Warning: This is going to be a longer post. A lot of emotions to convey…
The moment I stepped onto the night bus to Sapa (Northern Vietnam) I thought, ‘Oh boy, this will be interesting.’ The “beds” on these night buses are made for people 5 feet and under. Shoutout to my little mama who would be more than comfortable in these. Unfortunately, Eric and I (and the majority of everyone traveling on it) surpass that height limit. To make matters worse, we got the two back seats that didn’t fully recline. Also, the bus smelled exactly how you would imagine a bus of 20 dirty backpackers who don’t prioritize hygiene to smell like…pungent is good a word as any…
Having slept maybe an hour, our bus arrived 3 hours ahead of time. We arrived in Sapa at 3 in the morning. Some people headed to their hostels, Eric and I snagged two comfier “beds” and managed to get at least some sleep before we had to meet our home stay host, Momma Mu, for a day of trekking.
Sapa is known for its breathtaking views – a beautiful countryside of sloping terrace rice fields, surrounded by rolling mountains. We stepped off the bus into a cloud of the densest fog I’ve ever seen. You could barely see further than a few feet ahead of you. Also it turns out Northern Vietnam can get rather cold. I was ill prepared…
We met Momma Mu, our adorable host for a traditional home stay. We joined her sister and a couple from Holland and set out on our trek up through the surrounding mountains to their remote tribal village. We were hopeful the fog would clear up a little, spoiler alert – it did not. We made the 10 mile trek up to Momma Mu’s home without a single view.
It was a bizarre feeling to know that behind this dense layer of fog laid a majestic view of the countryside and we couldn’t see a thing. As I trekked along in the mist I tried to stay positive, accepting that this is something that is just completely out of my control. I couldn’t help but play “Isn’t It Ironic” by Alanis Morissete on repeat in my head though. ‘It’s like raaaaiiiin on your Sapa trek…’
I recently read in the book, Rise Sister Rise, about the wisdom of nature and the multitude of truths we can learn from being present in nature. It is constantly teaching us how to be human, if we pay attention. I began to contemplate what this dense fog was trying to teach me…I think it was a reminder that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. To not lose faith and to believe in the beauty and the power of the unseen.
When we arrived at Momma Mu’s home, I will say I was surprised by how minimal and rustic is really was. We were informed the next day by a couple from Czech Republic that Momma Mu’s was like a hotel compared to the home stay they were in…
I decided to take a nap before dinner. I woke up with this insanely overwhelming sense of gratitude. I was completely humbled and honored to be welcomed into this home. As I laid there I decided to literally count my blessing. Realizing how much I truly have to be thankful for, my heart soared with gratitude but was also stung with sorrow, wishing Momma Mu’s sweet little kids could have all the opportunities I’ve been so blessed with. But yet I could hear them giggling from the other room, perfectly content with what they do have. I couldn’t help but let the tears stream down my face.
After we colored with the little ones for a while, it was dinner time. Momma Mu absolutely out did herself. She prepared quite the feast for us. A huge pot of rice with multiple dishes to put over it – a tofu and veggie soup, a chicken and mushroom dish, a cabbage and noodle dish, spring rolls and the best green beans I’ve ever tasted. We were blown away. We got to chat with her and her husband as they insisted we had seconds, thirds, fourths – there might have even been fifths. We were sufficiently stuffed by the end.
We learned that she is 28 years old and he is 29. Their three kids are 8, 6 and 3. She has been doing home stays for 4 years now, hosting 1-3 times a week. She learned English just through speaking to tourists which is very impressive considering her skill level. She grew up in the same village she is in now, as did her husband. The village is made up of roughly 150 people. They are a very tight knit community. We got the pleasure of witnessing that on our trek. Momma Mu is one of 7 children. Her sisters had to move away to their husbands villages, but her brothers are still around. The have 2 dogs, 6 puppies, a water buffalo, goats, chickens and very nosy roosters. The husband is also a beekeeper and makes his own honey – we got to have some the next morning with our pancakes.
We also learned that Momma Mu doesn’t care too much for Hanoi – too crazy. I’m with ya Mama. The husband didn’t speak much english but he was very generous with the grandmothers homemade rice wine. We polished off quite a bit of it.
We shared pictures of our families back home, which they seemed to really enjoy. It was a really special night. I was so grateful for their generosity, welcoming us into their home and giving us a glimpse of their lives. It was a very eye-opening and heart-warming and evening. Sitting around a small wooden table in little plastic chairs, the only furniture in the room, in a modest home in a village of 150 people up in the mountains of Northern Vietnam, feasting on a delicious meal and homemade rice wine in the company of two truly beautiful souls. It was an honor. As remote as it felt, again I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is exactly where I was meant to be at this exact moment in time.
After a good night’s sleep (those beds were far comfier than most hostel beds) we were ready for another day of trekking with hopefully some views this time. We met up with a really nice couple from Czech Republic on their honeymoon. Thankfully the fog broke for a little that day. It was still pretty overcast, but it made for nice trekking weather.
The views really were spectacular. The vast terrace rice fields, that we learned are harvested by hand, surrounded by rolling mountains, were breathtaking. It looked like a postcard. It was very humbling to be in the midst of that kind of beauty.
We trekked up and down the mountains back to the town of Sapa, stopping at a nearby waterfall, her kids’ school, venturing through other villages and covering 13 miles. A very small percentage of which was flat land – usually we were looking at a pretty steep incline or decline. I couldn’t believe Momma Mu did the whole thing in sandals with no problem at all. We took little stops here and there but we were mostly on the go for those 5 hours.
I haven’t pushed my body like that in a long time. It felt good to test my limits. I was definitely struggling hard at points. It was a good reminder to myself what my body is capable of and what a wonderful instrument it is. I felt very accomplished at the end of the day.
Saying goodbye to Momma Mu, I couldn’t have been filled with more gratitude or respect. She is one awesome and badass lady.