My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 9)
I woke up to pouring rain in the morning. I looked at my phone which had a horrific iMessage from my mom. While I was asleep my family dog (Wes) had taken an unexpected journey to doggy heaven. Heavy rains and over cast skies were fitting for the mood I was in. I felt like staying balled up in my bed and just having a “me” day with Netflix.
I convinced myself that Wes’s spirit was sitting on my shoulder and would keep me safe. I’m not much for religion or spirituality, but on this day something was different. Maybe because I’m such a dog lover I found a way to connect myself internally to believe in something greater than the human mind. Or maybe I’m just crazy and going delirious after a month on the bike. Either way, I was talking to Wes’s spirit on my shoulder and eventually his sister (Allie) came to join us. It was was comforting to know that Allie had her twin brother in heaven with her now.
The rain was unrelenting. I came around a bend when I saw a group of chickens in the road. I slowed down and gave them a beep to move, but one chicken decided to run one way and then back to the other. Why did the chicken cross the road a second time??? I’m not swerving my motorcycle to save a chicken’s life while potentially risking my own. So, in that moment I sacrificed a bird to spare my own life. I had a moment of sadness rush through me until I remembered how much Wes and Allie loved chasing birds in the backyard. It was a sign they were back together with young puppy legs chasing birds right into my path for their biggest trophy ever!
The next morning, I got in contact with Mama Ti who lives in one of the villages just outside of Sa Pa. She had room for me to come stay with her and her family. She is 56 years old and the grandmother to 16 children. It was a 60+ minute drive in the pouring rain down terrible bumpy and rocky roads that are falling apart. The other option is to hike about 4-5 hours with one of Mama Ti's daughters to the village if you don't have a motorcycle. Mama Ti is the unassigned matriarch Queen of the village by my opinion. She learned English by selling jewelry and textiles to tourists visiting Sa Pa.
I was given Mama Ti's name and phone number by my friend Trang who heard stories about her place from a friend that stayed there. Every traveler I met during my time at Mama Ti's had a similar story. Her heart is full of love for her family and the guests that come to stay with her. Staying with her will provide you the most authentic experience of understanding what life is like for the people in the surrounding villages. Everyone in Mama Ti's family works to make sure every visitor is made to feel apart of the family.
I drove through the pouring rain to get to her daughter’s house where I stayed for the first night. Mama Ti, daughter and granddaughters made the best dinner I’ve had in Vietnam. Then Mama Ti busted out a bottle of local rice wine or as she called it, “happy water!” I wasn’t allowed to go to bed until we finished a 1.5-liter bottle together. I didn’t think it was possible for a 56 year-old tiny woman to drink this much, but she was a seasoned veteran.
I woke up feeling a little groggy, but after after Mama Ti’s family made the biggest breakfast for us I was feeling alive again. Now I know why she calls it “happy water” because if it were vodka I would have been in bed for two days. Instead, I found myself going on a trek through the muddy village and rice paddies with her daughter for the next five hours.
When we returned from the trek I packed up my stuff and hiked uphill carrying 60lbs of my stuff to Mama Ti’s house. When I got to Mama Ti’s I was greeted by a new group of travelers that arrived that day. We all traded stories about what we were doing and why we were there. Mama Ti sent Papa Kool (her husband) to the local market so we could share some beers. I didn’t think this would be a bad idea as we drank Mama Ti out of rice wine the night before.
Mama Ti served up another amazing meal for dinner. It was an unlimited supply and every time we thought we finished off a dish she came back with another big plate and told us to finish it. And then, much to my surprise Mama Ti busted out two 1.5 liter bottles of happy water for the group. I thought this stuff was gone!!! Nope, it wasn’t going to be gone until we drank the bottles empty. Mama Ti was the frat brother that loved hazing pledges and we were the pledges tonight. If someone didn’t finish their shot, she called them out and poured their shot glass completely full the next round.
The happy water was finally finished. But the party was just starting as everyone was coming out of their shells. Then Mama Ti busted out the “happy grass.” Yes, I’m speaking of marijuana. They grow it in all the villages for hemp to make clothing. The natives here aren’t exactly a wasteful group of humans so they make sure to use every bit of the plant. They apply the same "use all" to all other aspects of the life and any leftover food goes to feed the livestock.
I’m not a fan of the happy grass, but when in Rome you should probably have just a small dabble. This lead to promises from Mama Ti for my new friend Josh to marry a local village woman the next day, everyone agreeing to purchase Mama Ti’s homemade clothes at varying level of prices based on how much Mama Ti liked you, everyone staying another night, and yours truly getting the privilege to kill a duck for the next night’s dinner.
The next morning, we all met around the breakfast table to recount the stories and promises we made while intoxicated by Mama’s happy performance enhancing remedies. We took some photos, went to a waterfall nearby and then everyone decided we had to get out of town before Mama Ti busted out some happy water. I joined Jack, Josh and Robbo’s motorcycle gang the “Breakdown Bandits” on a promise of going to watch a rugby match at a sports bar in Hanoi. It had been 2.5 months since I watched live sports and I was feening for some sports comradery.
Here are some more photos of my stay in Mama Ti's village.