Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Water

     Arriving at Sapa at around 6 am our guide, Nam took us to our hotel and then for breakfast,which for me has been almost exclusively banana pancakes, which are not to be confused with American banana pancakes because these are much different thin and sweet and served with honey; and of course they feature the famous Vietnamese banana.The banana story continues, I suppose. It rains a lot in the Sapa area during summer so while Nam got our documents ready with the local government we bargained with a lady for knock off Northface rain coats. Rain would be coming later, we were assured.
     We began our trek to the Hmong village and were quickly followed by two tribeswomen who were very friendly with us asking all kinds of questions and making little presents for us along the way; a horse of grass for Lindsay and a heart of fern for me. We enjoyed their company and took advantage of it after it was clear they would not leave. One was a girl of about 9 and he other a woman of 30 and mother of two. They walked about 5 of the 7 miles to and through their village with us and of course we eventually purchased something from each of them, Lindsay getting attitude from the 9 year old because apparently she thought her good merited a much higher price. We stopped at a local house where I ground corn the old fashioned way and we saw how water was used  to mill rice. We started to cross a modern bridge over the creek below when I spotted an old wooden one. Lets go over that one, I said half joking. Nam said we could go to it. ""We are going to take pictures there" Nam said.  We took our picture and then he lead the way across the suspension bridge which was missing planks and looked generally out of use. Had we been in the U.S. large signs would have been posted "Keep Off", ""danger of falling'" "river below." 
 The water below was not the only we would encounter. As promised it now began to rain on us. The Northface jackets worked well. We took shelter under the village hospital until it let up a little, where our friends left and we acquired more friends who followed us to the end of the trek where we eventually met our car.We drove to see the Silver waterfall, one of the most famous in the country but as soon as we got there it began to pour. It was a great waterfall, but the rain and the cold wind that came with it were not fun. I had dragged our guide and Lindsay out of the car to see it, since we had driven all the way there and had paid for it, but after a few quick pictures we happily descended.
     That night we met Nam for a little walking around the village and when it started to sprinkle we stopped at a local bar and restaurant for some Hanoi beer- the one and only Vietnamese beer. One of Nam's friends came in and asked to sit with us.  He was very friendly and we started sharing cultural jokes and slang together. The banana story came up and confirmed what we had already learned- the Vietnamese think bananas are as funny as Americans. We also learned some Australian slang which gave us many laughs.
     After our Hanoi beer was almost gone we learned about one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the country- moonshine, better known as ""happy water". A few words to the bartender and an Aquafina bottle and four small shot glasses were quickly produced so we could salute and enjoy our first taste of rice wine. This was not the infamous snake wine for old men with bad snakes. This was the stuff for everybody. Apparently everyone in Vietnam makes and drinks this stuff. It can even be found in bars if you are a local, that is. In fact, Nam's friend said he had over 100 gallons at his house.  The happy water was strong and after our shot we walked to our hotel for the night. Happily it did not rain again until we were in bed.

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