2017-11-30 Off Grid

Long Xuyen to Chau Doc

Surely the most fascinating ride so far. Google Maps led me down rural lanes and single track foot paths, through settlements of half dozen or fewer homes, and over more rickety, steep, narrow bridges than I could count; all of it perched on dikes in rices paddies. I feel so fortunate.

I’m sure the strange westerner on a bike occupied many conversations. I doubt that even organized bike tours go along these paths. The route cuts a nearly straight line to Chau Doc, but it posed bike skill challenges that demanded 200% of my attention for much of the way. My ability to ride single track has improved since my spill along the canal tow path in England, and fatter, softer tires also helped, so no spills this time. Banana tree leaves brushed my head while I navigated the narrow and sometimes steep-sided track walls. Because I could not take it all in while riding, I made lots of stops.

Approaching motorbikes and I negotiated on the fly how to pass each other: Did one of us need to pull off and stop? Which one? Could we squeeze by? Nothing new to them, but I felt my foreign-ness in not knowing the protocol. All resolved with a friendly nod or smile that I encounter so often here. Oh, if only we could handle things that way while driving in the US, rather than with privelege, anger, and rude hand gestures.

Some of the settlements seemed not to be Vietnamese, judging from the music playing in homes and the fabrics hanging out front. Khmer and Cham communities are common in this area. Perhaps one of you can identify the ethnicity of the brightly colored fabric in this picture?

Long-tail boats carry people and cargo throughout the Delta. The long tail is a propeller at the end of a motor shaft attached to various sizes of auto or truck engines. The engines swing on a gimbal that allows adjustable depth and turning thrust.

I’ve seen many long tail boats. But here I noticed a new use for the long tail. The long tail drives a pump to raise water from the canals to the fields. The arrangement typically fills about an 8” pipe with strong flow. The sound of the idling stationary engine gives them away as I pass; ka-chug ka-chug ka-chug. Do they use the long-tail shaft to drive other machinery? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Fields of yellow and gold chrysanthemum flowers, grown to decorate ancestral altars, pop up from time to time, jewels in the green velvet landscape. In the background, near Chau Doc and the Cambodian border, famous Sam Mountain rises abruptly from what has been very flat landscape.

Some rice harvesting is going on now, bringing strange-looking machinery to the fields, andmotorbikes and trucks full of the easily identifiable bright yellow bags. Small batches of rice dry on tarps laid out on the roads, frequently raked to expose all the grain to the drying sun.

Clever hemispherical wire domes house house proud cocks, perhaps fighting fowl. Their humans relocate the cages to keep the cocks in the shade and sometimes to offer them fresh ground to scratch. Looks like an adaptable tool for raising back yard chickens in the US.

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