15 November 2007

Week 10: Eating plenty of coconuts in Kuakata (and pretending to see the sun rise/set)

10th-1st in Dhaka 11/7

Went with Rajibul and his friends Tanvir and Ishti to Saderghat, the part of town where the launches leave from, to get launch tickets for our trip this weekend. We will take a launch south on the rivers to Barisal. Then a bus to Kuakata. We went house to house picking all the friends up, then made our way to Saderghat. We explored the many different boats we could take. Almost all were leaving today, so we had to find out which ones would leave tomorrow night, when we wanted to leave. Checked out the cabins, walked around the many decks. To get between boats sometimes we had to walk planks, or jump down, or climb up. It was a playground of big boats. We finally chose one, our rooms, and then paid the money. Tk220 each in the end for a one-way ticket.

There is one food/beverage I don’t like here, but I’m not alone in my disliking. It’s a greenish salty spiced yogurt drink called borhani. I've tried it now three times, and each time have not been able to take more than two sips. I mention it now because the third try was lunch today.

I saw a funny thing. A store owner was sweeping the front stoop of his store with a broom. But he was sweeping all the dust onto the freshly cut fruit of the fruit seller next to him. The guy’s fruit was getting dirty. However he just sat and watched, and didn’t seem to care…hmm. Think twice when buying food off the street (not like I already do)

In the evening I went to Nafisa’s aunt’s house for dinner. Good food as always, some delicious pasta this time. Talked to Ishraq about the Premier League and Champions League, and how the playing time affects the better players on better teams.

10th-2nd in Dhaka 11/8

Decent class. Did well in listening, and explained to Nadia in partial-Bangla how my weight has fluctuated in the last two years. From August 2006 to August 2007 I technically gained 32 lbs since in the former I was dieting for the Canadian Henley 64kg weight class, and the latter was this summer when I hadn’t worked out consistently since rowing ended. But if I didn’t explain it, it makes it seem like I’m now overweight! I graphed it for her, and it was actually really interesting to see it all in graph form.

Met Tanvir at the Aktel office. Pavel (which I learned to be Rajibul’s nickname) met us, and we went to both of their houses to get their bags. Hopped in a CNG, and grabbed Ishti, and went to Motijheel. From there, grabbed rickshaws down to Saderghat. This is all on a Thursday night, so traffic in the city is ridiculous. We get caught in many jams. Our rickshawallwah told us he was real happy to have a foreigner in his rickshaw on our long ride to the boat terminal.

The boat is big. It has three floors. The bottom floor is just open, where the lowest class ticketed people stay. They have thin mats on the floors, and they sleep there. The second and third floors have rooms, not sure if there is any difference though. On the back of the third floor is open deck where it looked like staff were sleeping, and from there you could look out on the water. From the front of the boat you could see a lot too, but you can’t hang at the bow because you get yelled at by the boat captain for being in his line of sight…learned from experience. (pics: view of a launch next to ours, the third floor of the launch with its rooms)

We got to the boat with 30 minutes or so to spare. We met Mishu there, who also works for Aktel. Found our rooms. My water bottle decided this was the best time to open up and leak all over my backpack.

I took some photos of the dock area before we left. Tons of people going home for the weekend. Boats from here go all over Bangladesh, but mostly to Khulna, Sundarbans, and Barisal, as they are easy to get to by boat, in the southern part of the country. The boats hold about 300-400 people I’m told, but wil typically take 500-600, and over 1000 during the holidays. For this reason, during holiday times, these boats sometimes sink due to overweight issues. They also have a reputation for crashing on the river because they race each other…was really hoping this wasn’t as “frequent’ as they say. (pics: many people getting onto the launhes at Saderghat, the view of Saderghat just after we pulled away)

Had 3 dinners. First was Pavel’s parota and meat curry. Then we had my sandwich, fish cakes cookies, and fruit. We bought some apples. Than later we ordered some rice, vegetables, and fish and enjoyed it on a table in one of our cabins.

