Adventures with the crazy Oreo lady
03/10/2010 - 03/12/2010
This morning we awoke in a quiet, waveless lagoon where we had anchored for the night in the boat we had chartered to take us on a tour of Bai Tu Long, Cat Ba Island, and Ha Long Bay. We had chartered a smaller boat (through Catbaventures) for these two days (just two cabins), which means that we can get into a lot of places that the large tour boats cannot. So it seems like we have the place to ourselves. Except for when we went into Ha Long Bay, we only saw five other boats (two of which were part of the same company; apparently our boat was sharing cooking duties with them). Yesterday we picked up some kayaks at a local (floating) fishing village and our guide, Mr. Kai, led us through limestone tunnels and into secluded lagoons that seemed like something out of a movie. These bays are made up of huge limestone karsts, kind of like the Oregon coast, but rock after rock after rock from here to China (literally).
The weather has been quite foggy and so as we entered the bay from Cat Ba Island it looked to me kind of like the Smokey Mountains: this haze of dark peaks appearing one after another off into the distance. I now completely understand that scene out of the movie "Indochine" in which people become lost and adrift in Ha Long Bay (it's a great movie that you should check out, even if you're not thinking about visiting Vietnam). I cannot imagine how anyone navigated this area before GPS (which I'm just assuming our guides are using; they seem to have no shortage of cellular service).
Mixed in among these little islands are dozens of floating villages. Lliterally large collections of houses floating on a huge rafts supported by plastic barrels in the water. Each how runs its own little fish farm. Between the support barrels are nets that make up fish "tanks" in the water. Each "tank" contains a different kind of fish.
We stop at these periodically to buy our meals (well, the crew buys them; we walk around and look at the fish until we're told to get back on board). The most fascinating part of these fish farms is that they all have dogs. Apparently the dogs let the people know when a boat approaches (at least, they bark a lot, so let's just say that they are serving some purpose). We keep speculating on where the dogs go to the bathroom. Do they poop into baskets that the people dump overboard? None of us can bring ourselves to ask though. I can't quite gauge the Vietnamese relationship with dogs: on the one hand, some people keep them as pets, but on the other, lots of people seem to eat them.
The cold weather means that none of us feel like swimming, but it's definitely warm enough for kayaking. In fact, it seems warmer down nearer the water. We were able to get some great photos and video of passing through this limestone tunnel. The best part of the kayaking is that there are almost no tourists here, yet there are fishing boats and sampans all over, just Vietnamese people going about their regular lives in the bay. We were all particularly taken by this sampan that pulled up to our boat which was filled with cookies, crackers, Pringles, sodas, and cigarettes. Basically it was a floating 7-11 (no Slurpies I don't think). We saw this woman on our first day and then she never bothered us again, but at one point our crew decided to pull up to a floating fish farm to buy some cigarettes from her and we got to watch her get into what we assume was some kind of argument with the men at the fish farm. Although, an argument suggests interaction from both sides. This appeared to be mostly her screaming at the men while they sort of rolled their eyes and chuckled. At the end of the exchange she tied onto the back of our boat and followed us for a distance, but when we looked back about a 1/2 hour later she had disappeared, taking her Oreos with her.
Although the scenery and kayaking have been unbelieveble (the scenery really does defy explanation, and, I'm afraid, photos), the best part of the trip to me has been the food. It is all super fresh seafood that the crew cooks for us: fish, squid, shrimp, and clams cooked in various ways, from springrolls to fried fish, steamed clams, and my favorite, squid cooked in ginger and lemongrass. I think that the guy who serves us the food may think that the English word for "food" is "ahhhh" because each time he brings a new dish out he says that or "wow!" or "oooh!" I assume because he hears it from tourists every day. We were no exception.