Day Trek Near Sapa
"Do you think you can trek 12kms, all either downhill or flat" asks the agent."Of course I can!" I reply, as I hand over $12 for tomorrows 1-day trek. And anyway he did say it was downhill. Internally, however I am not so sure. It has been many years since I have done any trekking. Its the reason I choose a 1-day and not a multi-day trek.
Next day we are greeted by a cold misty morning and our guide. He is a young Vietnamese fellow who looks as running the course would be more his style. He leads our group, all westerners, to the town periphery where we are joined by a number of elderly Hmong women. According to our guide, Vietnamese rarely go on treks. They come to Sapa and stay in their hotels. I suppose they come to relax, escaping Hanoi's heat and humidity.
Sapa and the surrounding countryside is blanketed by mist. Unless it lifts, panoramic views of rice terraced mountains, promised in posters, will not be seen today. We venture, off the road, onto a track of sorts. The track, as the agent promised, is going downhill. It is a rut in the landscape. Some attempt has be made to carve steps into it. Soft ground and the inclement weather make much of it muddy and slippery. The purpose of the Hmong women is revealed. They are there to help us over the rough patches. Sometimes I felt they were overprotective. I give up trying to reject the unnecessary helping hand. Their helping hand can be offered to up to four trekking groups a day. The trail levels. We are trekking within the terraces on sections not currently cultivated. Perhaps the terrace is deliberately fallow and the owner paid to allow trekker access.
The mist lifts sufficently to reveal Dao farmers preparing terraces and minding buffalo. Severals ethic groups live in the region, Hmong and the Dao being the most numerous. Rice and corn are their stable crops.
Uphill! We are trekking up hill. "I thought this trek was supposed to be downhill" Of course it is. It's downhill, in the sense that the end point will be at lower elevation than starting point. Not sure which I prefer. Up hill is harder but I am more in control. My only tumble was on a downhill section. I slipped and my butt landed on a rock.
We pass a number of mist shrounded villages. With each the thought "Is this the one where we stop and have lunch?"grows more prominent. The answer remains "No!"
A pattern of mist life and decent repeat throughout the morning. When it is down we can barely see where we are trekking. When it lifts we see activity, buffalo in the rice paddy; farmers trekking along the roads to their fields; houses surrounded by rice terrace.
In spite of today's inclement condition, many of the streams that slice through the landscape have little water. It is dry season in Vietnam. I wonder if it would be worth trekking through in the wet season when the streams are swollen.
We come out on a road which has what looks to be a hydro-water pipe. There might be a dam nearby. We trek mostly on the road now, across a pedestrian susupension bridgen to a resturant, for a rest and the long anticipated lunch.
My enjoyment of the rice and vegetable lunch is hampered by the sub 10C temperature. The resturant is open aired with no walls to keep the weather out. OK for Hanoi, but not really suitable here. Or I am just being moaner because I do not have the proper clothes for the conditions, like a nice warm jacket for example. During lunch, Hmong women are trying to sell us handicrafts. Hmong woman make and sell handicrafts while the men work the paddy fields.
It was my intention to give the Hmong guide a tip at the end of the trek. But by the end of lunch there are gone to receive the next group. Unknown to me at the time we are near the end of our trek. After lunch we walk along the road up a fairly step incline with a few bends to another road. Along this road there are more Hmong, some just standing around, others working on handicrafts.
It is here a minibus picks us up and transfers us back to Sapa. I enjoy a nice hot shower and discover I cut my butt during my tumble!