January 11, 2013 by brasiersarah
For our entire stay there was an eerie mist that had descended on the mountain giving Sapa a somewhat dark and ominous feel. The two metre visibility due to thick mist made overtaking trucks on the hairpin turns exciting to say the least. We were missing out on some fantastic views from our home stay balcony but the mist kinda made up for it in a way giving the place a Sleepy Hollow feel to it (Tim Burton-http://www.timburtoncollective.com/sleepy.html). We started our day watching the warmth of our breath escape from our mouths and vapourise into fog , with the electric blank set on “hot magma intrusion” setting, it must have been around 5°C in our hotel room I swear! When we first touched down in Sapa, we were sniffed out as newbies like hash on a drug runner at Denpasar airport by the local ladies. As lovely as they are, the local minority women of the H’mong hill tribe are renowned for their persistent and hard hitting selling techniques. As we wandered around the town trying on various bits of “North Face” warm apparel (or as some like to call it “North Fake”) we were approached by countless ladies wishing for us to “buy for me, you give me good luck, first customer today”…. you get the picture. Anyway among the masses one lovely H’mong lady by the name of Chu stuck out for us, she was about the height of a cricket bat and had a charming smile with a nugget of gold in it. She asked us if we would like to trek with her to her village. We thought this a good offer and wanted to, but not immediately as we had just gotten off a clunky 12 hour train ride from Hanoi so we were keen for a nap before we launched into any trekking. We agreed to meet her a couple of days later and we arranged a meeting place down the road from our place because we couldn’t meet outside the hotel. Apparently the authorities weren’t happy about these kind of arrangements. Admittedly I did question it in my head but then the “stick it to the man” part of my brain flared up and we eventually agreed to meet her nearby our hotel on Monday morning. The morning of our agreed trekking day I went to meet her to tell her we were running late, only to find she wasn’t there. I was walking back to the home stay when another lady with an equal amount of charm named Kuli approached me and said she was Chu’s sister. She explained that Chu was sick and was unable to take us trekking, but she had volunteered to take us in place of Chu. Oh what a lovely lady. So we were off on our trek to mingle with the locals and see how the other half lived. We chatted as walked down the road and Kuli told us all about her culture and what the H’mong people were all about. We arrived at the village after a beautiful walk through the mountains only to find out that it housed about 2,000 people. Now I don’t where village stops and town starts but I’m sure it had to have been straddling the line. We meandered through the lovely existence as Kuli pointed out different parts of the village until we reached her house. There we enjoyed a delicious meal with the family around their dinning table. We laughed and connected with the family and I had a good feeling about this place it was nice…………. and cosy. After we finished our meal they pulled out an array of their handmade goods ranging from wallets to to bags and pillow cases, bracelets, rings postcards, you name it. Just when we thought we’d escaped the street peddlers they had lured us into their territory and now we had full bellies and our guards down they had home ground advantage. We weren’t keen on buying anything because it would only add to the weight on our backs but we felt obliged, and plus it was going to the people, helping community we had an opportunity spread out our wealth with the H’mong people. So we bought a couple of things. Kuli then lead us through the rest of her village and straight into another, there was no divide between the two she just said this is the end of our village and that’s their’s. She told us that they spoke a completely different language and had an entirely different culture. It was here I saw the drunkest man in my life ON A MOTORBIKE! He couldn’t even sit straight let alone ride but to our surprise he did, mind you we didn’t know this until we stumbled across him again with someone trying to dink him home. He couldn’t hold on. Kuli organized us two bikes for a ride home for a special local price, she scoffed when we asked if we could just get one and told us two westerners couldn’t fit on one bike plus the driver, “no no, too big” she said. About half way to town and frostbite, my bike got a flat so I jumped on the back with Sarah and we powered back to town. If only Kuli could see us now. Spent from our adventures and the increasing chance of hypothermia we decided to head back to Hanoi. On the train back to Hanoi we ran in to some Australians from Geelong, and over a bottle of wine and a few too many beers and a couple of vodka shots we swapped stories of our stay in Sapa. They recounted the experience of their village trek that they did for two days instead of one like us. We were reveling in nostalgia when we heard the name Chu pop up “Mamma Chu” to be exact! Hang on….. “Mamma Chu” was suppose to be OUR guide but she was sick so we had her sister Kuli instead. “No no no KULI was sick” they exclaimed “and she hadn’t been able to leave the house for a year because she was so sick!”. They explained to us that during their stay with Mamma Chu that they visited her sister Kuli in a nearby village and had the exact same lunch in the very house we did! and ate that “really nice tofu dish with tomato and stuff?” We even saw photographic evidence. The only difference being that when they were at Kuli’s house apparently she was bed ridden for the last year and needed money for her medicine. We were outraged and responded “Are you calling Kuli a liar?” we said “damn right!” they said. So for the next hour or so we picked apart our time in village only to unravel a ball of treachery. We finally figured out why they were both on the phone so often during our treks, yapping away in their own language, to heard us around like cashed up sheep probably so that we didn’t cross paths! Apparently the money from the handmade goods (if they really were handmade) were for Kuli’s medicine. We worked out that Chu had met us and with her little pinkie still warm from our promise we made together she locked fingers with the crew from Geelong for more money. It was also revealed to us by the Geelongites that Kuli was selling opium when they did their lunch to the village people and she even went so far as to put it in her meal. Part of us didn’t want to believe it because we had such a wonderful time but the truth was out. The worst part about it was they didn’t even need to come with the lie in the first place! We left their train carriage with a belly full of grog and a great story to get a few hours sleep before our stop. Although our village trip had lost its romance I still wouldn’t take it back. The views there were breath taking and the village was beautiful. I’m still awestruck at the circumstances that lead to the unraveling of the truth but I guess that’s traveling, and its something that is quickly growing close to my heart.
Other than the lies and deceit exhibited above we did also do a few other things whilst in the area
We were optimistic about the “jam session from 7-10pm” advertised at a little bar in Sapa. Only to turn up a little disappointed while two blokes one on keyboard and one on drums did karaoke of sorts.