We awoke at around 8am for breakfast, and what a breakfast. Lunch would be late, we were told, so Loi hadn’t been stingy with the pancake mixture. Carbs and lots of them! Delicious, sweet pancakes. Chocolate condensed milk to smear on them. Fresh, slices banana to be wrapped in them. I only wish my stomach was larger as I could only eat four or five. They certainly set us up well for what would be our longest treck of the trip.
This is the day where we were really glad it hadn’t rained. Much of the walking was up and down dried mud slopes. Even a shower would have made them slippery to the point where they’d be nigh-on impossible to negotiate. This would have been a shame as, once more, we encountered sights to melt the eyeballs with pleasure. Mother Nature obviously has a soft spot for Sa Pa.
The ladies in our group have a thing for waterfalls and being able to swim at them. Loi had said we’d encounter one early in the walk, but that it wouldn’t be swimable. However. Who cares. It was stunning. Not so much a waterfall in the traditional sense, but a huge expanse of rock with water running down it at a rate of knots with several small waterfalls where the rocks protruded. I took a dozen or so photos, but as with everything there you simply can’t grasp the scale of it without seeing it in person.
We walked through several other villages, some inhabited by people (the Dao tribe) who wore red hats and had another set of merchandise to try to sell to Andy. And anyone else who wanted it. But mainly Andy.
The trail took us down to the valley floor, across the river, up the other side and onto paved road. The uphill stretched were fairly steep – today was certainly the most exercise I have had in a long time, including when I was going to the gym all those months ago. Lunch was very welcome and came with a bonus stunning view. Loi had promised is a swimmable waterfall later in the afternoon, and after washing lunch down with a rather nasty ice lolly each we started the last leg of the march to reach it.
We were on paved road for another couple of kilometres before reaching a stopoffpoint and diverting back onto the slopes. This was a very steep path and by the time we got to the bottom of it several of us had rather sore knees. Of all the ground we’d covered, this would have been by far the worst had it been raining. However, at times we were crying out for the sun to hide behind black clouds to give us some respite from the heat.
Finally, though, we reached the bottom and strolled through another village; this one slightly more “modern” than those we’d passed through and stayed in. Over a bridge, turn right, follow a trail… and there was some lovely, cold, deep water to swim in.
Hiding places were found, clothing swapped for swimming gear (although one rather lardy man in the river kept trying to perv Kate as she got changed) and we swam around the rocks to the waterfall itself – it can’t be seen from the bank without a bit of climbing.
You know what’s coming next – gorgeous. Not the biggest I’ve ever seen, but if you get in front of it, you can see the two-tier system where water tumbles down then down again into a small canyon and finally over the rocks nearest us. It looks like some kind of raft ride at a theme park for suicides.
A large rock in front of the falls could be climbed on and most of us crawled across it and slid down in front of the descending water to be washed downstream into the stiller areas by the current. Unfortunately, taking a camera up to the rock would have been difficult and risky. Another occassion where I wish I’d picked up a waterproof camera in Chiang Mai.
We basked for a while to dry off, then waved goodbye as some other treckers turned up to take our place. The only bad part was that we now had to make our way back up the steep slopes we’d struggled to get down.
Much sweating, swearing, and strain later we finally made it to the roadside (even avoiding the “Hello – bon-bon!” kids trying to scrounge sweets off us) to collapse and drink warm Coke. While women in blue tried to sell us jumpers, flutes, bracelets, hats and possibly children.
We now had a jeep ride back to the hotel. Not some posh Jeep with a capital J. Oh, no. An authentic Russian-built army jeep that you can apparently strip to component parts with just a screwdriver and a spanner (or socket set if you want to be posh). When these things were built, suspension hadn’t been invented. It was great fun. Loi perched on the rear sill with Mike and myself in the boot area in front of him taking pictures of things that we passed.
Much as the day had been enjoyable, becoming one with nature in such a way does take its toll and a hot shower was most welcome when we got to the hotel. Andy and I were shown to our room and… wow. Again. A two-room en-suite chalet on stilts with a stunning view right down the valley. Piping hot water in the shower, couch, two armchairs, comfy beds, electric blankies in the cupboard for the cold nights. Lovely.
We walked into town for dinner and found a restaurant that Loi recommended. Food was paid for as part of the trip, beers out of our own pocket. Not a hardship at 12000D for Tiger. The general concensus was that the meal was superb and plans were made to return the next day.
By that time, we were all pretty much wasted – more physically than alcoholically. Beds were reaching out with beckoning fingers and I don’t think a single one of us resisted once we got back to the hotel.