Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hanoi to Ha Giang to Bao Lam to Cao Bang

My last mission trip with ADRA took me back to Cao Bang - but from the long way around. We had a meeting back in Bao Lam district, which is 6 hours west of Cao Bang Town. If we were to travel by our normal north-south rout from Hanoi, we would need to spend four full days in the car - two just to reach Bao Lam via Cao Bang, and then another to return to Cao Bang and last to return to Hanoi. So instead we described a rather choppy circle via Ha Giang to the west. Sunday morning we drove northwesterly to Ha Giang province where we spent the night, then set out early Monday morning to reach Bao Lam district in time, we hoped, for a 9 am meeting.

This was my first visit to Ha Giang Town. Ha Giang is generally considered a poorer province than Cao Bang, but for reasons that were explained to me later, the infrastructure actually seems quite a bit better. The town itself is similar to Cao Bang - same same but still different. It has all the normal acoutraments of a mountain province town (government buildings, market, banks, shops and stores, traffic in and out, etc.), but everything arranged within the local landscape, which generally mirrored that of Cao Bang. If anything, it was less dramatic.

We arrived late in the evening on the full moon mid-autumn festival. Mid-autumn festival is traditionally the "children's festival" - or very similar to Halloween.

Children dress up as devils and creatures and run about banging on drums and blowing whistles and carrying star lanterns. Special meals are prepared and candy is shared. In fact, many of the plastic masks and pre-made Spiderman and fairy suits that invade our Walmarts at this time of year have infiltrated the markets for the mid-autumn festival here.

The next morning we started out early in hopes of making our morning meeting, but thanks to some poor signage we wound up on the not-so-well-beaten path. It was quite the scenic route, but it added a good long bit of time to our travels.

Neither the right road or the right vehicle for it.

We're supposed to be on that road - down there!!

So we were late to our meeting and didn't get to meet with the authorities we had hoped to.

So, you might think that we were being punished when we showed up to lunch only to discover that today, grubs are on the menu!

Meals in Bao Lam are always an adventure – this is where the real Vietnamese food comes out on display. Bao Lam boasts a large variety of fresh forest foods, and they are not at all hesitant to include their foreign visitors in the daily specials. So what started with amusement when I admired the crackling paper honey combs of the freshly harvested hives, alive with little wriggling bee larvae soon became our apparent entrée.

Soon the choicest of the thumb-sized wrigglers were sizzling in the wok with bamboo and ginger.

So yes, we ate bee larvae – and a few fully fledged bees. Can’t say it was yum – really it was more wanting for spices than anything else.

I found the whole dish very, very bland and a bit on the simultaneously gooey and grainy side. But I was assured that after eating a whole plate, there was enough protein to make sure you didn’t get hungry again for a good long time. Yeah, I’m pretty sure of that.

After lunch we were off again – to start the 6 hours in to Cao Bang with one stop to visit a highlands market. It was a smallish market, but native enough to be of interest.

Here we had a chance to talk to a few flower H’mong people:

Including a mother and her 22 year-old daughter, mother of 4, the oldest of which is 8 and in the second grade. She was exceptionally well-spoken, although if you had asked me I would’ve put her age at about 16…

The rest of the trip brought us further into ethnic Tây territory, with great valley views and Tây architecture.

And finally through the dark and into Cao Bang itself. Home…but not quite home, at last.

1 comment:

Mom & Dad said...

I'd love to see the land and the people, but I'll bring my own lunch.