Blind Trust – Learning To Surrender

Heather Markel, Blogger, Speaker, Global Nomad

22 October 2018

Sometimes magical experiences happen when you let go of all expectations.

(Photo above taken in Sa Pa, Vietnam.) When traveling in a completely foreign place where I don’t speak the language I’ve learned to reduce overwhelm by surrendering as much as I can. I let go of expectations, challenge them when they come up, and am ready to try new experiences with little information about them apart from the fact they sound interesting. This happened recently. The tour guide at my hotel in Hanoi suggested I try a homestay in Sapa and a day of trekking. I thought, “hell yes!” I had visions in my head of dining with a local family and walking along serene rice fields and spending time with water buffalo.


Rice fields in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2018

I arrive in Sapa and upon check-in my hotel suggests I leave my luggage there and carry only what I can hike with the next day. I’m perplexed as I thought some van would take my bags while I trekked and drop them off at our destination. Then it occurs to me that I haven’t asked how difficult the trekking is. When I do I get a somber expression and I’m told it’s steep and very slippery because it’s raining. With my recent bout of plantar fasciitis I’m beginning to worry.


I pack as little as I can into a small bag and decide to just go for it and see what happens. The next morning, I tell the guide I have a foot problem and might not be able to hike the whole way. She explains this is not a problem as I can just rent a motor bike if I need to. Gulp. That sounds even worse. I try to remain calm and realize I’m now locked in and will somehow have to make this work.


“I tell the guide I have a foot problem and might not be able to hike the whole way. She explains this is not a problem as I can just rent a motor bike…”

While waiting to depart, I wonder why so many local ladies in traditional dress have accompanied our guide. As we walk they all ask our name and where we’re from. I meet JoJo and ChiChi and Cu and Co and a host of other women with 2 syllable names I assume are not their real ones and all shorter than me. I mention this because when we turned into the mountain with rice fields and began trekking, I was shocked at how easily they stepped up large distances that I struggled with. I also learned why they were with us – I spent much of the 4-hour trek holding hands with MiMi and another woman to avoid slipping and sometimes being pulled up! And MiMi wore a huge basket on her back the whole hike! I completely understood why I couldn’t bring my luggage, and I realized there was no way in hell I was going to get a motorbike – it’s walk or be stuck.


The ladies who accompanied us on our trek.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2018

At a rest stop along the way the toilet is a hole in the ground that smells so foul I can’t stop gagging. I hope that the homestay toilets are not the same and realize I should have reconsidered staying for two days. (Luckily they end up being Western style!) When we finished our trek and had lunch I learned the other reason they were with us – to make money. In fact before lunch our guide explained that MiMi was leaving and now she wanted to sell to me.(Each of us in fact appear to have had a specific buddy for the hike and only they knew their friendliness was to endear us to them so we would buy from them later.)

MiMi waves clothing and bags and jewelry at me and asks what I will buy. I don’t want anything but she clearly expects I do and I feel I will commit cultural suicide if I don’t. I also realize that, if not for her, I would have fallen and broken my face on that trek or possibly died. I decide that being alive and having my face in tact is worth paying for.  I wish I could just give her money and not buy things which will take up room in my suitcase. I buy the smallest bag she has and a bracelet she says she made. (I’m not so sure but someone made it!) She charges me 300,000 Dong (roughly $12.50) and seems content.

(Click images above to see them in larger format.) What follows however is a crowd of other women and girls that want to sell to us. When we protest we already have a bag or bracelet they explain that there’s is different and we need another one. Talk about women having strong selling strategies wow!
After lunch we continue walking (note that I am so sore from this 5+ mile trek over the next several days I can barely walk and am delighted to find Tiger Balm in a store in Sapa.) Along the way I have the delight of seeing water buffalo bathing in mud! They are wonderful creatures and look content and completely unafraid of us. I snap tons of photos and spend the next day looking for more.
Finally we get to our homestay – it’s more like a beautiful hostel than a stay with a family. The view is superb and the company even better. I’m so glad for the faith I put into the complete unknown.

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