Sapa, Vietnam

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Sapa, Vietnam

No Really…It’s LITERALLY Mud Butt

Life in the clouds April 2011

There are times when you’re on the road when you find those special hosts who really steal a special place in your heart. Without a doubt, for me, the incredibly pregnant woman dangerously close to giving birth at our hostel in Sapa was one of them. We had returned to the four story blue building, to stay with her, as promised, after shopping around the mountainous town for an inexpensive, yet comfortable room to call home for a few nights. Every morning, earlier than we could justify waking from our pleasant slumber, she would be ready with hot water for coffee to accommodate our typical morning ritual. I have to confess, I couldn’t allow such hospitality to continue knowing how close she waSapa, Vietnams to her due date. Repeatedly she climbed four flights of stairs with multiple thermoses in hand for each occupied room, prompting me to begin obtaining our own hot water. For whatever reason, she had taken a liking to me, offering us special treatment over other travelers and ensuring our stay was as amazing as possible.

Not only had we scored the perfect room with an incredibly hospitable host, we had ventured into one of the most beautiful settings in all of Vietnam. Perched high in the mountains and surrounded by local villages, we had found a peaceful serenity. The views of the hard labored and well maintained rice patties draped along the sides of the mountains left us with only one word to express our appreciation, “Wow.” As the early morning clouds lifted from the peaks to expose the hidden treasures below, we stood dumfounded at times at the possibility of such a place actually existing. Considering our love of hot, humid weather and the ability to lay lifeless on gorgeous beaches, it was quite an accomplishment to steal our breath in the absence of our normal paradise.

Hill tribe women from neighboring villages combed the semi touristy area for willing participants in search of finding those willing to lead a trek to their homes. Their colorful wardrobes still teeming with historic character compelled us to follow them on such an adventure, following the friendly women along the muddy slopes from town through the paths of the rice paddies and eventually to the primitive lives they led lacking much of the western comforts we’d been accustomed to throughout our lives back home. The children old enough to keep up with the pace of their mothers accompanied us on our journey, many of them under the age of ten with toddlers and even infants strapped to their backs by colorful pieces of fabric secured tightly with a knot above their chests.

With helpful, outstretched hands they assisted the women in our small group of eager tourists, leaving the men to find an appreciation for their surefootedness and graceful decent along the slippery slopes. Every short break in our hike provided the opportunity to capture the beauty around us with the simple push of a button on Jessie’s camera, confirming the conclusion of so many others that a picture is worth a thousand words. The efforts of our friendly guides allowed us the ability to not only understand how truly challenging the local life of a rSapa, Vietnamice farmer proved to be, but helped us to realize a new sense of gratitude for what we had left behind in months prior.

Of course I couldn’t possibly be in need of such assistance. After all, men don’t often require the help of such sure-footed women…until slipping off the edge of a muddy rice patty and slamming my butt into the sloppy earth. I stood up quickly once regaining my footing, spinning around and noticing a large brown mark on my pant rivaling that of a serious rectal explosion. Laughter erupted from our group at the sight of the “manly” tourist displaying the chunks of mud clinging to his ass. Luckily I was already becoming accustomed to making a fool of myself at the entertainment of others. I clenched my lips with a slight grin, nodding in approval to the sight of the tribal women attempting to hide their smirks behind their hands. After all, it wasn’t long before the real experience had reared its ugly head in response to the questionable attempt of eating bacon in a foreign country.

The village of Cat Cat would only further enhance our new found realization, witnessing the all too real difficulties of villages even most distant from what we were experiences. Of course we weren’t naïve to the touristic element of our perception, but the reality of what lied not far from where we had ventured weighed heavy on our hearts. Although we had already witnessed simplicity in many forms, the physicality of plowing level after level of rice terraces with primitive plows powered by the strength of water buffalo wouldn’t soon escape us. If ever we thought our lives were difficult, no matter our struggles, we were sorely mistaken.

Our eye-opening adventure stimulated yet another unfamiliar sensation of thankfulness for the environment we had abandoned. We had observed a way of life so incredibly different from our own we were nearly rendered speechless, save for the gratitude of having been gifted the opportunity of finding an original appreciation for the real-life Sapa, Vietnamchallenges of others less fortunate in many ways than us. In a town known for scenic views tourists could relish in while capturing its natural beauty, a simple fact remained. This was every day, normal life for many. There were no tractors pulling massive trailers and sprayers in this agricultural world. Wiry, fit men with straps on their shoulders drove steel plows into the earth to carve out their living. Suddenly the misleading sight of dried mud still displayed on my backside stripping my pride seemed less important.

We sat in a local market near our guesthouse, reflecting on the sights we had witnessed and becoming increasingly understanding of our surroundings. Our eyes traced the length of our wooden table occupied by two lone tourists, taking notice of the plate in the center housing the entrails of a pig sacrificed prior to our attendance. We gazed into one another’s eyes, quickly ordering a vegetarian dish from our gracious and appreciative host. Our dinner that night was a far cry from sitting at an expensive dinner with an attentive waiter dressed to the nines with a bowtie, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything…nor the memory of my uncanny ability to make others laugh with my uncanny sense of balance.


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