Laying in the dark bunk as the train rattles through the night I am different. I have left a part of myself behind but I have taken something back with me….

I walk out into the moonlit hallway. As the air rushes past my skin I find the bathroom and look into the mirror. There it is… In the hollow of my neck I see the green mountains. Across my collar bone float wispy clouds. Red streaks my forehead and Indigo blue stains my hands. These are the colors of the land and the people of Sapa.

We were at the northern tip of Vietnam just a few km from the China boarder. This part of VN has been opened to the world for only about 12 years and tourism is a slippery  slope…..Can they hold on to the old and embrace the new?

Many of the tribe people come in to the city selling what they can, even if that means their culture. The tourist areas are full of begging children,  sad empty women who in my opinion have lost much to gain little.  Of course my opinion really doesn’t mean much I have not walked in the shoes of these people.

Some have made the arrangement work bringing to market their wares, using their crafts as a way to make a living.  There is a real senses of family among the tribes….Reminded me of old days on Dead tour….Cheryl you and I would have been wonderful Hmong ladies…..

If you hike just 3 hours away you step back into another time. Another place where the western dollar is of no concern, where there is life in the eyes of the elders, where the people are busy working their land, where Zeb and Lo hand out candy to the beautiful smudged children that run out from their houses and fields with curious wide eyes.  This is where I traded a piece of my heart for a piece of Sapa’s soul.

There are bangles of mine hanging from the already adorned arms of four Red Zdao woman waiting for my return, there is an old Hmong woman who sat with me on the curb talking about days long ago whose story I will hear again, there is a foot print waiting to continue the journey into the high Sapa mountains surrounded by the green terraced rice fields, the indigo blue Hmong tribes and the red of the red Zdao people. My foot print is not alone, there is another beside it. A slightly smaller one. This person too has left a piece of himself in Sapa.

I know as the moon washes across his sleeping face I will see a map of the mountains winding dirt roads, his hands will be the hands of a teenage Hmong boy that we watched from afar as he worked with a long blade to make a raft near the river before diving in to cool off. I saw the exchange in Zeb’s eye’s as he watched with admiration. I remember the summer days he would don his Indian outfit and run wild and free through the pine forest at home.  I Know if I placed my hand on his spine I would feel the pounding of the waterfall that fed the cold river where he stripped down and jumped off the rocks with a whoop and a splash. A piece of him stirs in the rushing waters waiting his return.

These places are more than just memories they are the colors of my soul.  They are tattooed to my spirit unseen to the outside world but ever present to me each new one changing who I am. I’ve been waiting for this since we came, I am so grateful to have found it before we left. I know someday Zeb and I will return. I hope it’s together….

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