It was from Putao, of northern Myanmar, in the 1920’s, that Frank Kingdon Ward wrote that, and I paraphrase, plant collecting is a congregation of seemingly endless, dull, frustrating moments interspersed with seconds that make the process worth the anguish and boredom. After months of planning, apprehension, reconsideration, excitement, and imagination, I am here, now, this moment, in that very settlement. Across the street from our guest house are the chants of Buddhists or Christians in service; I cannot tell the difference, though the preponderance of the Lisu minority in the area would suggest the latter. To the east, a gibbous moon rises blessed by a cadence of crickets and frogs. I cannot bring myself to believe that Frank Kingdon Ward’s times here differed significantly, except for the fact that he had servants and I have electricity (sometimes). [Read more…]
Upon our 4:45am arrival on the night train from Lao Cai to Hanoi on Wednesday, 10/16/13, we headed immediately for our prearranged day rooms at the Asia Star in the old quarter of the city. We collectively agreed upon a couple hours of rest before breakfast and final preparation of our seed collections for shipment to and inspection by the USDA. Prior to dozing off, I glanced at my email and read a missive from the US Embassy in Myanmar. A series of bombs had exploded across the country, seriously wounding an American tourist at a luxury hotel in the capital. Before taking a much needed early morning nap, I forwarded the message to Scott who would be flying with me that afternoon to Yangon where we would meet up with good friend Shayne Chandler who had secured last minute funding and permission to join us. (Shayne and I have botanized together in Costa Rica, Vietnam as well as many hikes in our local Olympic Mt range in WA State). [Read more…]
While en route to SaPa from Ha Giang, the four of us had hastily changed our game plan to finish our time together in Vietnam. Perhaps it was the diversity of what had been seen at higher elevations of the NE combined in equal parts of simply wanting to witness another part of the country; in any event, Scott, Ozzie and Andrew decided to drive with Uoc to examine possible future areas of examination, while it was decided I would hike up the north side of Fan Xi Phan over two days, on a route I had never done previously. I was more than happy to put my boots on again and hit the trail. And while I had seen the NW of the country in 2006 during an extended trip here, I had never seen this side of Vietnam’s highest mountain during my many visits here. [Read more…]
In 2010, Scott and Ozzie had parted my company in SaPa to travel to Ha Giang Province (where we are now) and had reached the edge of an undisturbed forest much too late in the day to adequately explore the environs before having to turn back due to lack of light. Although yesterday, 10/9/13, had satisfied many of our questions as to what might have been found had time allowed, it was decided to return to the same mountain on the Chinese/Vietnam frontier, less than 10 miles from the Yunnan border, to the precise location they had visited. A considerable drive from Ban Quan, it was mid-morning and uncomfortably warm by the time we reached the trailhead. As are much of the ‘trails’ in the mountains here, ours was not meant for climbing up as much as for sliding logs down to the valley below. Scott, apprehensive of again reaching the forests with insufficient time to explore, shot out of the gates at a breakneck pace and I felt compelled to keep up with the front runner. It was encouraging to feel the confidence return to my knees after our trek on Five Fingers, which will be welcomed during our trek in northern Myanmar next week. [Read more…]
A mid morning departure from SaPa on 10/8/13 allowed for our boots and associated gear to be dried at a local laundry, but would put us to our destination much later than we had hoped. The 8 hour drive to the northeast, through idyllic minority villages in a celebratory mood at the height of the rice harvest, would take us to the frontier town of Ban Quan. It is a modest and remote town built amidst a fanciful and highly weathered geology of karst limestone. Arising even amongst the town itself are symmetrical cones several hundred feet high, suggesting more ancient ruins of a former civilization than a natural geological process. [Read more…]
In no way do I consider myself Herculean, although I do fancy myself in reasonable physical condition; I work out religiously five days a week. Yet tonight, 10/8/13, I am drained of energy, hobbled by lameness of the limbs and punctured by a heady assortment of thorns, insects and leaches.
On Saturday, Oct 5th, after a frenzy of organizing the gear we felt necessary for two nights on the mountain, we left for the trail head -about an hours drive from our hill station of Sa Pa, passing the devastated village of Ban Khoang enroute; a landslide there three weeks prior during heavy rains had sadly swept much of the settlement away while taking the lives of 12. Near the trailhead, we stopped to pick up our prearranged local guide who waited for us along the road. Our own guide, Uoc le Huu, had never before taken this route that was meant to take two long days. [Read more…]
Our 12 night train from Ha Noi to Sa Pa carried four travel wearied souls with our gear to within a mile of the Chinese border on Thursday after a brief reconnoiter at the Asia Star hotel, our perennial but clean and friendly 1 star accommodation in the old quarter of the city. Andrew Bunting, president of the International Magnolia Society, had flown from Philadelphia via Seoul, Ozzie Johnson had flown from Atlanta via Narita, Scott McMahan from Atlanta via Bangkok and I to Hanoi via San Francisco; miraculously, we had all arrived perfectly in sync.
Rather than burning a day nursing our collective needs to recover, we hurriedly repacked out gear at 7am, consumed a quick breakfast of steamed rice cake and set off to Seomity, a hill tribe settlement of mostly H’mong people. I was curious to check on the status of an old specimen of a rare deciduous conifer, Glyptostrobus pencilis, I had seen here in 2006 during my fourth trip to northern Vietnam. [Read more…]