Tag Archives: Mountains

Get To Know Table Mountain's Vastly Underrated Neighbor, Lion's Head Mountain

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Being a self-proclaimed “Capetonian” pro, I often tell people I meet that the hike up Lion’s Head is much more enjoyable than the routes up Table Mountain. And for many reasons.

Table Mountain is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world and deservingly so.  This 1,085m mountain with a relatively flat summit earned its name from the spillage of clouds that cover the top like a tablecloth. It truly is a world wonder.

But.

Directly neighboring Table Mountain is another smaller, more precious mountain called Lion’s Head which stands at about 669m, much shorter than it’s counterpart. Lion’s Head has a unique spiral shape leading up to the apex of the mountain which resembles the shape of a lion laying down. It took me awhile to see it.

Lion’s Head lives in the shadow of the ever prominent Table Mountain, but I actually prefer it over its more popular neighbor.

Unlike most routes leading up Table Mountain, the singular path spiraling up to Lion’s Head is completely out in the open. You literally circle up with the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town, and Table Mountain always in view. To see the clouds blanketing Table in such a close encounter is simply stunning.

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To get to the base, or the start of the hike, simply take a taxi or a cheaper Uber there. That’s it. It’s impossible to get lost as there is only one route that leads up. No entry fees either. It’s completely free as of this post.

The hike itself is straightforward, but it’s the last twenty minutes or so that I would consider the fun part. You literally have to start using your hands to climb up steady boulders and crevices, along with ladders and chain-links to pull yourself up. You may hear people say that it was difficult, but these are the same tourists who would probably consider botanical gardens and art museums a crazy good time. The joy of climbing overwhelmed any difficulty I may have had. It takes about an hour to reach the top, depending on your pace. Though I guarantee you’ll be stopping a bunch to take photos, which is a must!

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Myself along with a few other backpackers made the climb around 4pm, to give us enough time to relax at the top and enjoy a few beers for the sunset. No, there aren’t any beerstands there. Instead, I filled up a dry bag with ice and cans of South Africa’s best brews and carried it up. Easy as pie. Many people also brought snacks and food to the top. Just make sure you take everything you brought up, back down with you as there are no bins for rubbish,

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While you are up there, every side of the top offers alluring panoramas and magazine-worthy shots. Feel free to explore everywhere!

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You MUST stay for the sunset! 

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But, don’t stay too long, especially without flashlights to guide your way back down. There is an alternate route to bypass all the climbing bits, that leads you back to the spiraling path downward, back to the start of the hike.

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The walk up to Lion’s Head didn’t take nearly as long as it did for Table Mountain, the route is more open, and is much easier on the legs when walking back down as opposed to the many rocky steps on Table. Although Table does have the cable car option.

Also with Table Mountain, sometimes you just never know when there’s an incoming cloud cover to totally block your view from everything. Like this…

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For more posts like these and everything related to ADVENTURE TRAVEL, please subscribe by clicking the Follow button on this page and also follow along on Instagram and Facebook! I’d love to hear from you.  🙂

 

 

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Get To Know Table Mountain’s Vastly Underrated Neighbor, Lion’s Head Mountain

IMG_9182

Being a self-proclaimed “Capetonian” pro, I often tell people I meet that the hike up Lion’s Head is much more enjoyable than the routes up Table Mountain. And for many reasons.

Table Mountain is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world and deservingly so.  This 1,085m mountain with a relatively flat summit earned its name from the spillage of clouds that cover the top like a tablecloth. It truly is a world wonder.

But.

Directly neighboring Table Mountain is another smaller, more precious mountain called Lion’s Head which stands at about 669m, much shorter than it’s counterpart. Lion’s Head has a unique spiral shape leading up to the apex of the mountain which resembles the shape of a lion laying down. It took me awhile to see it.

Lion’s Head lives in the shadow of the ever prominent Table Mountain, but I actually prefer it over its more popular neighbor.

