The return of the accent
After being squeezed in to a mini van and seeing a Nottingham Forrest top, I talked to a group of Lads who were from Nottingham University. We all got to the train station for an overnight train to Sapa, with chaos as the guides were giving the tickets out. You can’t believe they do this every day, but I’m sure there is a system in place as after 5 minutes of shouting, tickets being handed out, taken back, and handed out again, we all stood there, very confused , with tickets in our hands. When lads of the lads opened their mouth, the sound was like being slapped round the head, as he talked funny, bit like me. It ended up he was from about 5 miles from where I grew up. Hearing a local accent has a strange effect on me suddenly odd noises started commin’ aaaat mi maaff. wi ada li-all chat an’ wi all gorron train an’wi weroff.
this train was much nicer (and more expensive) than the last time I did an overnight train. Finding my carriage, I was sharing with some Vietnamese. One of gentlemen asked where I was from in his best English. He got very excited when I said Nottingham as his son had studied at the university. Before I could do anything he had whipped out his mobile, dialled his son, and thrust the phone in my face. When he answered I had a strange conversation with someone I did not know. After all that, the conversation died, I scrambled to my bunk and fell asleep.
Arriving in the dark, the same chaos that happed getting on the train happened again when trying to get us all to the right minibus. We set off and started climbing, as the dark lifted you got the first glimpse of the stunning scenery with lush green valleys. Sapa (which is only 30k from the Chinese border!) is best described as an alpine town without the snow and a nice mild climate. The hotel was actually very nice, some rooms had stunning views down the valley (mine looked over a small courtyard), and when the time came to meet out walking guide, the same chaos as before happened, but after around 20 minutes, we were all standing with a (usually female) guide from one of the local villages.
Our first walk was down in to the valley, to Cat Cat village which is home to the H’Mong people. Talking to the guide, each village has its own customs, some have their own language. This village looked like it belonged to the bamboo age as irrigation, basic machines,tools, even food containers were all made from bamboo. This was a kind of show village, on a hillside with the con we were invited in to some houses, some building were set up to show how things are done, but was very good. When we got back I’d decided I wanted more! Spotting a lookout on the top of a nearby hill, I was off again, scrambling around the town with naff maps trying to find the path up Climbing up a steep hill, past the first small building, halfway up to the second, I realised that was where you buy your ticket. At the second building (200m up the hill) is where they check your tickets(Very steep hill. You would be annoyed if you missed the ticker booth). More climbing and up steep paths and it hit a small plateau. This turned out to be a sort of park, with a European Garden, an Orchid garden, and if you please, a cultural show. looking up at the cliffs, I could see my target, now it had a name, the Cloud Catcher. Things got a little difficult when the English names stopped appearing. Using my naff map, finding the English name, then the Vietnamese name next to it, I deciphered the names on the arrows and carried on, the path went round rocks, through cave and rocks, but I got to the top, to look down on the town of Sapa, it the beautiful valley. The sites and sounds of the city were slowly melting away….
Meeting with the boys from Nottingham for a few drinks, we found a bar with free pool table (we found out why, large balls and small pockets. One game took forever.) Most of the bars, and indeed town seemed very quiet. This bar had about 7 people in it, 2 who were sitting with the bar staff. The bar staff seemed to know what to do on a quiet night, drink the stock. The staff and the 2 people at the bar were drinking something of the purest green, slammed down out of shot glasses. And repeat. This was not that bad, until the Gypsy Kings came on (I bloody hate the Gypsy Kings). Even worse, after many shots, the bar staff thought it would be good to test the speakers, the volume turned up to 11, the Gyspy Kings blaring out. ‘Bamboleo’ at full volume is like being hit around the ears with Symbols. With spikes on. I thought my brain would melt, we quickly left the bar, but the song would not leave me for the rest of the night. Bamboleo…bamboleo
you buy from me
Meeting the next morning, we set off for our second walk. this was a walk down into the valley. the sights here are stunning as the steep hills have all been terraced so the whole view looks like a low resolution picture, with jagged edges, it just looks unreal as you look down the valley. Flanking all the groups are women from the villages, at this point all nice and calm, all asking the same questions, ‘ Where you from’, How many brothers and sister’. Some even gave me presents, bits of grass bent to look like a horse, after the first one, I was given one on a much larger scale, with a muttering of ‘remember me’(All will become clear). We walked along the roads, then down paths in through the rice terraces. At one point, probably giddy with the high altitude and free of the city, I was racing our guide down a very steep hill, but I did manage to beat her( looking back, if I had fallen, not sure how far the nearest medical facility was..). We got to the bottom of the valley, to a small village (think this was the black h’Mong’ people) where we were to have lunch. That’s when it happened. that Ghostbusters moment. The old lady in the library becoming some kind of monster ‘YOU BUY FROM ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ‘ We managed to slip in to building for lunch, but they were waiting outside. Looking across the river from my seat, to the bridge, I caught one of the ladies eyes, and she tried to sell me somthing from 50 meters away. they have all become crazy selling machine
Leaving lunch, I tried to sneak out, there were only a few ladies. I found one alone, and asked for a twanger (it’s a metal think that makes a sound when you flick it near you mouth. you have got dirty minds!), but it was too late, like magic, 5 appeared, 10, all thrusting things in my face. I stood to my guns and was going to buy from the first lady, but I wanted 2 more, and some others produced what I wanted, then more. It was all getting too much, then in from of me, out of nowhere the blind girl appeared, her pupils had a while covering, It now felt like I was choking is a cloud of homemade scarves and material, I had to get away. Grabbing the 3 things of random women, I threw some money at one of them and ran. Was all a bit too much like the city!!!
Far too quickly were were back in the minivan (more scary ride because you could now see the steep drop from the side of the road and all the crazy driving) back to the station (usual chaos handing tickets out) back on the train for the overnight journey, back to Hanoi.