It was darker than normal this morning. The sky was overcast and the air was heavy; rain was on the horizon. Breakfast, as per usual, was some form of rice. Today the kitchen served the mushroom rice balls that Doug has become so fond of.
I myself prefer beef pho or the occasional bread and butter if we are lucky. The food here is not terrible, but frequently unusual. The meat is questionable and not to my liking. For instance, the processed pork product that has become a staple of our lunch routine is so pungent it makes me gag. Entire chickens are boiled and then hacked into chunks and served bones and all. Needless to say, I don’t eat much meat here.
Beer, on the other hand, is remarkably cheap and can be found nearly everywhere. The little café where we have our lunch serves two types of local beer, and even has beer on tap for 75 cents a pint. Refrigerator space is limited so ice is a necessity. On good days we spoil ourselves with green bean popsicles. I must admit though, I am not too keen on either the beans or the ice cream.
I slipped on a pair of green rubber boots that I bought in Hanoi. Yesterday, my legs were blackened from the dust that had blown up my pant legs. Today I’d try the boots. Doug and I geared up for the magnetometer survey. Earlier, at breakfast, we unfortunately learned that the data we collected yesterday was useless. We had to re-survey a plot of farmland that had taken us seven hours to complete. Add a 50-pound metal-framed backpack to the equation and the task becomes markedly unpleasant. Each transect we walk is spaced four meters and extends approximately 300 meters across rough terrain. Among the obstacles are two-foot tall rice stalks, heaps of plowed clay, burial mounds, dykes, and canals that I am certain are teeming with schistosomiasis and other dubious creatures. Generally, after walking about four transects the muscles in your right shoulder are on fire from the unevenly balanced pole that suspends the two mag sensors. Following the eighth or ninth transect I get cranky.
The cool weather was a pleasant relief. Several of the fields we surveyed yesterday were set ablaze by the local farmers; smoke billowed into the sky. A slight breeze began to blow from the west. Surely enough, the moment we had geared up, the first drop of rain was felt. Considering Doug was carting equipment with a hefty price-tag, we couldn’t take any chances. As the rain pelted down from the hazy heavens, we had only one option for shelter. I threw our rain jackets over the equipment on Doug’s back and we awkwardly sprinted to the nearest house which was about 400 meters away. Apparently, we were not the only ones who ran to that house for shelter. Mr. Lam, the project’s cultural liaison, was there, as were several of the local children whom I had met in the fields the other day. Children here are looked after by everyone. The family who lived there generously made space for our equipment on their porch and offered us a couple of plastic chairs to sit on. We had no means of contacting our fearless leaders, but we knew they would find us soon. We were expendable but our gear was not.
As the rain pelted down on the tin roof overhead, we shared a few laughs with the family as we tried to communicate with Dr. Lam and the kids. Doug cradled the magnetometer console and attempted to explain what the strange-looking device did. It turned into a bad game of charades with Doug finally resorting to drawing pictures on a rain-soaked sheet of paper. Everyone was amused.
The family owned a significantly large fish pond, compared to some of the others we had seen. The banks were lined with banana trees, mango trees, and eucalyptus, though not the variety that koala’s like to eat. The rain transformed the surface of the lake into a flurry of concentric ripples. Several bamboo fish traps were stacked under the porch. The villagers weave thin strips of bamboo into ornate traps, some so small it is hard to imagine they catch anything worth eating. However, in Vietnam the people eat everything.
It took about 20 minutes for Randy and J.B. to show up. The rain had let up a bit but it was still drizzling. The car pulled up beside the house and we ran the gear to the trunk. Our boots threatened to pull off in the wet mud underfoot. Feeling wet and sticky from the humidity, we waved our goodbyes to our new friends and headed back to the hotel for a warm shower and hot meal.