Robin. #2. The Mountains
A long 5 hr ride by van brought us well into the mountains to visit the Red Dao hill tribe. We transferred from van to car, then had to walk the last leg of the trip while our luggage was tied to the back seat of a motor scooter. We were to learn that pretty much anything can be transported in this fashion. The Nam Chang Riverside Lodge is a rustic remote jungle lodge in the village and is run by this hill tribe. It is beside a river and we crossed a suspension bridge to get there. Lunch was a few tasty fresh, incredibly fresh dishes of steamed vegetables, tofu ( which is creamier, lighter and more flavorful than any I have tasted before) and rice with fresh fruit for desert.
We had time before our walk though the village. My “brief nap” turned into one of the deepest sleeps I have ever had. At one point I woke up and tried to move my body but couldn't get my limbs to move. My dreams included being sent to get wasabi mustard at the Shoprite and being assigned the task of trimming the fat off raw meat (not a pleasant job for a vegetarian, but I assume stimulated in my mind by all the meat at the market the previous day)
Our guide for the next 3 days was Goi. A handsome young man with a playful boyish quality and a truely “sunny disposition”. He greeted and chatted with everyone we met, and entertained himself by singing to himself and repeating out loud new words he was learning in English. I asked how he became a tour guide. It is a relatively new job for him and it took him many years of hard work and perseverance to get this far. He is a farmer and lives and grew up in a village near Sapa. He continues to farms when not working as a guide. In his teens Goi went to Hanoi hoping to work in a restaurant. Because he did not speak any English he could only get jobs as a laborer, working every day and barely supporting himself. After two years he moved back home and got various jobs in Sapa as a street vender and in small shop and sidewalk restaurant. He slowly picked up English over the years and continues to actively learn from foreigners as he guides.
Many Red Dao women continue to wear the traditional clothing; elaborate red cloth headscarfs and elaborately hand embroidered indigo garment. Others wear red, pink or orange sweatshirts and red and simple red and white headscarves. One hundred families live close together in the village with another 350 throughout the countryside. Their houses are made of wood ( if they have been here for a very long time when there were still large trees to cut down, woven bamboo (if they are very poor) and most people have fairly large houses of concrete. Their pigs and chickens live among them (many cute baby chicks and piglets) and many have small vegetable gardens.
Everyone farms their plot of terraced land. Terraces lace all the mountainsides. . Husbands and wives put in very long days of strenuous work. Water buffalo are used to till the soil. But clearing, burning, planting and harvesting are done by hand. Everything is carried by motor scooter to the location of their fields then carried on their backs up and down the steep inclines of the mountains. Some plots are far from home and the family will stay in a shack near the field during planting and harvesting.. in the village during the day are mostly older women embroidering, drying herbs, cutting vegetables, and young children hanging around. School age children attend local elementary schools. Teachers who volunteer to come and teach are given modest housing and a stipend by the government. It is a very hard job because when they come they do not know the local language and are very isolated.
We visited a secondary school which serves older children from two tribes, many dorm there and are pretty much without adult supervision after school hours. The school is a very large two story gold cement structure with a large courtyard in the center. We arrived after school hrs and geoups of. Children were playing. There is a new block of housing ( basically a row of connected large cement rooms ) for teachers and there families. They have a garden and have to heat their water by fire in front of their area. The children learn the typical variety of subjects.
In the evening we had a traditional herbal bath. The very hot water was heated ove a fire mixed with many medicinal herbs that turned the water red. We soaked in a wooden tub till we felt relaxed, soft and sleepy