Trekking - A Word with Two K's Must be Foreign
Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
301Trip End Ongoing
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People, Ellen among them, sit in the lobby each morning with giddy smiles on their faces waiting for guides to appear with their routes. I study them all with anxiety hoping we'll be grouped together with the older or out of shape. Sadly, most are physically fit. I don't ask what our route will be. I know I'm not going to like it.
We're in the town of Sapa, Vietnam, in the Tonkinese Alps. (The dot on the map north-west of Hanoi, near the Chinese border.) The only reason people come to Sapa is for trekking, a sexy word for walking up and down hills. It's not that I'm unfit and can't handle these five hour, 10-12 km daily hikes in the sun over boulders, through streams and water buffalo stool, it's simply that trees, pot-bellied pigs rolling in mud and up-close terraced rice paddies just don't do it for me. I'd be much more content sitting on the balcony of our lodging in the Summit Hotel looking at all these wonders from afar. Terraced rice fields, which give the appearance of waves rolling down a mountain side are far more appealing from a distance than they are up close. But for Ellen I smile, hide my anxiety, and trek.
For $65 each we received a return trip in a sleeper compartment on the night train from Hanoi, two nights accommodation at the Summit, all meals...and of course enough dreaded trekking to last a lifetime. Our room at the Summit is large with a bathroom that's tiled floor to ceiling in colourful ceramics. We have a balcony that overlooks the valley with mountain peaks in the distance. Above our bed is an exquisite portrait of a naked woman
Tripping over boulders and almost falling into water buffalo plop, I dream of wonderfully chaotic Hanoi and the oddities of foreign travellers. It has always amazed me that the cheaper a country is to travel in, the cheaper the traveller becomes. We've met no one in Hanoi who is paying more than $10 per night for accommodation, most considerably less. Many of them, professionals in their homelands, think nothing of staying in rooms where bedsprings puncture their arses; where they have to amble off to filthy communal toilets and showers. The even more frugal will save an extra $1.50 or $2.00 sharing dormitory rooms with a dozen or so like-minded adventurers. For a few extra bucks, $18 to be exact, Ellen and I have a 50 sq metre room with hot shower, TV, room service and a dandy little balcony waiting for us back in Hanoi. You feel so much better starting your day from a space like this than you do crawling out of mole warrens and the scents that accompany them.
I sat on the balcony one night last week in Hanoi well after midnight watching the movement below
With water buffalo dung on my shoes and scrapes on my shins, I smile a nasty smile. Back in Hanoi, our roles will reverse. Ellen will be the anxious one. Walking the ever dangerous sidewalks, streets and lane ways, dodging motorbike, car and rickshaw. I'll be in my element. For in Hanoi, I'm known as Wang Hai Zhong, the consummate urban trekker.