So I really am becoming prolific at this whole blog malarchy...is exactly what you are thinking. Well, motivated by our imminent departure to China where rumour has it Facebook has recently been prohibited, the potential curtailing of my loose tongue by the Chinese government and the news that if I name drop 'Luke Alexander Meloy' or 'Hollywood' as he is known to his friends, it adds at least two people to our readership, I'm giving you more. Just be grateful!
When you left us last we were just boarding the sleeper train fro our first experience of overnight rail travel. The Orient Express it certainly wasn't and decidedly less Carey Grant, all smooth, elegant and sophisticated, but rather more Grant Mitchell, rough, robust and threatening to eject us from our carriage at every corner. Several times from the sanctity of our bottom bunks in the four person carriage (us and two random locals) did we feel the train straining to stay on the tracks and I swear that few times we were doing the old David Hasselhof Knight Rider trick of balancing on the one set of wheels to get round a bend or through a tunnel.
We made it into Lao Cai with slightly less sleep that anticipated and disembarked the train to head for the mountain town of Sapa. The climate is cool, the people are friendly and unlike the hard edged Hanoi, where most people are out to make a buck off of you (note the tell tale pause before the pluck a figure out of the ether for any price enquiry), there is a degree of warmth here unconnected to whether you are about to spend a dollar or not. One interesting footnote to the whole 'foreigner price' phenomenon, we happened to be travelling with an American family in a mini bus the other day. The wife of the family was and spoke Vietnamese. The driver who was touting a hotel to us for 200,000 VND then touted the same place to some locals on the bus for 100,000VND. Our friendly American picked up on this and informed us kindly. S our advice to you is to stand firm on your budget or in our case go and find a cheaper room at the hotel opposite.
Sapa is a cross between Cuzco, Peru and the Cameron highlands of Malaysia. It has the hill tribe women wandering around the streets in traditional dress, complete with babies slung across their shoulders, reminiscent of Peru and the green mountainous valleys of Malaysia, although these valleys are full of spectacular rice terraces as opposed to tea plantations.
So in our latest devil may care decision, we decided to flout convention and instead of signing up to an expensive tour run by one of the numerous travel agencies here, we decided to meet up with a couple of local village women who said they would take us round the rice terraces and their villages for a fraction of the cost . It's the strange thing about travelling, you find yourself in a position where you are far more open to the random acts of kindness and generosity of strangers that really reaffirm your belief in human nature. But ironically you also find yourself completely vulnerable to more nefarious elements of human kind. Being able to separate the good from the bad is pretty tough and much of the decision is based no gut instinct and pure luck. So it was with a certain sense of apprehension we arrived for our rendez-vous.
Our fears were allayed almost immediately as our two guides proved to be as sweet and genuine as any people as we have met on our travels and the prospect of them robbing us was anyway nullified by the fact that one of them had a 3 month old baby strapped to her back. Indeed this woman, Ly, was literally laughing in the face of you Western women and your maternity leave as she strode down the track. Kirsty was rather smitten with this little one, I suspect because he bore a resemblance to our projected future progeny...well obviously not the shape of the eyes, but more the colouring. Yes, she was very taken with this little one, holding it and bouncing it, but I drew the line when she went to breast feed it. You see the done thing here is to breast feed each others children if they are hungry, so the little one quite naturally went searching for teat (told you I'd get breast feeding into this edition...next time regaining that pre-baby physique). The whole day proved to be immensely enjoyable, and the stroll through the spectacular valley and to the villages of the various tribes is a great way to learn about the lives of these people. Theirs is a life of forced marriages from the age of 13, many which have gone wrong, sometimes abusive relationships as in the case of Ly, motherhood from the age of 15 and exploitation by the Land Owners. But they just get on with life. There is no therapy, no self-help books and no Oprah - you get busy living or get busy dying to quote Morgan Freeman. As if to confirm our favourable suspicions about these two women, they then presented Kirsty with a pair of earrings as a gift so she has been swanning round searching for any child young or old to carry over her shoulder.
Right it really is on to China tomorrow. Till we speak again!