Saturday, December 27, 2014

Photo and Fishing Adventures on Phu Quoc

27 December 2014

Dad's hat needed to go on a photo adventure.  We - Richard, the hat, and I - walked down the beach to the rocky headland.  Which may or may not be a tombolo (which is an island attached to the mainland by a sand bar or spit).  I'm not sure because the pile of rocks that might be called an island is barely an island, and the bar or spit is, well, not very long.  But this isn't really a rocky headland, either, since the rocks aren't attached to the main part of the island.  If you've ever been to The Baths of Virgin Gorda, this is similar but in miniature - a pile of huge boulders that are half in the sea and half on land (or sand), and rising way up and jumbled and piled on each other, sort of like a pile of pebbles for a giant.

Anyway, whatever it is, a mini batholith or a short tombolo, it's an interesting geological feature on a beach, and that's what our dad studied and taught.  So he'd like this little spot, whatever it might be called in coastal geomorphology terminology.  

We did the normal hat on a rock looking out to sea kinds of shots.  Hat on another rock.  Hat between rocky pillars.  Had fun finding new and creative spots for the hat.

Then I saw a young woman trying to take a photo of where we were - Richard noticed someone had climbed to the top of the rocks, and she was getting his photo.  Well of course we had to get that photo too (though neither of us were willing to climb to the top of this huge boulder) - so I ran over and tried talking with the young man on top of the rock.  I asked if he'd wear the hat so we could take his photo.  He said haltingly that he didn't speak English.  So I waved the hat around, pointed to it, said "Mein Papa," put it on my head, took it off, pointed at him, waved the hat in his direction and motioned putting it on his head, and waved my camera.  He copied most of the motions and I nodded vigorously.  He shrugged.  So I handed him the hat, he put it on, his lady friend cheered and she and I took a few photos with this guy wearing dad's hat.  I ran over and he handed the hat to me.  I asked, "Russia?"  He said, "Da."  So I said "Spacibo."  Which of course got a big grin.  (This is why I like knowing how to say thank you in every language we encounter.)  And we left them to the rest of their photo shoot.

Soooooooo, there were some wonderful short sea stacks, little pillars of rock in the water, maybe 5 or 6 feet high (just under 2 meters).  Neither of us were happy about getting out there, but the sea stacks were the perfect spots for the hat.  So, well, what could I do, I didn't have a swimsuit on.  I did have a long top, and dark undies.  Off went the shorts, in I waded, and at least I didn't fall down.  Slowly slowly in cold water with waves surging in and quickly ebbing out, trying to pull me off the rocky bottom and suck me out to sea - I managed to get some great photos, and the hat was thrilled.

And then we did some Phebe cheesecake photos.  Since I was already in my frisky and risqué act.

All that was yesterday.  Yes, more stuff happened, nothing exciting.  We did go into the town of Duong Dong, had a nice dinner, walked around, chatted with a few people who live there.  (I should add that Vietnamese has some variations on the Roman alphabet.  The word Duong uses the usual D, but Dong uses a D with a little dash across the upright.  And the vowels have various accent marks that indicate intonation.  I'm not sure exactly what the dash does to the D, I think it makes it a softer "d" sound, almost more like a "dt" like in Schmidt.  I'm not sure, I'm practicing reading the menu in Vietnamese and the wait staff at our resort all help me.  Anyway, the two Ds of Duong Dong aren't exactly the same.)

Okay, so, today's adventure.  After breakfast, I went for my usual walk on the beach.  There were some boats sort of clustered together that I thought would make a nice photo, so I headed that way (opposite the rocky photo shoot spot).  I also noticed a few people further down the beach doing what looked, from a distance, like sit ups and crunches.  Okay, exercise on the beach, whatever.

I walk along, taking photos, looking around, walking walking.  And as I approach the sit up people, I realize that they have some wooden device, sort of a homemade mechanism, somewhere between a ship's steering wheel and a spinning wheel.  There are two men sitting on the close one, and one guy turns the wheel toward himself and leans back, puts a foot on the bottom spoke to push it farther out, sits up, uses the opposite hand (and then foot) to repeat.  Person next to him is coiling rope in a basket.  I look out at the water, and realize they're hauling in a fishing net, by hand!  Pull, lean, push, sit up, repeat.  Maybe 6 or 8 or 10 yards or meters down the beach is another one of these devices, with another man doing the wheel thing, and a woman coiling the rope.

I watch.  I take photos.  I sit on a wood table to see what happens next.  

At some point, the spot on the net where the rope is tied finally reaches shore.  The wheel guy takes off his hat and shirt, nods at me to say hello, and heads to the water.  Unties the rope, walks into the water, swims about halfway out along the edge of the large net, and ties the rope there.  Guy on the opposite side does the same thing on his side.  The two swim back, and go back to the wheel sit up thing.  

