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Thursday 11th February 2010

We took a 5.10 flight from Bangkok to Dhaka this evening. We flew BKK – KL and then KL – Dhaka. Malaysian airlines baby! Two dinners, wine, KitKat’s and Ferreo Roche’s, flying will never be the same again! When we were waiting for the plane we were in our shorts and t-shirts and quickly noticed that we were the only women getting on showing our shoulders and knees, so we skipped to the bathrooms and got Muslim chic.

The staff on the plane were sound, one in particular was hilarious. In KL the connecting plane was delayed taking off and it was really hot inside as the air wasn’t on. So we’re chatting to the air steward and he says to Caoimhe, terribly concerned, ‘Oh Madame, your face is so sweaty’ Ha ha it was so funny.

When we arrived in Dhaka we had no problems in immigration, apart from the queues and the HUGMONGOUS mosquitoes, they were like bluebottles. Caoimhe and I were covered up but Col so paranoid about them, he was dancing around as if he had ants in his pants.

Miraculously got to the hotel bite-less  and alive (very scary taxi journey), and managed, with great difficulty, to check-into our cockroach infested room. We went straight to see Eoin and Megan and spent the night catching up, Slackers united, Capetown here we come. After spending the night chatting we decided to get up early and head to the Chinese embassy to get our visa’s sorted.

Friday 12th February 2010

Friday morning 8.15, hotel reception, Chinese Embassy mission! Little did we know that the weekends start on Friday and end on Saturday no embassy today, not a pleasant revelation after 3.5hrs sleep! Instead we hit Old Dhaka, the first real culture shock of my life!

Bangladeshi roads are MENTAL. The traffic is the worst I've seen anywhere in the world. Road deaths are 12,000 per annum, yes 32 per day. The traffic is a mish-mosh of Trucks, Buses, Cars, Taxi's, Mini-taxi's/Cageshaws (motorbikes enclosed in cages with benches attached - we squeezed five in), Cyclos, (bikes with carriages attached, carrying two people) and pedestrians. The buses each have a conductor/squisher whose job it is to literally push and squeeze people onto an already full bus and then take their money.

They have traffic wardens - stick bearing men, without uniform - who are given the authority to beat, LITERALLY BEAT, the people on the street who get in the way of the traffic.

The rules of the road are as follows: If it’s bigger than you get out of the way!

The pollution and dust are unreal. Every photo you take with a flash looks like it's raining but it's actually the flash catching the dust in the air. You walk about the city and when you get in your feet are black from the dirt.

Old Dhaka where we’re staying is a very poor, very busy, very dirty place. The sewers are open and run along the side of the road. And according to Colm (I didn’t see this) people just go in the road. Thankfully the smell is not that bad.

It's my first time in a poor Muslim country. We spent a while in KL but it's so modern and westernised that it doesn't compare at all to here. Here there are no women on the streets. It's mental busy and there are throngs of men everywhere: selling, buying, chatting, drinking tea, playing cricket, or a game that's a cross between pool and air hockey. 

There are strict rules for women here, firstly there's the whole clothes thing, keep everything covered. Apparently where the boob extends from the body is the most provocative part. So everything has to be really baggy, even at the beach. No bikini's or togs of any kind. The longest beach in the world will be interesting.

There is no alcohol here either, it's completely illegal. That is another culture shock, given that everything at home is so centred on the pub culture – every town has at least two pubs! Despite the lack of alcohol everything stays open surprisingly late. The traffic never ever stops even at four in the morning.

They are crazy for cricket here and play wherever they can. The back streets are narrow and high, almost like alleys. So it's perfect for a makeshift pitch. The larger the street the older the players (more professional I guess) but as you go into the back streets the players get younger, and also less equipped, one group of kids were plying with a bit of pipe and a rock!

