Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday, June 26th (The Weekend Part 2)

So, to continue my weekend recap. Friday morning, my Dad and I woke up and headed downstairs to meet our driver to Srimangal and we headed off. Traffic wasn’t bad at all since it was Friday morning and we got out of the city pretty quickly. The city just seemed to keep going, even though we started in a pretty northern part. Once we got into more country areas, the driving that I had previously thought was crazy in Dhaka I realized was nothing. This driving was insane. I have never experienced anything like driving through the country here. Basically, it is a very narrow two-lane road, and it’s as if cars on both sides are racing. It feels like every car on the road is competing to see who can pass more cars and go faster. And the thing is, it’s mostly buses on the roads and they swerve and sway and speed around other buses. And even with our driver, who you could consider more cautious, unless a bus was just about to pass by us, he would swerve out to the other side of the road and pass any vehicle (or vehicles!) in front of us. Just casually staying driving on the wrong side of a narrow, swerving road. And more times than not, we would barely squeeze around the car we were passing before a bus would go whizzing by, miraculously just missing our mirror but only by inches. The problem, too, of course is the road is also full of rickshaws, which are easy to pass as long as another car isn’t coming the other way. If there is a car coming the other way, you have to slam on your breaks not to hit the rickshaw. More than once we were run off the road because a bus was trying to pass a car going the other way and was headed straight for us. And we saw several trucks that had rolled over and into the trees. It was madness. I can’t even capture the madness of it. Oh and blind turns? You know how you’re not supposed to pass a car as you both go around one? That common sense doesn't apply here. We would fly around buses while both taking a blind turn and just hope for the best that no car was coming the other way as we tried to pass by them. Ugh, we had some VERY close calls. After about two hours, I honestly couldn’t take the stress of watching, so I slouched down and closed my eyes the rest of the way.

Before going into shut down mode, I did get to see a lot of the scenery we passed. Fields and fields of rice mostly. And we passed through little towns of mostly tin shanties that served as stores and houses, alike. Rickshaws were everywhere we went. We also passed dozens of rice factories, as well as some other factories. And the landscape was scattered with tall chimney kilns for making bricks with mounds and mounds of bricks surrounding them.

Well, when we finally arrived, we pulled up to the Rainforest Resort, a very, basic looking building painted a bright, light blue. We had a room with air-conditioning though and two beds (granted rock hard) so it would work. We headed into town for lunch with our tour guide, who had met us upon arriving to the Rainforest Resort. We ate at a pretty nice place that had another group of tourists there too. Downtown Srimangal was small. A lot of the structures were old cement or tin and the street was an endless line of little shops of fruit and food and other random goods. Lunch was traditional, with kebabs and naan, cucumbers and dahl (which is a brothy sauce they serve a lot here and you can pour over anything).  After, we headed out to see the tea, pineapple, lemon and rubber plantations. We had passed them coming in but we hadn’t learned anything or walked through them yet.

We stopped by a rubber plantation first. It mostly consisted of just stopping off to the side of the road where rows and rows of rubber trees had been planted in perfect lines. They cut the trunks and set out little bowls to catch the sap dripping down and they turn that into rubber. Now was not the season for collecting so they were mostly dry. Apparently the leaves drive out animals and birds because they don't want to eat them. So overall, they are pretty environmentally unfriendly plants to farm.

After continuing past the rubber plantation, we drove to a pretty remote area, got out of the car and started walking down a bumpy, narrow dirt road. We walked through a fence to the side and entered the pineapple plantation. The first part was a hill and when we reached the top we saw the plantation was rolling hills in every direction. It was very pretty. The pineapples had just been harvested so there were no fruit plants, but the rows of the pointy leaves they had been plucked off of remained. Wild boars are apparently an issue with the pineapple plantations. They break in and burrow through the plants causing major destruction and not even in order to dig up plants and eat them. They just destroy the plants. Srimangal is an area home to Muslims, Hindus and indigenous (they call them “tribal”) people.  There is actually a fairly large Hindu population compared to the rest of the country (Srimangal is about 30% Hindu). While Muslims and Hindus don’t eat pig, the pineapple plantation owners will allow indigenous people to come into their plantations and hunt the wild boars. It's a win win for the both of them.

