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Saint Martin’s Coral Island

 

Saint Martin‘s Island is a quaint island off the southern most tip of Bangladesh. A coral island with diving to rival the Great Barrier reef or so the guidebook will have you believe. Again lies (Please see previous entry). The waters are a silty quagmire, and there is more coral in a 3 foot fish tank and fish to that matter. Because of its topography St Martins has shallow waters and most of the coral has been destroyed by the sedimentation that lies at the bottom, suffocating anything that would even consider trying to grow, like a pillow over the face of a wealthy, elderly relative that is just about to cut you out of their will and leave their money to Battersea Dogs’ Home. Combine this with the huge array of plastic rubbish and over fishing it leaves the diving to nothing but disappointing. Don’t come here for this, the Island attributes lie elsewhere.

 

Election fever is hitting Bangladesh and I am told that all mobile phones will be switched off for 72 hours, most  Bangladeshis will leave the Island to get back to their districts, and to coincide with this there is to be a general strike across the country bringing everything to a halt. This will leave myself with the fishermen and the few westerners that venture this far. To note: last time there was an election here it lead to an army occupation for 2 years, so it is probably best that I am tucked away in this enclave for its duration.

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St Martin‘s greatest asset is its beach which runs completely around its perimeter. a 3 to 4 hour stroll. It was on one of these walks I came across a huge mass of people chanting for their favourite politician. That is one of the 3 corrupt personalities that have spent time in jail for just that, what a choice and what an inspiration for Bangladesh. Its probably just then that the mass of people consisted mainly of children shouting out the name of their favorite corrupt person for something to do. It seems the system here, get as many people as possible together, it does not matter if they have an opinion or not, just as long as they can shout loudly, who needs policies and forums for discussion and accountability.

 

Another favourite pastime on St. Martin’s is trying to score illegal, smuggled alcohol. Being a strong Muslim island in a strong Muslim country, booze is not readily available. But with a few discreet questions there is always someone in the wings that is in the know. They are the fixer, the middleman between the smugglers and your hangover. Expect to pay 4 – 5 times the going rate for a ropey bottle of gin that has made it across the border, and through a minefield apparently, from Myanmar up some fisherman’s backside. Well worth the effort.

 

And then there are the children. Hundreds of them whom generally don’t go to school but work, selling stinky dried fish or cigarettes or hang around the beach. Who needs an education when commerce is the way forwards and the sea is the only university you will need. Hence their English usage is minimal, but they love to practice “Hello thank you goodbye where are you from”  is a common question or is that a greeting or reciprocation. They run around, completely starkers, oblivious to the world away from their coral island, or caral fsland as badly spelt on a tourist t shirt.

 

 

A new government is now in power and with it the locals talk optimistically about big plans for the Island – 5 star hotels, an air strip, restaurants, music and lights. I am sure it will happen, this is the gentrification process that happens to all places that can purport beach, sea and sun. It will be a shame in ways as the island will loose its honest charm, and the reef,  who knows the government might decide to protect it.

 

“Come to St Martin’s a caral fsland like no other”

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