Unlike most routes leading up Table Mountain, the singular path spiraling up to Lion’s Head is completely out in the open. You literally circle up with the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town, and Table Mountain always in view. To see the clouds blanketing Table in such a close encounter is simply stunning.

IMG_9194.jpg

To get to the base, or the start of the hike, simply take a taxi or a cheaper Uber there. That’s it. It’s impossible to get lost as there is only one route that leads up. No entry fees either. It’s completely free as of this post.

The hike itself is straightforward, but it’s the last twenty minutes or so that I would consider the fun part. You literally have to start using your hands to climb up steady boulders and crevices, along with ladders and chain-links to pull yourself up. You may hear people say that it was difficult, but these are the same tourists who would probably consider botanical gardens and art museums a crazy good time. The joy of climbing overwhelmed any difficulty I may have had. It takes about an hour to reach the top, depending on your pace. Though I guarantee you’ll be stopping a bunch to take photos, which is a must!

IMG_0610.jpg

IMG_0646.jpg

Myself along with a few other backpackers made the climb around 4pm, to give us enough time to relax at the top and enjoy a few beers for the sunset. No, there aren’t any beerstands there. Instead, I filled up a dry bag with ice and cans of South Africa’s best brews and carried it up. Easy as pie. Many people also brought snacks and food to the top. Just make sure you take everything you brought up, back down with you as there are no bins for rubbish,

IMG_9115.jpg

IMG_9113.jpg

While you are up there, every side of the top offers alluring panoramas and magazine-worthy shots. Feel free to explore everywhere!

IMG_9200.jpg

IMG_9120.jpg

 

IMG_9174.jpg

You MUST stay for the sunset! 

IMG_9201.jpg

IMG_0628.jpg

IMG_9197.jpg

But, don’t stay too long, especially without flashlights to guide your way back down. There is an alternate route to bypass all the climbing bits, that leads you back to the spiraling path downward, back to the start of the hike.

IMG_0654.jpg

The walk up to Lion’s Head didn’t take nearly as long as it did for Table Mountain, the route is more open, and is much easier on the legs when walking back down as opposed to the many rocky steps on Table. Although Table does have the cable car option.

Also with Table Mountain, sometimes you just never know when there’s an incoming cloud cover to totally block your view from everything. Like this…

IMG_8701


For more posts like these and everything related to ADVENTURE TRAVEL, please subscribe by clicking the Follow button on this page and also follow along on Instagram and Facebook! I’d love to hear from you.  🙂

 

 

Wild Blue Yonder

I severely underestimated Austria. The landscapes here are first class and are some of the most awe-inspiring panoramas I’ve ever witnessed. Kevin and Alex live near mountains upon mountains and calm lakes neighboring more calm lakes. This is the countryside of Austria and it was blowing my mind. Save for driving through the winding hilltop roads though! My stomach isn’t privy to those.

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Kevin, Alex, and I are on the same page when it comes to traveling around the world. We all love the great outdoors and we all love our GoPro’s. Kevin is the GoPro meister and carries it with him everywhere he goes.

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Just like the Germans, the Austrians love their bread. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it doesn’t matter. We ate lots of it. It was easy to make a sandwich and it was accessible at all hours. And also like the Germans, the Austrians really love their beer. Of course their selection isn’t as wide as Germany but Kevin and his buddies can drink like no other. By this point, after months of intense beer training and three days of Oktoberfest, I was fine with never having to drink for a long time. I checked myself out in Munich. Kevin had other plans though. We all went out bar hopping nearby and ended up at a place where they play a game that is definitely not allowed in any American bar I’m familiar with. It’s called Nageln. You basically have a tree stump, a hammer, and some long nails. The goal is to take turns spiking down a nail into the stump using the hammer. The kicker is actually using the opposite side of the hammer (the claw) to accomplish this task. The last person to spike their nail completely into the stump has to buy a round for everyone playing. Fortunately, I was able to edge out one person at my first game. The hammer though…that wouldn’t fly with drunk Americans in our bars!

