Sunday, January 11

Day 136-Ta Van Village

It is quite easy to escape the madness of Old Quarter Ha Noi. Simply step into one of countless shops selling travel tours, and within minutes they will have you on a bus, brimming with like minded souls, on your way to the mountainous rice basket of the north, Sa Pa Valley. The overnight train, wood paneled and warm, whisk you throught the night, arriving so early that you still have not seen the glory of the steep green slopes that surround you. You are coddled and caressed as they bring you to your hotel and start you on your guided activities.

I had the good fortune to be part of a group of 10 or 12, mainly women from all quarters, young and willing to share some trail time with this old goat. Our guide, Lan, all of 4' tall, scampered the steep, slick trails with ease, giggling merrily as she explained the ways of the mountain tribes we would encounter. Here are found members of the Black Hmong people, the Red Doa, the Dzai, the Flower Hmong, each with their characteristic and colorful style of dress. As we walked we were accompanied by hordes of local women and children, patiently awaiting their turn to offer us a selection of hand made wares. When a women of thirty going on seventy walks for four hours in hopes of selling a trinket for 4 dollars, one realizes the simplicity of the lifestyle these people still embrace.

After a long day of wending our way along roads, paths, rice fields, and rickety bridges, we arrived at the small village of Ta Van, where, after enjoying a five course meal of rice, chicken, pork, and limitless vegetables, we bunked down with the family in a common room. It is the last full moon before the New Year, and it is winter, so we could not be surprised to find the temperature a bone chilling 40some degrees. Thanks to a heap of the heaviest blankets I have ever used, the night passed in great comfort, and we were greeted to a breakfast of rice pancakes and fruit. Setting off again into the sunny morning, we passed men and boys of all ages, dragging oversized logs down the slick slopes, not pausing to notice us, as we continued our search of new vistas of a timeless land and people.

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