They don't get many tourists here, so we're a real novelty. Everywhere you go people just stare with their mouths open. It's not until you smile that they explode into smiles and laughs and start asking 'your country, your country? If you stop for even a second a mob gathers. It’s not in any way intimidating, but it’s my first day and it’s very overwhelming. That and the fact that they are no women anywhere mean that we have caused quite a stir. The men take chances with us because we’re foreign and will speak to us directly or shake our hands, something they wouldn’t dream of doing to a local woman. The lad in the picture below was particularly adventurous and Caoimhe got a bit of a fright - that is pure shock not laughter!

Despite the dryness of the city we have been invited to a party. Ollie (a friend of Megan and Flinn’s from Chengdu) grew up in Bangladesh and has arranged for us to meet up with some of his friends. We called Sajid, and he gave us the address of a members club in Dhaka. Only foreigners are allowed to join and so they are allowed to serve overpriced alcohol! We met a couple of wealthy young locals at the bar who were invited in by members. It was great to chat to them and really get a feel for the country, and what makes it/them tick. 

The bar was good craic. We were sitting on the balcony area but it is located in between two rivers so we got mauled by mosquitoes, I counted by bites when I got in 133!

Col’s bites

After beers we were invited back to a house party where we met more locals and other young ex-pats. One girl, an Indian, was particularly interesting. She was telling us all about her brother’s upcoming wedding, and all the different ceremonies and rituals involved. She warned us that in India we would be groped by men but apart from that we’d have an awesome time. I’m scared!

After the party we went down to the street to find a cab and Col ended up ‘borrowing’ a cyclo and taking the driver for a spin! All in all first day in Bangladesh was very well done, a bar and a party, BOOM!

15th February 2010

Things have been pretty chill here in Dhaka these last couple of days. We have spent 50% of our time walking the streets getting a feel for things and the other 50% recovering from the experience. Dhaka is exhilarating and draining all at the same time. It’s got a sort of vibrancy and busyness that I’ve never experienced before. There is so much to deal with all at once, that the senses are completely assaulted. There’s noise, traffic, people everywhere, dirt, colour, men…. Things for us happen at pace, we can’t stand still for too long or we attract a crowd, so our time on the streets is spent racing around seeing everything but not lingering for fear of being sucked in. On top of all of this there is a kindness and a genuine curiosity in the people. Everybody wants to know you, speak to you, and catch your eye. They want to know where we’re from, why we’re in Bangladesh and what we think of their great nation.

So we were chilling in Coffee World, our oasis of tranquillity with great smoothies, pizzas and free WiFi, when were decided enough was enough time to move out of our roach infested hotel on the other side of town (40mins no traffic – ha, 3hrs in traffic) and live where we hang out Banani. The lads went off on a mission and came back with an absolute gem. A suite, with two doubles and a single, T.V., free WiFi, a bath, and free breakfast for less than we were currently paying – Awesome!

In celebration we cracked open the bottle of gin and the bottle of whiskey we had picked up in duty free and celebrated. It was the first time that just the five of us had partied so it was nice way to kick off the trip. Flinner also managed to upload the website so it was a double celebration! www.global-slacker.com is born!!!!

Tuesday 16th February 2010

We left Dhaka today to get the train to Chittagong. We were a little early when we arrived and had to wait about 40mins for the train to arrive. Stopping was unavoidable and within no time a crowd had gathered around us. We were sitting in the middle on our bags and the people looking down at us were three deep. Just having a stare!

The train to Chittagong was amazing. Who knew trains could be so fantastic. Spacious seats, oodles of leg room, and men who deliver hot tea in china cups for free! (At least it was free until they produced a bill at the end of the journey. It was only €1 each for five teas and a dinner; you wouldn’t get that on a train in Ireland!)

When we got off the train we befriended a local who walked us the 10 minutes to our hotel, (the opposite direction to his house) he then negotiated room rates, went upstairs and checked the rooms pretty much everything short of tucking us in! He left us his card in case we needed more help and then went on his way. It was all completely unnecessary since all of the hotel clerks spoke perfect English but appreciated all the same. Just so Bangladesh!

