Add to it that it was September - perhaps the most beautiful month possible in the mountains of Cao Bang. Plus, the weather had been simply spectacular for a week. There was no stopping me now!
So I left early in the morning - 6 am, just as the sun came over the hills. I set my compass for Trung Khanh District - another race for the boarder and one last glimpse of the famous Ban Gioc waterfall. I traveled comfortably, stopping every now and then to capture the scenery in the changing light.
My first exciting shot of the day came when I stopped for some standard rice-fields-and-mountains and was met by three elder Tây women decked out in traditional work dress. They took to me immediately and asked for their pictures to be taken. Well, couldn't hardly say no, could I?
Beautiful women they were, and the fields of rice and mountains were only enhanced by their beauty. Beautiful spirits too - they babbled on in half Tây and half Vietnamese, inviting me to their homes just up the road. I tried to scribble down their address in half-hopes of being able to send copies of the photos to them. They certainly made my morning and I set out again in high spirits!
I didn't have a chance to see the process up close (too many kilometers on the agenda), but I have read that it is a fairly intensive process to get the dark black color: the hemp is grown, softened by rolling a stone, spun and woven on large looms, and then dyed repeatedly, often every day for more than a month and dried before the color is dark enough.
The further north I went, the more green and lush the landscape become. The sun slipped in and out of lazy, hazy clouds, making it a pleasant day to be moving and creatig a breeze. The colors threatened to enfold you and just keep you there, bound in their rich and heavy silence.
Anybody who has spent any signifigant time in farming country can understand the intense feeling of richness that surrounds fields just prior to the harvest. Here, in the vibrant greens and deepening golds, lies sustanance and life itself - the promise of full stomaches and warm houses and clothes through the coming winter. Green and gold - any wonder that these are also the colors of our monetary riches as well?
Finally I reached Trung Khanh town and stopped for a quick bowl of phổ, Vietnamese chicken-noodle soup, a breakfast specialty.
Finally I reached the northern-most accessible point on the boarder - and my final glimpse of the water fall for this season.
I hadn't arranged for the special permits and I wasn't really interested in spending yet more time up close at the falls, so I just popped into the guard station to give a cordial hello, take one last picture, and then I was once again on my way.
After returning to Trung Khanh town (and finding the market still in full swing), I decided I wasn't really ready to return straight to Cao Bang, but not willing to stay where I was either. I noticed a turn off marked for a neighboring district in the middle of town. I tried to question a few locals as to the condition of the road, but couldn't get any clear answers. But, well, it was a glorious day, I had 5 hours of good daylight ahead of me, and I knew that that road had to connect in a circle back to where I was going. So, with a full tank of gas, off I went!
The road itself was certainly an adventure - it was nothing as nice as the smooth paved road I'd driven all that morning. After the first 10 km, it was almost completely desolate. My only regret was that the condition of the road meant I had to concentrate much more on the driving (I was NOT going to skid out again - and I was already pretty sore from the tough driving the day before) and wasn't able to take so many pictures. But there were some great moments that just had to be captured along the way:
in Cao Bang!" No, no, I answered, Cao Bang TOWN please. Ah, oh, that way.
The last leg of the trip just about did me in. I passed two large lorries hopelessly mired in what by then resembled a water buffalo wallow. There was just enough room for a motorbike to eek by on the side of them - and it never even occured to me to take a picture. I limped down the rocky hill and was never so happy to see the sight of the paved road snaking out before me:
And with that, I cruised back to Cao Bang. The next day we would go on a staff picnic - and by the end of those 3 days, I would have covered more than 300 km and still managed a full day's work and two big parties!