skull Last Dive! skull
skull Andaman Islands, India skull

Our beach tent

February 27

We arrived in Chennai, India in the wee hours of the morning. We were only here to catch our next flight to the Andaman Islands. We found our boarding gate, a most uncomfortable seat and fell sound asleep. We only had a couple of hours but the nap felt great. Then we were boarding again. As we got closer to the Andaman Islands we both got more nervous about our VISA. We weren’t entirely sure they had fixed it – just stamped and signed to get rid of us. In Port Blair we entered the airport and started to fill out more forms. I must say we have gotten Olympic calibre fast at filling out forms and were one of the first to hand ours in. I got chatting with an older English couple who were both nervous travelers. They usually just spend a week or so in Goa but this year decided to venture further, here. We all had to make it to the ferry terminal and they were a bit freaked out about it. I was too tired to care.

Everything went fine. We got our stamps and a cab and were soon getting dropped off at the ferry terminal. We are safely in India! We supposedly had a reservation (made by our hotel) but at the ticket office it was just a free for all. I stood outside with the bags while James got the tickets. I was very proud to see him not only hold his spot in line but get the tickets. The poor English guy was still trying to get his tickets as we left. I wasn’t worried for them or I would have stayed back to help. The ferry wasn’t full at all. It was dirty and smelly. Our seats weren’t near each other so I got to chat with an American couple. The crossing only took an hour or so.

In Havelock we got off the boat and made our way to the front gate. We had to stop at another check point where they took a little piece of paper they had given us in Havelock. All the tourists sat around waiting for them to copy the information and give us back the little piece of paper. Holy paper work!

There is just something about palm trees

Little piece of paper in hand we were off again. We caught a tuk-tuk and made our way (finally) to Barefoot Scuba. Yeah, we would be diving again soon. The island of Havelock had the same feel that Utila or Roatan has. It is basically one main road that wraps around the island. There were a few villages built up around major beaches (the villages had uninspired names, Village 1, Village 2, Village 3…) and one or two larger ones. We were village 3. We pulled into Barefoot Scuba and got dropped off at the reception. A tiki hut sort of shack in the middle of the yard. There was a restaurant, a dive shop, little bamboo huts (ONLY $1.50 CAD /night), tents and bungalows. It was all in a setting of white sand and palm trees. It was wonderful. Checking in I asked if we could up-grade. We were checked into a tent and I wasn’t all that thrilled. I had day dreamed about tents in Rajasthan, 5 star luxury tents, but doubted these (for $20 /night) would be even close. They were full. The staff showed us to our tent and I was shocked. It was amazing. It was on a big slab of concrete and had three separate rooms. The bed room, a changing room and bathroom. The furniture was teak and the floors had thick rugs. It was a bit stuffy but once the fans were on and the windows pulled up it cooled off. It had a thatch roof over everything including a patio in front complete with loungers. It even had a mini fridge. My only concern was that the tent wasn’t sealed to the concrete slab…could mice/rats get under it? The look on James’ face at this comment had me shutting up. On my first real night in India (the airport nap didn’t count) I was sleeping in a tent! How wonderfully exotic was that?

On the way to our beach
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 2MB)

The dive fleet

I unpacked and we headed to the dive shop. It was chaotic and the girl explained this was the Andaman Islands - a long way from any main land – and that hopefully we would be patient. Sure. I do have to add now though that “organization” doesn’t cost anything or has anything to do with where you are located. I really don’t get the sorry we are so unorganized we are in the middle of nowhere thing. The fact that they did have parts for the nitrox tanks I got, the fact that the restaurant only had half the menu items I got, the boat leaving 30 minutes late every day – I didn’t get.

After sorting out the diving we headed to our tent. Giggle Giggle I was so excited. We decided to eat at the hotel restaurant and were less than thrilled. But it was close and cheap. Before we got into bed we rolled up all the windows and let the fresh ocean breeze in. Along with the fans it cooled the room down and we both slept sound.

The underwater landscape

February 28

I have become a dive junkie. I couldn’t wait to get into the water. But had to wait…for a very long time. We went for our free breakfast and then to the dive shop. It was a mess of people and equipment and dogs and cats. We were finally told to walk to the beach but our boat wasn’t there. It pulled up and we waded out. We were a big group for the tiny boat and there wasn’t much shade. It was about 1.5 hours to the dive site. The ride was beautiful. We saw a few green islands with white sand beaches and only one or two looked to have many people living on them. On the ride we got chatting with a couple from England. They had been traveling India and were ending with some diving. We had thought about that route but decided we’d prefer to leave our gear in storage once we hit the mainland – can you imagine 6 whole weeks without carrying dive gear?

