By the end of our week on our own in Hanoi, we were ready to meet the new group! (We were starting to repeat jokes and conversations with each other...ho hum!)
There were 18 in our new tour group - 3 more than expected but our guide was up for it!!! It's a good mix of cultures again with a Kiwi (ex pro rugby player for the English Rugby Union Team called the Wasps); 3 Aussies, 2 Germans and 2 Swiss (with mixed levels of English); 7 from the UK; 1 from Slovakia; and 1 from Antrim Road, Belfast! Yee...what a great accent he has! He practises as a Dentist in London so at least any toothaches would be taken care of! Most of us started with the 3-day hill tribe trek with some joining us in the second week.
On Monday 21st November, we went off on a trek to a White Thai hill tribe and stayed in the mountains for a few days. We really enjoyed it although a blanket and a brick to use as a pillow was hard to get used to for our bedding! The tribes were relatively untouched by the hectic lifestyle and western influences we experienced in Hanoi. They still wore traditional dress and although they had motorcycles, you'd see a lot of them living off the land (i.e. washing clothes and themselves in the river, working the rice fields, weaving baskets, carrying huge loads on their backs while trekking in bare feet!) We looked clumsy and exhausted standing next to them in our big hiking boots, trying to wear a little as possible to keep cool while they tied on another scarf with their wooly hats / toques.
The kids were very friendly, shouting "hello, hello, hello....bye-bye, bye-bye" to us as we passed. The older kids and adults were much more reserved and often refused photos. in some places, it is believed that the camera takes their spirit away. Curious.
In the village where we ate, ladies were weaving scarves and making embroidered cushions. We were taken aback when we met our host. We didn't expect what we saw when she smiled - black teeth! Apparently, the women chew on seeds that turn their teeth black with it's juices. This is seen as beautiful - but talk about a shock!
Along our 15km trek through the heavy jungle/bush, admist the Christmasy poinsettas, and rusty-soil uneven tracks with creavases in them from rain run off, we had our 1st casualty. Diane, a lady from England unfortunately fell trying to cross a river. She was taken by (bumpy) motorcycle to our next home stay and cared for. However, what we thought was a bad sprain turned out to be a tibia break which required a plate with 4 screws to be put in back in Hanoi. (I saw the x-ray- yeee not nice, althougth the screws were straight at least!) We hear about her adventure going into the theatre...the anesthetic (?spelling?) hadn't quite worked yet as they wheeled her in - thank goodness she was a nurse, because the sight of those "appliances" would have turned me! Unfortunately, she had to fly back to London after the operation...the group missed her and hope she is doing better back home! *(Hi Diane!)
After that we came back to Hanoi and left the next day for Halong Bay and stayed on a boat. This felt like a real holiday. (see the next entry for photos!). Andrea kept beating the Aussies at crib (keep practising Simon!!!) and Brian recovered from his head cold. We were definately enjoying the craic with the group.
It seems strange to think that Christmas is coming soon but with the Germans and Swiss we are planning secret santa and they want to learn a Chirstmas carol in english, should be fun.