April 4th, 2017 | Day 207

an excerpt from my journal

I woke up to the warmth and comfort of my attic bed, 6:30 am. I opened the small square window beside me to assess the sunrise and exited the house into the cold, cold morning. And there she was, rising above the towering Sapa cliffs and up through the scattered clouds. I sat on the porch of Ms. Moo’s home, with all of my warmest clothes on, and watched the sky change before me. Water buffalo grazing the morning, chicklets chirping, and piglets running by. Surrounded by so many kinds of beauty in this moment.

The children began to rise and prepare for school. They all stumbled in and out of the bathroom in the same way — the eldest daughter taking more time to groom herself. The little boy with his key and pen around his neck. And Do with the biggest and brightest smile on her face. They ran off way before breakfast, grabbing their clothes from the clothesline and skipping off into the paddies.

Right now, all I can see are these teeny-tiny ant-like people, dressed in white, on the mountain across the way performing some sort of ritual — the sun rises and warms my soul, no sound but the faint echoes of the valley — this must be the place.

Moo emerges in her trekking gear, full Hmong dress and we sat down to breakfast. She and her husband prepared pancakes for me, with fresh honey and banana. Also, of course, more rice and some of the greens we picked last night. The coffee warmed by cold, shivering body and I was ready for another full day of trekking. I said goodbye to Moo and her beautiful home.

The sun was in and out all morning, but I felt so content. We explored Ta Van village — a different energy from Lao Chai. Phuc, I could tell, sensed my desire to break from the crowd and so we took an alternate route, deep into the bamboo forest. It was muddy and I was slipping all over the place, but smiling from ear to ear. Every water break on that trek was more stunning than the last. Still so in awe of the magic of this place!

We stopped in a Red Dzao village to meet Phuc’s friend. Again, such a different energy. And super primitive technology. His friend invited us to sit down with his family for a Dzao holiday — the women sit separate from the men, wearing red headdresses that cover any trace of hair. They all feasted on various types of unidentified meat. I was invited to sit at the men’s table, as I was a guest, and they offered me shots of their rice liquor. This time, much more potent (and infused with fruits!) I was tipsy after only one.

Phuc and I carried on through the muddy Dzao paddies where children played on bikes, and we walked along the rushing river to our lunch spot. I consumed a massive plate of noodles and some fresh mango, while the village women hustled me to buy their goods — I bought a few bracelets.

In our last hour together, we crossed the river and walked up the other side of the mountain. Saying goodbye to Phuc, I had a tear in my eye. I handed him some money and said, “This is not a tip. I’m not a tourist. Use this for your dream,” and he promised to put it in a safe place. I know this wasn’t the last time I’ll see Phuc. He is such a special soul! I am so unbelievably full, my legs limp.