“Scared?”
“Yeah, a little,” I responded. I laughed to mask the truth of my comment.
“Don’t worry. It’s nothing. We’ll be fine.”
Another meek laugh escaped. I leaned further over the rail and focused on the deck below. Intently staring, I watched for water to slowly envelop the deck, a sure sign we were on our way down.
“This river is the most dangerous.”
I nodded. This wasn’t news to me, but it still wasn’t pleasant to hear. “In the world,” he continued

With that, I shot him a glare. Even if he couldn’t see my face in the darkness, he was sure to feel the burning of my eyes shooting through the night. Slowly, my glare transformed into a look of worry.
Was he serious? Or playing a game?
“If it makes you feel better, my mom is inside right now crying because she is so afraid. He chuckled, knowing full well how unbelievable his words sounded despite their truth.
“Really?” I asked feeling a sense of panic returning.
“Yes, with my sister. But we’re fine. We just scraped a rock. We’ll be okay.”

Nevertheless, scenes from Titanic danced on the river’s surface below. Whatever we hit, it was hard enough to call attention from even the crew members who had slowly gathered on the bow of the boat.

Click on an image to experience life aboard Bangladesh’s Rocket Steamer up-close:

 

Camera. Passport. Money belt. Should I get my computer? There’s no way it would survive a dip in these waters. If I was going to go down with this ship, I’d attempt to rescue a few goods on the way Not too many, just the essentials. Yes, that includes the camera. And unlike his mom and sister, I’d stay on deck rather than hiding under the covers in my small one-woman stateroom. It’d be easier to escape over a rail than through a porthole.

Luckily, those dreams of Jack and Rose faded after a few minutes. The deck was still dry. We were still moving forward.
We would be okay.
I breathed in a final deep breath of the cool air before heading in. The amount of diesel which met my nose and filled my lungs was minuscule compared to the amount I’d breathed in earlier that day in the crowded streets of Dhaka. With that, I said goodnight to a new friend and a small handful of crew members who stood nearby and returned inside our floating hotel.

On our route from Dhaka to the Sundarbans, we made several stops as the double-decker boat glided calmly against a cement dock. After a few sighs of stillness while local travelers loaded and unloaded, it cast off again with a heavy groan. With each turn of the engine a momentous shiver traveled down its spine, gradually increasing in frequency until rise and fall were fused together into a smooth line. After a minute minute, the shakes and creeks of a worn motor’s tremendous efforts were no longer noticed and life on board continued as normal.

 

Click on an image to experience life aboard Bangladesh’s Rocket Steamer up-close:

In my one-woman room equipped with a twin bed, fierce fan and aircon combination, sink, mirror, and a personal porthole, I readied for bed, turned off my lights, and opened the curtain to enjoy the moon’s shining company. In the morning I woke several times as we waved hello and goodbye to various villages. As the sun appeared, I decided to venture outside in my pajamas for a few quick photos. I splashed water on my face, smoothed back my frizzy locks, and slipped on my flip flops before unlocking the door and entering a silent lobby. Stepping over crew members who’d fallen asleep halfway under chairs and tables and in between door frames, I opened the door to outside and slowly walked around the bare deck.

On the river around us, small wooden boats were being led across waters spiced by the colors of oregano. Men in plaid longis and white sleeveless shirts were on their way to work, heading out early to avoid the sun’s hottest moments at mid-day. Along the shores lined with bricks and overgrown vines, women in oranges, yellows, and reds squatted in the shallowest waters while washing clothes and filling buckets to bring home.

All was quiet. All was calm.

Watching out the window from the Rocket Steamer - Dhaka to Sundarbans Bangladesh - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Watching out the window from the Rocket Steamer – Dhaka to Sundarbans Bangladesh – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

I stood for what must have been over an hour. Leaning against the rail, my camera and I fell back in love with travel and turned all those chaotic, messy, ugly moments past into lessons and thanksgivings. When I stood straight again, I looked around and noticed other passengers had woken up. Still in my pajamas, I suddenly became aware that I must be a curious sight. My room was not twenty feet away. There I could easily slip on a scarf and skirt and return to the public spaces without gathering so much attention.

I took one, two steps and was stopped by a smiling face.
“Your Country?” I was asked. “Spain,” I replied with a slight accent.
“Ah Spain. Thank you,” was the reply.

With U.S. politics the topic of conversation all over the world as well as the thousands of stereotypes both good and bad toward Americans, I rarely confess my true identity while abroad. Instead, I typically pose as a Spaniard who (only when questioned intensely about my lack of the traditionally heavy Spanish accent) studied with an American teacher. So far it’s a line that’s worked flawlessly and some days I even manage to convince myself.

