I load up on items such as flavored Normandy sea salt, obscure Scottish ales and farm-style preserves.
March 24, 2009
I am surprised by the Mekong Delta. I suppose I am expecting heart-pounding music to accompany a vulnerable swift boat into the canals of the Delta, taking fire on all sides. But at Cai Be, the Mekong is so wide you can barely see the other side.
A barge carrying tons of sand passes us and we carefully avoid the ferry of motor scooters. The sun is bright, the wind is strong and the river is a mud-colored, bustling waterway.
I sit on a wooden stool at the front of a large sampan, the Cai Be Princess. We turn off the main artery and are plunged into the beautiful chaos of a floating market. Large boats have arrived laden with bananas or pomelos, while smaller boats provide the services of a mini-bar or offer a variety of fruits and vegetables. At the bend of the river, a narrow white-spired church rises, impressive in contrast to the one-story stilt houses lining the banks.
It is the dry season, so the houses perch like awkward long-legged water birds.
As we leave the market behind, we are in narrower waters with jungle on either side. We note an occasional stilt house but nothing to indicate that modernity has come to the Delta. Our guide insists that most people even here have TVs.
Our boat stops and ties up at a dock made of a bamboo pole and a one-foot square concrete slab. In the middle of this jungle is an elegant restaurant where among other delicacies I eat fresh elephant ear fish rolls. My waitress filets the entire fish with chopsticks and then wraps the crisp juicy morsels in rice paper with lettuce and herbs.
I can’t believe I refused a fourth helping.
I lie down in the boat on a pile of cushions and am served tea and a plate of fresh lychees, dragon fruit, and a sweet green banana. I feel like a king on a royal barge on this once war-torn river.
Where have you gone and been surprised by the gap between perception and reality?