Maggie Gruenbacher, coming from the US, is currently an intern teacher at a number of primary and secondary schools in Hà Nội.
She writes about her recent visit to Sa Pa, a touristy town in northern Việt Nam, in this article.
Hmong children playing marbles in a local village of Sa Pa
It’s sensory overload as the final drum beating of Friday rhythmically sounds our end to the week and the chaotic exit of our school begins.
Children cling to my bag and tug at my arms as I weave in between bikes and students until, by some act of mercy, I have escaped the stampede and am able to watch this safari from inside the safety of the taxi.
The long ride home begins and I stare out into the roar of motorbikes, their echoes reverberating off one another into one single frequency of noise.
I don’t mind though.
My thoughts are miles from these incessant honkaholics of Hà Nội, 214 northwest to be exact – Sa Pa.
They had, thus far, been solely impressioned by a postcard booklet that an ambitious street peddler had added to my possessions.
Lush landscapes of layered rice fields and mountains as far as an eye could see.
By the weekend’s end these images would have been developed into mental snapshots of which I will have seen, climbed and conquered firsthand!
Fifteen or so hours, three buses and one sleepless night later I stepped out onto the cobbled streets of the city filled with unequivocal optimism and too much coffee to be greeted by… fog.
This unwelcomed white sulked, dreary yet unapologetic, from every angle I could think to turn.
Shrouded from sight, a veiled bride pre-“I do”, my foreseen day of trekking was looking to remain just that, a mystery.
My love affair with the mountains had abruptly ended at this fog wall while earth and sky seemed to have found a perfect matrimony.
Disheartened, my mood mimicked the overcast of the morning as we set out.
It was only this shadowing of my envisioned panorama, however, that caused my focus to shift inward.
Precipitous cliffs to my right are freckled with the bright head wraps of elder women selecting greens for the large woven baskets attached to their backs.
A family in single file steps past us on the road, uninterrupted by our presence.
One of them, a girl no older than ten, carries an infant strapped to her back by fleece blankets while the rest similarly tote a basket filled with some variety of garments or food.
Silent and steady with their morning routine, I notice their footing of slip-on sandals.
I was wearing two pairs of socks, sturdy hiking shoes and had been debating wrapping my ankles for support.
Barefoot boys scattered marbles into squares etched on dirt floors.
Pigs, hens and other livestock openly roamed the villages.
Handheld machetes reduced the towering bamboo plants to fragments that could be used, as one of the natives informed me, as part of the building material behind their entire village, even as instruments and food.
While the fog never lifted that day, a surprisingly different picture had developed, one that no postcard or snapshot would ever fully capture.