February 26th, 2006 – by: Stormcrow
A brickworks, eventually mistaken for a house burning down.
In spite of our delayed departure from Hue yesterday our train rolls into Hanoi Station at five in the morning. We gather our belongings and once the train has come to a full stop we make our way to the platform. It has been raining and the ground and pretty much everything is wet and damp.
The luggage is loaded onto a jeep (except for our suitcase with the sculpture,we are very careful with that, especially because we've not seen another sculpture like ours on sale anywhere). The bus we get into is smaller than the last one, but it will do.
No chance of getting breakfast anywhere this early, so we just start our voyage to Mai Châu on an empty stomach (with finger food at the ready in case of emergencies...). At about seven we see the first little place that is open and serve pho.
Plowing the fields.
We just love the Vietnamese pho! In fact, during this holiday we'll grow so used to not eating bread for breakfast, that we keep it up when we're back home (not the pho, but there are plenty of alternatives for bread). We get the opportunity to take a look in the kitchen and, as one might expect, it is much more basic then we are accustomed to, but we are still completely fine with eating our pho here.
When we are on our way again we see a couple of houses that appear to be on fire, but on a second glance they are brickworks, and the huge amount of smoke the ovens are producing are simply part of the production process.
We are traveling through a rural area and we see farmers working the fields everywhere. At eight we make another stop to take a better look at their way of working.
Working in beautiful surroundings.
The ploughing and planting is all manual labor and whole families seem to be chipping in.
After this we drive another hour before arriving in Mai Châu. We will be spending the night with a family that has two "dormitories" to let in their stilt house. Our party is divided equally over the two dormitories, but of course we have a say in this, so Caroline is in the same room as we are. The mattresses are very thin and ly on the wooden floor, but the view over the countryside is fantastic. Once we have made our beds we have a drink, and then the three of us go out for a walk to explore the surrounding area. It truly is a treat to be here and we enjoy every minute of it. The scenery is great! Some children have seen us coming from a distance and they dash to the edge of the road with their merchandise to practice skills as junior salesmen.
Planting the rice.
A couple of boys are very busy squashing beer caps between two stones but Trudy is able to distract them by giving each of them one of the ballpoints we brought along. Cor and Jannie are also walking between the rice paddies, the rest of the group are still having drinks in the stilt house. In the village people are constructing a new house and the techniques used are so totally different that, one way or another, it always draws my attention.
We have lunch in the stilt house and I have to say that, even though it is back to basic, there's nothing wrong with the taste of the meal.
After lunch we walk into the village again, to fill the time we have until the afternoon walk begins. The shops are all selling exactly the same: crossbows, catapults, embroidered wallets, scarfs and more stuff I don't need.
A bed with a view.
The afternoon walk is guided by Mr Ba and is partially the same as the walk we did this morning. We see a lot of red and green "duckweed-like" plants and when we ask what they are Mr Ba tells us that the farmers plant it themselves and that is serves as pig feed. During the walk Michel tells us about his problems with the Vietnamese authorities. He wants to get married to his Vietnamese girlfriend and then start his own travel agency, but this is not as easy as it might seem for foreigners.
After the walk we would like to take a shower, but at first there are no towels. Of course Michel steps in and takes care of the matter. What he can't change is the fact that the water is stone cold. Taking a deep breath and thinking positive thoughts is the only way to go.
The kitchen in the stilt house.
Dinner is also in the stilt house and once again it is fairly good. Early in the evening a dance group of the Black Thai comes by to give us a demonstration of their cultural heritage. Trudy and I have good seats in the front row, so I can take some pictures. Unfortunately a dance show isn't a dance show without some tourists being pulled from the crowd to participate in the dancing and, as if they can smell how much I dislike to dance, the first once to be drafted are Trudy and I. The dance we are to take part in is called the Stick Dance, bamboo poles are banged together in a rhythmic fashion and the dancer has to make his way to the other side of the grid as graciously a humanly possible. In reality it doesn't take long before the victim realizes that, in case of any missteps, his ankles are prone to turn black and blue because of a man-powered torture device, so the dancing is replaced by frantic jumping.
The stilt house itself.
In my case that is. Trudy, however, gets the hang of it and makes it to the other side with a big smile on her face. Erik and Jolanda, as expected, refuse to take part in foolish things like dancing. The next dance is all about dancing around a pitcher full of rice wine, with a lot of straws (made of actual reeds) in it. When this dance is done the victims from the audience are invited to drink from the wine in the pitcher.
We planned to go to a campfire after the show was over, but it takes quite a while before we finally get on our way. Once we do get moving we pass by a group of youths who are practicing the stick dance as a pastime and we stop to see how they are doing. Trudy gives it a go, but doesn't succeed the first time. The second attempt is flawless and the local youngsters cheer loudly for her.
The Black Thai performing their dances.
Michel is determined to master the dance and he manages to make it to the other side without getting his ankles crushed.
We never get to the campfire, we go back to the stilt house where we have some more drinks and we put the jar of cashews we bought earlier on the table, so everyone can snack from them. It is around ten when we decide to go to bed, the area has gone quiet, were it not for the five ladies that stay behind to play bridge in a very noisy way. No problem for me, when I shut my eyes it never takes very long before I start to doze off...