844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Hill Country (Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh)

Feb 4th, 2010 - A autorickshaw ride from hell and an overnight bus on Bangladesh's sketchiest highway left me in Chittagong at 6 am. For some reason if you pay for an aircon coach you get it no matter what...even if it is cold outside. It is almost as if the engine and the aircon are inextricably linked. They do hand out blankets so I am not sure what my problem is. 

At 3:30 am we made a rest stop at a restaurant for a snack and potty brake. I stood in the bathroom at this early hour awestruck at what I saw, a man at every sink primping himself like he was a contestant on the dating game. Not a hair could be out of place and the efforts being put forth were almost surgical in nature. Did I mention it was 3:30 am? I am pretty much a scumbag in this country with my single pair of black pants, dusty hiking shoes, and a complete refusal to comb my hair…..ever. Folks sometimes stare me up and down as if I am wearing a spacesuit. I can never tell if it is curiosity, mild contempt, or both. 

As I stood in the restaurant a barefoot waiter offered to bring me something. I went with a coffee. It soon followed with my receipt. You get a receipt for everything here, even a 15 cent Nescafe. 

Twice on this ride a man holding a large video camera followed by another gentleman with a light entered the bus to film the passengers while we sat there with vapid looks on our faces. I have no idea why this happened. Maybe they were doing a promotional video. Perhaps that fueled the primping frenzy I witnessed. Who the hell knows? I was half asleep anyway. Kind of hard to sleep when Mr. Bus Driver Guy is honking his horn every ten seconds or so. Not even Valium could sedate me through that. I am not sure even heavy narcotics would have done the trick.

After arriving in Chittagong I hopped on a rickshaw to my next bus station. I had a not-so-near-theft experience. While I sat on the back of the rickshaw (bicycle taxi) some douchebag made a swipe at my bag as he sped past in the back of an autorickshaw. Apparently, this is not an unfamiliar technique although it was my first experience with the phenomenon. He had no chance of success as I had a firm hold on my pack but it was a bit unsettling as I did not see it coming. There is a very high likelihood that my rickshaw driver was in on it as is usually the case. Pricks.

So I stuffed myself into another local bus and made my way towards Bandarban, a town located in an area in eastern Bangladesh known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This region is home to about half of Bangladesh's tribal population, many of which originated in present day Myanmar. The chance to encounter these people and the lure of some hiking opportunities are what drew me to the area. 

Permission is required to enter the region which I obtained in Dhaka. My first test came on the bus ride from Chittagong to Bandarban. There was a military checkpoint at which I was required to sign in. They didn't even look at my papers. First hurdle overcome.

When I arrived in Bandarban I flagged an autorickshaw and headed to my lodging, Hillside Resort ('resort' being a loose term). Basic, but more than adequate. It was here I planned my excursion farther into the hills. It would entail another bus followed by a boat ride to the village of Ruma Bazar. One night there and then a 3-4 our hike to Boga Lake the next day followed by another hike the succeeding day to B'desh's highest point, Mt. Keokradong. I was to have two guides, one from Bandarban to Ruma and then another from Ruma to Boga Lake and Keokradang. 

Need some dental work?

The bus ride was the usual bumpy dust fest that entailed me stuffing myself into a seat designed for pygmies. The boat ride, however, was a welcome change and involved a slow float on a narrow wooden boat pushed through the shallow waters by a pole bearing boatmen.

Ruma Bazar is not the most congenial of villages, but this is pretty much par for the course in Bangladesh. It is a mixture of tribal and Bengali peoples with elements of Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism clearly visible around the area. This place does not know what the hell religion it is.

Below is a Christmas message painted on a wall in Ruma. It reads: For to us a child is born to us a son is given and the government is on his shoulders. He will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace.  Pretty sure that is a direct quote but I am no biblical scholar.

After dropping my bag off at the guesthouse I had to register first with the police, then with the military. I sat by a pond sipping tea at a local kiosk while my guide worked out the particulars. After some discussion I was required to write out a statement in my own handwriting clearly stating that I would be traveling with only a guide and did not require a police escort. Right. Nothing about that might be of concern, right? Probably not. It was merely a 'cover your ass' maneuver just in case something did happen to me…..probably. As far as I know there have been no problems involving unrest in the area recently so I was not concerned but still….

Fish paste. Num-num-nummy!

After my liability waiver it was off to the army post for an introduction. This involved nothing more than registering my name in a notebook, shaking hands, and exchanging rapid fire smiles. So far so good.

Back to my room for dinner. I was supposed to stay within the village at a 'hotel' right in the center. My guide suggested I stay at a different place up on the hill as this would be less noisy. Although the price was substantially higher I agreed. That was a mistake because I think it was at that exact moment that he began to think me a person of privilege (or should I say excessive privilege?).

