Markets, and Wrecks and Children, Oh My!:Surviving Sa Pa

Up in the mountains, all bundled up!



Sorry for the long delay, faithful readers! It’s been a wild ride. Well, six wild rides. For six days we rode the motorbikes, a few hours each day. There have been break-downs (of the mechanical and emotional types), loose chains, broken lights, busted suspensions, landslides, overwhelming cold and mist, road work—but we made it to our Christmas destination on Christmas Eve.
Waiting for a landslide to be cleared up on the road.
Ricky gets his suspension fixed on day 4.

I don't really need to say anything, do I?
Sa Pa is a town in the north, at a very high altitude and is thus pretty cold, and often the mist rolls in and visibility is pretty low. For the past couple days, for our Christmas season celebrations we mostly stay in the hotel room watching bad Christmas movies (Jingle All the Way, anyone?) and go out only for food. Today, however, was an interesting day as we walked around the town.

The day started off with a walk to a restaurant for lunch (yeah, we didn’t actually leave til about 2pm). On our way, a tiny elderly tribeswoman came up to us and said “Walking? I walk too!” We walked a bit and told her we were about to eat lunch to which she replied “Ah! Walking Sa Pa, hungry!”  Then, she pushed her sleeves up and showed us the silver bracelets she was selling. We decided to buy one and got a picture as well. She was adorable.

She's cute 'cuz she's little!



As we ate, however, things took a turn for the…intense? There we were, eating our sandwiches and tomato soup, enjoying a nice hot chocolate, when we heard a crash sound outside. Ricky went out to see what it was and I followed a minute later. There was a man lying on the sidewalk. His helmet was a few feet away and  his motorbike was on its side. There was a puddle of blood near him. People had come over but weren’t really doing anything. The man was bleeding badly from the head, just above his eye, and his hands were scraped up too. I took off my scarf and Ricky held it to the wound as I held the man’s head up. We tried talking to him, but he wasn’t responding. Every once in a while he would try to roll from one side to the other.

We unclipped his shoulder bag to get it out of the way and tried to get anyone to call a doctor, but to no avail. After a couple minutes, a man lifted him up like a baby and carried him to a motorbike. This man held the wounded man just like that, like an infant, behind the driver of the bike. We were worried about his safety, but grateful that someone had taken the initiative to take him somewhere for medical attention. That doesn’t often happen in Asia.

We returned to the restaurant to clean the blood off our hands and finish lunch. I was caught between feeling good for having helped a little, and a little squeamish—not because of the blood or anything, just that I was so involved with the situation.

After that, we decided to walk down the mountain a bit and see the rice terraces. After a while, though, we decided that it would be better if we left earlier and on the bikes tomorrow instead. So we turned back and headed to the market to browse. Except browsing is impossible in Asia. Any time you look at anything, vendors won’t let you leave. Usually you can get away with a smile and a “no thank you” but not in Vietnam.

At one point I was looking at some earrings and made the mistake of asking how much they were. I really was just curious, because I tend to lose all my earrings, no matter how safe I think they’ll be when they aren’t in my ears.  I had to decline, especially at the $8 she wanted. But the woman linked her arm in mine and wouldn’t let me go! I eventually had to pull away and just walk off. But she did get down to $3 for the earrings, without me even trying to haggle.

Leaving the market, we passed through a large square where some local women set up their beautifully hand-embroidered cloth goods. A couple of little girls were playing with a feathery weighted toy (played with like a hackey sack). Of course, Ricky joined in, and then more kids joined in. I shared some strawberries I had bought and then we took our leave. It was quite an adorable scene.

Those little girls never knew what hit 'em.

Note the heavy mist in the back.

As we walked around the lake, the mist rolled in and out, leaving some places with excellent visibility, and some with virtually none.

And here we are again, in our not-so-warm room, after a very weird and eventful day in Sa Pa. Can’t wait to see what strange things happen tomorrow!

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