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A little bit away, there was a mountain called Hallstatt, famous for having neat hiking trails near the peaks rather than the base, so most people opt for the cable car. Kevin, Alex, and I drove to that mountain and planned on hiking at the top. It was a really crappy day: brisk, wet, and gray. However, all that would change almost instantly when we rode the cable car up above the dreary clouds.

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Just like that, the weather transformed almost like magic. The sky was a clean blue, the sun shone bright, and the landscape was covered in a thick blanket of pure white puff. We couldn’t see anything below us, just clouds. Clouds everywhere.

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Up at the top, there were many different paths laid out to trek. We chose a path that led us to another mountain top where we could get a better view of the cloud layer. How can the views get much better? They’re already amazing!

It was quite warm up there. There were no clouds to block the sun, since most of the clouds were now below us. The tops of the mountains didn’t look like ordinary mountain tops. Instead, it resembled a valley of sorts, easily accessible by foot. The trail led us further on to a cliff where we could rest and gaze at the sea of clouds that extended beyond plain eyesight.

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We stayed up there for a few hours before we went back to the cheerless reality taking place back on solid earth. We lost view of the mountain peaks and instead were shielded by the dullest of blankets. This day would be one of the only days where it was gloomy and rainy outside. The remainder of my time here in Austria brought upon perfect weather. A great day came about when Kevin took me back into the confines of Germany to a famous river that streamed through a range of highlands. The best way to get through the river was by riverboat, so thats what we used. It was a canal boat similar to the one I used in Amsterdam. And just like everything else in Austria, the scenery was top notch.

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There were a few places of interest here at this river: a cool trail, some restaurants, and a few churches. But really I think just sitting and wandering outside was the best.

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Austria, so far everything has been so freaking sweet! Both Kevin and Alex have been great to show me around their country. The fun didn’t stop there though. The three of us would join up again later to go river diving. Prepare to be amazed!

World of the Ice Giants

Here is what I know about Austria: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vienna sausages. Also, there’s some bizarre tradition they have where people dress like monsters and beat up other people. This is all I know. The most important fact about Austria though, is that my friend Kevin lives there. I met him right before the jungle party in Koh Tao, Thailand last summer. We’ve kept in touch often and both decided that I will come down to stay with him for several days so he could show me his country. Out of all the European countries I’ve been to so far, my prior knowledge of Austria was the most lacking, so my expectations were bare. I took a Meinfernbus, two hours south of Germany to a city in Austria called Salzburg. There Kevin and his buddy Alex were waiting for me.

Just like before, Kevin spoke like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was pretty amusing to me and he went along with it. “Put the cookie down!” “Get to the chopper!” Since Thailand, Kevin has been doing a lot of working and a lot of music festival partying based on all the photos he’s been showing me on Whatsapp the past few months. His friend Alex just came back about a month ago from a solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. He was actually on the islands too when I met Kevin last year, but he was sick in the hospital the whole time I was around. Kevin and Alex decided we should all have a home cooked meal and so we stopped at a super market, grabbed some grub, and went back to Kevin’s house where they prepared the feast.

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Kevin had tons of cool things planned for my visit and I was pretty pumped and game for anything! There is a mountain called Hochkogel Mountain, which is part of the Alps, and inside at the top is the largest ice cave discovered on Earth! The cave is called Eisreisenwelt and it spans 42km deep! That’s humoungous! The drive to the mountain was about an hour or so. I don’t exactly remember because I was passed out most of the drive. But once we made it, we had two options to get to the cave: we could take the cable car up, followed by a short hike or we could hike all the way to the top. Kevin and I opted for the long haul and were the only ones to do so for this day. On our way past the starting point, a lady told us we were wearing the wrong shoes for the hike, as it’s a little difficult. Kevin and I both had on sneakers which were perfect for us, but the woman recommended hiking boots. We said we’re fine and continued on anyways. The fact that everyone else took the cable car up made the hike up the mountain more enjoyable. Kevin and I were the only ones around and the sights around constantly left me in complete awe.

