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.

Shiny Happy People (Chittagong, Bangladesh)

Feb 6th, 2010 - On Jan 31st I left Bandarban and headed back to the city of Chittagong. My main reason for lingering in this town was my interest in getting a peak at the infamous ship-breaking yards just north of the city. Once upon a time wandering the shoreline and snapping photos of this area was fairly easy. Not so anymore. These yards are extremely controversial and are seen as a threat to public health, the environment, and the lives of workers employed there. Not too hard to imagine why tearing apart an ocean going supertanker with sledge hammers and blow torches might be a bit dodgy. The operations exist in the developing world (India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan, etc.) for one reason. It is not a profitable operation in the developed world where regulations get in the way and drive up the price. Not a problem in Chittagong.

I'd read that seeing the area is 'virtually impossible' in the Lonely Planet. Really. It seems folks have become a bit skittish on account of all the hubbub in the press the last few years. I did meet a French couple that met with moderate success in getting a peak. After being turned away at several yards they were finally allowed entry. However, after a few pictures they were told to put away the camera and their exposure was limited. I ran into an Australian fellow at my hotel in Chittagong who also gained entry and managed to snap a few photos with a small camera. This made me a little bit more optimistic but I wanted more than just a few quick shots. I figured I might have to go 007.

At my hotel I met a young male employee that offered to get me up close and personal with the shipyards the following morning. His English was limited and I was a bit skeptical about his ability to get me in but I agreed. What did I have to lose, right? He told me he had a friend working there now and that pictures would be no problem. Intriguing isn't it?

I had the afternoon to kill so my new friend suggested I take a stroll near the river in the Saderhat area of Chittagong. He hailed an autorickshaw for me and gave the driver appropriate instructions. I had no idea where I was headed and merely complied when my driver grunted and pointed down an alley which apparently signified my destination.

When I disembarked I think I heard the record scratch. I am betting not too many foreigners venture into the seedy harbor area of the city. It was bustling with activity. Before I knew it I was snapping photos of anyone and everyone and being offered tea and who knows what else. I made my way down a dark corridor filled with the smell of salty sewage and other aromas beyond my ability to identify. It was an olfactory assault of a most brutal nature. There was a gully running the middle of the alley that was filled with garbage and sludge that defies description. It was intermittently being cleared by a young boy with a rope and some sludge covered sandbag device made specifically for the purpose. 

When I reached the water front I was speechless. There were men and boys in a frantic procession from small ships to what appeared to be scales of some sort with baskets of white grainy material atop their heads. I soon discovered that this was salt and that this small patch of riverfront was where salt is unloaded, weighed, and the initial processing is completed. Nobody was screwing around. It was like watching leaf cutter ants moving with military speed, discipline, and precision. I had to watch my step and attempt to avoid being trampled. Not an easy task when one finds oneself in the throes of the sort of stupefaction I was experiencing. It was stimulus overload.

There is one surefire way to gum up the works a bit. Take out a camera and start firing away. Everyone wants in, much to the dismay of those on a tight schedule. Folks hauling salt. Folks weighing salt. Folks bathing in some of the filthiest water you could possibly imagine. Most of my pictures were taken while standing on a pile of trash. And in the midst of all this ugliness are these men behaving as if they are the happiest folks on the planet. Remarkable. And don't let the conspicuous lack of smiling in some photos fool you. These folks were giddy. Smiling for pictures appears to be a 'Western' thing. Ever been to Azerbaijan? 

One thousand pictures later I made my way back to the main road. By this time I had a 17-year-old Bangladeshi student serving as my facilitator. We stopped for a spot of tea (his dime) and then he began showing me other areas of the waterfront. More stimulus overload along with everyone and their mother begging for a photo they will see but once on my LCD. I saw the crew of a ship observing prayer time, discovered the price of a duck (about $4), met the owner of a slushy operation (he implored me to photograph his truck), came face to face with child labor, and attempted to avoid vomiting (that olfactory assault I mentioned above). Amazing. Disgusting. Unforgettable. 

Defunct ship used as living quarters

When it started to get dark I headed back to my hotel where I met up with my Australian friend (Andy) I'd first encountered in Bandarban at the Hillside Resort. He had a place in mind for dinner so I tagged along. Walking the narrow market streets of Chittagong was a lot like Sadarat w/o the water although much narrower. What is sold? Everything. On this night I appeared to be in the vegetable, spice, chicken, fish, lufa pad section. Crowded and chaotic to the point of vertigo. I hardly knew where to focus and, as you could guess, curiosity levels were high. If I'd taken a picture of everyone that asked I'd still be there and would have no doubt filled up countless memory cards. If folks were any friendlier I think I'd been adopted. Again, remarkable.

Official Police of Toon Town. Who the hell did frame Roger Rabbit?

Eating in the restaurant we settled on (not the one we searched for in vain) was on par with eating on stage at the Apollo Theater. Not so many tourists make their way there. The wait staff nearly fell over themselves serving us, although I think they were hoping for an uber tip.

There must have been something in the air because in the course of an evening I saw four altercations between Bangladeshi males, something I had yet to encounter even once. Maybe it was the full moon. One of these disagreements involved two rickshaw drivers engaging in a game of slappy face in the middle of a dimly lit intersection. Luckily, reason prevailed. They finally pulled their rickshaws to the curb so they could rumble safely. One of the drivers had a passenger in the back. I am assuming that person was not in a hurry. The fight resembled two people trying to hug each other to death while yelling. It lasted about four seconds before an older gentleman broke it up. Riveting.

Below is a picture of a list of rules printed in my hotel room.

-Ladies visitors will not be allowed in gents rooms, as well as gents visitors in the family room. (Promiscuous sex is really hard to come by in this country so if you are a slut (male or female) you may want to venture elsewhere)

-If your air conditioner fails due to loadsheding or voltage flactuation, please inform reception immediately. (If it fails for any other reason you are screwed)

-Please inform reception one hour before checkout. (You should also inform reception one hour before you inform reception you will be checking out in one hour just to be safe.)

-For your security don’t allow any less-known or unknown person in your room. (Less-known? These would be people you’ve seen before but never actually spoken to or people you’ve spoken to but with whom you’ve never had a meaningful conversation. If you are not privy to this person’s last name, marital status, and religious disposition then him/her would be considered a ‘less-known’ person. If you are privy to the information mentioned above then that person would qualify as ‘fairly well known’ person. By all means let them in, unless you are a ‘gents’ and the fairly well known person is a female or you, as a lone ‘gents’, are trying to enter the fairly well known person’s family room or you are accompanied by someone but are considered by them (family room occupants) to be a less-known person.)

-Don’t take any food or drink offered by less-known or unknown person. (Other types of gifts are allowed like clothing, furniture, or pharmaceutical products (technically not food)).

-It is always safe to avoid an unknown person. (It is advisable to never meet new people and make new friends. Too dangerous. If you traveling alone we advise you to sit in your room and stare at this poster)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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