Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25th Lai Chau to Sa Pa 38 km

Rain.  Haven't seen actual rain for a while and thought our group had found the magic touch re weather.  Guess not.

But after last night's unexpected and delightful celebration of my becoming an official old fart eligible for OAS, as well as free trips during the week on BCferries and even free parking in Nelson, nothing is going to dampen our spirits.  Nancy had transported a flock of cards to present with all the pomp that she is so good at generating, along with two candles, the numbers 6 and 5 - some card suggested putting the 6 upside down - and Chao had arranged for a fabulous two story cake decorated with white and red roses in icing, the first real dessert that the crew has experienced since we started.

Given that the day had been a seriously hard climb in pea soup mist and an exhilarating descent in great  weather, the party was quite welcome to all.  Thanks Nancy, you seem to always come up with just the right touch.

So today we were curious about the day.  We had decided last night to forget about doing the first climb, based in part on the advice of Group 1 and on the description in the itinerary.  We drove about 25 km to a point just past what Chao described as the construction on this road to Sa Pa.  For a host of reasons several people opted out of cycling, but Doug and Gala, Ross and Dawn, Les, Brendan, Bernie and I all decided to ride to the top of the highest pass in Vietnam at 1,990 m.

It was a grind that extended for 24 km with really only one section at 18-21 km that approached easy.  The rest was a steady climb at probably 5% to 8% with the last few kilometres at 9%+.  Several sections of road construction were muddy, slippery and acted as drags on the tires.  But we all crested the pass to the howls from the sane ones in the group that had taken the van ride to the top.  I say sane because they were treated to a picnic treat consisting of great hot tea, pork on sticks barbequed over a brazier and sticky rice in bamboo tubes, all very good.  Unfortunately, the riders got some tea and a taste of the rice but not much else before we all set off.

Only four, Doug, Gala, Les and Bernie, rode down to the restaurant in Sa Pa as it was really cold at the top.  I know that I had a concern about going down through any slippery areas under construction - in the end, there weren't any - and others had similar thoughts. Brendan started down but his bike quickly developed a serious shimmy and he jumped into the van thereby showing the first glimmers of sanity.  Damn but he's fast.

Lunch was in a very posh looking place, certainly compared to most of our lunch stops and the food was a cut above in quality and presentation.  The ginger tea was really a treat, and very gingery, after getting cold on the bikes.  But our entertainment was provided by Ross and Sharon who found the cute salt and pepper shakers that fitted together like a couple just too much of a temptation - engaging them in conversation and doing who knows what rude things with them.

The Bamboo Sapa Hotel is a delight - the plumbing works without washing the floor each time you use the sink or the loo and the shower is heaven - didn't want to get out.  But the sky is about 18 inches off the ground and very wet with mist.  A lot colder than Nancy and I expected as well, even though we brought warm things for this region.

Walking around Sa Pa I am sure would be a delight if we could see anything.  The fog or whatever (I think the clouds live here) make it appear like London in the time of Dickens.  But that didn't prevent a few of us finding some decent wine in a shop near our hotel for a bit of a happy hour.

Dinner was at a restaurant a seven minute walk from the hotel - numerous courses and quite good, but I suspect it was at a different place than Group 1 went to as it was certainly not formal which was fine by us.  Obviously Group 2 has a more laid back approach to such things.

All in all another memorable day, to be filed with all the other memorable ones that we have experienced.  And the group has been eminently compatible and a pleasure to be with.  Nancy and I are obviously much less experienced at such trips than many of the group members so we have learned much and picked up more ideas about possible future ones.  Bonus.  All we have to do now is turn our pictures into something we can share or show or keep for posterity.

Paul Hough

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