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The path up the mountain was indeed slippery. There were unsteady pebbles of rocks laid across the trail and one false step meant an undesirable fate. The trail zig-zagged up the base of the slope, piled with stones, pebbles, and rocks of all sorts of shapes and sizes. At one point I decided to take a short-cut and instead of following the trail, decided to climb straight up which would shave plenty of time. With me deciding to take a shortcut usually turns out to be a really great idea or a really bad one. This was a bad one. Kevin is game for anything also so I convinced him how much easier and more fun it would be to climb straight up instead of following the linear path. Upon beginning, I knew in my head that maybe this wasn’t a good idea, as the rocks I grabbed onto were loose and the bushes and grasses were wet and slippery. If I fell, it meant I would fall and slide down the mountain along with a bunch of stones. I made it up a few meters while Kevin waited to see if I could set a path for him. As he was busy fumbling with his GoPro, I accidentally dislodged a stone the size of my head and it came rolling down past me…straight towards Kevin!

“Kevin! Kevin! Watch out!!” I shouted in a panic.

He looked up and just as he did, he quickly dodged his head as the stone tumbled and flew past his shoulder. We both had an “Oh my God!” look on our faces. I almost just killed Kevin! With that, I proceeded up back to the nearest trail and he wisely decided not to climb up and proceeded along the trail and met me where I stood. My bad Kevin!

After that brief rush of adrenaline, we took it easy; no more daring stunts. We progressed up the mountain and every turn we made led us to another spectacular view of Austria…and it was beautiful.

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We stopped a lot to rest and take pictures. Kevin with his GoPro and me with my Nikon. A couple of hours in, we finally made it to the point where the cable car would drop off patrons, but we still had a 20 minute hike ahead. We could see the entrance of the cave from where we were.

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I wish I could explore the cave freely. No…not here, this was a guided tour. I dread those words: guided tour. There was a group of about thirty of us waiting at the top for the next phase of the tour to begin. While everyone began to dress up in their winter coats, hats and gloves, Kevin and I were standing there in shorts and t-shirts. Just how cold is this ice cave? The tour guide announced it was zero degrees celsius inside. We had to make do! We’ll be okay…right? I don’t operate well in cold weather.

Upon entering the cave we were blasted with frigid winds! It felt like someone placed a jet turbine in front of Antarctica and set it on full throttle. It was cold! Fortunately the winds only lasted for a few seconds and the inside of the cave was calm…and icy!

“No photography allowed,” said the tour guide.

But why? This isn’t a church or museum. It’s completely natural here. I couldn’t think of a single good reason why we weren’t allowed to take pictures…so I took some anyway! Discreetly of course. We didn’t climb all the way up here for nothing!

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The cave is 42km long but we only went into the beginnings of the cave. It started with a steep climb up an iced out wall via a staircase. The stairs led us to a giant chunk of ice in the shape of a wooly mammoth. It wasn’t carved that way, it was completely natural and it really did look like a mammoth!

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The cave is comprised of several chambers, some with filled with more ice than others. Each chamber of the cave had a chunk of ice that resembled some kind of giant monster. Use your imagination. Over years, the giant chunks change and deform as water from the outside slowly drips onto the ice. In ordinary caves, you’ll find stalagmites and stalactites and here you would find the same except made completely out of ice and frozen mineral sediments.

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The cave itself was cold but bearable. If you ever go here in shorts, you’ll live. The tour lasted for about an hour before we exited back to the chilly winds at the entrance.

For being the largest ice cave on the planet, I decided it’s worthy of being added onto my ATLAS.

ATLAS UPDATED!

