6. ATW : Volunteering in a homestay in Sapa’s district…

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When a good idea becomes a lesson…

Yep, we’ve been volunteers abroad for the first time of our lives… And trust me next time I’ll discuss more with the owner before agreeing to work for free !

What I thought wwoofing was about : 

What I understood from the web and from the bloggers I follow was that wwoofing is in a way joining a hippie community of travelers in order to exchange hard work in the fields, building a self sufficient house or taking care of animals for knowledge, a shelter for the night and food.

I could already picture myself suffering like i did in Rize in Turkey, Farahj in Iran or in Luang Namtha in Laos with Max but for a more ecological concept and with a team of people from all over the world who would share my ideas of peace, love and of a non political world…

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The offer we found on  wwoofing Vietnam:

Lao Cai province, Sapa town
We are Eddie, Hien, and the little Tommie, 2 years old. We are established in the village of Ta van, 20 minutes from Sapa. One of the most beautiful regions of Vietnam. Here you can experience the Vietnamese culture; lost in the middle of the mountains and surrounded by the rice culture. We are running the Bamboo bar and the Buffalo guesthouse in the village of Ta van. We are looking for volunteers to help us construct a new house up in the mountains, maintain our small garden where we grow vegetables and flowers, help the locals in their daily activities, help us in maintaining the bar and the guest house, … You will also participate to the development of the local communities. We love cultural exchanges and we would be pleased to welcome you in our family for the time you spend with us. My woofing experience.

\”I am Andre, 28, from Belgium. A friend and me spent a few weeks with Eddie\’s family in March 2015. It will remain one of my best experience in Vietnam. First, the landscape is incredible. You are literally surrounded by postcard views. Ta van is in the middle the northern Vietnamese mountains, covered by the rice terraces. Amazing! We helped Eddie maintain his beautiful garden, painting his house, running the bar and the guest house, … We also discovered the local culture, learned their way of living, and enjoyed the chill and relaxing atmosphere of the Sapa region. We even had time to go for a hike further up in the mountains with one of the nice local guides. A must.\”

Nice, right? Ok pack your bag Max, we’re going to Sapa !!!

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What it really was:

  • Ok bad luck, in december the region of Sapa is extremly cold. The temperatures were between 0 and 4°C.  We could only see clouds in the sky, clouds around us, clouds underneath our feet and it was raining all the time… But the brilliant idea of the owners with such a wonderful weather was to ask us to be outside for 2 hours between 2 and 4 pm trying to recruit customers by telling them in their language (…?!?) that there was a fire inside, some apple and cinnamon tea, mulled wine or hot chocolate… No need to comment right?
  • The new house was almost done and anyway the work was done by a few vietnamese workers so no knowledge could be exchanged on this topic.  The garden was nowhere to be found and the eco part was… no comment. A few herbs were indeed growing in their private garden but the food that was served to the customers was coming by motorbike from the market by a man who was paid for this… So far from my idea of being self-sufficient. The guesthouse saw almost no customer during our stay there which brings us to the bar as the only activity for us from 2 to 10 pm everyday.
  • Regarding the “local community”, I should explain that Sapa, Tavan and Lao Chai (which are the 3 famous and so called traditionnal hmong villages) are JUST about toursism. You can find there a sort of a vietnamese disneyland where Mickey is an old hmong lady with her coloured skirt who harasses you and follows you everywhere you go playing the guide and asking you for money… where cinderella is a young hmong woman talking to you only to sell her bracelets, necklaces and “handmade” bags…  and where Aladin is a young or less young man talking to you only to offer you a taxi service on his motorbike… See? We’re far from Pocahontas… or maybe just if we take the beginning of this “fairy tale” ?!?
  • And for the cultural exchanges, I would simply say that we saw the man of the family only at diner. and the wife, a real capitalistic business woman more than a loving hippy, seemed to be torned up between her own thoughts and issues, the fact that she needed us and the fact that she wanted to learn from us without giving anything in return (I even cooked an apple pie for them asking for a vietnamese cooking lesson in return… She said yes, I’m still waiting for my share of knowledge… but I spied on the lemon grass peanuts cooking process as a retribution).  Take all of this and add the fact that we weren’t staying “with” the family but in a room close to the guesthouse down the hill with no isolation, no heater, a humidity rate close to 80 % ans 0°C at night…We had a blast !!!

New life_change_Chnagement_Nouveau départ_Valeurs_Values_PhilosophieThis made us think a lot about life, values, what we’re looking for, what we want to tell the world, what we want to remember…


But we didn’t really lost a week as we’ve learned from all of this 

  • Together, even when we’re not having the best time of our lives, we laugh, we find a way to have fun and we finally make the moment a little bit better than it would be if we were appart.
  • Make a xmas tree with beer bottles is definitely possibly when Max gets bored and want to do something else than serving drinks for a change.
  • Cooking together is definitely an activity that we love and we need the skills of both of us to succeed… Each one of us has the complementary skills of the other, convenient, right?!?
  • I have to be careful of not letting money take the driving seat in my  project.  My project has to be lead by passion, the pleasure of sharing and the pleasure of doing and not by the need of  money.
  • I have to be careful of not letting the routine and “touristic” aspect of the project take my energy and enthousiasm. I have to keep evolving with my concept and stop receiving “guests” if it isn’t a pleasure anymore.
  • I  have A LOT to do !!!! But i’m eager to start !