Day 205: Witness Waterfall of Love in Sapa
Oh, that smile. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
KAYLA, full of puppy energy, flops backwards on top of me after her morning shower. She's doing the FitBit 52 Week Challenge, which requires her to log one new hike every week for an entire year.
The original plan was to hike to the peak of Fansifan, also known as Fancy Pants, which is the tallest mountain in Indochina. However, we don't have time for it. In fact, we don't know how much time we have. At some point this afternoon, Kayla is going to have to jump onto a bus back to Hanoi to catch her flight to Alabama at about midnight tonight.
Downstairs, a hotel receptionist is able to book a 1:30pm ticket for Kayla back to Hanoi and then gives us some suggestions on where we can hike today.
“Drive past Silver Waterfall, then on your left-hand side you can park and hike to Love Waterfall. After that, you can take the bike to visit a H'mong village over here,” he says marking a photocopied map of the area for us.
“Stop for a coffee first?” I ask.
Kayla and I are on the same page, Though we know we need to get in the hike, neither one of us is ready to be rushing anywhere.
After our first coffee, which was less than exciting, we agree to have a second coffee.
“A coffee is as good as the cafe is cute,” Kayla says as we search along the small Sapa lakefront for another place.
Strolling down the sidewalk are a couple of H'mong women wrapped up in thick, brightly colored traditional clothing, heavy silver necklaces hanging around their necks, big silver earrings below intricately woven headscarfs.
We pop into another place. Only a few embers are still glowing in the fire place, which is mostly filled with white ash. After ordering, we pull up close to the fire, warming our hands, as the sun has yet to dispatch the chill of the night.
Kayla is unable to get her phone charger plugged into the electrical socket by the table, so I wander off to find another one.
When I return, Kayla's standing close to the brick fire place, her back against it.
“Can you please stoke this fire? I thought my female companion had a hot ass, but it appears not to be the case,” I say to nobody in particular.
“I do have a hot ass, thank you very much,” Kayla retorts.
“Don't act like you don't love me Doctor Rhodes.”
After breakfast, we take a road past the cement park of Cong Vien Sapa. On the corner is a stone, French-style church with scaffolding running up its face.
“Which way Rhodes?”
We start down Fansipan Road, which gently heads downward between stacks of hotels, guesthouses, so-called homestays, restaurants and cafes. The road bends sharply offering a mesmerizing view of Muong Hoa Valley. Along the narrow edge of the road is Cloud Cafe. The road plummets downward, past several more cafes with stunning views.
Welcome to Sapa on a clear day. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“We should have a coffee here on the way back,” Kayla suggests, as we pass Cloud Cafe.
After a second hairpin turn, I stop the bike.
“This can't be right. We're supposed to be going up a mountain.”
It's not right.
We turn around and end back up at Cong Vien Sapa. Parked in the middle of the strange open intersection, we're waylaid by a pair of H'mong women. The left eye of the younger woman, Tamtam, is covered with the foggy, yellow-white film of a cataract. She smiles and introduces herself and Mamamu, they live in one of he many nearby villages.
“Where are you headed?” she asks.
“Okay, that's that way,” she says, pointing us up one of the several roads leading away from the intersection.
I write down Tamtam's name and number on our map, promising to give her a call if I want to stay at their homestay tomorrow or if I want to go trekking with them.
Up the hill, we stop to ask for directions one more time, before I realize that we can plug Love Waterfall into Google Maps and let it take charge – no Expressways on this mountain pass. Following QL4D up into the mountains, the cold continues to creep in from the windchill, though the sun is warm.
Up ahead, Silver Falls tumbles down from 60 meters or so above. At the base, there is a ticket booth, where you can pay 20,000 Dong to take a closer look. On the other side of the road is an assortment of shops selling textiles, musical instruments, bladed tools, drinks, cooked food and produce.
Not much farther up the mountain, we arrive at the turnoff for Love Waterfall. Under an substantial arch, we find our way into the parking lot.
Kayla leads the way with a brisk walk until she realizes one of her hiking boots has come untied.
“Kick it up here,” I say, getting down on one knee.
Kayla is left handed and so proficient with managing things, as her broken finger is on her right hand I've keep forgetting that she's not a fully functioning person. Though then again, even without a broken finger, I'm not sure she could be considered a fully functional person.
Located inside the Hoang Lien National Park, which was named a Nature Reserve in 2006, is Love Waterfall, which derives its name from a charming legend:
“Long ago, fairies from heaven used to come to the waterfall to bathe. One day, the seventh fairy saw O Qui Ho, the first son of Ai Lao Mountain Genie who was playing his flute near the falls,” explains Vietnam.net.
“Mesmerized by the flute sounds, the fairy spent every night listening to the sweet melodies until her parents detected her secret and forbade her from coming to the human world.