No, you’re not allowed to take photos for whatever unknown reasons, but if you have the chance to visit, go ahead and take some! Just turn the flash off and do it when the guide isn’t paying attention. You’re not hurting anyone. Also, if you’re in the mood for a dose of some of the most amazing scenery ever, hike up the mountain! It’s an exercise but the photos will show for it.

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Kevin and I decided to also hike back down the mountain and stopped at certain points we missed along the way. The late evening was approaching and the sun beamed its last rays of daylight through the gaps of clouds and mountain peaks. I’d say the hike was the cake and the ice cave were just the sprinkles added to an already delicious dessert.

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But wait!

Kevin had more to show me. There is an entirely different world above the clouds. And we’re going there next!

Where Heaven Meets Earth

Sapa is a region to the northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s an area dominated by mountains of lush and green, with creeks of moss and stones. Most of the mountains possess perfectly ridged rice terraces along it’s slopes, crafted by the villagers and farmers who live there. Sapa, also known as Heaven’s Gate, is an area of extraordinary beauty and mesmerizing landscapes that will forever bathe in the clouds’ mists. It’s the next and last stop on this Vietnam trip and a perfect way to cap off this underrated country.

As soon as Lucy and I were dropped off at the Ethnic travel agency from our more-than-amazing Halong Bay cruise, we immediately had a taxi waiting for us for departure to the nearby bus station. From there, we had to endure an 11 hour overnight bus ride to the Lao Cai province of Vietnam, where Sapa is located. We took a sleeper bus, and unlike the cozy sleeper bus we took to Mui Ne a few weeks earlier, this one, particularly for me, was a rough ride! Not only was it humid, either I’ve grown a few inches or this bus was a bit smaller. Sleeper buses are not made for tall people, and I don’t even consider myself that tall; barely six feet, if that. Lucy and I were placed all the way in the back where you had to share space with three other strangers. There was a local lady who slept next to Lucy who kept elbowing her in the back. There was some dude down below who kept playing the same annoying song on repeat for a straight hour. I learned the words by the time he turned it off. Yes, it wasn’t very cozy but that’s okay, it was cheap and we were able to sleep most of the trip and before you knew it, the next morning we were in Lao Cai! From there another taxi was waiting for us, that took us to our hostel in Sapa Town, where we could eat breakfast and shower up.

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There is where we reunited with Jurre and An, who took the overnight train instead of the sleeper bus. There, we also met other travelers from around the world who would make the hike through Sapa with us, including three guys from Catelonia, Spain and another couple from somewhere else in Spain, I forget! Lucy and I would only be doing a two-day trek, while the other would do three. But once we all got acquainted, our tour guide led us through town for the beginning of the long hike!

Sapa Town
Sapa Town
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk...
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk…

Along through town, a troupe of local women and girls garbed in black woven clothes with purple and white lace around the edges, began to follow us. Initially I thought they wanted to sell us things, which is usually the case when locals walk up to me, but instead they just wanted to make the hike with us and guide us along the way (Later on they would try to sell us things). These woman are called Black Monks and they are one of many different tribes that live here in Sapa. I guess it’s pretty common for the Black Monks to follow tourists around, to get a more authentic feel. Once we made it through the town, we eventually made it the start of the wild hike, where we witnessed a dreamlike view of the Sapa valley!

Sapa
Sapa

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Just thinking about it now, it seemed unreal. A valley filled with a rich green, as far as the eye could see, sheltered in a blanket of thick mist. During the morning, the sun shone brightly but as the day progressed, the sun’s rays individually punctured through the clouds. Each hour of the day produced a fantastic backdrop for our hike. Today’s hike was about five or six hours long that took us through the wide landscapes of the slopes. It wasn’t a difficult hike at all, as a matter of fact, it was very enjoyable because we saw the region from many different angles and saw plenty of different wildlife, including wild baby piglets scampering the fields and patches of dragonflys roaming about!