We spent the night talking, playing cards, and looking outside the boat, and sitting at the bow of the boat right below where the captain looks out, so we wouldn’t distract his view. Played a card game called 9-card…was fun and addicting, and can’t wait to share it in the US. (pics: Ishti and Pavel playing 9-card, Mishu and Ishti eating dinner in the cabin)

The boat captain doesn’t have permanent lights aimed at the water, but has a sweeping spotlight he turns on every minute or so, he does a quick sweep of the water ahead of him to look for smaller craft, then turns it off. I guess it’s smaller craft’s responsibility to move. The entire time I can see other boats on the river, all shapes and sizes, but mostly launches like ours. They pass by all night. Showed me how important river transportation is for the country. The rivers are incredible. I can barely see the sides sometimes, of course it’s dark, but I can make out a few lights. In the water, there are baskets with a few candles in them, I think these are lighting the way for the captains.

I went to bed at 1am after playing lots of cards.

10th-3rd in Kuakata 11/9

We docked in Barisal at 4 am. You’re allowed to disembark any time during the day. But we had a bus to catch to Kuakata at 7 am, so we disembarked at 6 am. We got some breakfast at a small restaurant. For breakfast we had parota, egg, dhal, and some leg bone of a sheep. (pics: view into Barisal when we arrive, view of launches at Barisal)

This part of Bangladesh is apparently more religious than other parts I’m told. Because of that, you’ll see more women wearing burqa, in this case all black. In restaurants there are special women’s eating “cabins” where the table can be hidden by a curtain.

The bus ride, my friends said was horrible, worst they’d ever been on. But I didn’t’ think it was too bad, maybe I was expecting a lot worse. My seat on the bus, like most I encounter here, is too short for me, my knees don’t actually fit between the two seats. So I have to sit the 4.5 hour journey sitting with knees into the aisles. This kind of a bus is a “local bus” because it stops for everyone, and people get to stand in the aisles. The trip from Barisal to Kuakata has 5 ferry crossings. The first 2 are close to Barisal, the middle one is about halfway, with the last two closer to Kuakata. (pics: road ends and that's where the ferry docks, doorman watching the road go by, women jammed in the seats in the front of the bus, Pavel/me on the bus, posing on the ferry, one of the docks the ferry left from at one of the rivers)

Had several coconuts during this trip, and one yesterday I forgot to mention. All of these coconuts are still ripening, green exterior, but that’s why there are supposed to be so good. The person first cuts off the top, and pokes a hole in the inner skin. You drink the coconut water first, which is apparently really good for you and high in minerals. Then you hand the drained coconut back to them. They cut it in half, and you scoop out the coconut with a broken off piece of coconut shell. It’s soft since its not fully ripe yet, a ripe coconut has a hard interior. They’re pretty good, the water is my favorite part. (pics: cutting the coconut to drink the water, eating the inside after cutting it open)

Each ferry crossing took lots of time. Sometimes they waited for the ferry to fill up, sometimes it was on the other side and it had to come back over, sometimes there were so many buses we had to wait our turn. One time waited half an hour. Oh well, it gave us time to stretch our legs.

The hotel we stayed at was pretty nice. We fought to let all five of us stay in one double room, against the hotel’s three per room policy. We won. After changing into swimming outfits, we went to buy a return bus ticket, and had lunch, some rice, vegetable, and fish.

We took vans everywhere. A van is a rickshaw, but without a seat, just a flat bed you can sit on. Usually used for transporting goods, but also a cheap way to get around town. (pic: Ishti on a van)

The town itself only had few concrete structures outside of hotels. I was the only foreigner I saw the whole time. Town is mostly shacks selling goods and for living. Streets are packed, but it’s not big at all.

The beach was good. Its long to the water, but the water covers most of it when tide comes in. Tide was out, so we could walk a long way out. Bay of Bengal, my first time seeing it, and I’m sure not my last.

