We arrived in Lao Cai around 6:30 then took a 45 minutes bus ride to Sa Pa, officially arriving in time for the hotel’s breakfast (a very welcomed sight for hungry, sleep-deprived college students). We couldn’t check into the hotel though because we were staying a homestay in the Ta Van Village that night. The lovely couple running the awesome hotel gave us two complimentary rooms to shower and catch a nap before our afternoon trek.
I have to admit, I didn’t always like hiking. My love-hate relationship emerge from excessive hiking trips as a Girl Scout balance by a fondness of the mountain air and waterfalls. So my rule is that at end of every hiking trip there must be a waterfall or awesome view. I got both. Check out the pictures for yourself. Blue Ridge Mountains cannot compare…
We visited several ethnic minority villages. The first was Hmong in the Lao Chai village. We met with the farmer and his family. He showed us his water tank that SIT students built for his family a few semesters ago. One the issues the ethnic minority groups living in this area is access to clean water. They are isolated from the town system and the terrain of the mountains make it difficult to construct water pipes throughout the villages. Unfortunately, this year our program did not have enough funds to build another one for a different family, but we hope by next semester the target fund needed will be reached. We continued our trek to the Ta Van village where the Red Dao people live. We stayed the night in a group homestay in a traditional Red Dao Longhouse. It was like a big cabin with two floors. Usually the top floor is for storage of winter food saved from the harvest season. Some families however, can now afford to depend on food access all year round, so they host tour groups, utilizing the storage space as sleeping areas.
The next morning we trekked to another village to visit a shaman and his family. We had a delicious lunch of fresh vegetables, grilled pork (not for me), and stick rice (my favorite!). Though I was very exhausted, the opportunity to spend time in the shadows of the beautiful Sa Pa Mountains and to interact with the local ethnic minority people was well worth the soreness I still feel in my legs.
On the last day in Sapa, a few classmates and I trekked for about an hour one morning to visit a Hmong elementary school. With the donations of the previous SIT group, we brought winter clothing for the kids. That morning was probably one of my favorite moments of my trip. The visit left a strong impression on me, and made me think about how much I have to be thankful for. This school is in dire need of a sanitary toilet, so my classmates and I along with the owners of the hotel are going to try to raise the money for the materials and construction of the toilets. Sometimes, I forget how a thing like a sanitary place to the use restroom is a luxury for a majority of people around the world. Think about if Milliken or Old Main didn’t have restrooms and you have to walk back to your apartment or dorm to use the restroom.
We returned to Hanoi literally at dawn on November 7th, just in time to begin watching the results of the election! I have been spending the past few days leading up to the ISP period working on my final project and finishing my research proposal. I even began meeting with contacts in the city that could help me with my research. I’ll have to share my ISP in the next blog, because this one is getting long.