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An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks
An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks

After a few hours of a sweaty hike, we made it to a shop where we were served more rice and noodles, just like every other place in Vietnam. No matter, it always tasted delicious and it always got the job done. As we ate, the Black Monks patiently waited outside for us, as they enjoyed their own lunch.

This is one of the "main" Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.
This is one of the “main” Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.

As we continued out trek, we passed through a village with a dozen kids just playing about, minding their own business. I had a sack of snacks in my bag for the hike, so I thought I would give it to the youngsters instead. They loved it! An gave them balloons she had on her. They loved those too!

Lucy and I with the kiddos.
Lucy and I with the kiddos.

Soon after they ran about to show their parents the gifts they just received from a bunch of strangers.

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After a little more hiking, we reached our tour guides house and stayed there for the night. She actually lives in the village and does treks almost everyday as part of her job. We were all extremely dirty, so instead of the shower, I opted to take a bath in the river. On the way I saw some locals soaping up in the creek and the water looked fresh enough, so I thought I would give it a try. It was cold but it felt great! I made it back in time for a feast at the house where one of the cooks there gave us “Happy Wine”, which is just another name for a certain kind of Vietnamese booze! We called it a night. The next day we would begin another trek through this dreamlike country.

The house we stayed at for the night.
The house we stayed at for the night.
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!

We started off in the morning, and continued our long, muddy hike forward through the valley where I was able to nab more photos.

Rice fields.
Rice fields.

20130726-182627.jpgIt started to rain pretty heavily. At one point I accidentally split up from my group…or should I say, they split up from me! What happened was, there was this muddy, slippery slope we came to that we had to get down. I say it was about 50 feet long and a bit steep. I was always at the front of the pack and went down the hill first. The tour guide decided it was too dangerous, AFTER I had already went down, and decided to lead the group on an alternate route. So now what? I just continued on further on my lonesome. Well not totally alone, one of the Black Monks joined me and came with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. I think this was also a good thing to happen because eventually I caught up with two elderly woman who were struggling once we were in the ridiculously muddy bamboo forest. I was able to help them most of the way. After about a half hour or so, An and Jurre who were also split up, merged with me and we hiked to the waterfalls where the Black Monk told us to wait for the rest of my group. We all rejoined and continued.

I have a faster than average walking pace and always found myself at the far front of the group. Instead of constantly waiting for them to catch up, I decided to go forth and take shots of them from afar.

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My pace was so fast that I eventually lost them, AGAIN, and made it to another village where I waited for them for lunch. Here I was bombarded by a different tribe of women called the “Red Dao”. These ladies shave their eyebrows and most of their hair and wear big red hats that look like pillows and garments with red decorations in them. As soon as the Red Dao seen me walking towards their village, they surrounded me and tried to sell me things I don’t want. I had to chit chat with them for awhile since I was alone and had no idea where to hide. It got to the point where I had to throw my fellow hiking buddies under the bus. “I have no money but my friends who are coming are very rich! You can ask them!” I said. The plan worked as I saw my group coming along and the Dao ladies waltzed right to them! Mwahahaha!

Lucy and I enjoyed one last lunch with the group before she and I set off to say goodbye and leave Sapa.

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Jurre, An, and all the rest of them would continue they’re hike to another village for the night. Lucy and I headed back to the hotel in Sapa Town where we took a sleeper bus back to Hanoi. This bus was worse than the other but whatever, it was stupid cheap! I just could never get cozy.

Once we got back to Hanoi in the middle of the night, we kind of struggled to find a hostel (most hostels aren’t open at five in the morning) but we eventually found one and passed out. Earlier in the week, before we went to Halong Bay, we decided where we would go once we got back in Hanoi.

We booked a plane for the next day, to a landlocked country that neighbors Vietnam called Laos. We have nothing booked or planned for the country, as we decided to go there on the whim. We’ll see how it all pans out!