Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Visiting the Mekong Delta

January 7, 2017

Our adventure to the Mekong delta began early on Saturday, but even that early, the sun shone pretty strong and the air was humid and hot. We loaded up a van with our group and five TDTU students and set out from Ho Chi Minh city. Along the way, we talked, played games, and stared out into the towns and scenery that passed by. We caught glimpses of stores selling big statutes ands sculptures and a great deal of farmland, where some farmers were clearing fields destined for planting of rice and other crops. 

We arrived at the delta and began the next leg of our visit on a boat. As we passed over the water, barges floated stacked high with bags of goods and piles of wood. Small clusters of vegetation with round green leaves drifted in between the boats navigating the river. We arrived at the first island and disembarked at an area where the "coconut monk" had resided. The monk was nicknamed for only consuming coconut and gained a rather large following, creating a belief system that incorporated Buddhism, Daoism, and other philosophies and spiritual systems. In 1975, he fled the island after the taking of the south by the northern Vietnamese. 

At Coconut Island
The monk dotted his island with large colorful dragons, female and male, that stuck up as pillar soaring into the sky. There was also a giant three dimensional map of Vietnam. In addition, the island had a number of interesting animals included a small area full of crocodiles. Julissa even got to feed them by dangling a stick of meat in front of their dozens of open jaws. We watched them spring up in the air, exposed jaws full of teeth reaching and snapping, lurching for the food. Next, we sat near a pond, where we fed fish by the bottle and they sucked little pellets of food. The island also posses numerous gardens with perfectly trimmed hedges and rivers running across them. 

On the Monkey Bridge
As we arrived back at the boat, we were greeted by a row of fresh young coconut filled with sweet water. The drink felt refreshing as we zipped through the delta towards unicorn island. On the island, we saw the creation of tiny coconut candies. They smashed open the coconuts onto a sharp slate, cut out the shiny white flesh, pressed it down into a liquid, mixed it, and then shaped into little squares. Rows upon rows of these squares sat in front of us, and we were able to drop peanut and chocolate mixed coconut candies into our mouth, exploding with coconutty sweetness. 

Julissa and Clara on the boat
We continued through the island towards an area where some of us got to hold a honeycomb swarming with bees. These bees make a very tantalizing honey which we was put into a tea along with lime juice. The tea was known for certain health benefits and tasted extremely sweet. We then walked through a short pathway to a road, where horse drawn carriages awaited us. We piled into the back of a bunch of these carriages and the horse trotted in front, bumping us across the road. Staring out the back of the carriage, the horse gave us a good view of the landscape around us and we saw vegetation and houses, as motorbikes zoomed past. 

Allison holding bees
We returned to the river boat, and sped toward our destination for lunch. Along the way, we passed massive fishing cages, floating on the water, that looked like small houses, but contained enclosures which could hold enormous holds of fishes. We cut under a huge bridge, with two huge arches hanging over it, and motored past a parked group of fishing vessels, sitting ready to go towards the ocean. 

At lunch, we arrived to a feast. The highlight was elephant ear fish, which cut off the bone and rolled it into lettuce and noodles. There were bowls of prawns, plates filled with different vegetables, pork to put on rice, fried dough with rice, soup full of vegetables, and longan berry for dessert. Most of our group decided to try hot peppers. While some of us believed we were up to the challenge, we quickly realized that the peppers stung our tongues and throats, and our eyes watered as tear poured out. After a long recovery, we continued on to a path that went over bridges and passed a number of jack fruit with their tiny spikes poking out. 

Yummy prawns
We headed down the path toward a small river. We all stepped into boats and were paddled down the river by people with long wooden oars who told us they fished in the water we floated upon. Trees with little long spiny leaves poking out created a canopy overhead. The trees trunks stuck out of the water in between the reeds and plants that covered the surface of the river. Mud piles formed the banks of the river with little pores in the side. We listlessly headed down the river, passing sunken boats, houses, and a green wall of vegetation that made a tunnel which we passed through. 

After the river, we sat down at a table and was served fruit included pineapple, longan berry, jackfruit, papaya, and dragon fruit. The fruit was watery and fresh, so that it made our hands sticky, and we were serenaded by some performers singing in Vietnamese playing guitar, monochrome and a bunch of other instruments. This marked the very end of our trip, and we headed back across the river and on to the van to be driven back to Ho Chi Minh. While we may have left labor relations behind for a day, the exposure to an interesting part of Vietnam was surely a meaningful experience. -Hunter

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