January 11, 2016

SaPa: as maravilhosas montanhas do Vietname e uma tribo especial

For the first time in my solo backpacking trip I was craving to be alone. It sounds silly because I'm traveling solo but as a matter of fact during those almost 3 months traveling I had mostly of the time company: either I was couchsurfing or connected with a traveler(s) in the bus or met friendly locals. 

It was the last week of the year (2011) and I wanted to be alone to reflect about my life, to try to organize my mind with all these last weeks of learning and meeting new people who gave me interesting information that would change my life forever. 

This was when I separated from my travel fellows in Hanoi, it was a fantastic week but we had different plans, they wanted to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in a sunny place and I wanted to go to the mountains. I fell in love with the huge poster of Sapa in the Travel Agency near our hostel, I couldn't head South with my friends, not before going to Sapa. Travel is so free like this, you get to choose your next destination just like that, following your passions, heart and whatever you feel that moment.

Guess what? In the way to Sapa I met these three super friendly girls from Slovenia! Polonca, Nina and Irena are friends that decided to spend couple weeks in Vietnam. They have the most beautiful and pure smiles. Five minutes in the bus and we had the feeling of knowing each other for many years. They had this arranged tour for 3 days in Sapa so I couldn't join them. And don't forget, I wanted to be alone, by myself, can I? Please? :D When we arrived they asked me to go with them, they would arrange something, one part of me wanted to go but the other not. #left

It was December 24th but I didn't really feel Christmas... Even though Sapa Town was decorated with some lights (not sure if it's like that all year long) Vietnamese aren't christian so they don't celebrate this date. This morning I decided to go for a walk. It was super cold but I couldn't wait to explore those places I saw in the poster. You won't believe but when I was going on my way I immediately saw my Slovenian friends!!! I literally crushed in their tour and the guides didn't mind at all :) I'm glad it happened this way because is so easy to get lost in these fields, only locals know the paths. Days after I tried to explore myself and I didn't go too far because either way I'd be in private properties or couldn't find a path.

The essence of the place is definitely the rice terraces. During Spring/Summer it's all green, this time of the year you could stare at the stunning landscape with levels of water, I couldn't believe in my eyes. The tour guides belong to the H'mong tribe, they wear pretty ethnic skirts, blouses and earrings. They were very poor, basically they lived by the rice they get every year and sell to Laos and China. For the last years Vietnam started to be a strong travel destination so Sapa was receiving a bunch of tourists. This comes for the good and for the bad. H'mong women discovered that they could earn good money if they sell their pretty handmade ethnic clothes, bags and jewelry to tourists and if you knew a bit of english they could be guides. Because they start having more money they could afford luxury things like TVs or DVDs players. Nowadays H'mong tribe is neglecting the rice industry since it's a tough job, selling tours and handmade goodies is faster and easier money. I wonder what will happen to these stunning rice terraces one day? It's a fact, tourism kills the essence of places when done without any control or consciousness.

I took both of these two pictures in Sapa Town

In the middle of the week I met this h'mong lady that somehow I felt a good connection. She invited me to do Home Stay in her place. This is very common in countries like Laos or Vietnam, instead of staying in a hotel or hostel you can stay with locals, something like CouchSurfing but paid. She said I could stay as long as I wanted and pay with a donation. I just couldn't refuse such opportunity.

This was the house I stayed. When I posted my Vietnam album on facebook mom was super worried with me, no wonder. This house had the minimum conditions, no stove, no electronics such as microwave, TV or radio. Our food came from a bonfire inside the house and I slept in a improvised bad with yen instead of a mattress, it was comfortable. I never understood where all those 5 kids were sleeping... In the roof I could see big sacs of rice to feed the family all year. Because I was there they could buy eggs and vegetables, a real luxury! I'm so glad I had some candy to share with the kids. I know candy is unhealthy but you should see these kids faces, so but so happy! I will never forget. 

I only could communicate with the lady because the other family members couldn't say a word in english. But I was super grateful to be able to "live" with an h'mong family that live with very basics and still are so happy. I ended up staying two days only, New Year's Eve was close and I wanted to celebrate, partying my butt of like I do every single December 31st.

View from my Home Stay house in the morning. Speechless!

In the end, my mission was completed: to be alone and to reflect about life. But I have to tell you guys, it wasn't easy. I didn't talk much with backpackers as I used to, I closed myself in my hostel private room for Christmas Eve eating tons of chocolate while watching cable Christmas Disney movies and I loved it. This was my seven months highlight, it was a special week in an incredible place. My heart and soul is with you Sapa and your tibes! 

Psssst! I spent New Year's Eve in the streets of Hanoi with other thirty or more couchsurfers and it was so much fun! The coolest part? I met my Slovenian girl friends again in a pub and we didn't schedule anything. Destiny? Or travel coincidences?

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