A meeting with the local people.
During the night we woke up a couple of times due to the paper thin mattresses on the hard wooden surface. Even stacking two of them on top of each other didn't bring much relief.
At 6.30 Cor is already calling for us to get up. We are awake, but our alarm is set at 7, so we make ourselves as comfortable as possible for another half an hour. Eventually we get up and start packing our things, just to be ready. Breakfast is simple: French bread with a fried egg, but it will get us through the first couple of hours.
We leave at 8.30 and only thirty minutes later we make our first stop in Hmong village (the Hmong are an ethnic minority that populates the area). The people are very friendly, but some of them really, really, really don't want to have their picture taken.
The school that looks like a prison.
We respect that of course.
During the walk through the village Michel points out a poppy field (the main ingredient for making opium), that is completely surrounded by a wall, just high enough to avoid the Vietnamese from looking over it. The builders of the wall didn't take the tall western tourists into account, obviously.
A couple of seriously pregnant pigs are lying in their cage on the bank of the road, in fact, if they get any more pregnant they will probably explode!
When we leave the village (still on foot) we pass by a small nursery school, that looks more like a prison than a school: the windows are barred, the doors locked and a teacher is nowhere to be found. Trudy hands out some sweets through the bars and makes a lot of friends within seconds.
A lot was destroyed during bombings.
At 9.30 we get back in the bus again and we drive on towards Son La
. We drive through a very beautiful area and I try to sleep as little as possible, but I can't avoid dozing off every now and then.
A little past noon we stop near a memorial dedicated to fighters of the Viet Minh and from there on, we asked Michel if this was possible, we walk for about 20 minutes, until we reach the bus again that's waiting for us further along the way. It's nice to get some exercise to break up a busride. During the walk we encounter some women who belong to the Black Thai minority, and a little after that we can already see the bus again.
When we get back on the bus again Toos discovers that she has either lost or misplaced her digital camera, but when she starts to look for it she finds it soon enough.
The actual prison from the time the French rule.
In a low voice Jolanda makes an unkind remark, something in line of "How can you possibly loose your camera?". Joop responds buy saying that it could have happened to him too, and I back him up by saying that that could have happened to anyone. Jolanda is wise enough not to take the discussion any further, since no one backs her up.
We drive straight to Son La now, where we have lunch in the hotel restaurant. The food is not bad, the personnel is. The waiter doesn't speak any English whatsoever and he is smoking a cigarette (with 1,5 cm of ash still attached to it) while serving the food. After a little while start wondering where the hidden cameras are...
At 15.00 we go for a walk to the prison that's located in the higher part of the village, in the past they used to incarcerate the political prisoners here who were against the French regime.
A lovely butterfly that didn't want to sit still...
Back in the day the prison was so remote that the convicted had to walk for eleven days to reach it. Many of them died on the way. The ones that did survive weren't much better off, especially the ones with more severe penalties had to live in dark cells without toilets, so the stench could be smelled for miles around in the hot season. The prison was destroyed for a large part during bombings in one of the wars, but it is still obvious that it can't have been much fun living here. There is also a prison museum, but unfortunately the lights are out, probably a power failure. Good thing we brought our flashlights.
When we walk back we see a big butterfly looking for nectar on a tree with big red flowers. Caroline stop for a while to try and take some pictures of it, we don't see this in Holland every day.
Local minorities selling their wares.
We don't walk to the hotel right away, first we look for the market where beautifully dressed women, belonging to the local minorities, are selling their wares.
From there we walk into a small residential area and we get invited twice for a cup of tea by people who don't speak any English at all. The first time Caroline can speak some words in Russian and Czech with one of the men, but the second time we have to rely on hands and feet completely. There is one young man, who is wearing a typical Vietnamese helmet, that wants to armwrestle me. I don't think it is necessary to turn this nice visit into a competition, but since he insists I give in and accept the challenge. It may be obvious that I let him have his way only so far, if he wants to beat me, he has to do so fair and square.
Drinking tea with the locals.
Even though I am a big westerner, I almost look like a giant compared to him, he doesn't give up easily and fights for what he is worth.
After three cups of tea and some meaningless chatter about soccer (I don't know anything about it) we say goodbye and we slowly start heading towards the hotel. On the way we see an Internet cafe and Caroline wants to go in to check her e-mail and send some messages to family and friends. Trudy and I walk on and do some laundry in our room. We hang the washed garments to dry on the coat rack and set the fan to "hurricane" to speed up the process. When the work is done we linger in our room a little longer to relax and do some writing.
We then go to Caroline's room to pick her up for diner. Since there is no restaurant in this village where the food is anywhere near to acceptable, we have diner in the hotel again, but this time it is an entirely different experience: the waiter is friendly and swift and knows what he is doing, and above all, the food is quite okay, too!
With our bellies full we go to our room, where Trudy and Caroline finish the bottle of whine they have bought yesterday and at about ten Caroline goes to her room. We take a shower, do some writing and go to sleep to get ready for another day....