by Anna Idler
“You have to move faster, we might need to run.”
Our homestay host and trekking guide, John, quietly dictated this to our group as we crept past him down to a ravine off of our original trail. He motioned for us to keep moving while he stared down two water buffalo directly to our left. Normally the water buffalo that the villagers own are very passive, but these two were different and John noticed. They were about to charge.
John stood between me, Rachel, Ryan our new friend Raya and the buffalo, stretching his arms and legs out and holding up his right hand, fingers outstretched.
We all spoke at the same time once John met us in the valley.
“Would they really have attacked?”
John shrugged and smiled. “Not sure,” he said, calm, already moving on. “No problem. Now we just go a different way.”
Nature makes the rules in Sapa. I want to learn them all.
The five of us began our hike walking through rice paddies and meeting the villagers. Children waded in the streams and called out to each other, playing games and riding bikes. They ran to our group and held out handmade knitted bracelets, thrusting the patterns they thought were the prettiest into our hands. The kids are very independent throughout Sapa’s villages; they start helping their families on the farms with simple chores starting at just two or three years old.
We entered one of the many farms and stopped to admire the piglets and baby ducklings that roamed the property. Animals are cherished here, and not just the cute ones. John placed the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen into my hand at one point; it looked like a small bird. I carried it for a little while, fascinated. That man is lucky I happen to like bugs.
Our day was filled with rickety bridges and vertical climbs up walls of mud and dirt paths. Our legs felt like concrete during the treks upward; just when we all thought we could not go further, we were at the summit of a mountain and were stunned into silence by the view.
The rice paddies looked like steps leading into the clouds. John told us this set-up was man-made and has been used for hundreds of years to prevent erosion and landslides.
The moon was sharp and bright when we emerged from the trees and headed home.
John bought us sugarcane for the walk back. I gnawed on it while looking up at the sky, flipped my hat around so the stars were not blocked by the brim. Ryan said I looked like a little kid. “I feel like one,” I told him with a mouth full of sugarcane. We spat out the plant once it lost its flavor, like bubblegum when it starts to taste like chalk.
I haven’t had mud caked on my clothes and shoes like that since I was 10. My sister and I would pretend our yard was a jungle where anything was possible, jumping from fern to fern avoiding imaginary tigers.
Funny how sometimes it takes a little dirt to remember how to play.
Follow Anna’s world travels:
Surfing in Lagos, Portugal
Spain & Portugal
Running with the Bulls in Pamplona
Loi Krathong Festival in Thailand
26 year-old Anna Idler lives in Montgomery County, PA and is a freelance writer for Montco Happening. To learn more about her travels, check out her website Outlaw Summer.