On the boat, that brief exchange of just seven words in English attracted several others from inside to step up to their open windows. Most stared, but a few garnered the courage to ask me more questions in English about myself. Yes, my name is always still “Anika” but is said Ah-nee-kah rather than Ann-ick-uh. Yes, I have friends both in Dhaka (as they’d all seen the night before when my overly helpful friend invited himself onboard) and in Sylhet (Remember K from the airport in Dhaka? More on him later). No I did not have a guide as no-one I’d contacted wanted to guide just one person. No I wasn’t planning on going to the world-famous Cox’s Bazar. Yes, I would love to see a tiger, and no I was not afraid. Yes Bengalis are extremely friendly, kind people and YES I love Bangladesh (It’s never okay to say no to this question- but luckily the YES answer was becoming more true with each passing minute!)

 

Click on an image to experience life aboard Bangladesh’s Rocket Steamer up-close:

 

By the time I’d reached my room just twenty feet away, I had invitations to stay with a family in a village we were slowly approaching and to work as a teacher in Dhaka with a couple of newlyweds. I’d taken selfies with so many new friends that my smile was permanently fixed and I could only hope my morning breath wasn’t too strong. I sat down on my bed, wrote down a few lines in my journal, and checked the time.

There were still several hours to go before we’d reach the boat’s final destination, Morrenlganj. After quickly changing into something more modest and tidying my room, I went back to the main room and was immediately ushered to a seat at the center table alongside a man and woman in their sixties. They promptly ordered four cups of tea in Bengali, and called their daughter to join us. She brought along her daughter, a toddler I’d taken been asked to take a photo of earlier. As I sat with three generations of the same family, I was told through broken English that the (grand)father, N, was a well-known and loved politician. His daughter was a political activist and accomplished author of seven novels. The family was on their way home, and asked that I join them. The moment I said “Thank you, but…” I regretted my decision. Why hadn’t I said yes?
(Short answer, if I can find one : I was still feeling slightly overwhelmed at the attention I’d received over the past two days and had only nine days in total to see as much of the country as possible. Any delay in plans would mean forfeiting one or more future stops.)

The family kindly took my ‘no’ and offered instead that I disembark with them and that they arrange a car to the small town of Mongla, my entrance to the Sundarbans. After a little coaxing and negotiating (a motorbike would be much cheaper and more fun), I gratefully obliged. Just after I said ‘yes’ to their help, they commanded me to grab my bags and meet them downstairs at the exit door. We’d be hopping off much earlier than I’d anticipated.

“Trust your instinct. They’re good people. They’re here to help you.” I told myself.

I grabbed my bags and as I stood with the family, they encouraged me to step to the side as the doors were opened. The grandmother and mother stood with me. Immediately upon our arrival at the dock, over twenty young men swarmed the boat’s entryway. They hugged and cheered for the grandfather. Shaking hands, slapping backs, kissing, carrying bags, offering assistance in any way possible, they clearly respected their elder.

 

Click on an image to experience life aboard Bangladesh’s Rocket Steamer up-close:

 

“His fans,” the wife whispered to me, calmly observing what was clearly a normal occurrence for this small-town high-profile family. A crowd of close to fifty others were waiting outside and parted ways as we walked through. They adored N and respected his every movement. And finally, the attention was entirely off me.

When the family and I reached their waiting car, N held a quick conference. I truly believed it to be of the political nature, but after a few moments standing in the shadows with a scarf wrapped loosely around my head, I was ushered to his side.

“He will take you,” N said, pointing at a young man in a blue and white plaid shirt. “He will bring you safely to Mongla. You trust him.”
With that authoritative comment, I gave each family member a kiss on the cheek, tightened the straps on my rucksack, modestly hiked up my skirt, and sat down on the back of his bright red motorbike. I turned around to wave goodbye, only to see the focus was already back on the family. In the best of ways, I was no longer of significance.
Instead, I was back on solid ground, hundreds of kilometers from where my journey had begun, relishing in the amiability of this land and on my way to some of its most revered territory.

Scared? A little. But more than that, amazed at how a few hours can change your view in more ways than one.

 

Views from the Boat - Dhaka to Sundarbans Bangladesh - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Views from the Boat – Dhaka to Sundarbans Bangladesh – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

Ready to read more about what it’s like adventure to Bangladesh as a solo female traveler on a tight budget? Check out Post 1 : Dhaka Bangladesh : Help Past Help

Stay tuned for more (it only gets better – and more beautiful!)

3 Comments

    1. Thanks so much! It means the world that you enjoyed it, especially after the last post left a little sour taste in your mouth (or so I imagine) – Thanks for sticking with – the best is yet to come – I hope you continue to enjoy! Cheers – Anika

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