Intense poverty after a hectic approach

Sunday, October 20, 2013
Chittagong, Bangladesh
Where to get avgas? That's always a lingering question on this trip.  Apparently Chittagong is the place, so that’s where we had to go.  We were a bit trepid about going to Bangladesh, thinking it would be the wild west for general aviation, but we didn’t have a choice. 

The fun began when we found out over email during breakfast that we didn’t have the right permission number to enter the country .  A few phone calls later to the Chittagong control tower and at least that was resolved.  From there it was off in a gentle steady rain to the airport.  Amazingly, the people on the way were joyful and going about their business as usual in the flooded streets.  Cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, you name it, rain or shine they were out and about.

At the airport we knew we would be in for some chaos, bureaucracy, and negotiations.  Our self-made "Pilot & Flugzeug" ID badges and pilot shirts got us through security to immigration.  That’s when the bills came for landing, immigration, parking, and handling.  All were okay except the handling fee, which we have come to realize is generally up for negotiation.  In the end, we got them down 60 %25 on the handling fees.  All in all it was a friendly process and everyone left smiling.  Funny to us were their repeated attempts to get the cleanest, crispest dollar notes from us as well as the broken chairs they stacked on top of one another to make a functioning one .  This surely wasn’t an FBO lounge in the US. 

Our flight was often rainy but at least not too turbulent.  For the most part with small corrections we could slalom through the clouds.  Things though did get frustrating once we crossed the border into Bangladesh.  We couldn’t reach anyone on the radios and no one was there/willing to do a relay for us.  We were stuck cruising at 14,000’ much longer than we’d liked as we neared Chittagong airport.  Finally we reached the Chittagong tower and not 15 miles from the airport began our descent.  We were trying to plummet from the sky while at the same time get clearance for an ILS approach due to weather.  I was rambling too fast on the radios for them, and they were giving me instructions that to me weren’t relevant.  They cleared us, for instance, for an approach that started far from the airport when we were overhead.  Everything worked out smoothly in the end and we saw the airport still thousands of feet up, but it was just a lot of misunderstanding and juggling essentially right over the airport

Upon lading we were approached by folks for avgas and they brought over two drums.  There was the usual haggling over price with each side playing tough, but in the end we knew they held all the cards so we agreed to their poorer exchange rate.  It was sweaty work in the humid heat, but when we were done Maggie was very full once more with the rare avgas.  We cleared customs easily after giving all the gas folks their requested baksheesh.  This wasn’t Kansas anymore. 

From there we were met with a shock as we left the confines of the airport grounds.  Almost immediately two street kids came and asked us for money.  One a pretty, very skinny, disheveled girl, the other a young boy missing his lower right arm.  It was a pitiful sight.  An army man scared them away, only of course to ask for baksheesh himself a minute later.  Oh man.  We jumped into a gated tuktuk, as they all had aftermarket security welded on them .  Again, what a different world.

The streets to our hotel showed an impoverished sight.  People were happy, but they certainly had less than any other country we’d visited.  Myanmar was very wealthy in comparison.  Our hotel provided us a gated isolation from the blatant conditions around us, but that of course only increased our discomfort with the entire situation.  The few that had money were isolated from the masses that had very little.  We took a 45 minute walk around our hotel and were inundated and eventually overwhelmed by the conditions.  The people just had very little, and the shops had few people to sell to.  By the time we were done walking around, there was a small band of people, mainly kids and one persistent rickshaw driver, following us.  We had a beer, in what is one of the saddest hotel bars I’ve ever been to, in order to calm ourselves.  We had little appetite for dinner, and for the first time desired to eat in the hotel than go back outside.  Online reviews told us that two of the Top 10 hotels in the city were KFC and Pizza Hut anyway.

Bangladesh is not for the faint at heart or novice traveler easily put off by blatant poverty, dirt, and rancid smells. 

Routing from Mandalay (VYMD) to Chittagong (VGEG): BGN AVLED at 14,000’ with a flight time of about 2h10m.
Other Entries