Friday, December 2, 2016

Sapa & Lao chai trek & Hmong tribe 12/16

 There are a few different tribes near Sapa spread out small villages. Each tribe speaks their own language and Vietnamese. My guide is with the Hmong tribe, black is their color. 

Rice paddies season starts in spring for 5 months. Right now it's just water and weeds; they will have to clean it up in spring to prepare for the season. 

The trek wasn't as hard as I imagined but different guides takes you to different villages on various routes. My guide took me to her village, Lao Chai. It's lower elevation than Sapa, which sits at 5,000 feet. But it's still cold. The hotel in sapa had no heat which is kinda crazy but in the village we could sit by a fire.  

We trekked through mud, narrow paths and rice fields. Passing tons of animals (buffalos, ducks, goats, chickens, pigs, dogs), many with babies. She was impressed how fast I was going as we passed larger tour groups. Im so happy I opted for my own guide vs going on a group. 

I haven't hiked since Colorado, two months ago; my legs felt it the next few days. It's nice to get out and about in nature again. 

Hmong village life 
 I was more entertained by the local village life than the beautiful landscapes we passed. It's winter so the fog prohibited me from seeing their full on mountain range view. The rice paddies was still a sight to see. 

Families live close together and pretty much share duties. You rarely see this back home; multi generations cooking and eating together. They don't move away, they don't go on long trips. They are a part of each other's daily lives. Life is like standstill in time here. Not much to do at night. Sit by the fire to keep warm on a hard low wooden stool. 

Tomorrow is their tribe's celebration and tribe members from other villages are coming to my guides house. Every year they take a turn who hosts. I was greeted with the sight of a butchered pig.  The men kill and prepare the meat together and the ladies prepared rice and other dishes. 

They get plenty of cold water from the mountains; they have electricity but my first day it was out. No shower because no electricity. I honestly didn't think we would have electricity or a chance for shower. 

The house is super simple, just made of a few large rooms with cold hard rock floors. It reminds me of models of typical villages from centuries ago I've seen at an archeological site. Small, low wooden stools, table and simple pad for bed. I'm a giant compared to the locals. The low stools hurt by legs after a while. Amazingly I slept very well despite roosters starting at 2am. 

There's No couches, No decor. They do have a flush toilet, shower and a fridge. Kids have no toys, however they are pretty well behaved. Toddlers carry their baby siblings on their back to care for them while the parents are working. The older kids entertain the young. 

No kitchen sink, which makes sense because the pots are so enormous. instead the Floor boards drains underneath or on the side through the walls. It's a huge area so multiple people can be functioning on the same space. 

 Huge pots over the fire also heats us while sitting by it. There's no insulation, I can't imagine the dead of winter here when they get snow. People have been coughing in town, in the village. They don't cover their mouths, which in the case when they are cooking that might be for the better because they use their hands often for hours and don't wash them all the time. 

Dried bamboo burns well. It's also used as a huge smoking device for tobacco and the bamboo ends are used as shot glasses.  The tobacco device totally looks and sounds like a bong. Marijuana is of course illegal to smoke but they are allowed to grow it to make clothing. The women carry it around and when they stop to take a break, they work on the hemp. 

Village people and culture
Village women learned English from speaking with the tourists. They make and sell items and now are our guides. If they have infants, they come with them.  The men and boys stay home to work, take care of the kids. They don't speak English so the women are the money makers. Tourists have really changed their society. 

The women wear traditional clothing daily, hair style (when married, no wedding rings) and traditional jewelry (brackets, giant hoop necklace with chain mail and big hoop earrings); the elderly have five big hoops in one piercing stretching their represents beauty. 

The elderly have so much energy and The women are strong. Hiking daily for hours, carrying loads and babies. They use huge knives and machetes to chop lettuce over the pot without a cutting board, split bamboo, and so on. 

Kids go to school for almost 10hrs. The
Highschool is in town; it's a boarding school so those who can't afford it stay in village. The kids that stay get married at 14 and Start having kids at 15. I meet 18-23 and  they had 5 year olds already. Not sure what the rush is but they seem to only have two kids each. And the girls are marrying boys of the same age. 

Kids are important to have so they take care of you when you are older. It's desired to have a son as they stay with the parents. The parents pay for the son to marry (usually $2k) as she will be living and taking care of that family. There's some options if the parents don't have a son or if they don't have money for a wife. It's so old school but it seems to work for them. 

They first asked me my age and thought I look younger. They assume I don't have kids and not married since I'm on my own here. Then they ask do I have a boyfriend. They don't ask or seem too interested in where your from etc. they are more interested in marriage, siblings and parents. 

Hmong ceremony 
 Music starts at 2:30 am with drumming. I don't fullyy get the whole story but they laid the clothes of two grandparents who died, honoring their life. They kill a buffalo which is a big deal as it's expensive meat. Visitors come with rice as a gift. 

It took more than 30 mins to get the buffalo in a good spot to kill. He wouldn't go through the wooden planks (which I thought was impossible especially with his horns), so with a lot of rope in his mouth, they tied him down and axed him twice. 
 Drained his blood, Cut the feet off to cook separately, apparently it's good. Work diligently together to cut the hide. Others run around handing shots of the homemade rice wine (happy water) and later on people are offering shots of water and sodas.

 It's a super social exchange with a game of passing it on to the next, that one can't say no to. From teens to grandparents; I saw an elderly lady hide from her friends but they found her and after a few minutes of intense talks she had to drink. Some are drunk by 8am especially the men. They don't drink usually; Those who couldn't walk anymore were carried to beds.

 I chose a three day trek to see more in depth countryside. Of course for me, my 3 day trek ended up being two days with one long day of drinking with in a village. When I got sick a few days before this trip, i stopped drinking.  I participated with a few shots, nothing crazy. 

We passed to a of chickens, pigs, Buffalos, ducks and also goats. Many with babies. I joked that this land is super fertile. It was odd to see such young teens being a mom already. Things are loosening up and the girl has Say in marriage these days. 

Oh and the most annoying thing on this trek is the amount of people that come up to you to sell the same stuff. After trekking for hours you get to sit for a nice lunch in town and you have to be firm with them. They come one after another. Even in town, even by the guides family when you are at the house but not as bad. 

Some ladies follow you the hole trek so you few guilted in to buying something. It happened to me and I said to myself I wouldn't. But you are so tired and just want to be left alone. I got a braclet that was ok. Probably got tipped off because that's apparently how the operate in this country :(

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