Friday, October 24, 2008

Motorbike days

Motorcycle GangSmiles on a bridge
Water buffalo and rice harvest.
Taking a break from the work of the day
Chinese Checkers

Red Zou women

My rear end is relieved to be back in the city! As for the rest of me? Well the 6 day journey through mountainous terrain was by far the highlight of this trip. We exited the overnight train into the cool misty morning of Lau Cai just a stone's throw from the Chinese border. After filling our tanks and our stomachs we headed straight to a local Red Zou village surprised to find the young women running to greet us. Denis and Gordon were here to deliver donated reading glasses to the older women so they could continue the delicate work of their handicrafts.

Dressed in deep blue garments with bands of detailed embroidery the women were eager to answer our questions and guide us in their town in hopes of selling some of their treasures. Of all the urban locations where we had run into language difficulties time and again it was quite a shock to find the teenage girls of this remote hill tribe answering every one of our questions in well versed English. I was adopted by four young girls one by the name of May Trang who pulled up the green leaves of the indigo plant and showed me how balling it up and rubbing it in the palm of your hand created the blue color predominant in the clothing of many of the hill tribe people. She described some of her experiences as we walked the dirt roads past wooden homes and terraces of rice. All young girls begin embroidery at the age of 8 and spend any spare time working in the craft when they are not in school. May hopes to someday continue her education through college and travel her home country before venturing into the rest of the world. No boyfriend yet at the age of 15 as the marrying age continues to increase and most women now marry between 18 and 25.

Back at our bikes "you buy from me," and "you buy from me next?" echoed through the crowd that had followed us through the town. Sad to leave these beautiful women I picked out a little bag made by May Trang and headed back on the road to Sapa.

We settled into our hostel and lunched on pho in a market filled with women of the Black Hmong tribe. Everywhere in town we saw representations of various hill tribes, most only identifiable by their traditional dress. We ventured through the town running various errands preparing for the longer days ahead and finished our night with a fantastic feast. With our beret topped host we learned to play chinese checkers and repeatedly made toasts with his homemade rice wine before stumbling into a small karaoke cafe where we humiliated ourselves (and by we I mean me) with painful renditions of ABBA and Flashdance!

Everyday we woke early and traveled long and far with new and more beautiful experiences around every turn. Vendors on the side of the road offered fruits and skewered snacks. The dwindling village of Old Lau Chau will soon be under water with the building of a new dam. The bizarre relocation projects strangely echo western suburban developments filling construction sites with a smattering of fairly traditional looking stilt houses.

We played copycat with children in the street and repeated "hellos" back to every person that recognized our foreign appearance. Rice workers in the fields invited us out to help with the harvest, people came out to meet us when we stopped near their path, and our last night was a home stay with a White Tai family in their beautiful stilt home. For the most part the road was paved and fairly easy, but large stretches of construction, dirt road, rains, mud, gravel, drastic changes in altitude, and finally big city traffic have all taken their toll, and it is very good to be back on my feet again. Tonight we will have one last traditional Vietnamese dinner with Huong's family before heading to Malaysia tomorrow. Kuala Lumpur awaits!

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