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Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Amazing Sapa Trek Experience (Northern Vietnam)!

We started our morning bright and early, getting off the sleeper train, not as efficiently as normal, due to some lost property (Ed. ok it was Sam who this time had ‘miss-placed’ his boots).Then we got straight on to an hour long bus drive into Sapa, arriving to a lovely breakfast of pancakes and bacon and eggs at the Mountain View hotel. Doing a very similar trek to us was a small group of female world challengers from South Africa. It was really interesting meeting people from another place in the world going through the same situation as us. We then met Johnny, our guide for the trek who was quite a character, with his catch phrase being “Cheers mate” and “Cool beans” in an Australian accent.

After storing our extra gear, in a very funky (Ed. I can tell you it wasn’t that funky!) smelling room we started our trek around midday. Following us were some very helpful women from the hill tribes of Northern Vietnam named the H’mong people, they provided interesting informative conversation and a helping hand when it got particularly rocky and slippery, although they were in thongs they were certainly pro’s at trekking. The ladies wore beautiful up do (Australian for hairdo) using various combs and clips. If a lady had a comb it meant she was married. All the women did however wear knee length black robes with embroidered edges and material leg warmer sort of things. While some members of our group found the hilly terrain challenging we supported each other successfully through the first day. Finally making it after around five hours, to a traditional wooden and bamboo home stay probably had a lot to do with the delicious lunch of baguettes with cream cheese, omelette and salad and the phenomenal sights of the mountains and surrounding scenery.

At lunch the H’mong women and children were selling various homemade objects from bags to bracelets, some took this opportunity to splurge, maybe on Christmas gifts for you guys at home. Continuing with our delectable catering for this hike, upon arrival at an extremely comfortable home stay, we were given garlic butter French fries which were gone within the minute of being placed on the table. After a race to get in the showers we sat down for a dinner of rice, stir fried vegetables, tofu, chicken and what has to be the best spring rolls any of us has ever tasted. It was shocking to think this food had all been cooked in an open fire in a kitchen with a cement floor. We then hung around, talked and got ready for bed. The boys managed to get themselves actual beds (Ed. Nothing to do with me honest!) while the girls all slept up stairs on mattresses on the floor. I guess chivalry is dead (Ed. hahahahahaha). Although this was more comfortable then the home stays we stayed in on the project, we were still faced the fact that their home was pretty basic; wood, cement and minimal furniture and we were all definitely relieved and shocked by the warm shower and the westerner toilet. (Ed. no squatters!)

After a very cold night (Ed. The best night’s sleep so far in country!) we awoke still pretty sleepy but our moods were lifted by pancakes with sugar, lime, chocolate sauce and bananas. We dug in knowing a hard day of trekking was ahead of us (Ed. we didn’t expect extreme though!). We trekked a near constant uphill then downhill, both difficult in their own way for six hours before lunch. This was very physically and mentally demanding on the team and included the negotiating of slippery ankle deep mud. For lunch we had noodle soup and mandarins, this went quickly as our group of 22 eagerly slurped up our meal, trying and failing at using chop sticks; Miss Posner is the master at this and only this. We headed off again for two hours of trekking to our next home stay. When we got there we all ripped off our boots and barely moved for half an hour, the tough day had taken affect on us. We did however, move quite quickly when the garlic butter fries were served and tucked into the very similar dinner to the previous nights. After all this we had a team meeting and discussed the trip in summary as it is coming to the end.

After a good night of sleep we arose, quickly packing and eating a breakfast of bananas and pancakes again. The trek although challenging was nothing compared to the previous day of hiking with three hours before Lunch and one after. We encountered the traditional Dzao women who shave from their eyebrows to the top of their head, the rest of their hair covered by a red head scarf. We then returned to, you guessed it, garlic butter fries, then a very similar dinner yet again, both still very delicious.

The last day we only had three hours trekking, this went by pretty fast and just like that we had completed our main trek, the one some had been dreading, while the others had been looking forward to for months. We immediately got onto a bus back into Sapa and had a lunch of baguettes with omelette, salad and cream cheese yet again. After we all tucked in we had two showers to get through 22 very smelly challengers. So this took a good couple of hours. We then walked for a bit around Sapa, shopping and taking in the new environment. We returned back to the hotel to grab our packs and jump on another bus to the train station. Our last ever sleeper train, thank god, especially when Cliff a.k.a the annoying Ed guy, was bunking with a mouse! (Ed. she forgot to mention the cockroaches!!).

Mikhaila Smith

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