We got up early in the morning and had phở bò at a street restaurant for breakfast, and came back for coffee at a woman with a small wagon under the hotel. By nine thirty the tour guide came and led us to the van, which was already full with Asian and Australian tourists, and we drove towards the port. The ride was short and pretty quickly we got to a pier with lots of small motor boats and a huge cable railway stretching above the port’s buildings and cranes towards distant mountains. The guide, who said his name was Tea “Like the drink”, helped us one by one to get on a small boat with charts of sea creatures. We put on the life vests while Tea went through safety instructions and asked the Asian tourists if they can swim – apparently people from that side of the world do not swim. After about thirty minutes we came by shallow rocky water and got inside with the fins and snorkels we got earlier.
The first touch with the water was amazing and scary. I kept trying to rearrange my diving mask since water came through the left lens and driped into the nose, but I just lost balance and swallowed lots of water. I swam to a rock I could stand on and tried again. I was curious and determined to dive but water kept seeping through the mask, so I swam back to the boat and Tea threw me another one which was better.
I swam alone in the silence, hearing only my breath underwater through the snorkel. I found Roni and we swam holding hands, showing each other the colorful fish – some huge and peaceful and some tiny with bright colors, hiding amongst the corals.
When it was time to get back we swam back to the boat’s ladder and went up, comparing the marks the diving masks left on our foreheads. We sailed by big cliffs with small green houses built on, while Tea talked about the environment and about the birds who build their nests on the tall cliffs. A few minutes later we stopped where the water were about 20 meters deep, and we got an hour to dive there.
When I got my head underwater I found myself lost in a blue void, only my fins floating in the nothingness and sunlight cutting through the water like huge drapes. I moved forward towards some rocks Tea pointed at, starting to see small fish and corals peeking out of the blue. Eventually I reached at a big rock that was peeking out of the water and big colorful fish were grazing on it. I was a bit lost, not seeing Roni or recognizing anyone else around. A huge red starfish was glued to a rock deep down, and scuba divers swam inside the tunnels the rocks created. I had to stop to rearrange my diving mask and catch my breath a little, so I found a relatively stable rock to rest on. I’ve felt small itches on the skin here and there, probably because of small jellyfish, and a slight headache from the pressure the mask created, but it was so beautiful there and I wanted to keep swimming with the fish forever. Eventually I heard Tea calling everyone somewhere in the distance and saw the girls who could not swim with their bright orange floats returning to the boat, so I began swimming again into the blue void, losing myself from time to time, until I reached at the boat and went up dizzy and tired.
I sat next to Roni, who returned earlier to the boat, and we exchanged stories. Tea began breaking apart the wooden benches we sat on so they turned into one long table with benches on both sides. Roni and I sat next to a family of Australians, who began a conversation. While Tea and another man spread different kinds of food on the table an Australian girl told us that they’ve been traveling in Vietnam for three weeks and been in Hội An and Saigon, and they will also go to Bangkok for a week. The children have already been in seven different countries, and were very open and self-assured. The girl told me that she’d learned that the Vietnamese do not like the Russian tourists that get food at groceries stores and eat it in the hotel instead of eating outside, and said it seems funny to her to go all the way here and not try the local food. I couldn’t agree more, as I remembered the Burger-King in Bangkok and the Israeli restaurants on the Khaosan.
We ate the seafood, rice and vegetables they served us and drank beer, and Tea gave us another hour to dive where the boat stood. I was going to wait for a while and not swim right after eating, but I was so curious so I ate fast and dived again into the blue void, swimming towards some rocks. I followed some big schools of blue and yellow fish and some seahorses, among tiny yellow snake-like creature with brown spots like giraffes, and small underwater structures with lots of seashells glued on. A small blue fish scared away anyone around it and tried to attack my fins, but was too scared to get close to me. Once again I couldn’t see anyone and realize I was too far away from the boat as I saw it tiny in the distance, so I swam back, seeing the corals disappear again into the blue as the water got deeper. Roni waited there for me and helped me get up, and turned my mask and fins back to their place while I recovered from the long swim.
Meanwhile the long table and benches were back in their previous settings. Light rain began to fall as we sailed back to the port, eating some fresh fruits they served us. Pretty fast we arrived at the beach and went on the van that brought us back to the hotel, where we showered and fell asleep until the evening. When we woke up we went downstairs and met Quoc, who ran the hotel with his wife, Giang. He sat in the lobby with his glasses and hair that was cut into some kind of a mohawk and tied into a ponytail, and build a tiny house out of toothpicks and glue. We talked with him about the city and the trip we had that morning, and after he gave us a small umbrella we went outside to the pouring rain. We had black hot coffee and moved on to an Indian restaurant. Roni was not feeling well, and I was still exhausted and dizzy from the boat. We had a delicious lemony Caipirinha and ordered shrimp with a spicy cashew sauce and fried fish with white rice. The appetite came with the food. It was all very tasty but the sauce was too heavy and spiced for me, and I realized that perhaps I’m just not that into Indian food. We had spiced tea with milk for dessert, and went back to the hotel. Roni fell asleep immediately because he getting sick and I watched some movies on TV, still feeling the gentle swings of the boat and the blue surrounding me.
The next day we got up at eight thirty and went to the woman with the coffee wagon under our hotel. It turned out that on the bottom of the wagon, inside a stainless steel cabinet, she had a small fire and a pan where she made noodles with meat and kale, so we ordered two of those for breakfast. From there we began walking towards the marine museum. About halfway there Roni felt bad again so we took a cab to the museum, which was very close to the port where we were the day before. We bought tickets for 30,000 Dong each (about a Dollar and a half) and got inside. We were greeted by aquariums and big pools, filled with huge fish, small sharks and sea turtles. There was also a part with seals, which looked kind of sad because it seemed too small. A group of teenagers on a field trip sat on the edge of the pool with the turtles and played with their smartphones. We passed in a dark hall with lots of blue aquariums with big colorful fish, corals, fish that look like rocks, multicolored shrips, big crabs and octopuses. From the ceiling of another hall a huge whale’s skeleton was hanged, and next to it was a smaller one in an aquarium.
We went back to a room with sculptures of mermaids and went into another hall with aquariums filled with strange lobsters, and a pool with a sea turtle who played with an oxygen bubble stream. We went to the second floor, where there was some sort of a whole library of wooden cabinets with small jars with a yellow liquid inside where skeleton, small sea animals, corals and seashells were conserved. At the end of the room were different kinds of taxidermied seals and turtle – armors, closed in glass cages.
We sat outside for a while a curious turtle peeked at us from time to time, and then we took a cab back to the hotel and napped for about 20 minutes. For some reason I remembered when my mom used to take me swimming when I was a toddler, and the mermaid doll I had with pink hair that I used to take to the pool and play with in the water.
Roni, who was getting really sick, stayed to rest in the hotel and I went for a walk outside. I walked along the boardwalk and listened to music, until I sat at a cafe next to a young man who did math exercises and muttered to himself. Everybody was watching a dubbed Indian film on a small TV set, and I had coffee and wrote about the last few days in my journal.