The expression “being in the middle of nowhere” never rang so true as in this dusty town called Tam Duong on the border of China. Don’t bother looking for Tam Duong on the map. The place is -still is I’m sure – eminently forgettable.
Curiously this most homely town turns its back to spectacular sceneries of sugarloaf formations and greenest than green terraced rice paddies.
Colorful ethnics having migrated from China to live in the hills, almost lending credence to the few eccentrics who pretend that the Mayas descended from the Chinese. They look like Mayas, dress like Mayas, grow corn like Mayas and probably speak a dialect similar to Mayan.
It poured all night which made the hiking trails impracticably muddy. Even yesterday, they were very slippery. We went to the market instead where I was assaulted by a group of Black Dao women who insisted on covering me with jackets, belts, headdresses and assorted jewelry. Just hope I don’t catch lice, scabies, fleas or any such critters. They didn’t look so clean if indeed quite attractive and beautifully put together.
The next trend in tooth fashion might very well be “tooth blackening”. It’s the latest – as well as most ancient – style here. Village women sport that most peculiar look and particular smile of jet-black lacquered teeth against pink gums: fetching combination. Each village, apparently, has its tooth blackener. Move over piercings and tattoos, black teeth will soon be in.
I’m not sure the food agrees with me. It’s either hard or soft in tomato sauce: hard meat, soft tofu. It was okay in Hanoi but this region truly has dismal gastronomy: saw a basket of squirming serpents and caged dogs at the market. Looking at the meat at butcher’s stalls is enough to turn you into a staunch vegetarian, but how many spring rolls and rice with green grass can you eat? My stomach is protesting. I suspect a conspiracy of the guide, in cahoots with the local restaurateurs.
Our guide is a cute, always smiling, proverbially inscrutable little man with very developed masseters (probably from chewing all that hard meat). He speaks impeccable, cultured French but suddenly stops understanding whenever he doesn’t like the topic. I suspect he’s at the root of all that hard meat and flabby tofu. Somehow you can very well imagine him as a tiny Vietcong, oh well…I guess it must not be fun to be a tourist guide, all that waiting around and explaining things over and over again.
Thé, that’s his name, is more an intellectual than an athlete, therefore trekking is something he tries to avoid as much as possible. It’s true that it rained buckets yesterday, which was a convenient excuse to pretend that trails had been transformed in slippery, murderous mud slides. Well, he might know better. Let’s hope that tomorrow dries dries those treacherous trails.