The quest to reach St Martin's failed!
Failure! Well I hate to ever thinking I have failed but I guess a trip wouldn’t be complete without a bit of a balls up…. First of all this was mainly seasonally related. In September Bangladesh has quite a bit of rain but it eases off in October. My aim as to go to coral island, St Martin’s, which means taking a flight to Cox Bazaar, a vehicle or bus to the port Teknaf and a boat.
It was 7 September and we flew to Cox Bazaar, to a fair old bit of rain. We had quite a nice hotel (Sea Crown Hotel, £24 plus £6.45 taxes) with AC but it was a bit gloomy with rain battering the coast. Bangladeshis do tend to rave about Cox Bazaar but personally I am not a fan. It is the longest sea beach in the world… but if you can imagine a bloody long beach, that’s about it. The odd hotel (not mine) serves a beer but for me it’s just a stopping off point to get to St Martin’s Island, my favourite place in all of Bangladesh.
From October through to April you can book bus/boat tickets to St Martin’s from the various tourist agents in Cox. But outside of these times there are no big coaches or ferries running, only buses and fishing boats. Still, I have done this before in March during “hartal” (strike) when I took a bus and a fishing boat so I was prepared to do the same again. The crossing for me at least is akin to the Isle of Wight… it is very close and locals make this crossing daily.
So we booked a CNG (rickhaw which runs on CNG gas) for the two hour trip from Cox Bazaar to Teknaf at a cost of 1800 taka (£17). Apparently the driver’s name was Sadaam Hussein, but I never had that verified if it was a joke or not! Anyhow, we had to arrive at Teknaf fairly early as the boats leave at 10am so at 7am we set off.
We did indeed reach the fishing boats but were told foreigners need permission. Undeterred we went to speak to the coastguard in person, spoke to the coastguard in Cox Bazaar on the phone too in my bad Bengali, and to the boatmen. But in between doing all of this the boats left. I was told by the boatman “Agamikal, dosh-ta”, essentially come back tomorrow, the boats go at ten.
So as we were then fairly stranded and there was no way I wanted to go back to Cox, so we were found a “resort” to stay in for 1500 taka (£14). “Resort” definitely in name only and although not too bad, it was the worst place I stayed on the trip. We were taken out to do some local sightseeing, then settled in for the night under a fan and Tiger slept in her mosquito net bed…. It was here though that I first go to document (like David Attenborough) my gorgeous girl crawling slowly backwards!!
The next day we took an auto back to the fishing boats… and were told no again. Well, those that know me, also know that I don’t like taking no for an answer. I fought this the whole way. I spoke in my bad Bengali to the owner of the boat, to VIPs, to all sorts of important people I had no idea who they were. But the answer was a resounding no. For tourists we have to wait for the big boats in October. I kept trying, and one of the two boats left. I kept going – begging, pleading, - and then finally the second boat left full of locals and, by the way, full of women, kids and babies. And life jackets.
Well, I cried. It’s a rare thing. But this was very much like having someone shatter your dream before your eyes. I had literally come to Bangladesh to go to St Martin’s and was being told no. But there was nothing I could do so I dusted myself down and ended up taking a CNG back to Cox Bazaar Airport, took the first flight to Dhaka, then a connecting flight to Syhlet all on the same day!
In terms of St Martin’s, we WILL be back. But the trip moves on to Sylhet and Srimongol, a hitherto unplanned diversion!