“The fairy missed O Qui Ho so much that she spent every afternoon at heaven’s gate looking towards the waterfall and waiting for the sounds of the flute. Then, she transformed herself into a yellow bird that lives on O Qui Ho Mountain. Since then, the waterfall is called “Love” to remind everyone of the legendary love story.”
After paying 140,000 Dong fee for the pair of us, we start pounding down the cobblestone pathway of the well-maintained park.
Kayla's on a marching pace as we pass light gray trees with thick elegant leaves.
“The water's so clear,” I say admiring the yellow color of the silt and rocks below the ice cold surface of the stream below the fall.
“This high up, it better be.”
We follow the cobblestone stairs farther up the stream to Love Waterfall.
The fall is spewing streams of crystal clear water over a rock cliff face fuzzy with green mossy like that of an adolescent Ogre. It's a tall, elegant waterfall, not too loud that the sweet melodies of a O Qui Ho's flute would be drowned out. In fact, the sounds of the water would be a lovely accompaniment to him as he sat perched on one of the water worn stones on the nearside of the pool, safely away from the waterfall's mist.
FALLING: The path to love is slippery. Photo: Kayla
The tree cover is light as we head back through the cloudless cloud forest, tree branches full of moss and other epiphytes. With enough time and care, I wouldn't be surprised to uncover a few orchids hidden in the branches. However, it's nearly 12:30pm.
“It barely counts as a hike,” Kayla admits, checking her FitBit to make sure we've at least covered the required one mile for it to count toward the 52 Week Challenge.
“You can always squeeze in another hike when you get to Alabama. Do the start of the Apalachin Trail.”
“It doesn't start in Alabama.”
“Yes it does.”
“It starts in Georgia.”
“You are correct.”
Back on the bike, we zip toward town, a bit faster than Kayla would prefer.
“Do we have time for a coffee?” I ask.
“Can we do it in 30 minutes?”
We stop at Cloud Cafe for a coffee and an expensive sandwich, for which Kayla offers to pay.
“You're going to miss me,” Kayla says.
“I don't really miss people or things. It's kind of an awkward thing, but my close friends know that I don't really miss them. I'd like to see them, but the feeling isn't there.”
“You'll miss me.”
“If you say so Doctor Rhodes, if you say so.”
The bus arrives five minutes after we reach Sapa Backpacker Hotel.
I give Kayla a big hug goodbye then head into the lobby to figure out where I'm going to stay for the night.
There are four options for under five dollars a night. I turn the decision over to the die.
It's good to get back into the habit of letting the die have control. Though none of Vietnam would have happened if it wasn't for the die, it seems to have taken a back seat since landing here.
The die sends me to Green Valley International Hostel, which after much confusion I realize is actually called Green Valley Hotel.
The hotel, being repaired, is across from new hotel being built. Green Valley Hotel is a strange building, as it's several buildings connected with awkward hallways and stair cases. Inside the room, there are four beds. I take the one closes to the window.
With the place to myself, I slip into the bathroom for a quick wank and then curl up on top of my comforter. It's been a very long two days. My body has given up.
A shake myself out of a slumber by 4pm and head off to a cafe to work. Muong Hoa Street, where Green Valley Hotel is located, seems to an artery for Sapa tourism. Hiking up hill in the dark, in search of dinner after returning from a little cafe, I'm surrounded by the bright neon lights of signs for restaurant and hotel. Nearly every restaurant seems to be selling pizzas, as well as authentic Vietnamese food. They've all erred on the side of breadth of dishes instead specializing in something specific.
On the narrow sidewalks on either side of the road, women from minority ethnic groups, such as the H'mong, Dao, Tay, Giay, Muong, Thai, Hoa and Xa Pho, have unpacked their wicker backpacks of small shoulder bags and other textiles, spreading them out on pieces of cloth on the ground. Each ethnicity is identifiable from their unique traditional clothing. Children sit with their mothers or grandmothers, or even alone, in the relative darkness of the road, asking tourists bundled up in designer outdoor gear if they want to buy something.
I make a point of smiling and looking them in the eyes as I walk by, gently shaking my head no: no, I don't want to buy anything.
Unlike this afternoon, the doors to Church of Our Lady of the Rosary are flung open to the cold, lights pouring out.
The die orders me a less-than-interesting rice porridge with chicken. Still hungry afterward, I have a sandwich from a street vendor.
The bars and cafes look cozy, with happy hours offering cocktails and warm wine for reasonable prices. I'm missing Kayla. Though it might have gotten us into trouble, I'd love to spend a cold night up here with her, chatting over a half dozen cups of warm wine in the dim lighting of one of the bars.
“Actually missing you right now. Don't tell anyone; I'm sure it will pass,” I write Kayla from my room.
“Hahah, I can keep a secret.”
“There is warm wine and funky bars and all kinds of stuff here.”
“Nahh I don't think it will pass. I know it 😶. And I'm missing out.”