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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Mekong Delta, Day 2 Rach Gia, Vietnam, Sunday, 11 March 2007 4:00am

Today we saw the Mekong delta as I'd imagined it. It turns out to be gorgeous and tranquil when you see it from the rivers, rather than from the highways. There's a lot of commerce on the rivers, but the pace isn't as hectic as on land, and the traffic isn't as congested.

We went on a tour in a small boat, at heart a rowboat, though we spent most of the time with a small motor running. We visited two floating markets, numerous canals, and various educational sites along the food chain. We did have to get up before dawn again, but at least this time we were treated to a pretty sunrise.

The tour starts bright and early in order to catch the floating markets, which are at their busiest between 6 and 8 am. There are lots of little boats and a fair number of larger ones slowly wending their ways through the crowd, stopping to buy or sell. Most of them were trading in produce. We saw carrots and potatoes, cabbages and turnips, mangoes and melons, and a dizzying array of other fruits and vegetables, many of them unknown to us. People would toss items from one boat to another as they were sold. In addition to the produce boats, there were floating general stores selling things like detergent and scales, hardware stores, and restaurants. There was even a drink boat that wanted to sell us hot coffee, but Jessica has sworn off caffeine for the time being.

Along the canals, our first stop was a noodle-making operation. Starchy rice powder is mixed into a gluey fluid and spread on hot griddles like crepes. After a minute, the cover is removed, and the pancake is picked up with a roller-like wand and moved to a drying rack. After cooling and drying, the circular wafers are sliced into noodles.

Our next stop was a rice field, where we could see stalks already heavy with rice two months into their three month growing cycle. We walked past fruit trees along the way, including banana, orange, jackfruit, and a small apple-like fruit called a "lum".

We headed to a second market, which was winding down. People were eating from the various restaurant boats. One little girl yelled hello and waved, and then made her mom wave as well. So she had to get a colored pencil. That got the attention of Huy, the son of the woman piloting the other tour boat that we'd been loosely convoying with, and after he got his pencil, he jumped ship to our boat and rode with us the rest of the day. He knew various hand tricks (like the illusion where it looks like you're ripping the end of your thumb off) and kept trying to make a leaf whistle. Jessica tried to teach him to juggle bananas.

It was high tide when we set out, and after 8hrs of boating, the water was much lower. The propellor kept catching on plastic debris and needing to be un-fouled, so we didn't make nearly as good time on the return. But we were back at the docks at our scheduled 2pm.

Then things got interesting. We went to the tour center to buy our minibus tickets and our tickets on the fast boat to Phu Quoc and our plane tickets from Phu Quoc to Saigon. It turned out that both were sold out. Oops. We decided to take the minibus to Rach Gia anyway, in the hope that the tour office in Can Tho (which only normally does business with one of the fast boat companies) was mistaken about the availability of tickets.

I've visited some "developing" countries where that label seemed more like a hope than a reality. Vietnam is definitely actually developing. There are signs everywhere along the highway. New construction. Brick factories churning out huge loads of brick. Welding.

After the 3hr minibus ride, we checked in to a hotel in Rach Gia, and got the desk to help us make calls to the boat company (no spaces tomorrow, but spaces available the next day) and to the hotel on Phu Quoc. We found food at a pho joint again, since it was easy. On the way back, we got Jessica a pair of "Doc Mertins" sandals for her to wear until she can repair or replace her Chacos.

Beer 333: the tastiest local beer so far. Malty.

Orion Choco Pie: marshmallow sandwich cookies dipped in chocolate. Okay, but they'd be better with more chocolate. It's Now!

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