03.02.2009 85 °F
So apparently Lance Armstrong has a long lost Vietnamese brother named Chin who works as a tour guide for Innoviet tours here in Saigon...Back to this later.
So we have returned from an amazing two days on the Delta. We originally planned to do this bike tour with a company we read about in our travel book. A two day deal for $35. It went to the more touristy places but since we only had two days we figured we would take what we could get. On the way to this place though we were lured into another tour compnay shop by signs of smiling faces riding bikes under banana trees. So we ducked in there and immediately knew we had what we wanted: a two day trip with a visit to a floating market, biking, and a homestay all in a place that saw few tourists.
This trip was considerably more but we quickly booked it. The next morning we met the two other people with us for the trip (a German couple about our age) and we headed to the pier nearby to catch our boat. The boat ride took a little over three hours, but it was great. The first part near Saigon was a massive port about the size of New Orleans (the whole trip was quite similar to the Mississippi) with huge tankers coming and going. In the midst of these massive ships though were many small wooden boats ferrying various goods up and down the river.
As we turned up one of the many fingers of the Mekong as it fans out in the delta, the tankers disappeared and it was our speedboat and hundreds of wooden boats, from tiny cigarette-like boats to large boats and barges carrying dirt and rocks. The river was alive with commerce, from the many piers actively loading or unloading goods and people to the many boats carrying everything from coconuts to sugar cane to dirt to bananas to rocks to pineapple. Everything. It was truly fascinating to see this all in action.
We pulled up to a random dock and hopped off on the land where the family we would be staying with lives. We met them (an older couple with one son who still lives with them). They work a farm right on the river that has been in their family for generations. They have over 2 hectares on which they grow Mangosteens, pomelos, oranges, bananas, pineapples, rhambutans, and coconuts. We settled into the house and began to help make our lunch. It was a vegetarian hotpot with tofu everything, much to my chagrin. I don't understand tofu and never will but most of the tofu we had was the best I have ever had, but that was only because it was cooked in all sorts of yummy spices and herbs. The tofu brought nothing to the table, we even had tofu shaped and colored like shrimp. Gross.
After that we hopped on a boat (our home was on an island in Vinh Long province) and went to the mainland. There we got bikes and this is where the trip got kind of crazy. It definitely felt like we were in the peloton in France. We had one American team and one German team and our fearless leader Chin "Armstrong" who would take off down the road without saying much. We would follow furiously pedalling behind him. Then he would slam his brakes and veer off into the place he wanted to show us without warning, leaving us screeching to a halt or wobbling into oncoming moto traffic.
We did see some cool things. A couple of beautiful Buddhist temples. We also visited a brick factory where they take sand from the river and clay from inland, throw it in a machine that pumps out raw bricks. They then load the bricks about 6000 at a time into huge brick ovens. The fires are fed with rice husks from harvested rice, they bake for 2 weeks, and then cool down for a week. The ashes leftover from burning the husks are then used as fertilizer for their fields. A pretty cool thing, I thought. I was astounded during the whole trip about just how "lived-in" the Delta felt. These people have been here for ages and just have it all down pat work it beautifully. We sped on passing some more farms and then turned down a narrow path along a small branch of the river and the trip got interesting. Kelli was bringing up the rear at this point as we took in the scenery, and I listened to her curse in Chinese as she hit bumps unexpectedly and motos flew by nearly touching our handlebars which would send us either into cacti or down into the river. Then she tells me she thinks her tire is going to fall off, so I tell her to ride past me and sure enough she has a flat tire.
So doing my best impersonation of a support rider in the tour, I quickly caught up with Chin and told him the news. We weren't able to fix the bike so he hired a local dude to drive him the rest of the way on a moto while he carried the bike. This made it even worse since the last thing he said before speeding off was "We go drive slow" and we didn't see him again for a while.
At this point, our German guy friend was bringing up the rear when suddenly we hard a loud crak and looked back to see him pulling his bike back on the road and apologizing to local family whose fence he just knocked down. Apparently, he got knocked from his bike when he took a bamboo pole to his shoulder, medieval joust style. After realizing he wasn't hurt, we commenced laughing hysterically and the locals got a kick out of it too. We made it back to our ferry point and awaited Chin while he got the bike fixed before heading back to the homestay for a shower and to begin helping to cook dinner.