Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Saturday, October 29, 2011

10/29/11: Vietnam Day 5: Mekong Delta

Heading for a day trip on the Mekong Delta with Reade, Tate and their buddy Scott Baker (Heidi was on call), I couldn’t help but think about the terrible flooding we’ve been hearing about in Thailand. The forecast for the day didn’t preclude a brief “happyhour-o’clock” downpour, but no extended rain was in the forecast. Again driving through areas with widespread rice cultivation, the nature of the fields looked different than up north. These fields of rice were much flatter, and looked less like ‘working available land’ than like proper crops. We stopped at a market area prior to getting to the dock, and got to see what they were selling. 

Three different brand names could be seen on these identical bicycles.

This wood-coal, as a local fuel, couldn't possibly help the air quality.


We boarded our rather larger-than-I-expected river boat, accommodating about 30 people in plasti-wicker chairs. This thing was going into the Mekong Delta? I’d imagined being in a canoe with some old Vietnamese lady paddling us around; I’m not sure where I got this idea, but it was quickly quashed with a stinky engine rumbling right below our seats near the back of the boat. Kids always seem to choose the back, and Reade, Tate and Scott didn’t disappoint. There were a few other children from the ship on this trip, which gave them some card-game buddies for the bus ride up and back.

In any event, despite this boat’s size, they can get it into some mighty small canals, and if you don’t watch yourself you can end up with a branch-thrashing souvenir to help you remember your trip to Vietnam. As we entered the first canal, there were two people fishing with some sort of net from a boat; our guide told us they were ‘electric shock’ fishing, and they’d get into trouble if they were caught with a battery on a boat. Some ingenious ways of fishing ‘round here! 

After meandering around for an hour or so, they let us off and served some local fruits, including mango, papaya, and a blood-red variety of dragon fruit that we hadn’t yet seen nor tried. We then walked past some bee boxes, the obvious source of the local honey that the tea had been prepared with, and then boarded some horse carts to return to a different style of boat, carrying only 4 to 6 passengers. As I got into one of these very old wooden boats, I noted the little squirt of water coming into it from below waterline, and the several inches of water sloshing about beneath the plank wood ‘floor’. I wonder if they make passengers bail? Hopefully the water-borne parasites aren’t plentiful around here, but it’s hard to imagine they aren’t; I have little interest in going swimming on this day. Loud little weed-whacker engines pushed these things through the canals and successfully delivered us all to lunch, where we learned to make lettuce rolls using rice-noodle wrap. To go along with the fried whole fish (which was perched vertically in a wooden rack for scraping the meat off the sides), they included pineapple and abundant fresh mint leaves, which was absolutely wonderful. 

Remind you of anything?

Reade staring down the fish that he would later eat the eyeball of.

Boats are colorful here!

After lunch we toured a small operation where they made coconut candy, using only coconut, no sugar added. They also had cocao and, as luck wouldn’t have it, a durian fruit version, the smell of which gave Tate an instantaneous stomachache that didn’t abate until we got away from the smell and again boarded the rather rickety canal boat, to return us to our waiting ‘pleasurecraft’ (as I’ll now call it, in accordance with my recent change in boat appreciation).  

Coconut candy in the making.

I don't think this cat was supposed to be drinking from this shrine's offerings.

On the return to the wharf, the weather started looking a bit ominous, some thick clouds building in I have no idea what direction. It’s so weird being in a foreign land without map nor innate reference. Navigating now is via newly-acquired landmarks with only the infrequent map to potentially guide you, though I’ve found more often than not that the basic skills of mapmaking for real-world use is often lost on those preparing the information sources we rely on as travelers. It was disconcerting at first, not knowing ‘where’ I am on a map. But I’ve learned to adapt to knowing where I am in relation to different things, often bird-seeding landmarks together to get somewhere, most often in an inefficient, circuitous sort of way. But, we usually make it where we’re going, and the few times I’ve thought to bring the GPS later provided me some entertainment, seeing our path navigating these foreign lands. 

Arriving back at the MV Explorer, we decided to spend a few minutes checking out the tent vendors who set up shop outside the ship. We lingered a bit too long and an SAS trip returned with a bus-full of sweaty, smelly people wanting a shower, and the three of us thus continued to shop while the mostly-college kids got through security and onto the gangway. About that time we heard a crack of thunder about a mile away, and all of a sudden the skies let loose with a torrential downpour of catastrophic proportion, again leaving us to browse the knockoff backpacks even further (I think the lady thought we were crazy). Two minutes after it started dumping, a huge wave of hot, sauna like air came out of nowhere, like nothing I’ve ever experienced; I could swear the temperature within that downward-moving column of air from the thunderstorm had to be 10 degrees hotter than the previous 85-degree air. Even though it was only 100 yards to the gangway, there was no way we’d make it without having to dump a gallon of water from our shoes, so we hung tight. About that time, Tate’s dance partner Chelsea showed up, so Tate took our stranding as an opportunity to interact with her, which he has seemed to look forward to ever since she dragged him out onto the dance floor after the Sea Olympics party. Humorously, Tate got his first date invitation, as Chelsea offered to take him to a ‘wedding’ that several of the college students were having. I asked her what time she’d have him home, but it occurred to me that a chaperone might be in order, compelling me to not bring up the subject later. ;) Later that night, one of our favorite guys from the dining room crew, Vic, asked the boys out for a beer.
Wow, they’re growing up right before my eyes!

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