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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Mekong Delta, Day 1 Can Tho, Vietnam, Saturday, 10 March 2007 4:00am

Yet another early morning. I'm starting to look forward to taking it easier. The plan is to do that on Phu Quoc. Our tour-ending-in-Can Tho turned out to be a tour-near-Chau Doc-plus-seemingly-unrelated-minibus-trip-to-Can Tho. Which was kind of what we wanted, but was a little surprising.

We were picked up by a cyclo (bicycle-rickshaw) at our hotel, which turned out to be a little silly, because we rode about three blocks to the tour office, dropped off our luggage, and then waked back to the docks (also about three blocks from our hotel, but in a different direction). But we got to have a precarious cyclo ride and determine that we should never try to fit both of us and our luggage into one of those, much less add a tour guide. There was a random mini-parade with drums and a couple of lion dancers passing the tour office while we were waiting to leave (at 7am).

The first stop on the tour was a floating fish farm. Basically, a big houseboat with a giant net enclosure under it filled with fish. The fish were very dense and churned the water alarmingly as they were being fed. I wouldn't care to fall in there. Since the Mekong has tides, there's a pause between high and low tides when the water isn't moving much. This means that the fish farms actually need to have propellers to send oxygenated water through the fish pens or the fish will suffocate.

When I went to take a picture of the thrashing fish, I discovered that my camera bag had taken a hit somewhere along the way. The filter in front of my lens was shattered. The lens itself was okay, apart from having shards of the filter wedged in its filter threads. For years I've wondered if I was being paranoid to always keep a filter in front of my lens, since it reduces the optical quality. Apparently not.

Next was a visit to a Cham minority village. They produce some of the patterned textiles of the region and we got to see them weaving a checkered pattern. I'd never seen a loom in action before, so that was interesting. Jessica went on a buying spree and picked up a sarong, a scarf, and two sponge cakes. Okay, okay, one of the sponge cakes was for me. We stopped by the Cham mosque and heard a little about their practices.

Then it was back in the motorboat to the docks, where we were met by a minibus with our luggage and started down the road to Can Tho. The part of the Mekong delta near the road isn't very different from the other roadsides I've seen in developing countries, but every now and then we'd pass over a small bridge and get a glimpse down a canal, where a parallel transportation system was bustling.

We arrived in Can Tho at lunchtime. We passed two camera kiosk stores just before we were dropped at the guesthouse/restaurant associated with the tour company, so we stopped in at one of them on our way to find a hotel. I showed the clerk the shattered filter. She grimaced at the broken glass and found the right filter in one of her cabinets. I paid VND 90,000 (US$6) and thanked her. The "Yes, thank you" was actually the first we'd said to each other, since I don't know the words for "filter", "72mm", or "ultraviolet". The only semi-relevant word in the phrasebook was "lens", which would have been actively misleading. Good thing I had a sample of the item I wanted.

The first hotel we tried was full, but we walked a couple blocks to another and got a nice room, then headed out to find some lunch. We went to a place on the waterfront and I ordered beef Loc Lac, which I'd failed to have in Cambodia. San Francisco has me spoiled. The Loc Lac was good, but I think the Shaking Beef at The Slanted Door is better.

While we were at the waterfront, we visited the tour agency that the guidebook says books rowboat tours of the canals. We discovered that it has stopped doing that and now only does motorboat tours (and the motorboats are too big to fit in the canals).

We did some more shopping on the way back. We failed to find Jessica some shoes at the central market (her sandals are breaking), but I got some snack foods and interesting drinks at the local supermarket, and we came across a store selling glasses.

One of the goals Jessica set for me for this trip was to find her some sunglasses that look cool, but all of the ones sold by the street sellers were too wide for her face. However, Can Tho has actual optical stores, selling designer glasses (or at least knockoffs). After trying on about a half dozen, we found her a pair that looked good, and bought them.

It occurred to me that I could use some new glasses as well (I shattered my last new pair in a bike accident a few months back). The only trick was that I needed prescription lenses... but I happened to have a copy of my prescription with me (having lost glasses on a trip before, I thought it might come in handy). Could they make the glasses quickly enough? That was beyond what we could figure out how to ask the shop owner, but she called over someone who knew more English, and we seemed to agree that what was needed was understood, and that they could do it in three hours. We went back to the hotel, pausing only to buy a dragonfruit, and I returned with my prescription. The lensmaker was there, and he told me to come back at 5 (only two hours). We went back to the hotel and used the hotel's Internet connection to make some more travel arrangements. At 5, I headed over to the hotel and tried the glasses on.

I'd forgotten that the glasses I'd brought on the trip weren't my new prescription. After I broke my glasses, I went back to an older pair. The newly-made glasses are even sharper than the pair I have with me. But I can't wear them until tomorrow, since I get headaches when I change prescription mid-day.

We decided to avoid the touristy places for dinner, and went to a restaurant alley a few blocks from our hotel. We chose a pho joint that had a menu of two items (beef soup and chicken soup) and had a tasty dinner for VND 22,000 (dismissed as coincidence). I asked for the bill in Vietnamese, and was totally unable to understand the answer, but, having observed other parties paying, I was able to guess which bill to give. I happened to choose the perfect one, the smallest single bill that covered the entire amount. After the phrasebook failures earlier, it was neat to at least seem to understand what was going on.

Bia Can Tho: Jessica liked this better than I did. It's another standard Lager beer, but I thought it was a little weak and had a lasting sour aftertaste, almost lemony.

Wonderfarm Winter Melon Tea: A bit thicker and sweeter than the Winter Melon Tea I had in Siem Riep.

Bissin Green Tea Cream Wafers: Pretty much exactly what you'd expect for a cream wafer with green tea flavor. Pretty good.

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