Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 6

For what came before, go here

We arrived in SaPa at the Chau Long Hotel. The hotel has a feel not unlike that of a German or Swiss ski lodge. There’s a fireplace that usually has a burning fire in it and we are usually greeted with hot apple tea. Of course, since our bus arrived a good half hour behind the first bus, the tea was already fairly cold, but the fire was burning and there was a lovely ambiance. It didn’t hurt that the clock display behind the desk had the time for Tel Aviv labeled on one of its 5 clocks.

Our travelers got their room keys and settled in while we checked out the kitchen and the room in which we would eat during the time we were there. We quickly unpacked the food that needed refrigeration and placed it in sealed bags in their fridge. I went with our local guide to the market to buy another big pot for cooking the cholent – a bean stew dish that is cooked on low heat for about 24 hours and is traditionally eaten on shabbat– (our other pot had a lid that was bent and loose) and a wok. Then I returned and washed the beans we had brought from Israel and started them soaking in the cholent pot. I went upstairs to the kitchen to retrieve our plata (hotplate) and the person in charge said to me, “No cook in room.” I thought she meant that the cook was not in the kitchen, but upon reflection, I realized she was saying that they would not allow us to cook in our room. On our two previous trips, the hotel had not allowed us to leave the hotplate plugged in continuously in the kitchen so the guides had taken the hotplate into their rooms and had the cholent cook there. She was saying that I would not be permitted to cook it in our room. Just as I was ready to object, she told me that they would plug it into the wall on their serving table in the dining room and leave it plugged in all night. And that is what they did. Later in the day, they diced all sorts of vegetables that we added to the beans and barley and then we added some soy protein in chunks that we had brought from Israel that were very reminiscent of meat. With everything added, the pot was full to the brim. We covered it with a towel and checked on it a few times both on Friday night and on Saturday and they were true to their word. No one touched anything and the cholent was excellent– but I am getting ahead of myself.

We had a decision to make. Since it was raining, I told the local guide that I would prefer to go to the village that was on level ground rather than the one that was down a long muddy hill. She said that she had checked and that the monsoon rains had washed out the bridge between SaPa and the village I wanted to visit. So, there wasn’t a decision to be made at all. To the mud!!

We boarded the two mini-vans and headed to the village of Ta Van. Ta Van is a beautiful and interesting place with lots to see. We drove in the rain, more than once crossing torrents of water that were flowing from the mountains on one side across the road and down to the valley on the other side. Often there were no shoulders or guardrails. But we made it safely.

Our vans parked and the village ladies were happy to greet us and accompany us on our walk down their road to the village.

Some of the ladies were wearing galoshes. Some were wearing sandals. Our people were mostly wearing sports shoes. I was wearing crocs. What all of us really needed were skis. The road was very very slippery. There was precious little to walk on that would give one traction or stop the forward motion of the feet. There was a little grass on the edges in some places and a few rocks, but basically it was walk and hope that the little ladies and older teens that were holding onto our elbows would be able to steady us. Fortunately, no one fell (my greatest fear.) Two years ago, only one person fell and my coat is none the better for it. Uh, yes, I must confess I am not graceful, but at least I didn’t hurt myself…

Walking down the muddy road

Walking down the muddy road

The village was very picturesque, although not beautiful in the purest sense of the word. It was exactly the way it needed to be for people to live in it and to earn enough to have food and clothing. They also made money selling their handicrafts to visitors, many of whom felt indebted to them for steadying them on the muddy roads and paths.

Villager walking on road with rice terraces in the background

Villager walking on road with rice terraces in the background

Some of our travelers took magnificent photos of some of the people. I concentrated on the animal kingdom. Here are some other inhabitants.

Mr. Water Buffalo (aka John Deere)

Mr. Water Buffalo (aka John Deere)



We saw the regional school where children from other villages also study and where they dorm during the week. It was a lovely, pastoral walk. As we made our way back to the entrance to the village, that road that we had descended loomed in front of us. Our local guide had called the smaller van to come and pick up our people, but it became mired in the mud, even as one by one people got off the van. Even with only the driver aboard, the van was stuck. With no alternative, we started up the road. When we came to a small building with a 4-wheel-drive car parked outside, I asked the local guide if she would find the owner and ask him if he would take us up the hill for a fee. He agreed and in two trips, he took those of us who were at the back of the group. His vehicle was filled with mud from our shoes, but I suppose he was used to it.

Ww boarded the larger of the mini-vans and headed back to SaPa. When we got back to the hotel, we were pleased to find out that the hotel will clean shoes free of charge and my travelers tell me that they did a fantastic job!

It was time to relax and prepare for shabbat. And what a shabbat it was! In a word: Perfect!

All about it next time…

Continue the adventure here

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