Sunday, August 9, 2009

Beach Life, Bangladeshi Style

Alright, so it's not Maui. Or even California (I'm going to leave Amelia Island out of this). But Cox's Bazar is a beach, and it's in Bangladesh. So that makes it special. Actually, it's the longest beach in the world at nearly 80 miles of unbroken sand. And Bangladeshis aren't afraid to tell you it's special. Below I go through how a typical first-time meeting goes with a Bangladeshi.

1. "What is your country?"/"Where is your motherland?"/other derivations of the same
2. "Why have you come here?"
3. "How long will you stay here?"
4. "Have you been to Cox's Bazar?"

They don't take long to cut to the chase. Your name may or may not be asked. So, after all this pestering, Sraven (who is Indian, but often passed for a Bangladeshi and got to pay local prices, that jerk) and I took an overnight bus to this highly acclaimed place. It was so built up from the beginning, it was doomed to disappoint. I braced myself.
In truth, it was a really nice and surprisingly clean beach, which was great when you're so tired of pollution everywhere, everyday (although the areas around the beach were still
pretty rough). And, away from all the traffic and noise, it was about the most at peace I've been since arriving in Bangladesh. We stayed at hotel Kolol, which was frighteningly empty. In fact, we ate pretty much all of our meals alone in empty restaurants. At least it was romantic.

The first day we stayed local at Cox's Bazar, hitting the beach for a few hours. The water was great, but relaxing on the beach was next to impossible. The entire time you are bugged by people trying to sell you stuff - 4-wheeler rides, horse rides, shells, snacks, unwanted children, etc. The second picture shows a kid (7 years old) who was relentless with his shells (bad karma from Burma). We then took rickshaw to nearby Himchari beach and climbed a nearby mountain (or hill, for readers not from Florida) for a great view of the water. On the way to Himchari we got t
o watch some boat building (see pic 3) and even took a side trip off the road to do some hiking to find waterfalls.

Our next day we took a boat to nearby Maheshkhali Island. We wanted to go to St. Martin's Island, which apparently has the types of beaches that screen savers are made of, but they closed the island due to rain. Meheshkhali was pretty cool - a lot of really relaxed people, some Hindu and Buddhist temples (rare for an Islamic country), and a really great rickshaw driver. There really wasn't much else to do (investing in something other than hotels and diners could really go far for this place), so we just head back to the mainland to read and chat on the beach while we waited for our bus. Without going into it too much, I'll just say that long distance bus rides in Bangladesh waver between mind-boggling insanity and surprising efficiency. Riding along while the bus dodges rickshaws, pedestrians, and on-coming traffic at 60 miles an hour, I've found that it's just best to go to sleep.

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