The Delta Coconut Pirates - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

December 22, 2016

The Delta Coconut Pirates

Atop a Cargo Boat - Ben Tre to Tra Vinh - 6 hours

Atop a Cargo Boat - Ben Tre to Tra Vinh 6 hours

December 22, 2016

The Delta Coconut Pirates

Our room in Ben Tre was one of the best of the trip thus far and very hard to leave but we were quite excited to spend hours on top of a cargo boat to Tra Vinh. We hadn’t made reservations or made contact with anyone. All we knew was what a friend told us which was if we went about 200 meters beyond the bridge there would be a boat and it would leave at 9:30AM.

Our hotel room.
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Sunrise from our hotel window.
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The boat was easy to spot because two other foreigners were already sitting on top. The men filling the boat with cargo were very nice and packed our stuff on board. The bikes went on top and the panniers down below with lots of cardboard boxes. Before getting on we looked around and immediately found a banh mi stand. With two banh mi for lunch we were set. We had water but after looking around the boat a bit we saw no toilet. The captain and his helper did not speak English so we didn’t know if we would be stopping or what. I was scared to drink any water and Andrea was scared if I didn’t due to my history of overheating. And it looked like it would be a scorcher on top. The rain now seemed long gone, finally.

Our cargo boat for the day.
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Cargo being loaded.
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Brooms were loaded aboard.
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Even before we left the dock we were observing coconut operations.
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Our boat's bow.
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Spirit figures that protect our boat.
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We shoved off and immediately it was bliss as well as interesting. I love being on boats. I immediately said to Andrea, “We have to take more boats.” Being up so high we had a great view and there was so much to look at. The Vietnamese, more than other S.E. Asian countries, have really taken advantage of all the water which surrounds them. In the ocean they have fished and farmed extensively. They have dredged their rivers to make it possible for large vessels to transport just about anything. And we saw just about anything on all the other boats. The canals and channels of the Mekong were heavily used by all size and manner of boat. They load them seemingly beyond their limit with some looking like they were nearly underwater. I don’t know how they get away with it.

Atop the cargo boat.
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Everything is moved by boat on The Delta.
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I haven't researched but here are the palms that grow in water again.
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The couple whom we shared the experience with were a young couple from Holland on a three and a half week trip. They were seeking tiny out-of-the-way places. I didn’t have the heart to tell them it’s hard to find such places in Vietnam in only three weeks and so far the delta looked just as populated as the rest of the country, i.e. overpopulated. The congestion in the waterways suggested as much.

Our cargo mates from Holland.
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As on land, when riding our bikes, everyone on other boats and on shore waved to us. Everyone we gave a wave to waved back with big smiles. I think most laborers are doing such monotonous and hard work that any diversion is welcome. And, of course, they are curious about foreigners sitting atop a cargo boat. How fun is that!! But the Vietnamese people have proven over and over to be nice friendly people. Hospitality is part of their DNA it seems. We waving first shows them we are not snobs and tells them we care about each of them. Simple as a wave is but more important than we may think.

We were having a great time perched on top. Boats were loaded with everything under the sun including heavy machinery. Many were filled with dredged up muck. Lots of dredging going on constantly.

As our trip progressed there were more and more boats loaded with coconuts. Some had the husks only and some the center nut part. More and more and more coconuts everywhere! It got to the point where just about all we saw was coconut boats. Some had netting on all sides to enable more coconuts to be loaded onto the boats. These boats looked like pirate ships. Coconut pirates! However the crew waved and smiled - hardly pirate behavior.

Coconut pirates obviously.
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We saw coconut processing plants with enormous piles of coconuts outside them. The only way of loading and unloading a boat full of coconuts was by hand. A person down in the boat would throw two at a time to someone on shore. We saw this over and over and I kept thinking, ‘conveyor belt?’ After watching them for quite some time I realized they were also sorting the coconuts as they unloaded. So laborious. I mean, these boats had thousands of coconuts and all were picked up and thrown by hand and then someone else picked them up to throw into trucks. Coconuts seemed to be the main crop on The Delta. I had no idea so many coconut palms grew on The Delta.

A huge coconut operation.
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The boat pulled over to unload some of its cargo and the captain indicated we should get off and eat something if we desired. We walked a narrow corridor among bags of sugar piled to the ceiling of a sugar warehouse and out into an alley. We were showed a toilet and then we wandered around in tight alleys until we found a quiet street. There was a place that could have made us food but all we four wanted was coffee. For the first time in Vietnam the coffee came with no sweetened milk but instead a layer of sugar on the bottom. Figures. We had walked through a sugar warehouse to get there not a milk warehouse. Kind of funny though. Cans of the sweetened condensed milk weigh something and everything like that has to come a long distance by probably both truck and boat and if it can be avoided it certainly is. Sugar was being made right there so that is what is used.

Back at the boat men were still unloading and then loading bags of what looked like sugar. This didn’t make a lot of sense until we stopped a second time and those bags that had been loaded aboard were unloaded which meant that our boat was transporting those bags of sugar just a short distance. From producer to refiner and back? No idea.

The mysterious loading, transporting and unloading and more loading of bags of sugar.
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Our second stop was at a sugar producing plant. Big vats of heated thick brown liquid was stirred automatically by large motor driven paddles. A wood fire was underneath each vat. At this point there is a large gap in my understanding of why there was so much sugar being produced on the delta. I don’t believe sugar is made from coconut meat, of which there was tons. Palm sugar is made from sap from the flower bud up on top of the tree. We never saw even one tree being tapped. All we saw were coconuts. Of course we were only seeing the edges of the waterways and not what must be vast coconut palm plantations on the interior where they might be tapping the trees.

Boiling down to sugar.
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The sugar could be from sugar cane which we also saw being transported on the waterways. There were far fewer of these boats than coconut boats however. And we saw nobody squeezing the juice from the canes. All we know is that there was a lot of sugar in bags which also means that it is probably not palm sugar but more the granulated type. More research is needed. Sorry for the boring speculations. Even in ignorance I am always fascinated by everything that is going on even if I don’t get it. This was not a guided tour. We were simply considered a different kind of cargo to the man operating the cargo boat.

More coconut pirate boats obviously.
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After we boarded after the second stop the captain decided we probably would like to be down below for the rest of the trip and brought our plastic chairs down. That wasn’t necessarily what i desired but it did probably give me a few more years free of skin cancer. There was more room down below since all the bags of sugar had been distributed. At one point the captain told us to not sit on certain cardboard boxes and as soon as we got off them I heard little cheeping sounds. Chicks? No idea what was in those boxes but possibly something alive. The quail eggs were safely visible so we didn’t sit on them.

Quail eggs aboard.
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Our view from below.
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I love the shapes they make their boats.
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View from down below.
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Our boat cut across huge wide sections of the Mekong River and then into canals across land to other huge wide channels of the Mekong. Each arm of the Mekong was bigger and wider than the Mississippi River way down in Louisiana and there are at least six major arms of the Mekong. What an amazing river. We have now either been on or next to it all the way from China. It has many personalities.

One of the smaller waterways.
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Finally we docked at Tra Vinh which was a couple of miles up a canal from one of the biggest channels of the Mekong. Most of the towns in The Delta are not on main channels but off a bit on canals. All are picturesque old towns that have a decidedly French feel. In Ben Tre I felt a bit like I was in New Orleans. The Delta - quite a unique place, and vast. The trip through some of its waterways on top of a cargo boat was a highlight for sure.

lovebruce

Unloading the quail eggs carefully.
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