Day 4 in Vietnam
03.25.2015 - 03.25.2015 95 °F
OK. I know I've kept y'all at the edge of your seats, waiting 3 or 4 days for my next installment. It was on purpose, as I was trying to build suspense. Did it work? I'm just kidding of course - really, we've been insanely busy... and sleeping... and travelling... and without internet access.
So I'm going to try to document 4 days of travel tonight. Wish me luck. I have a cold beer and plan on sending Rick for more when he joins me in the bar, so I should be good. (The locals all seem to be watching a soccer match and didn't really want to be bothered with me ordering beer, and promptly shut down once I showed up. LOL)
So, I left off after just arriving at the homestay in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. We woke the next morning bright and early for our planned tour of the floating market. The tour of the markets only happens early in the morning, as the markets are only open from about 6am until 11am to avoid the peak heat of the day. We were at breakfast at 5:30am and our tour guide, Phoenix (the cousin of the homestay owner, who spoke very good English), was there to greet us. Once we were finally done with breakfast, Phoenix ushered us away from the homestay and we began our walk to the boat. It was very personal - only the four of us and Phoenix, no other guests.
It was about a 10 minute walk to the boat. Phoenix was enthralled by Cary and tried to play with him the whole way. He resisted a bit, as is his normal MO for the trip, although we encouraged him to not be frightened by the locals touching him. When we made it to the dock, we were greeted by the boat driver, but I never did catch his name. He was the husband of the housekeeper at the homestay, who stayed there on the property full time. We boarded the boat and set off down the river. Cary sat up front with Phoenix, who pretty much talked to him the entire trip down the river.
After a while, the small tributary opened up to a much larger river. At this time, Phoenix sent Cary back to sit with me in the middle of the boat as the water was very choppy and there was a concern for his safety. Phoenix moved to the back to sit closer to the boat driver.
We traveled down the river a short while, and were soon in the middle of the floating market. Because the entire Delta is accessible by water, this is where the locals of the area have traditionally held their market. Phoenix explained to us how you can tell the difference between the boats that are buying and those that are selling - the sellers are typically much bigger boats, while the buyers are on much smaller boats. Also, the sellers all have one bamboo pole sticking vertically out of their boats into the air with something hanging from it, which is the item that they are selling from their boat. The buyers simply drive around and look for the item they want to buy hanging from the pole of a seller boat, and dock up next to that boat to conduct their transaction.
In addition to the bulk seller boats, there are smaller seller boats driving around selling other things. Some are just general merchandise, like sodas, juices, coffees - some are food boats, selling breakfast foods. Phoenix told us to speak up if there was anything we wanted. Rick was interested in buying the kids a soft drink, and we docked up to a general merchandise boat.
As we were buying our drinks, Rick saw another boat selling meat on a stick. Being the meat-on-a-stick man he is, he motioned over that boat too. We were now conducting two transactions off each side of our boat. His barbeque meat-on-a-stick was fantastic, by the way! I wish we had gotten some coffee too - at the time, I had not yet experienced Vietnamese coffee, but it is very good!
Phoenix then had our driver pull up to a seller boat selling pineapples. We docked to the boat, and she ordered each of us a fresh cut pineapple. We stepped off our boat and onto the pineapple boat while the pineapple boat guy cut our fruit for us and handed us a hunk. I have to say, I will never cut pineapple the same after this trip. It was delicious, and very cool to watch the market from the top of the much bigger boat.
Phoenix explained that the pineapple (and other) boats buy their goods further away down the river, then travel to this market and stay for several days on their boat selling their goods until they go bad, and then throw away the rest and do it all again. Phoenix said there are over 1,000 pineapples on the boat, and they usually sell most of them in a few days. Sellers like this typically sell in bulk, and you can't really buy just 1 pineapple there. It's like Costco. If you want one pineapple, you just go to the local market. We, however, were given special privledges because we were part of the tour (and likely paid handsomely).
