Day 09 – Ahoi!

Day 9 started with the familiar bus-ride early in the morning, this time in the direction of Cai Be. Due to the high amount of travellers on the road, as the locals were eager to go to their families for the Chinese New Year’s festival, the traffic was rather slow. The majority of the travellers were on scooters, motorbikes, or a form of this two-wheeled transportation. Some rode alone, in thick sweaters and mouth covers, others consisted of the whole family, father, mother and the child in the middle, few were transporting goods, overloading their bikes with boxes on every surface possible. Unexceptionally, all riders wore helmets. Along the streets one notices the poverty reflected in the shabby shacks and run down shops. Nonetheless, they exuded charm and colors from every corner. Once in a while one would see a luxurious villa amidst it all, representing the huge difference in wealth. Either way, the red communist Vietnamese flag with the yellow star was a common denominator along the streets. For resting possibilities, the coffee shops on the sides of the roads offered a relaxing break, with hammocks integrated. “Does one have to pay for the hammock services?” asked a fellow bus-rider. “No,” Nguyen Ngoc Thang, our tour-guide, answered, “the hammocks are free.”Once the bus arrived at Cai Be, we changed to a quaint boat that took us along the economic part of the river, where other little boats floated bearing exotic fruits, vegetables and other interesting products. Nguyen Ngoc Thang explained how negotiations take place, namely with posters, sticks to point and sign languages. Just like on the streets, the overall impression at the river was vibrant and lively. The strong colors, energy and smiles overshadowed the meager states of the boats. Once we arrived at a small village, Ba Tu, along the river, we were greeted with two fighting cocks, trapped in cages.  The anaconda hid in a cage not much further. There we took a closer look at the production process of the different goods sold, such as rice and snake liqueur, different chips and sweets as well as pop-rice (comparable to pop-corn). Interesting was to observe the supply value chain: from how the raw coconuts were shelled, the fluid extracted, the meat shredded, the juice that afterwards processed into a caramelized mass, cut into small coconut-candies and in the end packaged with rice-paper.  Sustainability and recycle are the key words, where even the “waste”-product, such as rice shells, are not discarded but conveniently used to fuel the fire, how the sand from the river is re-used to heat the rice to make pop-rice and how rain water was collected so as to have a clean water source for drinking and cooking purposes.

The highlight of the day was the beautiful Bassac cruise along the Mekong Delta. Two boats, Le Cochinchine, were jointed so that we could cruise side-by-side. The Mekong is the 10th longest river in the world. From the Tibetan plateau, this river runs through China’s Yunnan province, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong Delta itself drains an area as large as Switzerland. This vastness was easily observed on the roof of the deck where the cruise seems to stretch into a never-ending bliss. The employees that greeted us were exclusively male, emphasizing the traditional gender distribution where the men went out to sail while the women stayed at home. From the ship, one could observe the flat, green, rich vegetation on the surroundings that yearly produces 16 million tons of rice as well as being the local source for tropical fruits, sugarcanes, and coconuts. We could observe this first hand during the visit to a local family’s garden, Family Ba, where we received the opportunity to plant a tree, that will hopefully continue to grow and decorate the garden in the years to come. A stroll around their impressive land gave us a closer insight to the indigenous way of life. The Ba family lived in a little open house in the middle of the fruitful forest, where only a couple feet away from their home did they have a luxurious shrine in the cemetery for the deceased. A tombstone itself cost several million Vietnamese Dongs, which emphasizes the importance of respect for the deceased and the value of life after death.

We returned back to the Le Cochinchine where we retreated to a tasty dinner, the starry night skies and enjoyed the overnight cruise towards Can Tho.

Day Team 09: Alison Trepp, Christian Vetterli, Vidya Johansson

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