Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Weasels, bugs and other delights.


Hand eye co-ordination.


Dalat is quite a place. Set high in the mountains, it came as a great relief to escape the searing heat around the coast. I've actually felt comfortably cool for the first time in weeks, which makes it much easier to explore. Every western tourist says the same. You can only do so much, (which isn't much at all), in the blazing sunshine.

Have found a wonderful place to stay: The Travelers' Home hostel. I booked into a cheap dormitory room, which I've had all to myself. It's quite luxurious,modern with en suite bathroom and very comfortable beds. The owners aren't exaggerating with the homeliness angle. I arrived in pouring rain and was shown to my room. As I was getting organized, there was a knock on the door and I was served Jasmine tea. They even brought in a table to make the experience more civilized.

Will, (which really is short for William) and his staff are just fantastic and make everyone feel at home. Last night they persuaded me to play a few songs. The American tourists there made a great audience. They particularly liked 'The Parting Glass,' which they asked for a couple of times,* and joined in with 'Wagon Wheel.'*

Have been eating at the night market in the centre of town. The food is delicious and cheap, although there are things on display which aren't really suited to the European/American palette. Shurly shome mistake, but on the menu was something called: 'Steamed Snail Discharge,' a comestible which seems to have got completely lost in translation. Pig brain stew seems to be very popular, as are unidentified entrails and fried chicken feet, not to mention the tongues in the display cases which openly show their disdain as you pass.


Don't even ask!

Posing chicken.

Went on a tour of the region yesterday. My only request was to visit the cricket farm, as I wanted to have one more go at the creepy-crawly delicacy. Went with Linh, a tour guide who speaks good English and left the rest of the day up to him. We set off at about nine on his motorbike and started with the flower producers in the hills. With advice from The Dutch, it is now quite an industry. They started off with modest means, building greenhouses out of bamboo and plastic. As the businesses started to make money, they replaced the bamboo with more solid metal structures. Things seem to be going very well, as the place I visited had only one remaining bamboo greenhouse.
Next we went to a coffee plantation. I'd never seen coffee growing before, although I've been drinking the local product a lot; a chocolatey brew, which is delicious hot or iced. Linh took me into the field and showed me the two types of coffee grown here: Robustica and Arabica. Inside the café with wonderful views, they had various blends, plus 'Weasel Coffee.'


Weasely coffee.

Linh and another guide at the coffee plantation.




Coffee plant with ripe red berries.

You may have heard about this stuff. There is no delicate way to put this, but the'weasels' are fed coffee beans which, well let's just say that they collect the droppings. They even had various blends of this too. I tried a cup, which was very, very good. Half an hour later, I felt very energized. Thank you my weasel friends. The very finest grades cost up to 1,000$ a kilo.The same old jokes were made by the tourists which the locals must hear every day. 'Tastes like.......'

The downside to all this was that it's not a great life for the weasels, which are in fact Asian Palm Civets. At the farm, they seemed pretty well looked after, although later in the day I went to another place where they were in tiny cages and appeared to be in a constant state of agitation. Won't be buying any more.

Asian Palm Civet.

Next stop was the cricket farm. The insects were in large concrete vats, filled with palm fronds. If you moved your hands over the vats, there was this loud rustling noise as they fled for cover. Went and had a tasting, served with rather good rice wine. You probably know what I'm going to say, but they tasted like chicken. To be more precise, crispy roast chicken skin. I was given a plateful, with a dollop of sweet chili sauce and ate the lot. A tourist at the next table said that she thought that they would be good sprinkled over a salad. I have to agree. I'm now a cricket enthusiast.


Tastes just like chicken.


Feeling not exactly replete, we arrived at a Buddhist Temple, which was stunningly beautiful. The interior was like most Buddhist temples, except that the only other person inside was a young woman with a long pigtail, but with the back of her head completely shaven. She had a large piece of polished wood on a chain with which she rang a large bell. The sound was, sorry, awesome. I did an approximate count, one thousand, two thousand etc. The sound resonated for about thirty seconds. When I say resonated, it seemed to fill one's whole being. Religions seem to know all those tricks.


The Dragon Temple.
Big bell.
The overall effect was one of incredible tranquility. I went out to the gardens, which were the best part; Bonsai trees everywhere, sculptural tree trunks and exotic flowers. At the back of the garden was a large smiling Buddha. So nice to come across that rare thing: a metaphysical system that doesn't advocate twenty twenty misery.


One of many Bonsai trees in the garden.

Plus exotic plants.

Monks' washing line?


Dragon guarding the temple.


Next were the elephant falls, which, when you think of it, is a name which conjures up the wrong image.

Beware falling elephants.

To see the falls, you had to clamber down some rather dangerous steps, which disappeared from time to time, so that you had to scramble over slippery rocks. Going down was bad enough, but coming up, was a hot, lung bursting experience. I'm going to give any more waterfalls a miss, as we have some quite good ones in the Languedoc. I'd probably make an exception for the two V falls ie Victoria and Viagra.

Cocoons getting their come upprance.

It was then on to a silk factory. The cocoons are put into boiling water and then into cold to loosen the threads. They are then threaded onto machines which spins them. This looked like hard hot, work. The women work long hours as it is seasonal labour which is only done in the rainy season. The end product is beautiful, I bought a couple of scarves. There was a dish on the counter containing silk worm cocoons. I gave one a go. Now, if I had to survive on them, it wouldn't be a problem, but they weren't really my cup of tea; a bit like a bean filled with peanut butter, but at least it tasted of something.

After that it was a rice wine distillery. It smelled very like the wine domains in my area, a yeasty fermenting odour. I tried some straight from the still which was slightly tepid. It was very strong and a bit like Grappa or Schnapps.

A proper country still.

Finally on the way back, Linh took me to a village on the outskirts of town, as he'd been telling me that even in a Socialist State, the disparity between rich and poor was widening. Yes, it was much more basic than the city, but at least everyone had a house (with satellite TV). A lot also had a cross by the front door.

Rambling man and friendly kids.

A man approached and started talking a strange version of English, which I didn't understand. I got 'smoke,' so I gave him a cigarette. All the time the kids sitting on a porch shouted, 'Hello, how are you?' Finally I decided that he must be the local 'character.'

Back to Dalat, I went into town again to take a few pics. Every evening, the whole population seems to turn out. The place is absolutely teeming, with as many motorbikes and scooters as during the day, all hooting and swerving round pedestrians

Have to go shopping for a pair of scissors, as my moustache is starting to strangle my tonsils. Only started growing it due to a lack of mirrors for shaving. The black stripy bits at the side look a bit odd; like a badger doing a headstand. Think I'll keep it for a while in an effort to look like a mixture of Uncle Ho and Charles Dickens.

* 'The Parting Glass,' by the Wailin' Jennys and 'Wagon Wheel,' by The Old Crow Medicine Show,both on YouTube.
















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