|So I am back to being the lone traveler now that my dear friend Sara has left me. It has been tough getting back into the swing of things. I had it really easy for the past week and half because Sara had a whole itinerary planned and I just sat back and enjoyed not having to think about where I was headed the next day. It was great seeing someone from home and now that she has left, I am sure she is happy to be away from my constant 'in India...' stories.
I am surprised at how long it has taken me to take on a whole new culture. I keep telling myself to stop comparing things to India and Nepal, and just take it as Vietnam. Some differences are good though. I am eating meat again, although, I am not sure at all times which animal I am consuming, it is good to be a carnivore again. Also, not only do the bathrooms come supplied with toilet paper(!) they also come with a comb to use and then leave behind for the next guest(?). The people here are very kind but not as outright welcoming as India, which is nice and not as annoying (I mean that in a good way). They do not approach you but they return a smile very easily. Emotionally it has been difficult too. I have been constantly oscillating between feeling very guilty for our country's past behavior whenever I see barren land or a person with a deformity and being very frustrated that the country has not conformed to everyone speaking English. The language barrier has been difficult and I realize how much I took for granted that English was the common language throughout India. Now I have resorted to being lost a lot and a using ridiculous hand gestures; no worries though, I still seem to be eating constantly and have had a roof over my head every night.
Currently, I am in the Mekong Delta and am sweating my ass off. It is absolutely beautiful here and either very touristy or very rural. I came down from Ho Chi Minh City by tourist bus (picture greyhound bus with leg room and AC) and exited the bus to fend for myself as the paid tour group went off on a boat and I went off to find a hotel in My Tho. I was told by other travelers to not sign up for a Mekong tour because it is rushed and easy to coordinate yourself, so I went with that advice. Although I liked dictating where my tour guide took me as we visited islands around My Tho (seeing a coconut candy factory, eating the best fresh fruit I have ever had, going on a small boat through smaller canals) it was by myself when I was hoping that I would have been matched up with other travelers. I had originally planned on spending another day in My Tho but after the 3hr boat ride and the fact that the whole town was walkable in an afternoon, I decided to go onto Sa Dec the following day.
I decided to go local this time (for the experience and to save money) so the next day I took a motorcycle taxi, (I do not recommend riding on a motorcycle with a 25lb pack on your back), to a roundabout on a highway where I caught a bus going to Sa Dec. Despite no one speaking English and with me just repeating the town's name, I was able to get there. It only took two minivans, both packed with people, and a kind woman who fed me some sort of sweet rice paper before I was told to get out with no clue as to where I was. It took another motorcycle ride before I found a hotel and confirmed that fact that I was in fact in the town known for it's botanical gardens and colorful market. The day consisted of me taking pictures of fruit I have never seen before and walking through unbelievable gardens with flora and fauna I have never seen before. And, oh yeah, did I mention sweating? The humidity here reminds me of Minnesota's, when you step outside and wonder why you just showered because you are suddenly sticky and gross all over again.
Because I managed so well taking the local bussed to Sa Dec I figured it would be just as easy to get to Can Tho. Luckily, another hotel guest heard the desperation in my voice when I tried to translate through the limited phrases in the guide book Sara left me that I wanted to leave town the following morning. He ended up helping me out and even wrote a note for me in Vietnamese saying "help me get to Can Tho". He left me on a mini bus and I felt like a preschooler who has a note pinned to the front of their shirt. After being told to get off the bus at a gas station, I showed people my note and in very broken English was told that I would need to be getting on another bus, then a motorcycle, then a ferry, and then another motorcycle. It was at that point that I understood the reason and appeal behind the large, already coordinated, tourist bus.
I finally arrived in Can Tho and set off to arrange my boat tour for the following day. Again, I wanted to be placed with other people so I could meet some travelers but was told by more than one travel agent, 'no, you are alone and other people do not want to be with single people.' hmm. The rest of that day I tired to be productive, but as in the States, Museums are not open on Mondays and it was too hot to explore. I started to really feel sorry for myself when my black market book started over at page 1 after page 99 but felt better that it resumed again at page 121. At five, I forced myself to swim through the heat and explore and because of that, another pinch-me moment happened.
I stopped to explore a pagoda and heard chanting going on on the second floor. I went upstairs and tried to inconspicoulsy observe the women dressed in robes responding to the monk praying. A woman noticed me and motioned for me to join in. I at fist declined, but then thought 'why not' and quickly kicked off my flip flops. I only participated for about five minuets and am sure offeneded my gods in the process, but it was very neat and beautiful. I just bowed and knealt whenever they did.
I ended up booking a sister duo who took me out the following day to the floating markets. It consisted of hundreds of boats filled with different fruits, vegitables and beverages all slowly bumping into eachother and exchanging goods. I drank a coffee and ate an entire pineapple (did I mention how good the fruit is?) for a total of 70 cents as I observed the daily markets in the Mekong. Aftwerwards, the sisters motored me through smaller canals where I got to observe rural life in the delta. Very simple and beautiful. The Vietnamese treat their river like the Indian's treat their Ganges, minus the religious holiness. The river is their bathtub, their kitchen and their garbage dump. It was really sad that every twenty minuets or so, we would have to stop and untangle plastic that wraped itself around the propeller. Of course, once the plastic was free, it was thrown back into the river.
That afternoon I met up with two guys teaching English through a Princeton post-graduate program. I have signed up for www.couchsurfing.com where you meet either other travelers or people living in the area who want to meet other travelers. They either open up their schedule for a cup of coffee or even their couch as a free bed. These guys were great and not only did I get a free nights sleep in their guest bedroom, I got to have my first real conversation in over 48 hrs. They borrowed a bike for me from one of their friends and we took at 2 hour bike ride outside of town and into the rice fields. It was really beautiful and something I never would have felt comfortable doing on my own. The couch surfing thing was a good experience and since meeting people has shown to be more difficult here, I am going to keep checking it out.
I am next heading North with the goal of being in Hanoi for Tet, the New Year. However, I am begining to learn that everything is already booked (meaning hotels, buses, trains and planes) so I am not sure how I am going to pull this all off. Oh well, some way I will.