The adventure under the sun

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It’s a true shame, being a Vietnamese for 26 years, living in the South, armored myself with the glamorous “Saigonese”, and I have never set foot to Mekong Delta, the famous rice bowl of Vietnam, the colorful life of traditional wet markets, the one and only water world I should have known sooner. Yet, wise man said, it’s never too late to right a wrong.

The total length of the ride is 30km, you ride for two parts, 17km -13 km with many stops along the way so that the guide can share with you stories of the land. And me, the person who is lazy as f*ck, have completed that long, winding – ah no, it should be long and freaking hot road. The weather was not the usual hot ok, you was invited to Hell and Satan was so happy to have you there he burnt a whole country just to give you his warmest welcome. But I made it. OK I admit I was a bit of a drama queen, but at least let me be proud for a minute with my riding for a whole day, yet the day after I didn’t feel like I don’t own my legs no more. For almost two years back to this country, never ONCE I go to anywhere near the gym. Sloth is my eternal spiritual animal. Thanks to the cold water in refillable bottles throughout the ride and sugarcane drinks, hell yeah I survived.

I was fortunate to be given a slot on one full-day tour to Mekong Delta with a remarkable bike tour agency, which I must say, truly impressive in terms of service and quality. Together with a youthful, energetic, knowledgeable guide and only two other tourists, it felt like a private tour with every detail planned to meet the utmost needs of travelers. We rode through the serene countryside on quiet, paved rural roads, past countless rice paddies, vegetable farms and orchards full of locally grown fruit. We weaved along canal paths and orchard trails, across ferries, through the charming villages and towns full of friendly faces, you couldn’t help but smile by how the kids running out of their houses, waving their little hands at you and yelled “Helloooo” – I know that they called after the two Western travelers riding in front of me, I don’t know about the others, but me, I felt happy because of those pure hearts more than anything in this world combined.

We stopped frequently, sometimes in total silence we stood side by side and admired the green rice field, the blue blue sky, breathing the fresh air of countryside, fleeting breeze touched my face and how I wanted to hug this peaceful surrounding in my arm. For a moment there, we forgot the hustle and bustle world outside. Admiring Mother Nature is a bit late now; she has been hurt too deep, I don’t think we might be forgiven easily.

Along the way, we stopped at a small shop to see traditional woven mats and visit a nearby cocoa plantation. Have you ever heard about MarouFaiseures De Chocolat?  There was a story about two Frenchmen, Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou, who met in Vietnam and discovered a mutual love of the country, and a passion for the local cocoa beans[1]. Mekong Delta’s cocoa is Marou’s main source. Currently Marou produce five different bars – all made from cocoa beans grown ethically in Vietnam, and all with a rich, engaging flavor. The story about Vietnamese cocoa has been covered recent on The New York Times under the title “The Best Chocolate You Never Tasted”, section “On the Verge” [2]. And I, for the first time (gosh this ride has given so many first-times I’m starting to lose counts!), I have seen cocoa garden! I have seen five different colors of cocoa! I smelled its fermented beans – sour and lingering. I watched the artisan split open the pods to take the beans out. You can learn more about how cocoa beans being turned into those beautiful bars of chocolate at the end of note. Yeah, I will always agree with saving the Earth – it’s the only planet with chocolate.

The whole day was a top-notch adventure. I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t because of my considerate and joyful guide – that girl is one tough act to follow, who constantly watched out for us and remained calm under all possible circumstances. The day was well-thought of, after our first 10km, we paused for a while at a local house and there was our driver who, guess what, prepared a whole set of tropical fruits from Mekong Delta: mango, water melon… with plenty of cool water to help us avoid the dehydration and fatigue. Just half an hour, we were good to go. Upon finishing our last kilometers, welcomed us was a tasty lunch at another local household, whose were very friendly and easygoing. It was a pity I couldn’t devour the food to the fullest, I felt sorry towards the generous host. That was another plus I gave to the tour organizers.

 

When the rice scatters

After that trip, it strikes me hard, knowing that our beloved Mekong Delta is hit with worst drought in 90 years. In very recent article on usatoday.com, they covered the horrendous situation the farmers of the most fruitful land are dealing with right now, right here in the country. “The water is salty,” he said. “I’ve been living here since my childhood but this is the first time we’ve had salty water. All my crops were destroyed.” – one farmer said in an interview that was covered under the title “Mekong Delta is hit with worst drought in 90 years”  [4].

 

The drought, as mentioned by the news, caused by El Niño weather patterns, is hitting the entire region from Thailand to Cambodia to Vietnam’s central highlands. The impact is most acute here in the Mekong Delta, where the Mekong River ends its 2,700-mile journey from the Tibetan plateau through six Asian countries. A United Nations report released in March about the drought estimated that about 393,000 acres of rice in Vietnam was already lost, with an additional 1.2 million acres likely to be damaged. Almost 1 million people lack water for daily consumption. The figures are alarming but could grow worse if weather extremes become more common in years to come.

