I arrive in Can Tho at dusk on February 27th and do little more than shower, find food and sleep. The next morning, I wake up at 4:30 am to go on a tour of the Mekong. It is pitch black out as I climb aboard a small wooden boat together with a few other girls from my hostel and the woman who will be our captain. The small outboard motor splutters to life and we we begin our journey to the floating markets under a darkened sky.
All I hear is the roar of the engine, the lapping of waves and the wind whistling in my ears. The sky turns slowly from black to purple, purple to blue, blue to yellow, yellow to orange, and it is under this rainbow of colors that people along the Mekong awaken. In the homes alongside the river, shutter windows are opened, doors are banged wide. Coffee is made. A man sitting in his boat brushes his teeth, spitting the toothpaste into the river. He catches my eye and I smile. We chug along and in this way I catch glimpses into countless microcosms of life. The more I see, the more I find myself thinking the same thought over and over again: where there is water, there is life. Where there is water, there is life.
The floating market is fascinating. Whereas I had assumed it was a floating market alongside the mainland, where people could pass by on foot, this market is entirely floating. Both sellers and buyers arrive there by boat. Large boats are anchored in the center of the river as smaller boats emerge out of smaller waterways and pull alongside them, surveying the fruit and vegetables. As I observe, I notice that each boat has a flag pole of some sort, but the top does not have a flag on it. It is still not completely light and I spend some time studying the shapes, finally realizing that the flag poles have fruit and vegetables hanging from them. It seems incredibly odd to me until I am finally able to link the produce on the flag pole to the produce on the boat. It’s like an advertisement. The produce at the top of the flag pole lets people know what this boat is selling. Amazing.
After the floating market, we head off the main river and explore some of the smaller waterways. It is light now, and the waterways are narrow. As we travel through, I admire the abundance of green around us. What I also begin to notice, however, is the trash. In the light of day, it is impossible to ignore. It is positively everywhere. Washed up on muddy shores, wrapped up in the roots of trees, floating like clouds between the leaves. We have to stop our engine several times to cut our propeller loose, as the many plastic bags floating under the surface of the river keep get wrapped around it. Our captain cuts the plastic loose swiftly; it appears almost second nature to her. She throws it back into the same river just as quickly.
My trip to the delta is stunning, and I am happy to have made the detour. As many times before, however, my visit gives me pause to reflect on our behavior as consumers and our impact on the fragility of our planet. This is not the first time it happens to me during my tip in Southeast Asia, nor will it be the last. And as we begin to travel back towards Can Tho, and another plastic bag bobs past, I think again: where there is water, there is life, where there is water, there is life.
How interesting that we are still somehow unable to understand that.