Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bees and Cobras in Ben Tre Island

The title to the post is not meant to discourage the reader in any way, but rather invite the weak of heart to partake into some rather unusual activities. This is part of the magical, Mekong Tour, and by this time, lunch is hopefully in the process of being digested in your stomach. You can handle the bees, the cobras and anything else that comes your way.
By now, you have clearly understood that the Mekong River Delta is huge. It has more tributaries than you have hair on your head. Once you get further into this water network, expanses of water such as the one above will disappear, and you and nature will become much more intimate. The boats gets smaller as the canals do as well; take note of these canal names: Tan Thach, Thoi Son, Bao Dinh and the smaller river of Tien, Tortoise Island, Dragon and Phenix though you may not get to land on the latter two. As you can see, I am writing them down myself, otherwise, you'd never be able to get this blog entry.
Now remember this is Southern Viet Nam, and it's almost marshlands. It's very hot, but the excitement of being here makes us look normal.
This woman, on the other hand, is a native and sees no reason to exert herself unnecessarily. In fact, hammocks are ubiquitous here, as there are plenty of trees to serve as anchors.Our boat has arrived, and we are told that there are special treats awaiting us. The ground is muddy in some areas, so here again, I suggest you wear shoes that have rubber souls and that hold your ankle firmly. But out of the mud, grow some of the most beautiful fruit and flowers you can imagine: just like the lotus!
This marvelous hedge is made up solely of cacti, and they are taller than I am! You can also see the very narrow pathway which leads to the area where we will be hosted. I never stopped imagining, as I walked these narrow ribbons of land, men fighting each other, carrying weapons and heavy artillery and other loads on their the stifling heat. This beautiful pineapple is also growing out of the mud. Amazing!
We finally arrive at what I will call a "clearing". I see a very young girl holding an enormous flat beehive, as if she were playing the piano. Her tranquil face somehow does not betray any fear or emotional distress. I'm quietly thinking that she knows every bee by name. I am told that when honey comes directly from the hive, it has the most exquisite taste. So the party is about to begin. Before we can do any tasting, we are all encouraged to take part in sticking our finger smack in the center of the hive. Thoughts are darting in my mind, and I recall a day in the north of Thailand, when Chuck and I rode an elephant; the mere idea had petrified me, and yet, after the hour ride was over, I was thrilled that I had not given in to my apprehension. Well here's another one of those moments.
Ok, now take your time, and try to guess which one of these pictures is me? I know it's hard, but I later find out that the beautiful young girl is blind, and that perhaps explains her calm. I close my eyes in an attempt to gain some of that confidence, but unfortunately, the camera has, once again, caught my expression of terror. Come a little closer so you can see what I'm dealing with.
There are some rewards for this exercise. After everyone, well almost everyone, has gotten a turn, we are invited to sit at the tables, and we are each given a small cup which contains pure honey. Limes, an essential ingredient into almost every dish here in Viet Nam also appear in small plates, and this is when it gets creative. Squeeze as much or as little as you want on top of the honey and drink while warm. Believe me, you CANNOT recreate this at home, no matter how much you try. Not the same.
The choreographer of this tour must have realized that after this experience, we all really need to stay seated and be entertained. This is going to be our first exposure to authentic Viet Nam folk music. (remember this blog doesn't go in any order). Ok, get ready for a hands on - I have downloaded for you the song which is most often sung here along with instrumentation. You'll fell as if you've been there!!

Dang dung Ben Tre - Cam Ly

Now as you listen, look at her and the strings which accompany her belong to the gentleman behind her and there was another man to the right of her; if you look very carefully at the picture you will see part of his pink shirt.

I did not do this. I was amazed that Chuck actually let the creature around his neck since he was not too keen about the small monkeys in Bali jumping around us. There were quite a few people in their early twenties in our group who were back packers, and they took to the snake like a fish in water. I prefer to socialize with reptiles when they are behind glass, as in a zoo.
I spent a few minutes looking at souvenirs, which are basically the same everywhere. However, there were some coarse embroidery pictures that caught my eye, and I decided to get one. It was my very first, and would pave the way to bigger and better ones in our visit to Nah Trang and later, Ha Noi. It hangs in my living room now, with some finer embroideries, and Chuck's photography of Ha Long Bay and one of the temple entrances in Ha Noi's old quarter.

They also had small orchid plants on display but I didn't want to take the risk of purchasing them, as they will not allow you back into the US with any kind of flora. As a matter of fact, in Thailand, they package their orchids specifically for export, so that you can purchase them and take them with you, or they will ship. We spent half a day at an orchid farm north of Chiang Mai where I took hundreds of pictures of orchids. They were stunning.

When in the Mekong, buy coconut anything. It's the coconut capital of Viet Nam.

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