Today Pati and BeeBee slept in until 5:30 am. Apparently there is no rooster on this island. There is an alarming (?) device outside above the sliding doors that periodically chirps 8 times, even when the doors are closed and locked. Its noise is annoying when they sit outside on the small patio, but muted by the whirling of the large overhead fan when they are inside.
They received an email from their tour director confirming an 8:30 pickup. By 8 am, they were headed back to their room after breakfast when they were stopped by a young woman wanting to know if they were the people for her snorkeling tour. BeeBee said no, since their guide was coming at 8:30. But it was their tour; her boss told her it was an 8 am pickup. Hurredly gathering their towels and swimwear from the room, they had an 8:15 start. The guide showed them a map of the area their boat would visit; this area contained many islands, which the guide called “Iceland.” Pati wondered at first how a map of Iceland would be useful here, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Pati also asked her if the weather was always this nice, and she said “Yes, there will be waves.” This was not reassuring to Pati, and doubt began to creep back in.
Their first stop along the way was at a pearl sales center (a.k.a. tourist trap), where they listened to a self-important huckster explain why his pearls are better.This past-his-prime Australian explained in coarse, sexually-explicit terms how pearls are harvested from their shells. A passenger on their Mekong River cruise weeks ago had described how crude some Australian males are, and here BeeBee heard the proof of it. After this, Pati and BeeBee walked through the sales center (as they were expected to do) but emerged empty-handed, to the disappointment of their guide (perhaps expecting a commission). But Pati and BeeBee are hopefully past the young&foolish phase of life.
The van continued on to the southern tip of Phu Quoc Island. Here, pulled up on the sand, were several long wooden boats. The guide selected one of the boats, and they climbed on one by one, trying not to tip it over into the muddy water. The boat putted out to a much larger boat owned by the snorkeling tour company. Ony by one, they climbed out of the smaller boat and up over the side of the bigger boat, without a ladder, only helping hands. Once they were all on board, an argument ensued between the small boat owner and the guide. Pati and BeeBee could only assume that the argument was about the fee, and so they moved farther away from the arguing pair. Eventually, money changed hands, the smaller boat putted away, and the guide rejoined them. (Pati suspects that he must be to blame, since he did not tip the smaller boat owner, but he had not prepositioned tip money for an unexpected tender boat.)
The larger boat also had an upper deck for sightseeing, and so that is where Pati and BeeBee spent the first half hour on their way to their first snorkeling location. Counting all the tables, benches, and lounge chairs, BeeBee estimated that at least 60 passengers could be seated on the boat, but this trip carried only Pati, BeeBee, the guide, and four crew members.
When they seemed to be approaching their first destination, Pati and BeeBee came back downstairs to change into swimwear. The “changing room” was, as on the earlier snorkeling trip, the ship’s bathroom. This room was possibly 30″ wide by 6′ long; one end contained a complete toilet, and the other end contained two large buckets filled with water. There was almost enough room to stand between the buckets and the toilet, but at least the toilet seat and tank cover were available to lay clothing on. The sliding door was glass (no privacy), but Pati stood guard for BeeBee.
Resuming their seats, they noticed that the boat rocked more and more in the heavy waves. Luckily, neither of them got seasick, and eventually they arrived at their first snorkeling spot. Donning fins, masks, snorkels, and lifejackets, they went down the ladder into the waves and struck out for the shore where the coral was. Very quickly, they were far from the boat and in 2 to 3 foot swells. Pati decided they should return to the boat, and they started swimming back. Halfway back, they saw one of the crew toss a tethered lifesaving ring toward them. Reaching it, they were pulled to the boat and clambered back up the ladder. (Good call, Pati!) The next spot might be calmer, the guide said, and the boat started moving again through the heavy waves.
The next spot was calmer, with several other boats of snorkeling passengers, and they were soon back in the water again. This time, however, BeeBee’s right leg was protesting the swim, and they considered returning to the boat. BeeBee discovered that swimming on her back to get to the snorkeling spot was ok, and so they resumed heading toward the coral bed. As they were passing a group of swimmers from another boat, a (French?) woman called out to them in accented English. She had on a lifevest and was supporting a young (Asian?) woman who was not wearing one. “Please help her. She is a survivor and I have to look after my children.” The older woman attached the younger woman to BeeBee’s arm. BeeBee didn’t mind, because she had on a lifejacket. But Pati was worried about BeeBee and so he also took the young woman’s arm and began to swim with her toward the boat she identified as hers. Very shortly, they were met by a young man wearing a lifevest, and he took the woman from Pati. “He is my husband,” she said in very good English. They all waved goodbye. Pati and BeeBee resumed looking at coral for a while before returning to their ship. This second spot was much better!
As they drip-dried, the ship’s crew prepared lunch for them: soup, rice, vegetables, and a whole fish (which BeeBee believes the crew caught from the back of the ship earlier on their trip). (The fish looked at BeeBee. BeeBee’s stomach looked back but lost the staring contest.) The crew also brought out a huge platter of (cooked) sea urchins and a sauce to use with them. To BeeBee, what they actually ate seemed to be mostly sauce. There were at least 20 on the saucer; Pati and BeeBee managed to eat 5 of them. (Full disclosure: they had already seen the price list for this delicacy: 20,000 dong for each one. To eat the whole platter would cost $20, and what they ate was not appetizing enough to be worth $5. But they were curious and wanted to be polite.)
(After lunch, BeeBee told Pati that what she was thinking about during lunch was pizza. Pati said that he was, too.)
Immediately after lunch, they set off for the third snorkeling site. They passed many islands and saw what they believed were fishing villages, but the crew spoke no English and the guide disappeared except when they entered or exited the boat, so there was no one to ask.
The third site was also calm and provided the best underview views of coral. They had the site to themselves for a long time, and then another ship appeared with many snorkelers who persisted in swimming into them without looking first. They had seen anough by then, and were happy to leave.
After they returned to the boat, it was a short 30 minutes back to port. Another small boat tied up alongside, and they essentially dropped into this boat. They made it back to shore without tipping over (a miracle, Pati thought). Back in the tour van, it was another short 30 minutes back to their hotel.
Pati took this opportunity to return to their own pool for some calm water. BeeBee took the time to review their planned itinerary for the day and discovered that somehow they had missed “Bai Sao Beach, a hidden treasure, a perfect beach with white sands and turquoise waves– it‟s the beach you‟ll be day-dreaming of for years to come!”
(Goodbye, Miss Hanh.)
At about 6 pm, they walked out to Le Bistrot across the road for dessert. They had the signature dessert, Bistrot, which is pistachio, hazelnut, and coconut ice cream, with chocolate syrup, crushed nuts, and a chantilly (cookie). Paired with white coffee, this is the perfect dessert.
And then back to their hotel for internetting and early bedtime, to recover from a very tiring day.