The morning is young though I am definitely not feeling as young as when I went to bed. Got very little sleep and can feel the fuzziness in my brain. My step is slow. And this without drinking a drop last night. The dancing did me in. Muscles I didn’t know I had are making it known that they were there all along. Muscle ache and lack of sleep, however, have no power against adrenaline and after I take a shower I’m all set to go. Let’s see how long it lasts…
Today we are heading to the Cu Chi tunnels, the base for the Vietcong guerrilla fighters during the Vietnam War. I am wary of this visit for two reasons: am a bit on the claustrophobic side and don’t know how I’ll handle the tunnels (or if I’ll dare go in) and am not sure I’ll want to hear the propaganda that may go with it. But I’m in Vietnam and I’m going.
On the way we stop at a rice paper factory and rubber plantation. I am learning so much about processes of elaboration of things I had never given a second thought to and am acquiring a new appreciation of them.
I get the opportunity to try my hand at making a rice paper roll. This rice paper is used to wrap vegetables in a sort of spring roll (which is not fried). It’s delicate and much harder to make than it looks.
It begins by spreading the mixture of rice and water on a hot plate.
Then you pick up the roll with a roller. (How à propos.) Cook didn’t trust me to do it by myself and helped.
Then it’s transferred to the bamboo to cool. Hopefully without a hole -mine had one 😦
Once I’ve humiliated myself enough for being so inept at it, we spot a cashew tree. In Brazil is where I first was familiarized with one. The top part of the fruit is the nut that we know as cashew. My mom used to make juice of the cajú (in guaraní) fruit –or cashew apple-. Brought back a lot of happy times to my mind.
A little girl was fascinated by our group.
The group went on to view a rubber tree. I preferred to stay on the side of the road with my memories, while snapping pictures.
I find it interesting that when aware of having a picture taken, most in Southeast Asia will flash a victory sign.
Though the passengers on the same truck did not.
We arrive at the Cu Chi Tunnels.
First thing to greet us is an imposing US Air Force helicopter.
Then we are off to cross a tranquil looking setting into an area that at wartime was as far off from tranquil as you can think of.
The tunnels were an elaborate maze (75-mile long). A veritable city from which the Vietcong operated, coming out only at night for food and supplies. A place of little breathing room both in space as in oxygen.
And very difficult to detect.
They took care of their wounded underground.
And even had entertainment. The artist in me smiles that even under dreadful conditions that part is taken care of.
You can go into three tunnels. One is very claustrophobic even when it has been widened to accommodate tourists. Tom, the most adventuresome of the group, went in and looked a bit frazzled coming out. Another is shorter and I did go into that one. I survived it thanks to Amarjit’s voice on the other side saying: “It’s not long. You can do it.” Can’t imagine what it was like to live in them! I learned a lot about the war. Even more so after going on the Internet to read both sides.
After this visit we need a bit of downtime which the bus ride back provided, as well as the market visit that followed.
Ah, but the flood of emotions and remembrance is not to be curtailed as I encounter a fruit that my grandpa use to grow and lovingly pick for me when I visited: a cherimoya.
Enough of memories? No, as in the next stall I spot sugar canes. Don Eladio, my gramps, used to peel the sugar cane for me so I could chew on it, enjoying the sweetness of it for hours. Grant you, not great for the teeth but the memory of it is!
Now that we built up an appetite we head to a local restaurant: Phò Hùng. I would later find out that it is one of the best in the city for Phò, a Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced “fah”.
The food was absolutely delicious. You add ingredients that are already on the table to a huge bowl of soup.
I also sampled yet another local beer.
A wonderful meal!
From here we are free to be on our own. I, to meet with Jeff (my LA friend who lives in Ho Chi Min City) and maybe experience what locals do. He picks me up and here comes my first taste of being Vietnamese. I don a helmet and climb onto the back of his moped towards a café.
In less than a few minutes we encounter a motorbike accident, a very common occurrence in this city. Though he is a good driver my immediate reaction was, can I get off now?
At the café, which is very LA’ish, talking in English with a familiar face, and about common subjects I nearly forget where I am.
He drops me off at the hotel so that I can reunite with the group.
After my experience surviving as a moped passenger in the chaotic Saigon traffic, I am fully prepared for my cyclo-rickshaw tour of the city!
For the record is was not as tame as it looked or as I had expected. We encountered another accident on our route to the water puppet show!
The water puppet show did not impress me much, particularly since I had attended another traditional puppet show, albeit not a water one, in Myanmar that was very special. I think I enjoyed the live music most. The mechanisms for the puppets are under the water, while the puppeteers are waist deep behind some screens. In earlier time these performers where prone to all sorts of waterborne diseases but now they use knee-high waders.
Leaving the show I felt the zipper of my bag opened. Looking down, my point-and-shoot camera was almost falling out. Mary, from the tour, was wide-eyed when I looked up. Yep, someone had tried to steal my camera!
We went off to a French restaurant where strong chili sauce on the table -and a power failure- reminded us we were not in France.
I was going to meet with my friend and his girlfriend afterwards but by the time I reached the hotel, I could not muster the energy even to call.
Tomorrow get ready for Chau Doc and another day chockfull of experiences.