|This girl with angelic smile companioned Beth during her 10 hour boat ride.
The mosquitos are actually pretty tame in Ca Mau, and the
Honda drivers love to talk with me for 5 minutes without stopping though
I understand very few words. In a search for Nguyen van Anh, the friend
from 30 years ago of my friend in Maryland, we've talked to about 10
people, passing around my pair of glasses so they can look at the drawn
map of his original home. We decided to put an ad on TV, and have
travelled more miles on a motorcycle than my butt is happy about.
And, although many of the people we talked to -- former soldiers and
guards in the Southern Vietnamese army -- were skeptical that we would
find him, he did indeed appear!
A thin humble man. I absolutely
couldn't believe it. He had seen the TV ad and responded. He called my
friend by phone to confirm his identity, and we had a big celebratory
meal complete with lots of beer and clinking of glasses (did you know I
was such a partier?) And the sweetest most heavenly tasting mangos
I've had since I was in India.
Anh is a very sweet man, with 7 daughters and then 1 son, and I am so
happy that he could be reunited with his former friend. I went to his
home on the river, and had to cross on a small boat that would tip if you
stood up, but had no seat (therefore one had to squat), and squatting is
something I still haven't really mastered!
By the way, should you be in this neck of the woods, travel from
to Ca Mau by slow boat is definitely the way to go.
I had been very
unsure of how to get to Ca Mau, as the map showed a road but the Lonely
Planet didn't mention a bus to Ca Mau. Then... it turned out that the
night auditor at our Hong nam hotel was a man written up in the
Planet who spoke English well. Apparently the road is impassible; he
suggested going by boat. The trip was a delight.
Express boats can make the trip in 3 or 4 hours, but this took 10. There
were about 30 people on a long boat with hammocks in the middle. We
slept in the hammocks, and enjoyed the sights of the Mekong -- boats of
all sizes and shapes, lobster traps, people living their lives on the
By the end of the trip, many people knew about why I was in Ca Mau, and
had given their suggestions about what to do. The people in the boat
(whom I came to know pretty well after 10 hours!) were interesting to
watch. There was one threesome composed of a mother tending to her very
old and sick and small mother lying in a hammock. The grandmother was a
carbon copy of the mother, and then there was a daughter, a third carbon
copy. The daughter quietly wiped the grandma's brow and tried to put her
arms around her mother but got snapped at for some reason. Beside them
was quite a different threesome -- a young Mom and Dad with their arms
around each other and a kid in Disney shorts -- either Viet Kieu
family from Sai Gon.
This is the first time I've seen contact between
the opposite sex, but boys, men, girls, women walk arm in arm down the
road with members of the same sex.
Let's see, then there was the 2-year old son of the boat woman, ruling
his empire with moods and smiles as only a 2-year old can. Everyone took
turns entertaining him (he loved my digital camera). Beside me was a
15-year old girl with the face and smile of an angel. She was traveling
with her ba ngoai
(grandma on mother's side) and had she not talked with
me, she would have been completely still and quiet the entire 10-hour
trip. Can you imagine an American teenager doing that?
And finally, the teenage boys who ran the boat (scared me at first when I
found out our driver was 15 years old!) who flipped their hair out of
their eyes and strutted in the sunshine as if they knew the admiring eyes
of young girls were on them. Lots of fun.
Well, success achieved in Ca Mau, I decided to head straight to Sai Gon
and pick up Steve's soccer balls which I had left behind the better to
travel light through the Mekong area (a small backpack with one change of
clothes). There was a bus from Ca Mau to Sai Gon which left at 10 pm,
and I assumed, since the distance was quite a ways, would get to Sai Gon
Friday morning. The VERY possessive Honda driver (who had helped me find
Nguyen van Anh, and I had tipped him well) helped me buy the ticket and
saw me off, trying to elicit promises that I would write to him, would
tell my friend Le of his help, would bring him to the US, etc :).
Then, you've heard of a bat out of hell. The bus was indeed that,
driving and honking madly, bouncing over rough roads as if it was a
freeway. If I buy Vietnamese stock, I'll buy in the Car Suspension
industry! By the way, I've conquered mosquitos and catfish toilets, but
I've finally met my match. The blaring music of the Vietnamese version
of the Ungrateful Dead was at top volume the whole night trip. We
changed buses at Can Tho, hometown of my Tieng Viet Co Giao,
And then, at 4 am (!) we were in an unknown section of Thanh Pho Ho Chi
It was a mother's nightmare, being dropped off at night in the big
bad city. I had planned on taking my time to read the Lonely Planet and
find a hotel. Fortunately, I remembered one street name,
Duong Pham Ngu
Lau, and the Honda driver took me there without taking me to a back
street and robbing me of all my money (including the money in the secret
pocket around my waist :). At 4 am, all the hotels were closed but I
found some men awake sitting on their small stools drinking coffee. I
ordered some ca phe sua,
and was delighted to find that now that I was
back in Sai Gon, I could understand and be understood! The men made sure
I always kept my purse and backpack tightly to me.
This is a new world -- the Pham Ngu Lau tourist area of Sai Gon.
I saw a
towheaded man heading toward a hotel with his arms around a dark haired
girl, which seemed sad. A young man from Australia stopped by to talk --
he'd been up all night, was drunk, and was sorry that he hadn't been able
to score with a girl from San Francisco. Lots of pierced body parts!
And then ... I saw coming toward me a lady whose photo is in my last
trip's album! A beautiful lady who found me a cheap and nice hotel here
the last time, and is still doing that. It was a great reunion, and she
seems to have a talent for teaching, so I hope I can chat in
with her a bit in the weeks ahead... She found me a $6 room, and I got
the sleep I hadn't gotten the night before, which gave me the strength to
face the past 5 (!) hours on the internet...
Tomorrow I hope to head to Ben Tre
and give the soccer team there some
soccer balls from Steve Spangler, and also revisit my friend in the
banana forest of Tien Thuy, near Ben Tre...
And with that, I wish you a great weekend!