Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sapa, Hanoi 2013

It makes perfect sense to be sitting here on a tiny tiny chair on a sidewalk in Hanoi in the mist having a cup of strooong espresso with sweetened condensed milk. Happy me.
Young hill tribe women

The journey to Sapa began with a taxi ride to the confusion of the Hanoi train station. We did what we were told and ended up in a 4 person “soft sleeper,” which wasn’t very soft. Leslie and I were sitting on her bunk (she had a bottom bunk and I had a top) across from a middle-aged Vietnamese man and his daughter when a woman kind of pushed past Leslie to join us on the bunk. My lame-ass “She’s a nice looking lady” got me one of those looks from Leslie, so I didn’t have anything else to say on that matter and meanwhile, the woman was lounging on Leslie’s bunk, leaning back on the pillow and one foot on the bunk and I thought my best bet is to lay low except there’s no place to hide out. Oh well.
On the train - woman slips in beside Leslie. Make yourself at home.

The middle-aged man’s daughter left, but the woman stayed, and then the woman also left and we moved down the bunk to block her return to our space like there’s an “our space” in Vietnam LOL. When the woman came back she did a spectacular climb up to her top bunk above Leslie. Whew.

The lonesome whistle blew and the train began to move. I brought my pillow and comforter (supplied by the train company) down and we leaned back in complete comfort and Vietnam passing by outside in the darkness. We were sharing the new iPod, with one ear bud each, my arm around Leslie… “as we sail into the mystic… let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic…” picking up speed, clacking, rumbling along and here’s Robert Earl Keen, headin’ down that dusty trail again, Ohhhh yeah, sharing a Hanoi beer… Now…
Sapa town

“Seems like yesterday, but it was long ago, Leslie was lovely she was the queen of my night, there in the darkness with the radio playin’ low, and, and the secrets that we shared, the mountains that we moved… and I remember what she said to me, how she swore that it never would end, I remember how she held me oh so tight… we were young and strong, we were runnin’ against the wind…” (a tip of the hat to Bob Seger)

We sat there a long time. Sweet. Into the Now. And then I climbed into my top bunk and fell into a rumbling fine train sleep. Pulling into Lao Cai in the early morning. Someone took us to our bus and away into the mountains, into Sapa. Get out, walk up the street to the Paradise View Hotel – 15 rooms and ours on the ground floor in the back. Perfect...
Cloud at night in street

Sapa, where the sun is shining one minute and literally the next minute clouds rolling right through town for a few minutes and blue skies again and in a little while clouds again so that you can see 50-100 feet ahead and then sun and the mountains revealed, cloudy themselves…
Sapa, where indigenous people walk the streets, looking nothing like the lowland Viets, distinctively mountain people, a little Tibetan in appearance, the women with incredible clothing with fine cross-stitched details, head-dresses, leggings, and many wearing… wait for it, rubber boots, many with a basket on their back, some peddling hill tribe crafts (some very insistently – “I follow you forever, to your village if no buy from me.”). There’s something about mountain people, whether in Nepal or Vietnam or America, something different, maybe a sense of specialness, I’m not sure.
Playing in the street

Sapa, a little like Nepal, with houses clinging to hillsides and when we went a little higher up, houses clinging to mountainsides, terraced fields, the harvest in now, the road winding up and up, past a high waterfall, and on to a high pass overlooking mountains and clouds…

Sapa has expensive food, though we were able, as usual, to find some good noodles at a good price at the Cozy 2 Hotel. Our hotel had an outstanding breakfast included, with more good Vietnamese coffee. Overall (except for the hotel breakfast), not a great food trip.
Taken from room balcony at Paradise View

When it was time to leave for Lao Cai and on to Hanoi, we got on a bus for a real death ride down the winding mountain road with the driver taking and making phone calls and at one point holding a phone in each hand. Tailgating? We’re talking extreme tailgating – honk honk honk honk and finally out of the mountains and into Lao Cai, taking a detour to let a bunch of people out who knows where and on to the train station.

Terraced fields after harvest
He let us out at a cafĂ© near the train station where a woman in pajamas took our train ticket voucher, “Sit down. You wait 5 minute,” and sure enough in 10 minutes (i.e., 5 minutes) she was back with the train tickets and getting a kiss from Leslie, and there we sat for an hour or so, having a beer, watching the street unfold. Really, it doesn’t get much better than this. At one point we got up to go to the train station, but a man came over and told us to wait. Finally, a young man we’d never seen before walked up and took our suitcase and away we all went to the train, to the right car, to the bunk, our 4 bunk compartment shared by a German social worker (what are the chances that two social workers would end up in the same compartment!). As before we sat together on Leslie’s bunk, happy as hippies, listening to her iPod while the world slid by outside. Rolling, rumbling, shaking on down the tracks. Hahaha, “Red lips, red hair and fingernails, I hear you’re a mean old Jezebel” and the Dixie Chicks singing that “Earl has to die!” Hell yes.
Women and children

Back in Hanoi standing outside the train station Leslie asked a young woman to call the hotel for us and in about 10 minutes, here comes Quyen across the street. Talk about a welcome sight!

Banh cuon + roast pork with cinnamon for breakfast (it’s a well-known fact that you can’t get too much garlic), and for lunch we were invited to join the hotel staff for a nice meal of bun cha, small whole shrimps (head, antennae, carapace, legs, etc.), noodles, vegetables, peanuts, etc. Good food, good company, good times.
They wanted a photo with me in it. Sure, great idea

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