In 2013, WildTeam made history with the Wild Rickshaw Challenge. WRC saw 20 challengers from all over riding 400 kilometers on rickshaws from Teknaf to the Sundarbans, to raise funds and awareness for the Bengal tiger. To date, it is the biggest ever challenge event in Bangldesh.
We started this 400km journey from “Central resort” in Teknaf. After a bumpy bus ride we reached the beach side resort in the morning. There was testing rickshaw mechanism and practicing in the morning, press briefing in the afternoon and the mighty Bay of Bengal waiting for the challengers. At night there was a mini party with all challengers with photo sessions and welcome pep-talk. Our Directors Adam and Lucy described the next day’s plans and goals to all the participants. There was a little bit of rain at midnight. We the hosts were busy till 3 am to calculate all the situation and possibilities for next days.
17 February 2013, the date we were waiting for more than 4 months, finally arrived. We started our journey at 9 am from Teknaf. It was a lovely sunny day with soothing breeze; the road was smooth and full of fantastic sights with the Netong hill on one side and the beach on the other. The entire city people were astonished by seeing the 10 rickshaws that’s driven by foreigners; they became curious, just stood and gazed! Some children started running beside the rickshaws. Some rickshaws still had mechanical issues and broke down, immediately the challengers came down from their seats themselves and fixed that problem. When the road became hilly, one rider pushed and helped the rickshaw go up. Our photographers were keeping themselves busy by capturing each and every moment. The local people came to know about these events by newspapers and they were waving their hands by standing beside roads. We took our 1st break after 25 km at the “Dailpar stony sea beach”. After a day frull of steep slopes, shaded groves and even bamboo gardens, we reached our first pitstop at Mermaid Eco Resort. First 60 kilometres complete!
February 2013 was a month full of political unrest, there were strikes and violence everywhere – many believed our journey was almost impossible. But at Wildteam we don’t have the word impossible in our dictionary. We crossed the tourist city of Bangladesh “Cox’s Bazar”, world largest sea beach, “Chittagong Cox’s Bazaar highway” and the country’s largest port city “Chittagong” without any mishap and in great spirits. On the way there was a Bar-B-Q night, and a camping night with bonfire and great food. For many of us, one of the most memorable moments was visiting the Shaheed Minar on International Mother Language Day, where people from so many nationalities stood together to pay respects to the martyrs of Bangladesh’s language movement.
At Chittagong, our favourite ambassador Svend Olling and his son Asbjorn left us. Anne Marie and Christopher took their places by joining with us from Chittagong. The next phase of our journey began with a launch ride to Barisal over the mighty river Meghna. The Rickshaws too rode on a boat! We enjoyed a beautiful blazing sunset on the launch. Finally by night we reached Barisal, once called the “The golden city”! From Barisal, the landscape changed completely. The hilly slopes of Teknaf and the busy roads of Chittagong were replaced by serene shaded rural roads. The days were pleasant and the challengers got a taste of the green Bangladeshi countryside. On the way to Baagerhat we visited the historic Shat Gombuj Mosque where the challengers learnt more of our heritage. One day we had our lunch inside a local house, and everyone was moved by people’s hospitality.
The history making WRC came to end in Chandpai, at the edge of the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. There a warm reception was waiting for the participants with Coconut water, flowers and ‘Gamcha’! The challengers soared through the decorated finish line at the end of 400 kilometers and there were tears of joy all around. The last day was for visiting the Sundarbans and all about having fun!
Next day we let our rickshaws rest and set out on WildTeam boats Chaprakhali Ranki and Kodomtola Rani towards the Sundarbans. There was freshly caught fish for lunch cooked right on the boat. Some lucky ones spotted Ganges River Dolphins on the way. We reached Harbaria at noon; Harbaria is one of the few points in the Sundarbans where visitors are allowed. There is a long wooden walkway and a watch tower allowing the visitors to breathe in the forest sight and sounds. Harbaria is frequently visited by tigers and we were lucky enough to see fresh pugmarks by the water bodies. Suddenly we came across a mud pond, and our director Adam jumped right in and dragged everyone else into a spectacular mud fight. At the end everyone was waist deep in mud and grinning from ear to ear.
By sunset when we were getting ready to head back, everyone became nostalgic; the twenty challengers and WildTeam members, who were strangers just ten days ago, became a close knit family. For ten days we ate together, had fun together, suffered from exhaustion together and rose up with renewed spirit together.
There were countless memorable moments in the course of those ten days, but what made WRC possible was the awesome spirit of the people. This was the first challenge event for WildTeam and we were learning while doing. But whenever a problem arose, we found the challengers themselves raising their hands to solve it. Rickshaw gears aren’t working? Leigh came up to fix it. Tents won’t open? Matt and Naile became tent champions. Every time we stopped for a break, hundreds of children would come and Quinn talked to everyone with a smiling face. Florian ran around with a notebook learning Bangla words and phrases – everyone in the team began calling him Mama! Mikey was the king of multi-tasking, paddling a rickshaw, taking pictures, making a video; all without showing the least bit of stress. Ed and Fred travelled the whole path with their own tiger mascot-Mr Hobbs, who became a favorite with all the challengers. When I look back at the time, it’s the people and their smiling faces that I remember most.
The Wild Rickshaw Challenge was a team effort, during WRC we covered the longest sea beach in the world (Cox’s Bazar), we passed one of the busiest port cities in the world (Chittagong port), we sailed through one of biggest rivers in the world (Meghna), and we discovered our childhood in the largest mangroves forest of world. This is all, the small story of ten days. Those ten days was not only just days or just a challenge event, those ten days were a collection of stories and memories that will last a lifetime. Completing WRC gave us belief that we could do anything. That we could create history while making people smile, that we could make a real difference – if only we dared to care for tigers.