Nick arrived on the night train and by 0930 we were off on a hike with our Hmong guide, Chi. Hong, the hotel owner, and I had organised this some weeks before but once there, I asked if we could avoid the usual tourist trails and head off elsewhere. Chi was happy to do what we wanted and, although she only came up to just above Ed and Peter's waists (and carried our picnic) she had her route planned. We had the most fantastic day! Firstly, apologies to fellow tourists but....., not another tourist in sight. Secondly, amazing views, footpaths, through settlements and paddy fields - I felt we had just scratched the surface a tiny bit to see what life was here in the valley and mountains. Women walking past us (often catching us up and overtaking us, and carrying heavy loads) on their way to or from market, another village or house. Some greeted us with a smile and others just nodded. Chi has excellent English - learnt from working in her aunt's shop in Sapa and then from tourists. She can't read or write but has a mobile phone so clearly has mastered numbers. She has such a great sense of humour and an openness about her which we just loved. She wanted to answer our questions - anything we asked - and yet uninterested in our lives. She did like knowing that we were all one family and Brad the b/f, that we were living in Hanoi and our kids in Australia or "left behind" but beyond that we talked about the Hmong, the valley, life, things that affected us all. This photo of Chi was taken whilst she was telling us how she got married, against her wishes. We later heard from Hong that actually her husband is a very nice man and he lets her carrying on being a guide and he does work at home which traditionally would be a woman's role and they are a very unusual Hmong couple. She explained that people can intermarry between tribes but if you do, then you no longer are a member of your tribe, you just "become Vietnamese" and there was no shame in that either.
Like virtually everyone we saw on our walk and most of the tribes people in Sapa, she wore the traditional Hmong clothing. They wear very dark blue clothing, dyed from indigo and she picked some for me as we walked along, got some water from a puddle and we crushed the leaves in my hand. Over a minute or two, the dye began to appear and it took some days before I managed to scrub it all off. The women wear long, baggy shorts and a long sleeved jacket with embroidered sleeves, a tabard, belt, gaiters made out of what felt like velvet and the garters were a length of embroidered tape. Chi had wonderful huge hooped earrings and a silver semi circular necklace attached, from either end, lots of silver chains. Like her fellow Hmong, she had long hair, worn on her head and kept in place with several combs - one large one in particular.
Two other girls accompanied us for over 2 hours. One was rather surly but the other was delightful, chatty and made me a heart woven out of a bracken leaf. Yes! I knew I would have to buy something from these two girls at the end of the walk but I think they earned it!
It was a hot day, little breeze and the sun kept coming in and out. While we were slapping on the sun cream and covering up, the girls and Chi raised their umbrellas.
When we came to the end of the day, Chi shook hands with everyone else but gave me the biggest hug! I did have to bend double to reciprocate but we had a such a wonderful day and have such respect for Chi and her fellow Hmong for their way of life. Yes, schools have been built down the valley but still children in remote houses aren't educated as they can't get to school. Life is hard by our standards but they have managed to maintain their pride and traditions.
We all took so many photos and I've uploaded quite a few on the blog and have a few more on my laptop if you are interested......Se my next blog for a few photos of mountains, paddy fields and Langfords on Tour..