We ascended into The City of Mist to touch the clouds. I was referred to Tuong, a guide in Sapa, Vietnam, by a friend of mine. Tuong had been a guide for many years and although as young as I was, I left all inhibitions behind as I hopped on the back of his motorbike to tour Sapa's incredible landscape. The beauty here is truly remarkable. Mountains jut up from the earth untamed. Rice paddy fields filled with water from irrigation dot the landscape by the hundreds like glass stairs leading to the heavens.
For the first time in a long time I felt like I was truly living in the moment. Taking in the sites and sounds. We passed corn crops, rose and artichoke flower fields, and tea plantations. Water buffalo walked along the road with their owners and dogs roamed free. Teenagers washed their motorbikes at the base of a waterfall. Big orange butterflies fluttered right passed me. Any time we zoomed by a villager with their eyes heavy set on me, I simply smiled and they quickly returned a warm, friendly smile back.
We stopped at a small restaurant in the Hmong village for lunch and in another village that is farther away from the city and from tourists. The man who's house Tuong showed us built it himself over the last 20 years. You could see the effort in the beautiful wooden doors. But upon entry, it was apparent how extremely poor they were. Beds scattered along one big, open room. Hard concrete floors. A large boulder in the middle of the room that they had no choice but to build around. Nonetheless, our host was smiling and graciously poured us all a cup of tea. We finished the day by sitting on little plastic stools with our guides, sharing rice cake and cheersing with our first bia hoi, fresh Vietnamese brewed beer.
It's funny how quickly your perspective of a place can change. The first day in Sapa, I had felt unwelcome and estranged in this foreign land. Today, I was revived and in awe. I wrote this journal in my head as I rode on the back of the bike, wind in my face. This is what I love about traveling, you question everything you know about yourself, about the world, about other people. It's hard and there's a lot of improvising, but you learn to listen to your gut and to let go and embrace whatever comes at you. If I was ever looking for inspiration, well I think I may have almost found it.