages and Nicole teased me while I took pictures of all the animals.

Around 2 pm my day was over and I said goodbye to everyone. Sapa was only 8 km's away, but it was up a winding mountain road. I told my motorbike driver to slow down at one point, but he must not have heard. This was by far the most terrifying experience I've had on a motorbike yet. I don't like them from the get go, but this made me hate them.

When I got off the bike at my hotel I felt shaken and must have looked it because some Hmoung women giggled at me and didn't even bother to try and sell me anything. I headed right up to my room for a shower and a nap.

When I woke up I got some dinner and brought my journal along. It's hard to write regularly when you are traveling as a pair. I wrote over dinner and then headed to the Hmoung Sisters bar and wrote for a few more hours. I was still tired though and headed back around 10pm. I had accomplished a lot.

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