When I was a child, where most of my travels were through the recesses of my imagination — especially on school days — I would spend hours creating stories to entertain myself.
My favorite tale was one where time-travel was made possible via a secret portal in the fields behind my house. I spent most of my journeys along the timeline hanging out with Laura Ingalls at her little house on the prairie. I loved her cool clothes, self-sufficiency and ability to weather any storm. I longed to live a life with her and her family on pristine lands.
In my self-spun fan fiction, we became the best of friends, sharing experiences past, present, and future (perspective dependant on where one started on the timeline).
I hadn’t thought of that story for many years, but it came to mind while traveling through the mountains of Northwest Vietnam with Man Mây.
I met Man Mây through ETHOS Spirit Tours, an ethical social enterprise who offer unique, experiential adventures in support of Sa Pa’s local minority tribal people. Man Mây and I designed our adventure in conjunction with the ETHOS management team, Phil & Hoa Hoolihan.
I threw caution to the wind, choosing to explore Northwest Vietnam on the back of Man Mây’s motorcycle. I also opted for an overnight stay at her home followed by a traditional Red Dao herbal bath and more cycling the next morning.
I was treated me to 36-hours of jaw-dropping landscapes, delicious home cooked meals, a comfortable night’s rest in the country, and immersion into Man Mây’s wonderful world.
While our motorcycle journey was predominantly over paved roads, it was very off-the-beaten-track. I saw few tourists after we passed Thac Bac (Silver) Waterfall and none after we crossed the summit to Lai Chau.
Along our way, we shared many stories of family, extended family, family-dynamics, marriage, children, womanhood, art, lifestyle, and sustenance. The conversation was open and flowed easily. She was a kindred spirit indeed.
Man Mây’s life is not an ‘easy’ one, but she has definitely got it all going on. I found her to be a resilient woman who lives life on her own terms as much as possible within the dictates of the Red Dao tribe.
She enjoys a traditional lifestyle, but does not require her daughter to wear the red headscarf except on special occasions and vows to allow both her children to arrange their own marriages. While her children are full-time students, she taught herself to speak English (fluently) and she is now learning to read and write with an eye to growing her tour business.
Both Man Mây’s mother and mother-in-law are expert seamstresses, as are most of the women in her extended family, but she prefers life as a farmer, innkeeper, and guide.
Whatever their trade, the women in Man Mây’s family persevere and sustain their community, even under sometimes challenging circumstances.
My time with Man May and her family was definitely a top adventure in a lifetime full of adventures (real and imagined). If this sounds like something you’d like to experience, you’d better get here quick because this world is changing.
** The crew of Amandla will commence our Indian Ocean crossing on 16 February 2018 25 February 2018, sailing from Thailand to South Africa via The Andaman Islands, Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Chagos, (possibly Rodrigues and Reunion) Madagascar, and Mozambique. Internet access will be limited/non-existent at times, so responses to your comments may be delayed. **