[warning: really long post, but I promise there are pictures]
So the joke goes, ‘Where do you go if you’ve got a strange penis? Cox’s Bazar!’
A couple of weekends ago we flew down to the world’s longest beach to find out for ourselves what all the fuss and puns were about. Near the Myanmar border, Cox’s is a fishing town at the north end of a beach that runs all the way down the pointy bit of Bangladesh’s eastern tip.
We flew United. Even my Bangladeshi colleagues pulled concerned faces when I told them which airline we were going with – I quickly learned that when you’re told ‘it’s not that bad’ by a Bengali you should prepare yourself for certain doom.
After work, and a few beers down at the American club, one Canadian friend recounted a horror story about his experiences with United: ‘There was no air conditioning. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I had a hangover, but I actually passed out from the heat.’ Another friend chimed in to say that when he had flown United, they hadn’t shut the door – but they didn’t fly too high, so the air pressure wasn’t affected. ‘It was OK. I thought we were going to die at first, but really it was fine.’
Mother of God.
I was relieved to find when we got on the plane that there was a large yellow pipe pumping delicious, cool air conditioning into the cabin. No such terrible luck here. Now we just needed to keep the doors shut and everything would be fine.
Of course, I shouldn’t have counted my chickens – when we were all seated, the yellow umbilical cord to survival was ripped away from us and we started to slowly braise in our own sweat. The sense of impending disaster wasn’t helped when we were handed our in-flight snacks, which advertised opportunities for pilot training, no questions asked.
One hour and 376km later, we stumbled out onto the tarmac and caught a tuk-tuk to the Mermaid Resort (battery-powered tuk-tuks are more popular here than the usually ubiquitous CNGs). While our friends booked out the Mermaid Beach resort, we checked into the Mermaid Eco resort, dumped our bags and attempted to relax, despite being walking pools of sweat.
The Mermaid is exactly what you would expect to happen if you described resort-quality beachside cabins and a laid-back surfer lifestyle to someone who had never experienced neither. The result: bamboo huts with names like ‘awesome cucumber’ and ‘liquid elephant’.
But there was a certain charm.
The ‘beach’ is actually the ‘high-tide’ edge of a 2-km stretch of very flat, tidal sand, meaning that at low tide we couldn’t actually see the ocean…
The curly, local fishing boats sit in the river at low-tide.
We caught a smaller river boat (like the ones above) across to a different beach to go for a swim. Fully clad (leggings, long t-shirt), I was still a novelty, and as we walked down the beach past a small village, several pairs of watchful, cautious eyes followed us. The kids, on the other hand, who were having a great time using chunks of polystyrene as boogie boards, were very friendly and seemed completely thrilled to bits when we managed to squeeze out our meagre Bangla: ‘Salam alykum! Kemon achen?’ (Not sure our Bangla teacher would be so thrilled as this was all we could muster).
No pictures of the lovely kids, I’m afraid – I didn’t have my camera with me and as they were naked I could hardly post them here anyway!
Back on our side of the river, we walked down over the (very wide) beach to look for crabs. They were super shy but I managed to chase one away from the safety of available crab-holes and down the beach:
A few fishing shacks lined the beach:
At night we found these little pools of light along the beach, where people were panning through metal tubs of seawater the same way you’d look for gold. One of our friends had better Bangla than the rest of us and translated their conversation: apparently he was panning for tiny baby prawns, which they ship inland to be raised in prawn farms for 4 months before maturing and becoming delicious garlic-lime prawn snacks.
A group of 24 bideshis was bound to attract a bit of attention, and more than once we wondered if the resort staff were actually following us around. We weren’t sure until we got home and someone noticed new photos going up on the Mermaid Beach Resort Facebook page, which conclusively proved the paparazzi activity:
It’s hard to love a beach pretty much anywhere when you’re from Australia. We have all been spoilt for beaches, for wide open spaces and peace and quiet. But as far as a quick weekend away from the hectic chaos of Dhaka goes, Cox’s made a nice escape. Weird penises and all.