Cox's Bazaar and St. Martin's Island
Bangladesh’s pride and joy is its small coastal city, Cox’s Bazaar, which could almost legitimately be called a resort town. Well, that is if resorts have cockroaches large enough to ride and grimy grey bedsheets. Aside from a few of these overlooked finishing touches, there are rows of hotels and restaurants, souvenir shops, and persistent touts that go along with it. At over 100 km long, the beach itself is actually the longest uninterrupted beach in the world, which is a lucky coincidence because likely every last inch of that is required to support the throngs of Bangladeshi people that come here to enjoy it. There were beach umbrellas along the coast literally as far as my eyes could see. Surprisingly, in my short time there I didn't see a single other foreigner on the beach. I guess there are far more middle-class Bangladeshi than I had thought.
The real reason for my trip to the area was to reach Bangladesh’s only tropical coral island and the country’s southern-most tip to do some diving before heading back to Dhaka. I met up with a German traveler (the forth foreigner I've seen since I arrived in Bangladesh) on the ferry ride to the island who was also interested in diving but didn't have a diving license and had only tried diving once many years ago. We set off together for the only dive shop on the island with some reservations about what exactly we would find. My expectations were rather low, but I was still hoping for more than a bamboo hut serving as the divemaster’s family home, dive shop, and equipment storage room. Undeterred, we sat down at his office - a broken plastic patio set. After some negotiations in very broken English we were off. Once the boat was en route to our dive location an hour away, I noticed that there were only four air tanks onboard – as my German friend and I were each doing two dives each it became clear that our divemaster didn't have enough equipment to join us in the water to supervise our dives. He said he would just snorkel at the surface. Seriously? We then checked the tanks as we prepared the equipment and they were all only half-full (we were being optimistic). At this point, I was preparing to be a totally unqualified divemaster to teach a non-licensed diver how to dive with improperly filled tanks of air while our actual divemaster, who barely spoke English, supervised from the surface of the water unable to help if anything went wrong. He urged us that everything was okay; we assessed and reluctantly agreed.
After putting on the two-sizes-too-small gear, our divemaster mentioned that the German’s air-gauge didn't actually work; he would be learning how to dive with half a tank of air and wouldn't know how much air he had left. Also, his tank was leaking air. But not that much. Frustrated, defeated, we went snorkeling instead in the murky water that was home to almost no fish but had ample dead and destroyed reefs. Bangladesh can be quite frustrating.
Leaving the ocean behind, it was a race back to the capital to catch my flight out of the country. My final moments in Dhaka were a small treat. Now more-or-less at home with complete chaos, it was nice to meld and slip through the crowds with my jaw not dropping every 5 minutes. A great place to ‘put your feet up’ so to speak.