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【Travel】Mekong Delta, VIETNAM

行き交う小舟、にぎやかな水上マーケット

By Itxaso Zuniga, Freelance photographer

写真 フォンディエンの水上マーケットは畑に近接しているため、小さな舟で乗り付ける人が多い

 ホーチミン市(旧サイゴン)から南西約170キロに位置するカントー市はメコンデルタの主要都市だ。筆者が訪れた水上マーケットのにぎやかさから、ここ一帯が「ベトナムの食料庫」と呼ばれるのもうなずける。

 面積約400万ヘクタールのデルタ地帯はベトナム随一の米の産地であるとともに、魚介類が豊富に捕れる。

 今でこそ美しい緑に囲まれているが、このデルタ地帯には長い間、戦争のつめあとが残された。

 1960年代、ベトナム戦争で米軍が大量に投下した枯れ葉剤などにより、多くの森林とマングローブ、そして農地が消失した。その面積は約200万ヘクタール、デルタ地帯の半分ほどとされている。

 1970年代後半ごろからホーチミン市近くのカンザー地区を中心に植林が始まり、徐々に成果をあげている。生態系保全とともに流域の土地の保全に大きな役割を果たすマングローブだが、その植林に日本のNGOなどが大きな役割を果たしている。

 2000年に設立された「南遊の会」(名古屋)は会員の他に地元の大学生を交えて、現地の若者と交流を深めつつ、木を植え、育てている。()

 When I reached Can Tho, gateway to the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, a long line of trucks full of vegetables, fruit and rice were heading north carrying food for nearly half the population of Vietnam, around 42 million people. Looking at the overflowing trucks, I understood why the Mekong Delta is known as South East Asia's biggest garden.

 The Mekong River originates at great altitude in the Tibetan plateau. During its 4,500 kilometer passage, it crosses China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before flowing into the South China Sea and creating the biggest delta in the world - an expanse of 40,000 square kilometers. The Vietnamese know the river as Song Cuu Long or river of the nine dragons, a reference to the arms that branch from the main channel when it reaches the delta.

 The next morning before sunrise, I visited Cai Rang the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta close to Can Tho. Still dark, hundreds of noisy motorboats and smaller canoes were navigating the river heading to market. They were laden with vegetables and fruit, freshwater and ocean fish, chicks, chickens and ducks, and all kinds of eggs. I even saw snails in one small canoe.

 Bigger boats and smaller canoes met at the pier. Some were suppliers specializing in one or two items and others were distributers, who would buy products and sell them in smaller markets.

 As Tuan Dam, a boat skipper told me, to discover what each boat is selling "you need to look at the front of the boats. They hang their items there," he said. He was right. The biggest boats had fruit and vegetables hanging from the top of their masts. Sometimes there was only one item, other boats had so many, it looked like they'd hoisted bouquets of flowers.

 Some boats were big enough to have whole families living onboard. It was clear that in the delta a boat was more valuable than a house because it allowed the owners to navigate not only the big rivers but the smaller canals as well. Boats also provided safety during the rainy season from May to October when the river floods up to 3 meters, fertilizing the delta, but also often destroying the fragile houses of the farmers.

高値を求め漂う行商

 The floating market is subject to the harvest season, and when I was there all the boats were advertising pineapples, durians and colorful rambutans. These markets are the first meeting point for farmers, pickers and traders. Aboard a boat bursting with pineapples, I talked to a member of the Phung family. "Our home is in Camau and in a few days we will go to My Tho to sell them," he said, adding that he expected to get a better price for the pineapples there.

 Afterward, I visited the Phong Dien floating market further south. Much smaller, it is located close to farm fields in a quiet enclave that gives it a special charm. There was even more activity. With baskets of vegetables and fruit everywhere, and boats continually moving here and there, business was done at a quicker pace. Most of the boats were rowed or poled like gondolas, giving the place a traditional tranquil ambience.

 On my return to Can Tho, I went deeper into the delta, sailing through canals almost too narrow for the canoes. The water level was so low the boats were in danger of grounding. Also, the canals created a flowing labyrinth where you could easily get lost. Surrounded by fields, I saw kids on their way to school crossing the canals on "monkey bridges" made from thin coconut tree trunks. It was amazing to watch the children. They made it look so easy, you forgot the danger.

 When I reached Can Tho, it was only 10 a.m. but I was hungry. There were a few food stalls selling homemade Vietnamese soups and fresh spring rolls. This is one of the greatest things about Vietnam - the street food stalls are totally safe and clean, and you can enjoy some of the tastiest food in the country.

 I ordered my favorite Vietnamese soup pho ga, a chicken stock soup with plain rice noodles and small pieces of boiled chicken. On the folding table there were baskets with fresh bean sprouts, lime, lemongrass, basil and other herbs that you could add to the soup if you wished. It was the best way to take a break and recharge my batteries for the rest of the day. I could have spent hours watching all the activity at the market, but by then, my empty bowl was a sign that it was time to get moving and carry on my trip in the Mekong Delta.


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