Wednesday 17th February 2010

In order to get our passes into the mountainous areas we first need to get security passes. The district office in located in Chittagong so we got up early to go and get them - easier said than done. Chittagong drivers know where nothing is! Because there were five of us we took two separate rickshaws. We discussed our destination for a good five minutes with the drivers and various passers-by and then we all headed off. The diver arrives at the location and drops us off gets his money and legs it. Eoin and Megan are nowhere to be seen. So in we go in to start proceedings and we find out that it’s the wrong office, no wonder they aren’t here. Out we go to get another rickshaw and make him go into the office to get directions. Permit mission take two: the driver is going for about twenty minutes and we’re driving up really steep hills and around serious bends when all of a sudden we arrive in some kind of law office with barristers walking around in wigs and capes. Out we get – without paying, and have a chat to a barrister who tells us we’re in the wrong place and sends us to the right one, still no sign of Megan and Flinn, we’ve been separated two hours at this stage. Eventually we get to the right office and find Floot, who have also been around the world. The applications go in without a problem but we have to wait around to get them back.

It was lunch at the time and all the office staff were sitting around enjoying the sunshine. We started throwing a ball around to pass the time and before we know it there’s a full on sports day going on with Badminton, and ball throwing and general messing with all the staff.

Four hours after our mission started we’re ready to go and we head straight to the bus station (ironically the next door to the first office we were brought to) to get our bus to Cox Bizarre – Longest beach in the world. Luckily when we got there the bus was leaving so we didn’t have to hang around for long. The luxury bus was great and they even gave out sick bags, which were super since I puked – again! Where did they get me???

Thursday 18th February 2010

Today was spent soaking up the beach sun Bengali Style! We split up after breakfast: Jane and Col to get bus tickets, Megan, Flinn and Caoimhe to get cash. Mission Failed! Machines wouldn’t take Irish cards.

After the missions we decided to meet in the Mermaid Café, little did we know that there are three of them in Cox’s Bizarre and we were obviously in different ones. Col and I were in one 30 minutes outside of the main beach. In fairness though, it is the longest beach in the world, one can get lost easily.

The beach in was very different. Because it’s a Muslim Culture everyone is was in strict Muslim dress, even in the water. It was the strangest thing to see them all going into the water fully clothed. Even the men on jet ski’s were wearing jeans and shirts.

We caught the bus out and arrived in Bundarban, checking into a hotel with the biggest legend of an owner, who went out of his way to help us. He only had one night available due to the national holiday but arranged for the Boardroom to be kitted out with camp beds for our second night. Not only that but he wouldn’t charge us full price because we were foreign tourists and he wanted to make a good impression. Legend!

Friday 19th February 2010

Got up this morning to go trekking and we rented a jeep to take us up to the Guide Tours hillside resort. We ordered lunch when we arrived so that it would be ready when we got back. The government say that you need a guide at all times for the area but since it was a bank holiday weekend all the guides were taken so they sent us on our way  with a hand written map. We were delighted. Our first stop was to the tribal village so we stopped off the buy biscuits for the children. When we arrived at the village we were surprised at how Burmese the people looked, we were even more surprised to find out that it was actually a catholic village. We started playing with the kids (biscuits are a great ice breaker) and got chatting to one of the local men who spoke perfect English and invited us into his home.

Here he gave us the most awful, bitter, dry berries that we all tried our best to stomach. Our faces were priceless in that thin line between being polite and not gagging. It turned out that because they are such a minority in the community the EU runs an education programme for all of the tribal children. Our friend had even been to college. All of the people in the tribe seemed very well off, the men all worked in the towns, our friend worked with the EU programme that he was a product of. In fact it seemed to us that the tribe was one of the wealthier groups that we met on our way through Bangladesh.

After leaving the hill tribe we went further up the mountain to viewpoint. The climb itself was really steep and pretty difficult. We arrived at the top out of breath and roasting in our Muslim get-ups, to find scores of Bengali’s eating dinner and having drinks. We couldn’t figure out how the hell they got there but it turned out there was a road on the far side on the mountain with a car park at the top. As a reward for our hard work, we treated ourselves to a very welcoming and refreshing coconut.

