Terraced rice paddy and valley, Sapa, 1995

Outside Sapa

Beyond the center of Sapa, beautiful winding trails skirted valleys sculpted by broad terraced paddies. A few klicks beyond the paddies–there is much hard work in that beauty–the sky turned dark–lightening snapped across the horizon. Seth and I ran to a distant wood shack and huddled beneath its fragile porch, joining a young H’mong man with large white teeth, long black hair, a grizzly beard. Slightly drunk (an empty whiskey bottle lay at his side) he ignored us, and continued to pluck eerie melodic songs from a mouth harp strung with colorful beads. He changed the pitch by altering the shape of his mouth. As the rain beat down on the tin roof, the squatting man contentedly hummed and plucked away.

When the rain stopped and the sun came out, Seth and I hiked the muddy trail back to the Auberge Hotel. Famished and filthy, we showered, changed clothes, ate an excellent meal in the downstairs restaurant. In ’95 the Auberge was a modest guest house catering to backpackers; a spartan room, mildew no charge, cost four dollars a night. Times have changed.