My Dad’s words never rang louder, As soon as you step outside those four walls of your home – Don’t. Trust. Anyone.
Vietnam is the last place in SE Asia to let your guard down. Period. But, I did. We are in the middle of a two-week tour. Yesterday we had one of the most amazing visual experiences of this entire trip. Engulfed by larger than life mountains that are layered from top to bottom with emerald green rice fields that are dotted by wooden and bamboo villages. The natural scene is absolutely breathtaking. Sa pa, Vietnam is a place to see.
All day we’d driven for miles through those mountains, spending a large chunk of the afternoon at the most colorful market I’ve ever laid eyes on. A rainbow of hill-tribe and minority cultures gathered together to do their weekly shopping, before walking hours and hours back to their villages. From head to toe, dressed in their traditional clothing selling live horses, pigs, dogs, frogs, and water buffalo. Elderly tribes women huddled under an umbrella pushing their homemade ‘happy water’, rice wine.
During the market, Ashlie and I parted ways and spent almost 3 hours shooting hundreds of photos and taking in the extraordinary experience individually. Once we met back up we were happily exhausted. Over the moon to be headed to a homestay we’d been told was remotely buried at the bottom of one of those mammoth mountains.
The road down to the village where we would be sleeping was too rocky for the car. We were dropped off and had to walk over an hour down and through villages and rice fields before finally arriving just after sunset. During our journey our guide asked if it would be ok if there were another couple staying at our homestay. In true Vietnamese fashion, we’d paid to have the place and family to ourselves, as we had a few days before during our homestay in the Mekong Delta. What could we do at that point? Ashlie, the eternal optimist, turns to me and says, Who knows, maybe they’ll be our new lifelong best friends?
The homestay was big. Two stories, but very basic. Pretty much what we’d expected being so far removed from any sort of modern day civilization. Once we settled our backpacks in, we grabbed a few cold beers and sat in the ‘kitchen’ while the mother of the house and her grown daughter prepared our dinner. The son, also grown, sat in the ‘living room’ with his unfriendly eyes glued to the TV.
Once dinner was ready we all sat elbow to elbow and enjoyed a rather delicious traditional Hmong (their minority tribe) dinner together. Only when the son began to pour shots of rice wine did he warm up to us a bit, finally willing to glance a split second’s worth of eye contact my direction while we tapped shot glasses and shouted, Yo! Cheers.
Once the unexpected couple at the homestay finished their dinner, they came downstairs and introduced themselves. A handsome couple from France, Francois and Marie, are in their last week of a month’s worth of travel through Cambodia and Vietnam. Though we were having rather enjoyable conversation, Ashlie and I had been up since 5:30 a.m. and had the same wake up time planned for this morning.
The walls of our little room consisted of different shaped and sized wood planks held up by pillars of clay. A thin torn cloth hung as the makeshift door, while a single bulb dangling from an extension chord was the only electricity in the room. This meant there was no outlet to charge my phone whose battery was at 5%.
Simple as it was, this homestay had a television, DVD player and a laptop. Two classic Nokia phones were plugged in the walls of the living and dining rooms. The front door and garage doors had locks. Big locks.
After everyone else had gone to bed, I pulled back the cloth door and confidently plugged my phone into one of the outlets in the dining area (which was literally 10 feet from our bed). This is a homestay, I thought to myself, a family whose livelihood depends on the happiness and wellbeing of travelers such as myself. And with the four family members and us four tourists being all locked in, I was confident I had nothing to worry about.
We had another huge day planned for today. More hiking. More villages. More awesomeness. So even though we both could have used more sleep, the roosters and rays of sun peeking through the cracked wood were enough to spark us out from under the mosquito nets.
I popped up and rounded the corner to fetch my phone. When I saw the empty outlet where I’d left it charging, my stomach immediately dropped. All my skin got warm and the first thought that shot through my mind, Don’t. Trust. Anyone.
I knew it was gone. My baby. The tool and the clay, that’s helped mold my website. Phone numbers, notes not backed up, but most importantly – the 400+ photos from one of the last ten months most memorable days. Some of the rawest and most unique images I’ve yet to capture. Gone. F!
What transpired over the next 8 hours was some of the most frustratingly up and down moments in all my life – a mountain’s worth of lies and deceit. There were only ten of us in that homestay and I tried my damnedest to keep my cool, but I knew someone there stole my phone. And I made it sternly clear I wasn’t leaving that mf’n village until I got my phone back. That didn’t happen. But you’ll be shocked to hear what did. Unfortunately, we are only an hour away from our next overnight train to Hanoi.