It wasn’t the clearest day at the top but we were still able to get a decent view of Burma and the surrounding hills. We then headed back down the mountain for a delicious lunch.

Rather than get a Jeep back we decided to take the scenic route and climb down the back of the resort to the river and catch a boat from there.

On the boat we got chatting to our fellow passengers and my friend wanted to see my pictures. So that was grand we were looking through them and when we came to leaving Bangladesh I decided to let him continue and see us in non-Muslin countries. So he’s flicking through and he goes all through Thailand and gets to KL, I swear to God the man nearly exploded at the sight of one of the pictures showing my shoulder. He kept tapping at the screen and pointing at me delighted with himself. He couldn’t believe the porn in his hand. So I quickly took that camera back and put it away.

The Offending Picture

When we got back to town our boat driver decided to change the price he originally quoted us. We refused to pay and did our usual trick of letting the crowd decide. It has turned out to be the fairest way of solving problems and disputes. Cue 9 year old boy telling off the driver for being greedy. The driver didn’t like this at all chased the little lad off with his fist. But the kid just climbed to the top of the pier and started shouting ‘greedy, greedy’ down at him. In the end we knew we were right because none of the crowd came to the boatman’s rescue so we left what we agreed to pay and went home.

Col picked up a machete on the way – he’s been eying them up for weeks, and then we went back to the hotel for hot showers, or so we thought

Saturday 20th February 2010

We left our new friend ‘Pumpkin Head’ (he dyed his hair orange with beetle nut) and his hotel with the amazing service to go to Rangamati. To get to the bus stop we had to walk out of town over a big bridge. When we arrived there was another wait and as usual we drew a big crowd. This one was a boisterous as it was a load of lads on tour. They were really curious and all took photos with us. They were delighted to find out that Caoimhe was single and then all the photo’s started again. The bus was really cramped and hot. Due to the area we were entering had to stop at three security checkpoints. At each one all the foreigners (just the four of us) had to get off and register our papers, I’d say the others on the bus were fit to kill us. The journey was broken by a boat crossing which was a welcome diversion. Although, Colm nearly killed Caoimhe: he tried to steady the boat by dragging it further up the bank, but Caoimhe, who was standing with her rucksack on her back and went flying backwards, luckily not into the water.

We arrived in Rangamati late, dropped our bags and went in search of food. We went into the first place we found, think country pub/shack with air thick and smokey, now imagine that instead of stout and beer they’re all dinking tea. There was a Tandoori oven where they were baking Naan so we pointed at that and got a couple. Then we started to point at other peoples plates which had curries and sauces on them. However instead of bringing food they brought empty plates. At one stage they actually took the plate of curry off the person next to us, took it into the kitchen (which we could see) washed it and then gave it to us. In the end we had five spoons, three glasses and four plates. Eventually after a lot of miscommunication they got the message and delivered us a feast. When the penny dropped the lads in the bar thought it was comical and gave the waiter awful stick.

Sunday 21st February 2010

By this stage the lack of cash is really starting to be a problem. We are still in a remote part of the country so there are no ATM’s and because it’s a long weekend the banks are all shut. According to our hotel there is a bus strike tomorrow. We can’t really afford to pay for another two night’s accommodation and bus tickets so we have decided to leave tonight and go back to Chittagong. By the time we decided this it was already lunchtime, but the hotel were great and organised our bus tickets, leaving us a couple of hours to go exploring.

We rented a boat at the port and sailed through the various islands to an Indigenous run restaurant. When we got off the boat we were accosted by a middle class Bengali family who wanted pictures, and to rub our skin, one of them, the mother of the pack actually pinched my cheek and then twisted it, Oh the agony!

