Stupid, or just crazy?

Trip Start Oct 03, 2007
Trip End Mar 19, 2008

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, February 10, 2008

One hour before "sunrise" (i.e. before the fog changed from black to white) I met up with Xin, my young (14 y/o I guess) H'mong guide who I had recruited in that rustic bar last night. For a few extra dollars he had arranged a Chinese-brand jeep (a.k.a. rattlebag) to bring us to the start of the trail, 19km away.

Communication was a bit tricky (like most hilltribe kids, Xin doesn't go to school, and his English is very limited), but not problematic even though there were a few misunderstandings. E.g. when he asked me "You walk in rain?", I answered "Yeah no worries - walk in rain is good, no problem", trying to emphasize that I did NOT want to turn around just because it's raining a bit. However, he understood that I actually prefered walking in the rain and now thought that I was completely nuts (as if climbing Fansipan in the mist wasn't crazy enough).

Xin was damn fast. I mean, I'm by no means a slow walker and usually faster than most other people and had done several 2 and 3 day treks in New Zealand in only one day, but Xin EASILY beat me. He was powering ahead in his big gum boots (how did he get a grip (better than I with my proper trekking boots) with them?), and I trailed behind him, breathing hard but not wanting to ask him to slow down (well, not in the beginning at least!).

The trail went up and down a lot (easily adding up to over 2500 meters ascent - even though no maps exist to prove this), over hairneedle ridges blasted by misty wind, through bamboo forests and past a shepherd's house where we had a tea break (thank God!).

When we finally reached the summit (3143m) I was immensely glad - yes, there were no views to be had whatsoever, but at least it was all downhill from now on - or so I thought. Actually it was mainly my stamina that was going downhill. After a long sliding/scrambling/ropeclimbing descent into a cold valley (colder than at the summit - frozen water) which was mentally as challenging as it was physically, I thought we would now just follow this valley to get out of it all and to a nice and warm fire place (do I need to to mention that by now we were completely drenched?).

Xin had different plans: He sprinted up the opposite side of the valley, where views got a little better, down into another valley, up again, and further up. Trying to be sarcastic I asked "I didn't know that a second mountain is included in our tour". Xin, who obviously hadn't come across sarcasm before, beamed and smiled "yes yes, many mountains, all included!". That was NOT what I wanted to hear.

Bravely I followed him up to a (stunning) rigde which offered 11 mini summits, including a lot of up and down in between them. If I had had the strength left to curse - I would have done so! The final descent was like on a sledge in a waterpark. It had also started to rain again and my camera was stowed away in a waterproof bag so there are no further pictures to document the horror of this "path" - but I think my face would have been worth a pic or two...

When we finally got to the bottom my legs were jelly, and I barely noticed the beautiful hilltribe village through which fields we stumbled back to a small dirt road. Four km later we had reached another village and a friendly moto tout asked "Motobike taxi?" I LOVED him! Gathering my last strength, I pretended to keep walking and bartered him down from 80,000 to 60,000 dong - and then enjoyed the rainy ride back to Sapa, where a warm fire place and huge double portion of fried-noodles-with-everything waited for me.
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