After the pineapple boat experience, we traveled the length of the market and into another tributary. Phoenix and Cary were bonding one again in the front of the boat. It was so special to watch! Up the river, we stopped at another homestay property which also had a fruit/vegetable patch attached.
When we arrived, we had the opportunity to look around this homestay property. Here, people sleep in the traditional Vietnamese style - on many beds in the same room, each with a sleeping mat and no mattress. A shrine to the family's ancestors adorned the entry.
Passing through that area, we moved into the outdoor kitchen area. Here, there were many stations - a grill station, a fruit station, and a pancake station. We looked at all of the foods being prepared there (for who, we weren't sure). Maggie and Cary were completely sidetracked by a litter of puppies, and spent a while holding them (with Cary saying over and over, "AAAAWWWW.... THEY'RE SO CUUUTTTEEE!").
Phoenix asked us what kinds of fruit we would like to try from a display. We picked pretty much randomly, as we had never seen any of them before (other than in the Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, where I had taken some pictures of some interesting ones). We were invited to walk around the garden grounds while our fruit was prepared.
The gardens were nothing short of magnificent. Everywhere you looked, there was another beautiful scene. Flowers, ponds, fruit trees, bridges.... it was gorgeous. We saw some interesting things regarding farming - like the way they cradled the fruit in sheaths while they were growing, which we also noticed in the market (that they still had this "packaging" attached) - but mostly, we just were in awe of the beauty of it all.
There were banana trees (little bananas, not our bananas) and watermeons growing on the ground. There were also trees of some sort of gourd that was very interesting. I forgot the name of it already.
After a while (and a zillion pictures!), Phoenix called us into a little cabana where our fruit and tea were ready for us. We tried jack fruit and dragon fruit and milky fruit and some others that were very good, but I forgot their names. Phoenix continued to play with Cary, playing the perfect balance between informative host to us and babysitter to Cary. Rick was inquisitive about some of the things we had seen cooking in the outdoor kitchen, and also ordered a barbequed field mouse and a vegetable-and-pork-filled-pancake as well. Both were very good, but the field mouse, while tasting awesome!, did not have much meat on it and it was a challenge to pick through the bones.
When we were done, we boarded the boat again and went back through the floating market again. There was some activity, but most was done for the day.
On our way back, Phoenix was still sitting in the back of the boat close to Rick. Rick and Phoenix were talking at length about Vietnamese life and culture. She explained to us that she had graduated from college with a degree in International Business, but had not been able to secure a job in her profession. She is an only child, and not taking a job disappointed her mother, but she did not want to take a job as a bank teller or something if that was not her passion. She has never visited another country outside Vietnam, but desperately wants to do so. Given the rapport she now had with Cary, I wanted to pack her in our luggage and take her home with us. (At this point, she is still my absolute favorite person I have met here, hands down.)
The trip back to the boat dock was beautiful, but I was already sad for it to come to a close because I would miss Phoenix. However, we did get there, and walked back to the homestay. After getting back, we had lunch with Phoenix, who patiently sat with Cary while he showed her his iPad games. By now, they were best buddies. (For days afterward, Cary has referred to Phoenix as "his best friend").
In the afternoon, we attempted to take a bike ride around the area. It was gorgeous, but Cary fell asleep halfway through the loop. Biking was impossible at this point, so I walked both bikes back to the homestay while Rick carried Cary.
In the evening, we had a yummy Vietnamese dinner of pho and grilled fish. We retired to bed, but shortly after the housekeeper showed up with her typical "HELL-lo!" greeting at our door to rouse Rick to come to the dining area. (She spoke no English - the only words she knew seemed to be "HELL-lo!" and "egg?", which she cooked for us for breakfast.) There she asked him (by a series of pointing and "HELL-lo!") do a shot of "snake wine", which consisted of some home brewed alcohol in a jug with 2 cobras and 5 other snakes and ginseng root. YUCK. Rick got her husband to do one with him - well, a half of one - and they promised (via hand gestures) that he would sleep like a baby. Let's hope so, given the ridiculously hard Vietnamese beds around here!