A short aside: when we got back and connected to wifi we all saw the terrible news of what is happening in the states. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are painful. We feel it here and despite being far away, we are praying for a country in which all people can recognize that black lives matter. Being abroad is difficult during times like these because it is easy to feel out of touch or unaffected by the tragedies. But one positive is that we can assure you the world is watching and we are not alone.
We are meeting other travelers and we are discussing the tough realities that each of our nations’ are facing. To be honest most people I have spoken to are embarrassed. From hearing about brexit through the eyes of British citizens to learning about how Belgian citizens felt that the Paris shooter was born in Belgium, we all stand together against hatred, racism, and bigotry. These conversations feel important to me. I only hope I am doing my part to show that we are nation filled with compassionate activists who have a lot of work to do in order to inspire others to know that all lives matter.
Black Lives Matter. We see you, we hear you, you matter.
We woke up in the morning and had breakfast before beginning of trek back down the mountain and into Sa Pa. They made delicious pancakes and eggs with bananas and coffee. We did not end up leaving the village until around 11am because the trek was supposed to be much shorter on the second day. Tamir’s health app recorded us hiking ten miles on the first day with about 70 flights. Needless to say we were feeling a bit sore. The second day we only walked 5 miles. We started by walking down through rice fields and stopping for pictures along the way. It was sunny and much clearer so our pictures show more of the sheer beauty of Sa Pa.
Our guides had such great senses of humor. They were mimicking things we said and mocking our behaviors. When there was a gorgeous view David would say, “oh my god!” and our guides would mock back saying, “oh my god oh my god” in funny accents. They also made fun of us saying, “oh shit” and “that’s sick.” I will post a few pictures that I think do a decent job of capturing the beauty that is Sa Pa but, I really think if you are reading this you need to just buy a plane ticket and see it for yourself, no pressure.
It was about 15 degrees hotter on the second day and even though we only hiked half of the distance we were exhausted by the end. We stopped for lunch at a small cafe and then took a mini bus back to downtown Sa Pa where the bus station is located. We booked a 4pm bus back to Hanoi which drove for six hours. This is when things got interesting.
We had rented rainboots for the hike which was a tip from a fellow traveler who had ruined her sneakers when she hiked Sa Pa. Jain had taken us to a place about a 15 minute walk from the bus station where we rented boots for 30,000 dong and gave a 100,000 dong deposit to be returned to us when we brought the boots back. They also kept our sneakers because we didn’t want to carry them or have them get wet through our bags. At around 3:15 we got dropped off at the bottom of a hill where we rented the boots. The other people we had done homestay with stayed in the mini bus and we said a quick goodbye to them and we said see you at 4pm at the bus station. We were all on the same bus back but our group just needed to return the boots and we planned to meet them there. As I mentioned, what happened next was interesting.
We got to the store where we had rented boots but there was only a man there who was watching the shop and had no money and some little English. He told us he was calling shop owner back and she would give us our deposit back as soon as she returned. Well about 15 minutes passed of us pushing the guy and telling him we need to go and we are going to miss our bus. He kept saying she was on her way and she would help us but at that point we were like we need to leave. Keep in mind that losing the 100,000 doing deposit only set us back about $5 each. I think it felt like a lot more money in the moment. So he runs next door and borrows 200,000 dong from the shop keeper there and hands it to us. We look at it and say no we need 300,000 back (Tamir didn’t rent boots because his feet were too big, his sneakers are in the wash). Everyone is stressed and confused at this point so I say to David let’s take the 200k, Shosh and I grabbed these cute cloth headbands, and we left. He seemed okay with it and we were just happy to be on our way to the bus. We start running so that we don’t miss the bus and Shosh just looks at me and says, “I feel like we are running from a robbery.” Honestly it did feel a little bit like that because in our minds we shouted, “and we are taking these headbands too!!” and ran off.
We made it to the bus but things are still suspicious. Everyone on our bus was Vietnamese and although the driver accepted our receipt and let us on and although they said they were a 4pm bus headed to Hanoi and although it was the same bus company that took us to Sa Pa, we felt like something was wrong. The first indicator was that nobody from our home stay was on our bus or even nearby our bus. We felt a little sketched out but it was 3:50pm and getting off could potentially mean missing both buses. Even though it felt weird, we stayed on. Shosh ended up getting a message from one of the guys we had stayed with asking us where we were and if we made it. In the end we did make it back to Hanoi but not without great little anecdotes that happen when you take a bus with all locals. For example, we stopped at one point and the driver asked if anyone wanted to buy bamboo shoots. David heard, “bamboo shoes” and proceeded to ask if he could buy them in camouflage pattern. There was also a weird face painting session of sorts where a man appeared to be putting make up on his female friend in the aisle of the bus. Tamir had many moments where he was freaking out just from sheer energy and people watching. The bus driver also continuously tried to run motorbikes off the road in a hilarious soundtrack of blasting Vietnamese house music and lots of horn honking.
We walked about 15 minutes from the bus stop to the hostel where the receptionists were very worried about us. Apparently one of the other travelers had called to tell them we missed bus so they weren’t sure we were going to make it back. The hostel had booked our home stay along with booking everyone’s in our group. After a long day of hiking and traveling we showered and got into bed only to sleep for a couple hours before our early morning flight to Hoi An.