 

Mr. Duong Van Ni, Can Tho University’s an environmental management professor, warned “It will happen more in the future. A long time ago, there were also typhoons, also saltwater intrusion, also drought,” Ni said. “But the impact was not as severe as now, because at that time the ecosystem wasn’t changed by humans. Now the system is already damaged: by canals, by dikes, by water management, by land use.”

 

Another reason should be taken into account is the dams. China has built seven hydropower dams on the upper Mekong, known locally as the Lancang, and plans to add 21 more. Laos and Cambodia intend to build 11 hydropower dams on the lower Mekong, with two in Laos currently under construction. The existing dams in China already hurt the Mekong, affecting everything from water levels to water temperature to fish migration patterns. The dams on the Lancang also trap as much as 80% of the sediment that reaches them. The sediment is needed to fertilize downstream floodplains and protect against coastal erosion.

 

In another article written by sciencemag.org named “Mekong megadrought erodes food security”, the drought negatively impact Mekong Delta agricultural production with the water scarcity and climate change. Key crops – rice, cassava, maize, coffee and cashew nuts across the country are being imperiled, right in the moment, and there is no signs saying this is the last time this drought appears.

 

Not only that, As of mid-March, nearly a million people in central and southern Vietnam lack access to fresh drinking water, according to a recent United Nations report. And supplies of rice, the main staple crop, are in jeopardy. Saltwater intrusion in the Mekong delta has destroyed at least 159,000 hectares of paddy rice so far, with a further 500,000 hectares at risk before the onset of the summer monsoon. The Vietnam government has approved $23.3 million in emergency funds to compensate hard-hit farmers and provide water tanks and other critical provisions. [5]

On Bloomberg.com, an article titled “Drought killing Vietnam Rice Crops compounds Meking Water Crisis” [6] told a story of farmer Nguyen Thi Tam, whose shrimp pond had become a waste land. After the worst drought in 90 years, almost nothing grows. Tam’s family had no income for two harvests because the rice crop failed and the shrimp died. They ran up $8,000 in debt — more than twice her earnings in a typical year. To make ends meet, Tam plans to leave her village to work at a factory hundreds of miles away. Many others in the area already have fled, she said, including her daughter-in-law, who couldn’t endure the poverty. “I am worried about everything,” Tam, 55, said inside the thatched house in Kien Giang province she shares with her husband, three grown children and two grandchildren. “I cannot sleep.”

Another farmer’s family shared experience of his own about this historic drought “This is the first time in my 22 years of rice farming I could not grow rice,” said Nguyen Van Nhin, 36, who tends nine acres in Kien Giang province behind his thatched-roof hut with wood-plank beds and mosquito nets. In Kinh 5, Nhin’s village, 70 percent of the 281 farms prod uced no rice this season, said Danh Nhac, the local vice chief of the Communist Party. “The majority of the people left in the hamlet are children and people older than 45 or 50.” For those who remain, it means looking for alternatives to commercial farming. Nhin is trying to grow vegetables for food and looking for work as a manual laborer.

 

At the moments, as much as I believe, people – local and international experts are trying their best, in their ability to brainstorm solutions on creating a secured water supply in HCM city and the Mekong Delta region. Charity organizations have paid more attention to the situation; they are gathering people and all means to deliver water to the regions. One particular project is Mekong Eye – mekongeye.com [7] which offer huge source of information regarding Mekong Delta issue. They showcase news from over 100 journalists in the Mekong Matters Journalism Network and from media across the region and the world. A key focus is examining the environmental and social costs and benefits of large-scale regional infrastructure projects.

I’m sure hope for a better day, a hard rainy day in Mekong Delta, as soon as possible.

For your joyride:

[1] http://cocoarunners.com/explore/maker/marou/

[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/t-magazine/food/marou-vietnamese-chocolate.html?_r=0

[3] https://www.cadbury.com.au/about-chocolate/harvesting-and-processing-cocoa-beans.aspx http://www.divinechocolate.com/uk/about-us/research-resources/divine-story/bean-to-bar

More into Vietnam’s Chocolate industry:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/04/23/306229547/slowly-and-sweetly-vietnams-chocolate-industry-grows

 

[4]http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/04/21/vietnams-mekong-delta-hit-worst-drought-90-years/83231314/

[5] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/mekong-mega-drought-erodes-food-security

[6] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-18/drought-killing-vietnam-rice-crops-compounds-mekong-water-crisis

[7 http://www.mekongeye.com/2016/04/14/securing-the-mekong-delta-water-supply/

And take this tour as soon as you can, or recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about Vietnam’s one of many national treasures – Mekong Delta, to understand how it feels to be a part of the nature and to cherish it more. It’s never too late to do that.

http://www.grasshopperadventures.com/en/day-tours/mekong-delta-in-a-day.html

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