Bangladesh is a country half the size of the UK but with twice the population. Ava and I arrived here yesterday after having our first flight cancelled and the second - a day later - delayed by two further hours. We arrived at 4am and, after few sly backhanders, I managed to get my visa. Since then we've been somewhat overwhelmed by the heat, the noise, the humidity, the begging, the traffic and the pollution of Dhaka - the country's 10 million strong capital city. We've arrived in the rainy season and amidst Ramadan - the Islamic month of fasting. With 85% of the country being Muslims, few restaurants are open and we have to be careful where to sip our bottles of water so as not to give offence. Our pre-booked hotel is filthy and broken, so we hope to move to a better one tomorrow. We had planned to take a 36 hour river boat to the south of the country, but we found the ticket office shut today and not due to open for 3 more days. So we'll try a bus.
I drove down to Yuxi today (90 minutes each way) to hand-deliver a replacement passport to a Lattitude volunteer who lost his some three months ago. Getting the new one has been a very long and tortuous process. For example, the Australian Embassy insist on a personal visit from the applicant despite being 1500km (900miles) away ...and knowing nobody can fly or take a train in China without a passport.
Driving in China is very different from the West. In the city cars generally go very slowly due to congestion and the random driving of other vehicles. Traffic rules seem more like vague suggestions, with the huge numbers of bicycles and mopeds apparently exempt anyway. The expressways are often quite empty of traffic, but some drivers see this as an excuse to put the pedal to the floor and weave recklessly around other cars and trucks. You can usually see at least one accident every 20-30km.
In my experience, the top three worst drivers are:
Minibuses - often from the countryside and rarely with functioning indicators or drivers with brains. But they know all other vehicles are worth more than their junk-heaps, so we all give them plenty of room.
Black Santanas - a very common car here and, for some reason, always driven by idiots. Steer clear and expect random braking.
White-Plates - private cars belonging to soldiers, police, leaders, etc get a special white registration plate [see photo]. The rules of the road genuinely do not apply to them, as they will never get stopped, fined or prosecuted by the traffic police. So they happily drive through red lights, up one-way streets the wrong way, down bus lanes, etc. Any accident involving a White-Plate is always the other person's fault, and don't they know it. By far the worst drivers in China.
Past blog entries