Most of what occurred was probably my fault for not having everything spelled out exactly at the onset. I did not realize that in addition to the guide fee I was also required to provide food for them as well. That first night both my guides were present so Richie was providing dinner for three. When I was told the price for the meal they neglected to mention that the price would be tripled. No wonder they kept shoveling food onto my plate. And although I must confess that the deer meat served was delicious I get the feeling that such a feast is reserved for special occasions: weddings, festivals, visiting clueless white folk.

My guide also failed to mention that he would be sleeping in the vacant bed in my room. I couldn't care less but I have the suspicion that my room rate was for a double. None of this came to light until I received the bill the next morning. I considered protesting but I was about to travel into the hills with a dude I barely knew in an area where I was a complete stranger. I decided to tread lightly and take the hit. Besides I was not entirely sure there was really any subterfuge present. 

I bid farewell to the first guide who spoke English, and prepared for my journey with the second guide who could barely speak any. Or should I say second guides. At one point I was given the story that my guide from Ruma to Boga Lake might not be able to take me to Keokradang as he was not listed as an official guide. Lucky for me his friend could accompany us and ensure passage from Boga Lake to Keokradang as he was on the military's 'official' list. So now I was paying for two guides instead of one, but only for a day….probably. Awesome. And for some reason my lower back, which had been behaving itself for well over a year, decided to revolt and unleash a not insignificant amount of pain. Groovy. 

And then came the jostling for backpack dominance. My guides were dead set on carrying everything for me but I was vehemently against it. However, before I realized what they were up to one had my sleeping bag and the other was hoisting my backpack. So that is how it began.

Not long after departure we stopped for tea where I again regained control of my possessions. The shoe was now on the other foot. Ha!! My 19 year old chaperone was a bit dejected I think but he would have his redemption.

The majority of our walk was along and through a shallow stream which required the use of sandals as opposed to hiking shoes. I knew we had to cross a stream I just did not realize we would be constantly doing so. More language barrier. For the most part the terrain was flat. It was only the last half hour or so that required a fairly steep incline to Boga Lake. Before we began our ascent we rested for a bit. As we were about to set off again my stealthy scout recaptured my bag and would not relent. I believe I really would have had to wrestle the damn backpack off him. I was not pleased but pressed on. I guess I would have to admit that it was a bit fortuitous as my back was not cooperating.

My humble abode

Boga Lake? More like Boga pond. My guide said something about it being large and I just nodded in agreement. There was not much to the village surrounding the lake and my accommodation was little more than a wooden shack with beds in it. Not a problem but it was the locals that really struck me. These folks, from the Bawm Tribe, were not exactly the friendliest of sorts. That is not to say they were unfriendly, just remarkably indifferent. I was not expecting a parade in my honor but considering that very few foreigners make their way there I was surprised to receive almost no reception whatsoever. Not even the children were interested. I am sure part of it is the stark contrast to the interaction I'd had with the Bengali population in other parts of the country. These folks, on the other hand, could not give a shit.

This was more or less the reaction I was to receive during my time in the tribal areas. I am not really drawing any conclusions. Maybe it's cultural. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's the fact that these folks have been marginalized and disenfranchised in a developing nation that has been beleaguered by just about every domestic problem a third world nation could face. I suppose I'd be grumpy too. You think the Aborigines in America and Australia had it bad. Imagine being pushed aside in Bangladesh. The truly sad thing is that they seem to have put aside much of their culture as it is difficult to distinguish tribal differences and villages are extremely nondescript.

I was not wanting for sustenance. In fact I was a little surprised at the volume of food put in front of me. Then again I was paying for every item so I suppose there was some incentive to just go ahead and cook it all. I am quite confident that the repertoire was not the common every day fare. I was probably served enough food for five festivals and a wedding. 

After our visit to the military guard post to check in I was asked if if guide #2 should stay or leave. Huh? I was under the impression that he was to depart that day after fulfilling his purpose. Clearly, he was hoping to stick around and get another day's wage but there was little justification for two guides I had no chance of communicating with instead of just one. I played stupid and kept saying I did not understand. Guide #2 left, disappointed I'm sure.

The next morning we were off to Mt. Keokradong. After seeing the Himalayas standing on the highest point in Bangladesh is just slightly more exciting than standing on the highest point in your kitchen. I was just a tad underwhelmed but the walk and the weather were pleasant enough. After about twenty minutes on the 'summit' we headed back to the lake. I was supposed to spend another evening there but I saw little point in that. We were also supposed to walk back the way we came but I opted for a one hour jeep ride back to Ruma as opposed to a four hour walk. It was a pleasant walk but once was enough. The jeep ride was worth a go just to experience the 'road'.

I thought I was going to have to spend another night in Ruma but as luck would have it I made it back in time to hop on a boat and catch the last bus back to Bandarban. Yippie.

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim