Sapa 10.1.16

It is a privilege to be traveling long-term internationally. Some other privileges I think about are my good health, being able-bodied, having financial means, and enjoying so much support from family and friends.

Being a native English speaker is one privilege I think about daily. My interactions with other travelers, regardless of their country of origin, are in English. The Dutch, Swiss, Swedes, French, German, Spanish and Israelis all speak English. Many of these travelers speak 3 and 4 languages too.

The local people in Vietnam (China too, but to a lesser degree) learn English to interact with the tourists. If  a sign, website, or museum display includes information in a language other than the national language, English is used. I have seen a handful of translations into Russian and more translations into French (especially in Vietnam given the occupation), but those are rare.

The ease of traveling as a native English speaker was evident during my tour to Sapa, a town in the northern highlands of Vietnam, with a great tour group. Our group included a Spanish family of 5, a couple from the Netherlands, and a couple living in San Francisco with one partner originally from France and the other partner from Kansas (that was exciting!). During our three days together, French, English, and Spanish were our common languages.

On the train to Sapa, my Spanish roommate introduced herself to me in English. When I responded in Spanish, she became excited. She was happy we would be able to communicate more easily and even added that it would be helpful to have another Spanish/English speaker for interpreting. It felt great to have second language skills that were useful to others and could improve our shared experience.

While there was a lot of planning that occurred before I left Minnesota, learning or improving my English language skills was not a consideration. I was not hindered from travel because I did not know the lingua franca.

Enough heavier musings, here are photos:

It was an overnight train ride from Hanoi, Vietnam to Lao Cai. From Lao Cai we traveled for an hour via bus to reach Sapa. The train ride was first class.
Local women joined our trek on the first day. These women are strong and capable. They have self-taught English skills and we chatted about our ages, families, and the community. The muddy and hilly terrain was tough hiking for me. For the local women who walk the paths daily, it was easy. One woman sewed while she walked and every woman helped our group by acting as “human walking sticks.”
At the end of the hike, I was expected to purchase some of the crafts from local women who most helped me. I was well aware of this expectation and, after 5 hours of holding Lily and Ze’s hands for balance, I was more than happy to express appreciation by spending money.
In addition to water buffalo and chickens, I also saw ducks and pigs.
We hiked 12km on the first day and 8km on the second day. We visited minority communities of Black Hmong, Dzay, and Red Dao people.
The villages are at altitude. Because of the cooler weather, farmers have only one rice harvest instead of two harvests each year. Families and communities work together to complete the steps in the laborious process of harvesting the rice. These farmers grow both sticky rice, a more expensive product, and common white rice.
Our tour group enjoyed an overnight homestay. We slept in the loft of a structure that reminded me of a Minnesota barn (no smells though). Our host family also has a storage shed.
In this tour group were Chris (Kansas living in SF), Claire (Paris, living in SF), the Spanish family (living in/around Barcelona) and another couple from The Netherlands.
On the second day of the hike the local women did not join us. I fell trying to balance on the rocks above this muddy area. I got lots of help cleaning in a nearby stream. Not to worry though, no injuries from the tumble.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. grandma lange says:

    SARAH , WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO DO ON THE TOP OF THE STONE ???

    WELL, AT LEAST YOU TRIED !!!! LOVE HEARING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, a good question indeed. The rocks were protruding from the mud. The idea was to avoid sinking into the mud by walking on the rocks. Yes – at least I tried. Thanks for reading and following!

      Like

  2. Trinity Muller says:

    Oh! I am interested in seeing the sewing and crafts they were working on!
    Those terraced farm lands are so picturesque.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You would at home sharing skills and learning with these woman! Although I do not think craft-er-noons are a thing there 😉

      Like

  3. Sarah says:

    Jeff and I have been noting the English abroad and so humbled by everyone’s ability to speak it. We are gratefully embarrassed. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You always put words together well – gratefully embarrassed is right! I remember in one of your first posts about Iceland you had a similar comment about learning basic words in Icelandic.

      Like

  4. Linda Woessner says:

    The privileged traveler who is so appreciative of everything and everybody – that’s you. . . another great post. Loved reading it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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