We were having trouble making a decision.
To hike a few kilometers to the next village with all of our backpacks, or stay the night where we were? We sat down for a leisurely lunch and eventually when the rain let up, we decided to go for it. A few hundred metres in, we met a Yao woman who offered to carry the second backpack Aric was wearing on his front. Aric tried iTranslate to communicate with her where we were going, and a price for her services, but she didn't speak any Mandarin, which we learned was not uncommon in these Yao minority villages. I had great concern about her carrying our heavy pack, as she looked to be in her sixties (or seventies?). But she plopped it into her basket, threw a yellow plastic bag over it for the rain and marched off. We had trouble keeping up with her as she climbed through the rice terraces.
After a cold night in a hostel, and waking to pouring rain, we weren't keen on our original plan of hiking 12 more kilometres to the next village. No roads, no bailing points. Just pouring rain, very heavy packs, and three kids, two of whom I knew could make it, but the 4 year old was questionable. In the end, we figured we'd be wet all day no matter what we chose. We'd have to hike back down the way we came, or we could just keep going as planned. If we were going to get wet, we might as well do something memorable, right? So, we hired a local young man to carry a bag and show us the way, and off we went.
The rain returned in full force. We plied the children with Chinese oreo knockoffs and peanuts. By the time we reached a tiny hamlet of several farming homes at the halfway point, we were soaked to the bone. We were squelching in our shoes and our rain jackets were no longer keeping us dry. Progress was slow with a 4, 6 and 8 year old in the rain. We needed to warm up and eat.
The problem was that this little hamlet was just that. A tiny collection of a few farmhouses. No store, no restaurant, nothing. I was feeling a little desperate, when a woman popped her head out of her window and waved. I just looked at her, she looked at us, and took pity on us. Next thing we knew, we were inside, with our socks and shoes warming by the fire, wearing an assortment of borrowed sandals. Because of the location of this hamlet, off the trail with no road access, visits from foreigners hiking through weren't common at all.
I'm not sure where the men were (I presume working), but the house was full of women who welcomed us with open arms. They were Yao, a minority group that lives across southwest China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They have hand-carved thousands of rice terraces in the area and still harvest rice by hand. The women cut their hair once as babies, and then let it grow for the rest of their lives. None of the women who took us in spoke any Mandarin, and our communication was all gestures. Somehow, though, children always manage to break the ice. I'm always uncertain about photographing in situations like this, but after a while I felt I could ask if I could take my camera out and it was warmly received. A few great photos also came from the iPhone which Aric had.
They brought in food from their garden and proceeded to cook us an amazing meal. T can be particular about food, so I just told him that these women had taken us as guests into their home, they were cooking us lunch, I had no idea what it was, and I had no way to ask them. He would just have to put on a brave face, try a bite or two, and smile and say thank you. And you know what? He did. Turns out the fried potatoes were fantastic and he ate two bowls!
When one woman offered to let her hair down to show us, I barely grabbed the camera in time. Maya had been reading about the Yao prior to our trip, and really was hoping to see such long hair. This woman was in her 30s, but the same height as my 8 year old, which brought a lot of laughter from all of us.
After several hours, our socks and shoes had dried, we were warm, our bellies were full, and our hearts overjoyed at being shown such kindness. Sunset loomed, and we didn't want to overstay our welcome, so we set out again into the pouring rain. This time, we cheerfully marched in the rain to the next village much lower down and settled happily into a warm hostel for the night. It's amazing how 12 kilometres can hold so much. I know I will treasure that day for the rest of my life.