Highland Mirth in Sapa

10:30 pm

I haven’t been drunk in years. Check that, up until this afternoon, I hadn’t been drunk in years. It just doesn’t really agree with me. I don’t even normally touch the stuff. But today, that was not an option.

My guide, knowing I was a photographer, decided to take me to a wedding that was happening in the area. The morning saw us take a jeep out to the villages and then walk through some stunning countryside. Along the way, we were hounded at every turn by the girls and women of the local tribes who were hoping to sell their handicrafts to the area’s ever-multiplying tourists. Each of them was a sight to behold with all of their tribes’ traditional clothing wrapping them in a picturesque package. Just beautiful

Unfortunately, the area has been touristed enough that you’re only going to get a non-candid photo of them by paying them. At least that was my experience – I talked to a couple girls later who had no trouble whatsoever taking shots of the girls that had been following them the whole day. I might have been a bit unlucky I guess. I only got some willing participants after I bought a couple of small items off a woman here or there.

After walking for most of the morning through the mud and the terraced rice fields, we arrived at the wedding. Gathering only what I thought I might need for shooting the wedding, I headed off from the small house where I would eventually have lunch.

The wedding was being held at a nearby house whose front yard area had been covered in a tarp. Underneath, dozens of locals had gathered and were happily sharing celebratory meals. I was soon ushered to a table and offered some food. Rice was about the only thing I could eat, but the folks who had brought me in quickly changed their tune and decided to give me a drink.

Of course, I told them I don’t drink. It was like I had just punched the bride in the face. Shocked, the man holding my eventual glass insisted that it was bad luck for the couple to say something like ‘I don’t drink.’ Before I knew it, one of my hands was filled with a shot of rice whiskey and the glass was being driven towards my mouth. I figured I could probably stand to down one shot and I wouldn’t be too affected by it.

But no sooner than I had finished grimacing at the taste, my other hand was now holding another glass. ‘Two! Two!’ was the refrain being yelped at me by this pusher and I probably would have cursed the couple forever or gotten kicked out of the place if I hadn’t downed the second shot.

Now, keep in mind that even when I did drink, years ago, I was by no means a heavyweight. A lot of 12 year olds probably could have given me a run for my money or even put me under the table. Considering that I haven’t had a drink in years, I was sure that two shots would be plenty for me and I would feel the effects soon enough.

But of course, two was not the end of things for me. Some slight of hand had either refilled my glasses or they had been replaced with fresh drinks and I was once again being exhorted to down them both. At this point I figured I might as well roll with it as best I could.

I pleaded with the man foisting these drinks on me, ‘Please, promise me that these are the last two I will have to drink.’ I got his promise and thought that four would be somewhere within my upper limit. The nasty stuff was swallowed and stood back relieved that I was finished with the ordeal – I thought I would just have to prepare myself for the oncoming buzz.

‘Two more when you meet the groom!’

And with that I was guided to the groom. By this time, I’m already feeling more than buzzed. In fact, this stuff went straight to my head. So, I can’t even really remember what the groom looked like so much. He was wearing a light blue shirt and looked to be in his mid thirties from what I recall, but if I bump into him tomorrow, I’ll have no idea.

Continuing in the spirit if being a good sport, I threw back the groom’s shots. Immediately after each of them he stuffed small rice cakes into my mouth. They dulled the taste of the shot at least.

Now that they had had their fun getting the foreigner tanked, they lead me over to a chair where I started playing with some dog. I only remember this because I looked at my photos and I have a blurry shot of my hand petting some four-legged friend. In fact, I have a bunch of shots that document the experience for me. Apparently, I took a bunch of shots of the families and then wandered through the kitchen.

Someone then took me back to the house where I had left my bag and sat me in a chair where I continued taking photos, this time of someone’s relatively nondescript back yard. Soon, I was being approached by yet another woman selling her wares. We talked for a good long while and eventually, we agreed on a price for an item I can’t mention here because it will likely end up as a gift for someone.

But soon after making the purchase, she and I became best friends. She was obviously okay with me taking a bunch of photos of her. Fortunately, before I had started drinking, I had set up my camera so that even a drunk idiot could take a decent shot with it. Remarkably, some of my shots of this woman didn’t turn out too badly. My photos from inside the wedding, however, were an absolute mess. The light was far too low for me to try anything when sober, but with drunk and shaky hands, I ended up with a series of blurry nonsense.

After a nice lunch, I briefly visited some kids at a nearby farm then returned to collect my things. Upon sitting down and resting briefly, the home’s owner decided she wanted to get in on the action of getting folks pissed. She wouldn’t let any of us leave until we had all had a few more shots of rice whiskey. My guide and her friends were attempting to replace the drinks with water when she wasn’t looking, but she would have none of it. Nothing got past her and she wasn’t satisfied until I had finished off another three shots. That made for a total of nine in just over an hour for me.

Oddly enough, though I did indeed get more than buzzed, my head started to clear remarkably quickly. While walking along, I could actually feel lucidity returning to me with each step. I’m not sure why, but the booze seemed to be gone from my system a couple hours after the whole affair. Since it’s been so long, I don’t recall how long it’s supposed to take for my head to clear, but I do seem to recall waking up still tipsy once or twice. So I’m thinking my recovery time was pretty unusual for me.

Happily, that should translate to no hangover for me since I’m now feeling totally normal as I write this before going to bed.

I just hope there aren’t any more weddings in the area tomorrow.

9:00 am

What on earth am I doing in a two-star hotel? I wasn’t expecting this.

I’ve arrived in Sapa and I have some time in my lovely room before I’m to go off for some hiking in the area’s cloudy hills. But I wasn’t expecting to be staying the nicest hotel in some time for me. Go figure. I didn’t even really know if I would be doing a homestay or what. I mean, I have a fireplace. No wood, but there is a fireplace here.

And, happily enough, I have this cozy room all to myself. I’m the only one who has booked this particular tour, so I’m all by myself this whole time – just my guide to keep me company. I’m feeling a bit spoiled at this point.

The train ride here wasn’t too bad. I actually managed to sleep on what was, surprisingly, my first overnight train ride. I shared a cabin with a French family and had to try to practice a language I haven’t really studied in 13 years. My comprehension is great, but my speaking could use some work. But overall, we understood each other.

Now I’m just sitting here wondering if perhaps I’m going to be carried along through these chilly mountains in keeping with the spirit of what feels like some luxurious accommodation.

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