When we got back to town we visited an English school so that the students could practise their English on us. We had met one of the students earlier that morning and unable to speak to us as fluently as he would have liked, he called his teacher to talk to us. The teacher invited us to the school and also promised to exchange $50 for us, happy days. Unfortunately we could only stay half an hour as we had to catch our bus back to the city.

The bus collected us from outside our hotel which was outside town so it was jammers when it got to us. We all had seats but when we got on there was an older couple sitting in the lads place. They didn’t have the heart to move them and so sat on the roof instead. Halfway through the journey we (Megan, Caoimhe, Jane) were so squished and hot that we decided to join the lads, along with the 12 goats, a huge baskets of live chickens and sacks and sacks of vegetables.

It was a great way to see the place, and the Bengalis thought it was hilarious that we didn't mind getting up there. There were still shocked and worried though, one of the farmers on the roof nearly had a heart attack when he thought I was sitting too near the edge.

The bus journey was only 2 and a half hours, but it took us another 2 and a half once we got here to get to the train station and hotel, because of the usual miscommunications and between us and the rickshaw men.

Wednesday 24th February 2010

It’s been great being back in Dhaka really relaxing. It’s been nice to go back to all our favourite food places: such as the lentils in crisps place, the biscuit shop, Coffee World and the shop that sells real Cadburys.

Eoin and Megan have finally got their Indian visas sorted and have to collect them today at 4.30. Then we have a ticket for the Rocket at 6.30, a boat which will take us to Sundarbuns. The pier is the other side of town in Old Dhaka so we’ll be pushing it!

The taxi was booked for four so there we were, all five of us and our rucksacks crammed into this taxi in the middle of rush hour in the most congested city in the world and a rain storm hits. Total gridlock. Hailstones the size of smarties are falling, the people outside are drenched, rickshaw drivers, motorbikes, pedestrians all drowned, it’s easily some of the heaviest rain I’ve seen – and I’m Irish! It came down in torrents for about 40mins and the traffic pretty much stopped. The streets flooded. Our driver knowing about our boat ticket saw a gap and floored it, beeping at the cylo in his way. Instead of moving the cyclo driver threw his leg over the bike so that the bike shielded him as we ploughed on through taking the bike with us. It’s no wonder tuktuks have cages - it’s mental. We hit another rickshaw before we were in the clear and across the logged junction. I’ve lost count of the amount of crashes that I’ve seen here, it’s just like bumper cars only it’s on a road rather than a ring.

When we arrived at the rocket station with about 3minutes to spare we had to wade through the flooding to the gate, we were then hurried along the docks to our boat. The walkway was like black ice after the rain which had mixed with the dirt and grease to create a lethal sludge. It meant that Megan and I, in our threadbare flip flops could only shuffle along at a snails pace. We were slow to the point where I was convinced we were going to miss the boat, but thankfully we made it and nobody slipped.

Our cabins were pretty tiny, just enough room between the beds to stand facing forward, so it was a very tight squeeze to get the three of us into the two beds but views from the boat were incredible and it was well worth the squeeze. The food was delicious as well – deep fried boiled eggs in gravy, I know, but, surprisingly delicious! We spent our first night eating chocolate and watching the storm rage with impressive thunder and lightening.

Thursday 25th February 2010

Still on the boat today and it’s very chill. I’m on the first class viewing deck now. As I write, I’m watching the world float by the sun is setting to the right and sending a golden shimmer across the water.  The kids below keep taking sneaky glances at us. While the kids on the banks are having wave offs to see who gives up first.

Life along the river seems so peaceful; I don’t know how anyone could choose Dhaka over here. It’s so beautiful and so still, even the air feels soft. The houses are spread out and the land is well tended, a concrete building to the right sticks out grotesquely next to the thatched huts that dot the riverside.

We arrived off the boat and boarded a smaller boat to take us ashore. We got to the town and ate some dinner in a local tea shop. Caoimhe and I went straight to bed, Caoimhe isn’t feeling great tonight and I’m just wreaked. Fair play to the others though they negotiated rates and routes with a local boatman and have a tour sorted out for us in the morning. Everything set for a 6am departure to the Sundarbans in the morning. Tigers watch out we’re gonna find you.