After the pineapples we headed back to the dirt road and farther into the remote area. What I noticed most was the silence. After the crazy constant honking and chaos of Dhaka, I hadn’t heard this kind of remote silence (or any type of silence) in a long time. It was very peaceful. Towards the end of the road, the lemon plantation began. They call limes here lemons, and apparently they don’t eat lemons (what we consider lemons) because they are too sour and juicy. At the end of the road was a little wooden shack. Dogs greeted us, barking loudly. For those of you that know my history of dogs in developing countries (dog bite in Ghana), I am not a huge fan. I immediately got panicked, but stayed calm enough to make it just past the shack where some people were loading up a cart of lime/lemons. The workers here are crazy. They pack these large two-wheeled wagons of fruit and then WALK them all the way into town to Srimangal. From certain areas this is miles and miles of hilly trekking. It takes hours. We passed many people making this trek as we drove in. They then turn around, come back, and do it again. The men loading the wagon stopped and cut up some freshly pineapple for us. It was absolutely delicious—juicy and sweet. The dogs had calmed down, thankfully, when we headed back out on the road to leave. Ahh they still made me nervous.  

Getting back to the car, dripping in sweat (it was VERY hot out!), being able to sit down in the air conditioning felt amazing. From the pineapple/lemon/lime plantation we went to the main event: the tea plantations. We drove in a long way, weaving down roads through tea plantations that seemingly went on forever. People (mostly women) could be seen with big bags slung over their shoulders picking the tea leaves. All of the tea picking is done by hand and for a ridiculously low wage (like 30-50 Tk a day…). It seems like brutal work out in the heat among the endless plants. Throughout the hills of tea plants are shadow trees, which are planted to create the necessary shade for the plants. We stopped and walked around a little and heard about the history of this area. Its border had been suddenly and randomly made, breaking up families and communities between India and Bangladesh (Srimangal is RIGHT near the Indian border). We also heard about the history of tea plantations in the area. Many of the workers originally were brought over from India by the British, who tricked them into thinking they would have a better life only to be tied into exploitative and oppressive work. The conditions continue to this day, even without the British presence.

Close by the tea plantation was a very peaceful pond that we walked around. On one side was a hill we walked up and we were able to see the area better with its rolling hills, plantations, and endless rainforest on the outskirts. It was very beautiful and it had cooled down considerably as the sun was starting to set. The pond also had bright purple water lilies scattered around the edge. It seemed like a pretty popular spot and other people were milling around, taking pictures, and walking down the path.

After the lake, we headed to a tea stand. Apparently it was the first tea stand to make multi-layered tea, but now it’s a popular thing. Basically, they make cups of tea with several flavors layered on top of each other, and make it so the flavors somehow don’t mix with each other. The result is a cup of tea with visibly different layers of tea—both multi-colored and multi-flavored.  So we got a five-layer cup of tea, which had cinnamon tea, ginger tea, green tea, black tea, and one other one I forget. It was wild how as you made your way through the cup of tea the flavors continued to change. They love their sweet tea, though, so for the most part the flavor seemed like straight sugar. It was still neat to sit outside and relax.

Afterwards, we did a quick dinner of biriyani and headed to the hotel. We settled down after a very long day ready to get a good night of sleep. But a good night of sleep was NOT in our cards. I don’t think we could’ve had a worse nights sleep than what we ended up with. It was one thing after the next all night long. First, there was a dog right outside our window that barked incessantly, all night. It would stop for a little and then shortly after start right back up. On and on and on—SO loud. The other thing was, just as we were turning the lights out to go to sleep, the loudest storm I have EVER heard began. The lightening and thunder were deafening. I was ready for the house to split open or a tree to fall in. And it wasn’t like the thunder was right over us for a little and then passed by. It seemed to stay right above us forever, with deafening cracks and crashing for hours. At about 11pm, the electricity went out. At first, this seemed pretty bad. The air conditioning doesn’t work on just the generator so we were down to a single fan. But it got worse. I woke up from my half sleep to stifling heat. The generator had gone off! We were surrounded by suffocating heat—no fan, pitch black. It stayed off for a good two hours. It was beyond uncomfortable. Finally, the generator picked back up so the fan was working. Circa 6am though, again, off it went. Sticky, stuffy heat quickly built up in the room. Luckily, this just lasted until 7am when the full-blown electricity returned. Just in time for us to get up and leave…after our very restless, sleepless night, we got up and had breakfast, preparing for a morning of trekking in the rainforest.

I’m going to wrap up this post now, but I will finish the Srimangal weekend adventures later or tomorrow! For now, there was our first day in Srimangal—busy and hectic but beautiful and very interesting. It was so nice to get out of the crazy hustle and loudness of Dhaka.

For now, I am back in Dhaka, and it is currently POURING down rain. It’s dark and loud and coming down hard. I’m just at work taking a little break to write this. My roommates have FINALLY made it home and we are going to stock up on some groceries at the supermarket after work. They haven’t been yet, so they will get to experience the convenience of Lavender (the supermarket’s name) for the first time. It’s crazy they have spent more of their time in Bangladesh outside of Dhaka than in Dhaka. I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on here and finish my Srimangal story later!! Pictures of the weekend are coming soon too!

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