They continue pulling in the net.  But the part that has already arrived at the shore is bunching up.  A man starts hauling it in at the far end, but there's no one at our end to haul in the net.  So I put down my stuff, camera in pocket, and motion to the wheel guy to ask if I should go pull in the net.  He smiles and nods, gives me a bicep flex to indicate you need to be strong to do this, and I go and start hauling in the net, hand over hand, trying to get a little accordian fold pile of net going.  Of course, the net doesn't cooperate, and it turns out I'm supposed to be leaving it in the water and not on the beach.  Pretty soon a nice Italian guy comes over and starts hauling in the net with me.  But since we're both not doing it the right way (not having a clue), the wheel guy comes back and shows us how it should be done.  We fall back, laughing, and let the fishermen do what they do and stop pretending we know how to pull in a net.  

So I chat with Mr and Mrs Italy - sorry: Signor i Signora Italia - who are very nice people, about Richard and my age, they're travelling around SE Asia and heading to Laos and Cambodia, they'd like to settle on an island.  (I recommended the Caribbean....)  We had a nice chat as we took photos of the fishing net being pulled into a loop, then a circle, then sort of rolled up around the edges to make one concentrated pile of sea creatures.  Buckets were brought down and the people in the water scooped up the fish, then brought them to shore and dumped them into huge plastic baskets on the ever-present wooden yoke.  

I'm not sure what all of the fish were, but many were teeny tiny little fish, hardly big enough to eat.  There were a few small yellowtail snappers, several squid, a small flatfish (maybe a flounder), and a baby octopus.  As my Italian friends said, the small fish should be thrown back in the sea so they could grow large and make better eating.  It makes sense to us.  But Phu Quoc is home of Vietnamese fish sauce, that spicy and pungent fermented fish sauce that smells horrible but tastes so good, and is quintessentially Vietnamese.  I suspect the tiny fish will be either sold to the fish sauce factory, or used for homemade fish sauce.

Anyway, it was an exciting morning adventure, I learned somewhat how fishing is done on Phu Quoc, and we now have a place to stay when we get to northern Italy, to Lago Maggiore.  

Not bad for a morning walk!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Junior Santa In FlipFlops

25 December 2014

We had a Merry Christmas on the beach - the logs from last night's bonfire were still smoldering, and the staff kept moving around the glowing logs and adding fallen kindling to get things burning again.  I guess throwing water on the logs would make them unburnable, so they just kept trying to burn them up.  (You can see some of the smoke drifting by the base of the thatch umbrella in this picture.)

After breakfast, I walked to one end of our beach - and quite a beach it is!  First, I encountered a resort with a small concrete version of the Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers - small being relative, since these were still a good 10 or so feet high (3 meters or so).  The resort also had concrete versions of a Thai golden stupa (the temple free-standing tower that looks something like a chess pawn), the Sydney Opera House, and other strange and sundry architectural wonders.  In painted concrete.

On the water side of the beach, there was a strange cement statue of frolicking dolphins.  But the dolphins didn't look very happy or friendly, despite being mid-frolick.  It may have had something to do with their dolphin friend, who had fallen off the statue base and was nearly buried in sand, just a little grumpy dolphin face sticking up out of the water.

And then a giant mermaid, another creative use of cement, trying to look demure by the half-sunk fishing pier.  In (you guessed it) cement.  Or concrete.

Beyond all the concrete craziness was a rocky headland sticking out into the water.  This pile of rocks marked the end of our beach, and there was another scallop of golden beach on the other side of the tiny peninsula created by the boulders.  The rocks were worn into weird organic shapes, sculpted by the natural erosion of the sea.  Rocks like this always look something like a moon scene, the shapes are so strange and almost un-rock-like.

On my way back to our place, I saw several vendors walking up and down the beach, selling fruit, drinks, baked items.  It looks like such difficult work, walking through sand carrying the buckets on a yoke across the shoulders.  The women in particular are all bundled up with long sleeves, long slacks, gloves, and hats - I had heard that light skin is prized here, and we've seen all kinds of lotion with "whitening" in them - so I think the women are covered to avoid tanning.  In contrast to the resort guests who are lying in the sun wearing the skimpiest swimsuits possible, trying to get as much tanning in as they can.  

Well, not ALL guests, we aren't out there laying around in the sun.  We aren't swimming around in the water, either.  Every time either one of us tries the water, maybe ankle deep, it just feels way too cold.  As Richard said, it feels like refrigerated water.  We've been spoiled by our years in the Caribbean, where the locals didn't swim between December and May because the water got too cold.  That's us.  This water is way too cold!