Friday 26th February 2010

We got up really early this morning and to take our 6am tour of the Sundarbans. Poor Caoimhe was still really struggling with the tummy bug, she was pretty much green! In order to get deep into the Sundarbans you need to get special permits but since we only had a day we wouldn’t have time to get in deep enough and so wouldn’t really have gotten any of the benefits. (The tours companies take two to three days sailing to get really deep.) This meant that we were only able to go along the fringes of the mangroves. We really wanted to see some tigers, and we figured our chances were pretty good. A person gets eaten alive every three days in the Sundarbans. They say that only two animals in the world actively hunt man – bears and tigers!

Col looking very nervous in Tigerland!

So here we are chugging through the mangroves most densely populated tiger habitat in the world in our little boat and all of a sudden we pass….. A brothel! Random I know, but apparently the town is a huge port and the sailors need to be entertained. The brothel itself was huge it was a village rather than a building. The ladies must entertain in their houses or something but there are signs everywhere with western charities giving education on safe sex and STI’s.

On and on we go deeper and deeper into the tigers natural habitat when next we stumble upon……. A petting zoo! We are the first ones there and in we go. It’s actually pretty cool and our guide is taking us deeper and deeper into the mangroves which for all the world are just roots at the surface of the mood. Unfortunately we didn’t see any tigers but we did see a crocodile in his cage and some deer in their pen. The petting zoo started to get really busy at around 10, and was inundated with huge groups of Bengali men shouting and screaming and throwing rubbish. We actually got pissed off with them for ruining our chances of spotting anything, ha!

After the petting zoo we headed off to a fishing village where the fishermen use otters instead of fishing roods. When we got down to the boats the fisherman wanted $20 or something ridiculous to show us his otter, apparently some Australian paid it the week before. So we didn’t take him up on it but we did see their cute little otter hands poking out of their cages.

A bit wreaked we pick up a Chi in the local tea shop, and then were taken to the local school, the village is a catholic village and the school is built in the grounds of the church. The church itself looked a bit like a mosque from the outside with a big domed roof. Inside there were no seats just beautiful mosaic floors. The church was immaculate and when we arrived there were about 8 young girls scrubbing the floors and steps.

Church bell

After visiting the church we went to visit the school and caused riots. The kids were so excited to see us and rushed out of the classrooms to greet us. Sorry teachers! Back on the boat we decided to push and make it across the boarder into India tonight.

The Hindi festival of Holi is on the 1st of March and we do not want to miss it. Basically it’s the celebration of spring arriving and everyone throws powdered paint at one another. We’re all really looking forward to it. We are going to 'play' Holi in Varanasi, that’s the Holy City where Hindi's go to die and burn their dead. It is believed that if you die in the river Ganges you go straight to their heaven. Apparently once people reach a certain age they just stand in the river all day waiting to kick the bucket!  They used to put dead bodies in the river so you could just watch them floating by but apparently they've cleaned that up now. We'll see....

When we got back to the hotel we collected our stuff and grabbed some lunch. Our driver then brought us to the right bus stop, put us on the bus and fought with the driver to get us local rates – what a legend!  The whole experience of getting to the boarder is so Bangladesh! When we got off the bus we had to cross town to another bus station and get a second bus to the boarder. A guy off our bus, (Money, he’s wearing a pink shirt in the video doing a hilarious pose) got us tuktuks and rode with us to the new station. He asked around and found out that the buses weren’t leaving for another couple of hours. If we hung on the boarder would be closed, so he gets us more tuktuks and takes us to a minivan station. He tells the driver where we’re going and negotiates us a rate. As a thank you we bring him back to the original bus stop. But he won’t leave the car until we take him number so that we can call him and tell him that we had no problems. So so nice!

We arrived at the boarder with minuets to spare and were able to cross and catch a train to Calcutta without a hitch, Hello INDIA!

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