A Big Change.
The noisy sound of the river of steel (motorbikes) in Saigon are behind The Long Ride Home (TLRH) for at least now. We've commenced what I would say is a big change for TLRH since first starting from Hanoi. Cycling in a new region (Mekong Delta) of Vietnam, a different culture, environment , weather , a new guide Mr. Ton That Hoan Vu (nicknamed "The Prince"), two new drivers, Mr. Liem (nickname "Neeson") and Duong (Zuong), along with two TLRH accompanying riders, Troy Lockyer and Giles
Beresford-Pierse, and a change of cycling pace.
Early mark as usual, but darker than normal on leaving Saigon today. The monsoons are here and so is a bit of company for me until Surat Thani (Thailand) with Troy and Giles from Lockforce (one of the TLRH major partners/sponsors) and the Prince riding with me as a group.
Great to have the Lockforce guys on board as they're with me for close to 2,000 kms through Cambodia down to Southern Thailand where I will finally say goodbye to them. Troy is also one of the event managers for TLRH and has been one of a few persons on the team who has been the driving force behind TLRH in making it happen and to finally get TLRH past the starters gate out of Hanoi on the 12th May and onwards.
Both Troy and Giles are ex serving members of the SAS Regiment, therefore, we have a lot in common including the sense of humour which will be an important component to have along the arduous journey ahead.
One may ask, where does the guide get the nickname "The Prince"? Being the good old Australian custom to give a nickname to someone is no different on TLRH. I was previously told that I was to take on a new guide in Saigon who was from royal blood lineage, Vietnam dynasty 1802 - 1945, in a heartbeat, I dubbed him "The Prince " and for the driver Liem nicknamed Neeson, but, I will leave you good folks to work that one out.
Leaving Saigon was not without its traffic worries earlier on. And later (being Sunday) on breaking clear of the city there were heaps of organised motor cyclist groups very eager to get close to us for selfies, however, not without coming very close to our back wheels.
Lots of hellos and xin chaos from friendly groups of kids traveling by bus for outings in the famous region of the Mekong Delta. We bumped into one group of teenage cyclists stranded on the side of the road, obviously in some difficulty, so it was time for this new band of TLRH brothers to hit the skids and help these young chaps out. Troy was very keen to get his new pump in on the act whilst the Prince was sorting out the tyre. Like a pit stop specialist Troy then swung into action and the young Vietnamese kid was back on the road again and very thankful for the assistance.
After the winning the hearts and minds mission, we were off in our group again, only to realise that the group of young cyclists we had just helped were hot in pursuit to show us their cycling prowess by trying to catch up and pass our group . I heard Giles yell out ; " lets get a move on chaps those kids want to catch us, and that ain't going to happen!!!!" This was the turning point of the ride, young blood and royal blood combined stepped up the pace making this one-legged old boy Truck kept on his toes (five toes at least) However, it's early days and a long way to go, so there is a chance we'll drop back the pace to more a cruising speed to conserve energy for the long haul to Thailand.
We are now In Can Gio Mekong Delta region for our nightly stop, rest, recovery and reporting home to you all.
The Mekong Delta officially starts just South of Saigon (HCMC) so we are in the initial top end at the moment. If you fly into Saigon and peer out the window during the circuit to land you can usually see the Mekong Delta below, where it's starts at least. Large fresh water river systems running in from the coast with hundreds of tributaries that appear like veins and capillaries on a human body make the Mekong Delta an ideal farming area all year round neutralising the main rivers and its veins. For people in this region it's the back bone of their existence, life on the river. Over centuries the river provides; transport for trade, movement along the very bottom end of the Mekong River continuing on to other countries; Cambodia, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and China (Tibet) where it starts 4,350 kms upstream.
Existence such as fresh water fishing, and local trading throughout the region (floating markets), babies are born on floating homes (boats), daily chores on boats; washing, ironing, cooking and playtime for the young, and into adulthood for most their future on the waterways of the Mekong Delta will continue on as the flow of the Mekong itself.
Can Gio has a biosphere reserve (Khu du tru sinh quyen rung ngap man Can Gio) a wetland located South East of Saigon. This reserve has been listed the biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The site is an important wildlife sanctuary in Vietnam as it is characterised by a wetland bio system dominated by mangrove and many rare species.
My image from an aircraft when flying into Tan Son Nhat airport (Saigon) in 1970 I saw hundreds of large bomb craters below which I captured in my minds eye as something that resembled the surface of the moon. This area here a bit further South never escaped the carnage of bombing throughout, but bombing of a more dangerous substance than high explosive, Agent Orange the deadly jungle defoliant was sprayed throughout the jungles and mangroves of Can Gio and throughout other regions of Vietnam.
History of Agent Orange of the Vietnam war as written by the official Agent Orange records (AOR) had a massive effect on the wildlife here. The habitat of the great Southern white cheek gibbons, the Eastern Sarus Cranes, tigers, Asian elephants, gaur, wild water buffalo, wild boar, bear, deer, civets, leopards, and many other species of animals were heavily effected by the herbicides and the war in general. The two species that thrived as a result of the deforestation were rats and mice, recently rare to the forested areas. After the war, they were quite common, causing damage to crops and spreading diseases.
The destruction of the habitat by the war compounded by post-war human activities threatened the extinction of many species that were already rare, and pushed others into the rare column, especially as the remaining forest areas came under even more population pressure, were logged off and turned into plantations. In addition, previously sustainable practices such as swidden agriculture and harvesting of forest products were no longer viable in areas where severe defoliation occurred.
After the war, the Vietnamese government began reforestation efforts, beginning with the mangroves forests in the Mekong Delta regions and in Can Gio outside of Saigon areas, where mangroves are vital in preventing serious flooding during the seasonal monsoons and tropical storms. Fortunately, these species are easy to replant and today more than 190,000 acres of mangroves have been replanted. Today, the main threat to the coastal mangroves is extensive shrimp farming operations.
However, restoring the upland forest ecology has not been easy, as this requires intensive reforestation efforts, including the harvesting of seeds from high quality hardwood trees, nurturing the seedlings in nurseries, replenishing the depleted soil, planting a layer of of fast growing shade trees to protect the young seedlings, and, finally, planting the hardwood seedlings that make the upper story, and then the seedlings of species of trees, rattans, bamboos and shrubs that make up the lower stories.
The Ma Da forest North of Ho Chi Minh City has in recent years undergone intensive reforestation efforts and Vietnamese scientists have found as the habitat has been restored wildlife are returning to the area.
For the most part, the Vietnamese have planted single species plantations of arcadia and eucalyptus in the defoliated regions of the upland forest in order to stem erosion on the defoliated land and provide a renewable resource for the local populations. These trees are harvested every 4 to 5 years and sold for pulp or the furniture industry, and provide an income for the local population. However, this is just a temporary measure, the longer term plan, contingent on funding, is to increase the quality and biodiversity of the forest coverage as much as possible, taking into consideration both the conservation goals of the region as well the human needs of sustainable use of forests.
Unfortunately, all these efforts should be seen in the context of the growing disaster of the Vietnamese environment, arising from the wholesale destruction of forests and pollution of rivers and lakes for short-term economic gain since the war ended, as reported by an observer sympathetic to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Of course, to the extent of the total impoverishment of the country by the war provided an impetus for such behaviour, and to the extent that the use of Agent Orange contributed to such impoverishment, the ecological consequences of its use maybe even wider than supposed.
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