The beautiful rainy highlands of Sapa




Believing that we’d be too hot trekking in waterproof jackets, we failed to pack ours last night. So this morning we set off for Cat Cat Village in the terrential rain, looking like a pair of walking plastic bags in our flimsy transparent rain macs we’d bought from the local shop for 3000VND.
Despite the rain the scenery still looking amazing. It reminded me a little of Queenstown in New Zealand, the way the clouds hung ominously over the mountains. In the foreground, the slopes had been formed into rice paddies that looked like steps down the mountainside. Everywhere you looked there were tribespeople (Black Hmong) with their buffalo tending to their crops. Some of the steps were a rich emerald green, where the rice plants had begun to grow. Others were chocolate brown and thick with mud, where the villagers were preparing the soil for the next crop. There were also fields of maize, beet, and hemp scattered across the hillsides.
Today was one of those many ocassions on my travels when a dry bag would have been a godsend, for every time I wanted to take a photograph I had to remove one arm from my rain mac in order to release the rucksack from my back and the open the freezer bag (kindly donated to me from Kotoe) in which my camera was contained. Even so, my camera was getting dotted with raindrops simply while I focussed the shot.
We followed the road from Sapa down to the black Hmong village of Cat Cat, encountering villagers along the way, also dressed in rain macs and wellingtons, carrying huge bamboo baskets of firewood on their backs. We also met a little boy who had captured a snake and was proudly displaying his catch by dragging it along the ground on the end of a long bamboo pole taller than he was. It wasn’t until the snake moved its tail that I realised it was still alive. Our guide proceeded to inform us that if we were to be bitten by one of these snakes we would be dead within 10 minutes!
When the rain really started to hammer down, we stopped under a little wooden shelter where a couple of the young Hmong girls were attempting to sell pretty woven bracelets and purses. However, as soon as the snake boy appeared, bringing his catch with him, the little girls dissapeared inside, their heads peeping out from behind the door.
The rain refused to ease, so we continued our descent down a series of stone steps, avoiding puddles and huge piles of buffalo dung. We passed a number of small waterfalls, but the water running through them was a creamy brown colour, like caramel. It reminded me of a scene out of Willy Wonker and the Chocolate Factory.
When we returned to Sapa village, I was relieved to be able to peel the rain mac from my wet skin, but a little disappointed that the full day trekking we’d been promised had turned out to be a relatively easy two and a half hour walk. We had the whole of the afternoon free, which I spent wandering around Sapa village and taking in the sights. A crowd of black Hmong people were gathered in front of the old church, which made for a great photo, with pine trees and mountains in the backround. I also paid a visit to Sapa Market, which was a treasure of Hmong handicrafts, such as blankets, skirts, purses, belts, hats, bracelets, and metal bangles of various designs. I was even offered marajuana by a Hmong gentleman as I browsed innocently through his wares.
This evening we ate a delicious dinner of pumpkin soup, vegetable spring rolls, steamed rice, and fruit curry (which was fruit in a pureed apple sauce with cinamon), accompanied by a nice cold tiger beer. We then spent a typical rainy night in, relaxing on the leather sofas in the hotel’s common area and watching films on Sky TV.
Photos : Hmong people gathered outside church in Sapa town
The mountains surrounding Sapa.
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