(I tried to post this last night but my service wasn't good enough)
"This is fine" has been the phrase I have been repeating constantly in my head this trip.
"This is fine," when the bathroom floor is covered in water and there's no toilet paper and it smells. "This is fine," when I order pho to go because my bus leaves in 5 minutes and I'm given it in a plastic cup that literally starts melting so the soup runs out of the bottom. "This is fine," when the lights on the overnight bus aren't turning off and Vietnamese is blasting over the speakers. "This is fine," when I'm given ice in my drink but I'm not really supposed to be drinking the water. "This is fine" when I'm overheated in the back of a packed van and we're swerving into the other lane to pass people and I'm feeling nauseous.
I repeat "this is fine" to myself as a reminder. Usually it works pretty well.
Today it was almost not fine when I realized that I left the bag I had just gotten to carry the gorgeous hand-embroidered blanket I had just bought behind at the last bus station. I hid it under the chair so no one would steal it... And then promptly forgot it when my bus was leaving because I couldn't see it, either.
I bought a really expensive water bottle to filter my water for this trip. I left that behind on the bus two days ago. That, "fine" worked for. But this blanket I could not let go of that easily.
The bus driver spoke no English. No one around me spoke both English and Vietnamese. The girl who had fixed my bus ticket did but we had left there 3 different buses ago.
I tried to motion with my hands to the bus driver to explain what had happened - we were only 15 minutes or so away from the place he picked us up from. He held up the number 8 with his fingers. He was telling me our next bus didn't leave for an hour. There was no way he understood what I meant. And then he drove away.
I felt for sure it was lost. No way did he know what I meant, and even if he did, no way would he find my bag. When our next bus pulled up early, I tried to explain the same thing to this driver, who also didn't speak any English. He told me, "8."
Frustrated and feeling helpless, I pulled out my phone and typed "I forgot my bag at the last station" into google translate, knocked on the window again, and showed him my phone. "Ah," he said. I took out my bus ticket which hopefully said something about where I got it from on it and gave it to him. He pulled out his phone and spoke for a while, and then he smiled. He gave me a thumbs up.
I typed, "how will he know which one is mine?" And gave it to him again.
He again gave me a thumbs up.
Then he shut the window.
I decided to just give up. He seemed like he understood me, but there was no way someone could find my bag in a bus station full of other people's backpacks and know it was mine. I had a little bit of hope, but decided I'd just let it go.
Half an hour later......... The same man pulled up with a second bus load of people.... Holding my bag.
I still don't know how that happened.
One of the things about traveling by yourself is that you have no one else to rely on and so you are forced to rely only on your intuition. It gets stronger and you learn to listen better. Your intuition tells you where to stay, where to go next, who to talk to, what to do.
It's such a weird feeling not to try to logically figure things out. Because in a new country, where most people don't speak your language well and you don't know how things work, you just can't. Logic doesn't work anymore. And yet things just happen and everything works out.
You're never really alone. I never fail to meet someone who is doing the same thing I'm doing, which helps a lot, even just to clarify how I'm getting where I'm going or to split a taxi so it's cheaper.
I got to Sapa super early yesterday morning. Instead of a hostel in town, I had found a homestay just outside of it. The trails to trek around Sapa left from this man's backyard, eliminating the need to hire a guide. Since it was his house, it had such a nice comfortable feeling to it (and was the cleanest place I've been thus far.) I met another girl who was on her own while I was eating breakfast there, and we decided to hike together. I for sure would have gotten totally lost on my own so it was really good that it was the two of us.
We walked for over 8 miles, up hills, into villages, just seeing everything we possibly could in one day. These are all of my pictures. These are the villages of the local tribes. The women follow you around, hands stained blue from the indigo dye, telling you, "buy something, buy something."
We got back to the house later, totally exhausted. I showered for the first time in a few days. I paid for them to do my laundry, and was rewarded with clothes that smelled sweet and no longer like mold, so that was wonderful. We ate dinner with everyone staying there, so maybe around 15 of us from all over the world. And then a few of the girls sat on the couch and watched a movie together. It was really exactly what I needed - I felt so at home. Then we went up to bed and our beds had been covered in mosquito nets, making me feel like I was sleeping in a little girl's princess bed. It was perfect.
Today I was so tired and basically laid in the hammock staring at the mountains all morning until it was time to get my taxi. The man at my hostel had informed me of a shorter (albeit more complicated) way to get where I wanted to go next.
I had a few hours walking around town before the bus left, which was where I bought my blanket, and a bunch of other little things. I had to buy another smaller backpack once I realized that things weren't going to fit in my actual backpack for much longer. I ate a piece of the local corn, which was such a strange and different texture. Then I took a van, a bus, and another bus, and now I am on another overnight bus (which, strangely, I love) to Hai Phong, with my final destination (after I manage to figure out the boat situation) being Cat Ba island, where I'll be the next few days.
I could have stayed in Sapa for weeks. Unfortunately I don't have weeks, right now. But I left Sapa with the feeling that I will definitely be back. I love this country.