I’d be lying if I said venturing out on my own, beyond walking up the street to get some food, was easy. If I’m meeting up with at least one other person it’s easier, than a solo outing. Either way, it takes a fair amount of mental “gearing –up,” and strategic planning.
First, there’s the heat. It’s not just hot; it’s really, really hot, humid, and relentless heat. The lack of any breeze or movement of air contributes to already poor air quality. Which begs the questions: How much to cover up, do I need to wear a mask? Then there’s the possibility of a storm (It’s still the rainy/monsoon season): Take umbrella, raincoat, both, or neither? (I always have a poncho in my purse.)
Finally there’s the helmet question: Am I meeting up with people, in which case there’s always the chance we’ll go somewhere else on motor scooters; the other chance is someone might offer to take me home on their motor scooter, or the taxi I call never shows up, so someone needs to give me a ride home. (all 3 scenarios have a precedent).
Once those questions are answered there’s the whole “call a taxi” challenge. I’ve found one driver who understand/speaks a little English and knows to pick me up from Ben Tre College on Son Dong Commune. If that driver isn’t available, which is often, my other option is to go to the front gate, call a taxi company and hand my phone to a student, or the guard at the gate, so they can talk to the taxi driver and tell the driver where I am. Wait times for a taxi have been anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes, so planning when to walk to the gate and call can be challenging. Once the taxi arrives, I have hopefully written the correct address, with all of the correct accent markings – and the driver knows where it is. That’s just getting there! Getting home on my own is the same in reverse, but means calling from somewhere I can name so the taxi can pick me up. So far, the lobby of a small Australian Hotel, or the large grocery store seems to be the two best options for pick-up. Needless to say: I much prefer being invited out and having whoever is going with me, pick me up or help me with calling a taxi and giving them the address of where I need to go.
Yesterday I took a tour on the Mekong River. I was disappointed, but to be fair, I think the “tourist” industry, especially where I am, is relatively new and evolving. I tend to avoid doing “touristy” things, but had been reading so much about boat tours on the river, I thought it would be fun. I got a recommendation from one of the faculty members and I think he even called them ahead of time and got information for me. I would have been more than happy to join a group tour, but was set up with a private tour for the equivalent of $27.00. The tour was supposed to last 4 hours, but as soon as the boat left the dock, my guide showed me a menu for lunch, and said if I wanted lunch it was extra, and if I didn’t want lunch the tour was only 3 hours. I’d just had a big breakfast and the prices for lunch were more than 5x what they would be back in town, so I politely declined the lunch option.
Then we got a little further up the river and my guide told me we were going to change the route and not see the brick factory because there was too much traffic on the river?? We turned up a small tributary, and came to a small “honey” farm. Only saw one hive, but lots of honey, pollen and cream for sale. Then we walked a short distance to a coconut candy “factory” which consisted of coconut milk with malt being boiled and made into taffy, then 3 women sat at a table and wrapped into individual candies, but only when there were tourists – otherwise – they were drinking tea and talking. Turns out my guide’s sister was one of the women wrapping coconut candy. I was also supposed to hear traditional music, but the musicians were in hammocks and the two women singers were putting on makeup. I think they were getting ready for a bigger tour group that was behind us and my guide didn’t want to wait for them so we moved on. Next was a stop at a grass mat weaving home and then a ride in a gondola type boat down a small tributary to a Tuk-Tuk that was waiting to take us back to our starting point. What was supposed to be a 4-hour tour was less than 2 1/2. I did get to go out on the river and I saw a completely different area of Ben Tre, so all in all is was worth it.
Dinner last night started with an invitation for “Coffee” at 6:30. We went via her scooter to a new Hotel on the River that had an outside rooftop café overlooking the river. Her 15-year-old son and husband joined us. I was delighted to see her son rebuff, any physical contact from his mother– in what must be a somewhat universal or typical teen-age boy gesture. He was charming, wanting to engage, but also shy and unsure of his English. Once coffee was finished, we then went out for a delicious street food noodle dinner.
Wi-Fi has been completely down since Thursday, and spotty most of the week. I’m not as panicked as I would have been the first week, but it is a bit unsettling to feel disconnected. I also discovered my phone had run out and I needed to purchase more time – now that was a bit of a panic! My venture out this morning will be to a café with Wi-Fi, so I can upload some photos and this word document. I did upgrade the Blog, hoping to be able to upload some video clips, but that’s the next level of upgrade. Hopefully you won’t be subjected to advertisements any more.
As always, I am grateful for connections to home and family and your messages on the website or emails are grounding.