After three years of overnight train travel, this year marked the inaugural use of the road route for the Year 9 trip to Sapa and, having tried both, I can confirm that the bus was definitely the more convenient option. It was certainly a much fresher group of Year 9s who rolled into Sapa town after a substantial lunch at a Lao Cai hotel. They would need all the energy they had, since less time travelling meant more to spend trekking up and down the hills around Ban Ho village, our homestay destination.
On a personal level, it was nice to be back in the village again and see some familiar faces, villagers who are now well-used to welcoming the students of BIS into their homes. As ever, we were warmly received and the respect which our students showed to our hosts was impressive throughout. Sapa had once again greeted us with its trademark mist and drizzle, but Ban Ho was dry and bright and stayed this way for almost all of our visit. The first evening was a quiet one, with students entertaining themselves in their homestays after dinner, ready for an enjoyable but testing day on the hillsides.
The Amazing Race was extended this year, as the shorter journey time meant we could devote a full morning to our school visit, rather than incorporating it into race day itself. A slightly comic, musical aerobic warm-up followed breakfast, before the activities began in earnest with each house team designing and making their own flag. Some teachers, myself included, had to physically take a step back to stop ourselves from instructing the students in a day that was all about using individual and teamwork skills to solve problems. This theme continued throughout all activities. Once flags were complete, students had to solve clues to get to each stage, where inter-house activities incorporated both the physical and the cerebral. Hue showed a lot of early promise but at the halfway stage, when we lunched by a river, there was still everything to race for.
After the seriously steep slopes of the morning, the afternoon’s trekking was slightly more on the flat, but no less physically demanding as students picked their way between rice terraces and across bridges in the river valley.
The stage activities came as a welcome break for the legs, but this time tested fingers and vocal cords as groups took turns to strip corn from cobs and perform songs in one of the ethnic minority languages. One last push through the hills followed and then we were back in the heart of the village, making the dyes for four-coloured sticky rice.
The next day we visited the secondary school with our greatly-appreciated donations of stationery, clothes and schools bags. After welcome performances, we gave our donations and then our students took on the locals at volleyball and tug of war. Suffice to say, home advantage paid off!
Lunch was taken back at the central homestay, then farming was put back to the afternoon due to the roasting midday temperatures. The newly created window of time played host to group dramatic performances giving the story of the trip so far and much hilarity ensued. Once again, we were reminded what a richly creative set of students we have at BIS. Following that, the harvesting of rice and cassava allowed our students, in a small way, to engage with the land in a fashion that they do not get to experience in their everyday lives, and to think for an afternoon about where their food comes from. A full day continued with a trip down to the riverbank for some relaxation and eflection before a barbecue dinner, traditional dance performance and camp fire out under the stars.
The final day saw us wind back down the mountain roads to Sapa for final sightseeing, before transferring to Lao Cai for the big buses back to Hanoi. The students of Year 9 had once again made a positive impression in the hills around Sapa; the trip had made a similar and indelible impression on them.
Rob Glossop, Head of Year 9 and 10