At the beach we played in the water. We wear shorts/bathing suit and a shirt. Men don’t usually take off their shirts, and it’s one of the few times it’s ok to wear shorts.Women wear what they would always wear, a sharee or shalwar kameez. We had fun tackling each other in the ocean. We walked along the beach, saw fisherman pulling their boats in, kids doing some work, motorcycles riding up and down the beach carrying people to other places, people splashing and taking pictures like us. Bunch of boats anchored just about 100 feet out into the water. Not many peddlers, but some, mostly food. Got some more coconuts and drank the water. Bought a soccer ball and played some beach soccer among the five of us, Ishti in goal. The sun set on the water, just like it was supposed to, but we couldn’t really see it set, due to clouds all around the horizon. But I could now verify, that yes, the sun sets on the Bay of Bengal. Had some fuchka before leaving. (pics: Pavel/Mishu in the Bay of Bengal, Tanvir/Pavel/Mishu/me wet from playing in the water, beach visitors in their beach clothes, resting on the beach chairs Pavel/Mishu/Ishti/me, Pavel kicking the soccer ball to Ishti, Ishti riding a bike he paid a boy Tk20 to ride and Tanvir watching, boat docked in the water, fishermen beating out his net, fishing boats, blue in the straw/chair/lungi, sunset on the Bay of Bengal)

The entire time motorcycle drivers are asking to take us places. Up and down the beach to different sites? Some forest, some market…I don’t know. (pic: motorcycle to take you away)

You have to pay to sit on the beach chairs, only about Tk20.

After dinner and going back to the beach, Tanvir and I were exhausted and crashed on the bed. We had pushed both beds together so all 5 of us could have bedspace, one guy sleeping “on the crack”…wasn’t as tight a fit as I thought it’d be with all of us sharing 2 twin size beds. We got some tea late, and I woke up to have some, a biscuit, and wash my face/brush my teeth. (pic: our sleeping arrangement)

10th-4th in Kuakata 11/10

Woke up early for the sunrise. Took two rickshaw vans from our hotel about a mile up the beach to a spot which is better for sunrise watching, why? I still don’t know why. Well this morning we saw lightening and heard thunder in the distance…uhoh…the sky was getting brighter, but then it started raining. We sat under some umbrellas, but those only leaked onto us. So, after the sun “rose” we left. We couldn’t actually see it because of the clouds, even less than the sunset the night before. But again, I can verify the sun also rises on the Bay of Bengal. So yes, in Kuakata, you can see the sun rise and set on the same body of water. Pretty cool I guess. (pics: "sunrise" on the Bay of Bengal, in the morning Ishti/Tanvir/me, beach chair and beach soaked in the rain, taking shelter at beach shops )

In the afternoon, after much card playing we went out. Pavel and I went to the market to buy some stuff. I watched a fight (#9) and then decided to buy a seashell with my name engraved in it in Bangla. After dropping it off at the hotel, we went to meet Tanvir and Ishti at some fish market. Well it was a long way off, and I wasn’t going to bring my camera because I thought it was just the same as the fish markets in Dhaka, and because we were going to the beach to play after. It was a long way off, took a van to get there. The rough asphalt ended and turned into a dirt road. We were passing many villages and shacks on the way too. Began wishing I had my camera. But then we got there, and was real upset I didn’t have my camera. The whole place was impressive. This fish market was less a market, and more of a place where they dried fish, and you could come there and ask for some. The fish were hanging on wooden drying racks, about 10-15 feet high each, with three levels of fish drying. Most fish were about one foot long, but some were huge. Some were splayed open with wood, others just hanging loosely. The sun was setting from behind the racks on the ocean. Light was peaking through. It was gorgeous. The dried fish was outrageous smelly, but after awhile kinda enjoyable. The area was huge. It was right on the edge of the beach, where the grass stopped, and the sand started, and cows were munching on the grass. Boats were pulled right up on the beach to the drying place. Men squatted on the ground salting and cutting the fish.

They bought some fish, and we left soon after, took the vans back to the hotel. We packed up, and headed for the bus.

The bus ride home was uneventful. Ate some parota and egg for dinner. At one ferry stop, had some coconut. We had the same ferry stops to Barisal. After that, on the way to Dhaka, I was in and out of sleep. So not really sure what happened. We crossed a real big river at some point. Sleeping was horrible. In Barisal we had a 15 minute rest, and I took some photos of rickshaws at midnight. Highway 10x better condition from Barisal to Dhaka than from Kuakata to Barisal. (pic: rickshaws with their lanterns in Barisal at midnight)

10th-5th in Dhaka 11/11

We arrived at 6:30 in the morning to Gabtali bus station, in the northwest side of the city. I took a taxi back home, it was easy, and I didn’t mind paying a bit more. I’d been on enough buses!