We found out there's a night market, and that's where we went this evening, via taxi.  The front half of the market is a series of seafood restaurants, with huge tanks of clams, scallops, giant prawns, lobsters, crabs, baby sharks, eels, squid, grouper, other unidentified fish, cockles and mussels alive alive-oh.  Really, all these creatures were swimming or crawling or hovering in their tanks.  A few were trying to make a break for freedom.  It smelled wonderful, but I personally prefer to not be formally introduced to my food before it dies for me.  So we walked around, I had a tiny coconut tart (good, but not like our St. Thomian tarts from Carnival!), and we went back to the town area for a café dinner.

For my Evergreen friends, I've included the menu item.  Geoducks.  Didn't see any, but it was on the menu.  (For you non-Evergreeners, that's our college, The Evergreen State College.  Our mascot is the geoduck.  A unique clam.)

And I met the cutest junior Santa, who shyly agreed to let me take his photo.  He was just to adorable to pass up.  (Check out the flipflops with the Santa suit, LOL!)

So happy holidays, and we'll see what we can find tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Phu Quoc Christmas Eve Druid Solstice Bonfire

24 December 2014

We woke up this morning bright and early to a sunny idyllic tropical paradise.  A short walk across the long concrete boardwalk, this time seeing the marsh or swamp or whatever it is, and breakfast on the beach.  

The restaurant crew are friendly and do their best to understand the multiple languages of the guests - we've heard Swedish, German, Russian (or possibly Ukranian), Italian, French, and some not-yet-identified languages.  The restaurant seems to be a family business, with several children assisting older brothers and sisters, and the parents doing most of the cooking.

After breakfast, a short walk around the beach - we have golden sand, aqua to blue water that is surprisingly chilly for such a tropical look, and colorful boats in water colors, the better to contrast with the bright red and yellow flags of Vietnam.

The air temperature is about 85 F (27 C), with gentle breezes, of course.  Absolutely perfect kind of temperature.  Which is why we were so surprised by how cool the water is, not quite frigid but definitely bracing.  The sky clouded over as the day progressed, we both fell asleep (me in a hammock, which was lovely), and we mostly just whiled away our first day here in Phu Quoc.  It's just so relaxing to sit under a palm thatch umbrella, listening to the waves, or swinging in a hammock on the little porch, while the breezes waft across and maybe a butterfly comes flittering by.

We have a garden view bungalow with AC - we started in a bungalow facing the beach (and marsh) but it didn't have AC.  And given the mosquitoes - not a lot, but they still find me - we opted for the AC.  Somehow the mosquito nets and fans don't seem to prevent those little guys from finding and biting me.  (And giving me things like dengue.  So we're being a little extravagant and going with the freeze-the-skeeters route.)

I think at this point in time many people have tried Vietnamese food.  The restaurant serves pho, the soup with everything in it - and yes, this is a breakfast option.  There are several noodle soups available for lunch and dinner, as well as egg dishes, rice dishes, other noodle dishes, and a few western items.  We haven't quite figured out the sauteed spaghetti.  But the chicken with lemongrass and chiles is great.  My favorite are the spring rolls - the wrapper is uncooked, and the inside is rice noodle vermicelli with tons of greens and either basil or cilantro (coriander) leaves, and a row of lovely cooked shrimp.  The whole thing is wrapped and rolled, and dipped into a spicy sweet chile fish sauce for eating.  Wonderful light lunch on a hot day!

At dinner tonight, we discovered the Phu Quoc resort tradition of a beach bonfire for Christmas.  We're not sure if this is the way other parts of Vietnam celebrate Christmas, or if this is just something done here for the visitors.  But it looks rather like a large Christmas tree burning up.  The logs are stacked in a tripod formation, with smaller logs and plenty of kindling underneath.  We weren't there for the lighting, but by the time we arrived it was burning merrily, with occasional sparks flying up and around.  The staff periodically tossed another log on the fire, things would flame up, and eventually work back down to burning and glowing logs.  (We could see another two or three bonfires down the beach to the south, so it isn't just this place that does the fire thing.  It seems to be a fairly common way of celebrating the holiday here.)

So we had dinner, then hung out on the beach watching the fire and just chatting.  There are boats that line up out in the water, with bright white lights.  Not sure if they're fishing (squid is a big menu item here), or what.  I don't know if one even can fish with bright white lights.  It actually makes things look as if there's land out there.  But in daylight it's obvious that there's NOTHING, just sea or ocean or gulf or whatever it is.  Water.  So the lights at night are definitely boats.

OH, the crazy tree.  I guess this is a Christmas tree.  Sort of.  A dried out tree, with cotton balls added where the leaves would be.  Twinkle lights wrapped around.  And colorful balloons added.  A little crazy, but colorful and cheerful and somewhat holiday-ish.

So that was our first full day on Phu Quoc.  No plans yet for tomorrow, but we'll try to arrange a dive or two while we're here.  

If we can brave than chilly water!