I would like to say it is the first time I have witnessed a subdued snake get a head bashing at 6.30.a.m. But that wouldn’t be true.
It is, however, the first occasion on which I have witnessed it being barbequed afterwards!
The Mekong Delta continues to dazzle. Both geographically and socially. The people that inhabit this strange, amphibious land seem as mysterious as the misty waters which sustain them. Aloof and constantly perturbed, yet calm and eager to please at the drop of a chopstick. We are already falling in love with Vietnam.
I had read, repeatedly on the internet, that the country had a disastrous visitor return rate, at only 5%. This, according to many incandscent bloggers, was no doubt due to the rudeness of the Vietnamese. Well, unless we are in a different country entirely, I have to disagree with those worldly whingers. Perhaps they come from that dated school of thought that believes all people of Eastern descent should descend into servitude, acting as dutiful and polite servants to any tourist visiting their country. What a load of Dim Sum. Or bollocks to use the vernacular. The people are great here. Keen witted and enthusiastic to make business, but also ready to laugh and tease! I have had my fair share already! I love it. Bun Pho and banter. It spices one’s life bowl.
We took a boat down the river from Phnomn Penh in Cambodia. The city dissipated into peppermint paddy fields, their verdancy almost fantastical. It was like the moment in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ when Dorothy’s house lands and kills the wicked witch of the east, and we see Ms Garland for the first time in all her technicolour splendour – vibrant and garish.
In booking our boat, I inadvertantly got us roped into a few tours, much to Andrew’s chagrin. We were forced to arise before six O’clock two days in a row and herded onto motorbikes or minibuses so see the local sites. Not the first thing one desires after an eight hour boat journey, including a break-down, and a change of vessel!
Much to our surprise the second day in Can Tho, the main city of this aquatic region, turned out to be a unique experience.
Andrew had turned on the alarm, but turned down the volume on the Ipad, so we were woke at an ungodly hour by our bossy Chinese receptionist and rushed into packing our rucksacks and scooting down to the lobby to join our fellow adventurers. I apologised profusely, blaming an isuue with my defacation. Andrew joined the group and was just a pain in the same region, Caffeine-less and humourless he muttered more than once, as we bobbed down the empty river,
‘We could have been in fucking bed! This is bloody stupid!’
I chastised him for being miserable, yet secretly agreed that it was a rather dull outing, not improved by the fact that it was New Year’s Day, and the main attraction, the sprawling, splashing, floating market, just wasn’t afloat. The fruit sellers and their bouyant buyers were all moored up at home preparing for the night’s celebrations. This did not stop our skipper from motoring up and down the river for a good fifteen minutes. Zig Zagging and following his normal route as if navigating through the three hundred vessels that were normally there! As he did so our guide described what we should be seeing. It was at this point I thought Andrew may choose to walk the plank rather than continue. I certainly wanted to Keelhole our tourguide!
And then, suddenly, out of the empty water, a coffee seller came aside. Andrew leapt to port and and managed to score the strongest caffiene kick this side of cocaine! We both went high and were soon singing Beatles songs on the stern, delighting the previously stern passengers.
It was when we arrived at a rural homestay, to be shown the traditional ways of the village, that the bucolic fantasy we were indulging in, shed it’s silky visage, and revealed the true nature of this beautiful, yet harsh enviroment.
On arrival at the barbeque, Andrew was invited to make friends with one of the serpents, bucketed to the side of the grill. He very bravely caressed one of the slithering lengths of serpentitude, almost forging a relationship.
Then all at once, the snake was taken from his gentle grip. Spun expertly through the air a couple of times and then smashed against the hard metal edge of it’s eventual killing machine, the barbie! We all watched in silent horror as the poor thing was then thrown onto the hotcoals and cooked, stunned, yet alive. This reptilian murder didn’t take long, but it was quite clear that none of the spectators, including ourselves, had ever witnessed such snake slaughter before. Two rats, three frogs and a couple of very suspicious looking quail (I quail to think!) later, and we left the alfresco feast hissing before us. Needless to say without sampling any of the wares. A crunchily cooked cricket is one thing – but a refried Roland Rat and a burnt breast of sparrow is quite another. But you know what they say – 0ne man’s meat etc.
Personally I’d rather opt for the cyanide. It goes down much easier.
Much like the ‘happy water’ we were then offered by our hosts. Probably in order to help us forget the brutal snake slaughter we had just witnessed. None of us refused, not even the very stern Canadian who was travelling with his incredibly youthful oriental chum, everyone wanted to erase the memory of the snakeshead frivolity.
Suffice to say the boat trip back and the subsequent six hour bumpy bus journey to Saigon, slid by almost imperceptibly. And we have now arrived in the scintillating capital for Tet, Vietnam’s new year, Christmas, and birthdays, all rolled into one.
The normal snakes of traffic have dissappeared for just this night and the city is fecund with anticipation of the fiesta to follow.
The fires have been lit, and Saigon is about to get cooking.
Let’s just hope no more serpent is on the menu!