Got ready for class. A slow day. Was kind of tired and wasn’t focusing well.

After class, came home and had a quick lunch. I was heading down to BUET to meet Dr. Mizanur Rahman for only the second time. Was glad I was going to get to see him again. But I got there and he had to cancel the meeting, they’re doing a lot of testing of students right now and it wasn’t a good time. We decided I’ll come by next week, but I’ll make sure to call before I come down.

I also had had plans to meet with Ayon at Dhaka University after. So I just walked on over, and hung out with him and his friends on the main lawn for about half hour. Watched some videos on their laptop of a recent dance party they had at Ayon’s bedroom. Classic!

After Ayon and I went to Dhanmondi to see Saquib’s photographs in his university’s photo club’s exhibition. It’s the first time his photos are being seen by the public. It was pretty cool that he was getting people to see his work. I was very impressed. I know it’s just a school club, but I’ve never had my work of anything really publicly displayed. Cool to see the other 41 photos (3 were his making 44) as well. (pics: Ayon observing, Saquib and one of his three photos on display)

10th-6th in Dhaka 11/12

After class I was intending to have a nice easy day. Buy the things I’ve been meaning to buy, and hang out with Megan. It went perfectly. Went to buy computer speakers, and its nice to finally listen to Radiohead’s new album with real speakers.

Megan and I went to FFC for dinner, got lots of delicious fried chicken. Here there was a great example of things on the menu being written incorrectly. In one place one the menu, it said potato wedges…mmm delicious. However, on the other side of the menu, it said the meal came with potato wages. I asked Megan, “Will we be getting paid in potatoes tonight?”

Oh, and I saw a Chili’s the other day. Same exact sign of the Chili’s in the US, but apparently it’s not the same restaurant, not even close to the same food either. They just stole the sign design. And a new Pizza Hut is opening up near to my new home, that’s pretty cool.

And wanted to mention how big of jerks CNG drivers are (and actually at the time of posting this there was an article in the paper about it!), and why I don’t even bother using them anymore. Everytime you talk with them, they never want to go where you want to go. Why not? I’m going to pay you money for you to take me somewhere, what are you gonna do instead, sit here and do nothing!!?!?! They never want to go where you want to go. And they scoff at your when you tell them. And if they do want to go, they never want to use the meter like they are supposed to. Instead they charge an incredible amount of the trip. Unregulated supply and demand in its worst state.

10th-7th in Dhaka 11/13

Today after class I spent most of the day at home. I left for a little bit to pick up my photos of the advert from Benchmark. I can’t post them yet, not until the ad is out, so you’ll have to wait. But I look ridiculous in my opinion, but it’s what they were looking for, not me. Pavel also said they have more trips in the planning and they’ll def invite me come time.

So for lack of anything else to talk about, I’ll bring up the bus loading process here. The ticket counter is on the side of the street. People hang around the ticket counters, but don’t buy the tickets until the bus is actually in sight. Now, once spotted, sometimes it could be a few minutes until the bus actually gets there, because of traffic, but sometimes it makes it there in a few seconds if it can plow its way through. Either way, it’s not until the bus actually pulls up that people decided it’s time to buy their ticket. Then there’s a mad rush to get on, pushing a bit, along with pushing to buy the tickets at the counter. The bus starts to pull away before everyone is on. The last few have to do a bit of a run and jump. The ticket counter guy doesn’t do much to help either. He sometimes will refuse to sell you a ticket until he sees the bus. But this can be understood since if a competing bus company is operating the same route comes, and it shows up before his company’s bus, people will choose that bus over his. In this situation, is common practice to refund the customer’s ticket, so he can ride the other bus. So to avoid this, the counter guy waits until the bus actually comes near so they don’t have to give refunds.


Saket said...

Wow man that sounds like an awesome trip. I got jealous when I read about the coconuts -- i love going with my mom to the coconut vendors and have fresh coconut water (nariyar pani) then have them scoop out the white meat.

I sent you some emails, but hope you're staying safe with that cyclone. Not sure how bad Dhaka will get hit.

Anonymous said...

Donny, really enjoying your blog. I think I will try Kuakata this time when I am in Bangladesh. Enjoy!