The first and last time I had oysters was when I was 12, on a family trip to Rome.
I wanted to eat as many strange foods as possible, so later on, I could watch my friends’ faces as I tell them about it.
So on the first night, I had pasta with oysters. It was delicious, the pasta cooked to perfection and the oysters, such a weird texture, a fresh flavor of the sea with a hint of olive oil.
Later that night, I got sick and vomited everything.
Since that day, I thought I must be allergic to oysters, and avoided them.
Dinner on the Scorpion was barbecued shrimps, octopuses, and oysters.
I thought it was a great opportunity to check this allergy thing again. As it turned out, I wasn’t allergic, and grilled oysters are amazing.
The next morning we split from the rest of the group after breakfast, since we were the only ones who did the three days trip.
The Tender, a small motorboat, picked us up and took us to a smaller ship that took us to another trip. We shared this trip with a Canadian family. The father was a silent man but the mother was cheerful and talkative, and she told us it was their dream, to take their two children on a trip around the world.
Our tour guide was a middle-aged man, called Daka.
We stopped and got off the boat in one of the biggest islands in Hạ Long Bay.
It was Daka’s hometown, as he was born and raised in a village on the island. He said there was a big flood a few mounts back, and this was his first time going back there since.
By the shore was a shed with bicycles, and we cycled after Daka as he led the way on his motorcycle. The road led around the island and then into it, with steep uphills and downhills. Daka stopped and waited for us at a junction and said that the shorter way was still flooded, so we took the road that twisted up a mountain.
We made a short stop under a tree to catch our breath. A goat and its cub were looking at us curiously, chewing leaf slowly. Daka showed us marks on the trees and the ground, left by the flood. He said eight people died since it happened at night, and they weren’t expecting that.
We kept going with the road until we reached the village, where we were greeted by a big dog with some puppies, and got off the bicycles.
Daka took us into a small hut, made of mud and straw, and said that they produce wine in there. The walls were soaked with humidity and alcohol, and drunk flies buzzed around lazily.
He then took us to a local’s home, a small simple house with one big room where the family lives and sleeps. Then we sat outside ar the yard. One of the dog’s puppies tried to play with an indifferent cat and some chickens, and then gave it up and fell asleep under a table.
Daka came with some jars filled with wine and conserved snakes, and said it was good for the “man’s strength”. He said, “One person drink, makes two people happy”, and winked.
Then we rode for a few more minutes to the village’s new school. It was a nice small building in bright colors and some trees in the yard, and Daka told us that this place exists for two years. Aside from the 25 children from the village who go there, children from the other islands arrive there too.
I thought about the kids living on the floating houses on the sea and imagined them getting there with little boats, doing this way every day.
He told us about his daughter going every morning at 7 AM with her heavy bag, coming back for lunch at 12 and then back to school until 4.
We made all the way back on our bicycles, turned them back at the shed and went to the boat again.
We passed through an open part of the sea that was very wavy because there were no rocks to block the currents. We finished lunch as the boat got into a calm quiet area, surrounded by black rocks and islands with white beaches. Daka said we can jump into the water or take one of the kayaks that were tied to the boat.
The water was deep and cold, endless.
I swam to the nearest island, its rough sand made out of millions of tiny seashells, filled with holes that crabs dug and black rocks bursting out of the ground. Roni joined me there and we explored it, traveling between plants and black dank caves.
We swam back and took a kayak to row among the other islands, and swam some more.
You could jump into the water from the boat’s roof but I was too scared, and now I am a bit sorry for not doing that.
We stayed in the water until Daka called us to get back.
It was hot and we were very sleepy, so we took a nap together with the Canadians and some of the boat staff on the sofas that were scattered around.
We came back to the Scorpion. Meanwhile, a new group got there who were at the end of the kayak trip we did yesterday.
We took a shower and went up to the roof to look at them as they are returning the kayaks and coming back, and tried to guess their nationalities.
The tour guide from the day before went upstairs too and sat with us. Somehow the conversation was about sex. We talked about the wine with the snakes and he told us that some men drink snake’s blood or wine with goat’s testicles when they turn 35, to stay “manly” as he called it. “One person drink, makes two people happy”. He said that he has a girlfriend but she wants to stay a virgin until the wedding, and I told him that some religious people in our country avoid even the slightest touch with the other gender.
Even though the conversation was a bit awkward and he gave too much information about what he was doing with his girlfriend, It was very interesting. I was curious to know what was the approach to sex in Vietnam and had nobody to ask.
When it was time for dinner we went downstairs and joined the rest. It was a bit strange at first because everybody changed, but the new group was friendlier and more approachable than the last and we got to know everyone pretty quick.
We particularly liked a couple from Ecuador, Nadya and Xavier, and besides them, there were also people from Germany and Holland.
As in the day before, we had barbecued seafood. I sat with Nadya who stacked oysters on her plate and ate them with lemon and salt. She told me that Xavier was studying for a few months in Australia, and they met for the first time since this trip.
After dinner, we went upstairs to the roof again with beers, under the shooting stars and between the sea and the rocks.
It was nice to talk, a quiet dozy conversation, with people from other countries.
The ship’s staff sat with us part of the time, and I thought that their job must be hard and fun, to meet new people all the time and then say goodbye again.
When I laid back and looked at the skies, it seemed that the stars were the only thing that exists.
The next morning a loud voice from outside woke me up. A woman cruising by our window in a small Kanu tried to sell us the random items.
This is Vietnam.
After we dressed up and had our morning coffee we went again to the Tender that took us to one of the islands, with a cave with many dripstones.
The thing with this cave was that you are supposed to see some shapes in the dripstones, but in fact most of them looked more like… Erect poles. At some point one of the Germans tried to mention it gently to the guide, who pointed at a dripstone and insisted that it was the king’s pointing finger.
From there we returned to a Spring-Roll rolling class st the Scorpion, that was mostly funny, and after lunch we said goodbye with a heavy heart to the sea and the rocks and began making our way back to Hanoi.