We did two dives. The first was pretty good and the second okay. When we did research the area didn’t hit any top lists; it was described more as average. It was nice easy diving though. The water was warm and there weren’t strong currents. The dives were a little deep because you had to go down a bit to get past the dead coral. They are showing the beginning signs of bleaching. The dive shop provided a decent snack and all the water we could drink. On the drive back I gave up trying to hide from the sun and just tanned. We got talking to the English couple about our tent. They were staying just down the road in a budget place. We laughed and said the best part was the fridge. Most places on the island didn’t have a licence to sell alcohol so we were going to pick some up. Their eyes lit up when we said that so told we’d pick up extra and they could join us after diving tomorrow.

Bargaining for dinner

Back at the shop we cleaned up and went to dinner at another Village. Or tried. Nothing was open so we got our beer/vodka and headed back to our tent. We figured we’d have a beer or two and then go. A few hours later we tried again. We sat down and were given a menu. When the guy came back to take our order it turned out they had almost nothing on the menu. Hmmmmm. Okay. So we decided to go to a cheaper place (we had thought we would splurge at this fancy restaurant) in the next village. We ended up in a tiny hole in the wall where we had to share tables with other customers. It was fun. We all chatted about where we’d been and where we were going. As we were leaving the English couple came in and we assured them we had stocked up.

There were no washrooms at the restaurant and I had to really pee. I begged James to get a tuk-tuk for the 15 minute walk home. He agreed but only if we walked around the corner so no one would see us getting a ride such a short distance. I’m still not sure who “they” would have been. Peeing aside, it was fun to walk back into our tent. I felt so spoiled.

The dive boat

February 29

We had another great dive day! It really isn’t amazing diving but just easy and fun. The dive shop is so unorganized it’s funny but we really have nothing else to do so we just sit back and relax. On our way to the second dive a pod of dolphins swam past. They played in our boat waves. It’s always a perfect day when there are dolphins. The boat today was a bit quieter. A group from yesterday were gone and the divers left were better about sharing space. The other couple was back on board and I enjoyed hanging out with them. It’s obvious I’m really missing friends at home. They told us about a guy that talked to them the day before. He got up in the middle of the night, in his very budget hotel, to pee and found a rat in the toilet. He didn’t know what to do so flushed it – then spent the rest of the night listening to it scratch the pipes as it tried to get back up. Ewwwwwww.

After diving they joined us in the hotel restaurant and we had a few drinks…a few too many. When the bottle of vodka and 10 beers were gone we walked into town for dinner. (I made sure to pee first). I had fresh from the sea fish. It was steamed in fresh herbs and was amazing…and cost about $2. We all walked home and I was asleep before my head it the pillow.

Nudi egg ribbon

March 1

During breakfast Sami walked up and sat down with us. His fiance had been up since 3 am sick. Our fish had been served with salad and I decided I couldn’t eat all my food so skipped the salad – they figured it was the salad – close one for me. They were skipping the dives today. The dive shop (once James pointed out they were sending 7 of us to the same sites as the first day) had planned for a smaller boat to take us somewhere else. By the time we got to the boat another couple had cancelled and we were just three. Us and a guy from Whitehorse. It would be our last day of diving for a very long time (well until December if I have my way) and a very nice way to end it. The boat was very tiny but lunch had been packed for 7 so we got to eat twice. Very nice.

Jellyfish kisses

During the safety stop in the first dive, as I was hanging on the rope doing my little underwater yoga, a jelly fish (the kind in a long string) wrapped around my arm. I screamed and started to frantically shake my arm. It felt like cigarettes were burning me everywhere the little red heads touched me. I got it off and the guide, who was right beside me, saw it immediately. He started to flick it with his tank banger trying to break it up. The Whitehorse guy was floating close by but with his face down with his shaved head pointed right in the direction the jelly fish was moving. I swam towards him and started to push him out of the way. He looked up startled and gave me a weird look. He turned to the dive guide and I’m sure wondered what the heck he was doing waving frantically at nothing. He didn’t see it. I had tears in my eyes for the rest of the stop. When we surfaced James asked what had happened. I tried to explain without crying. It really hurt. It was on fire. On the boat the guide gave me some vinegar to pour over it and it helped a tiny bit. Everywhere those tiny heads had touched I had a welt that was swelling as we watched them. It actually stung me through my bathing suit. The pain and fire feeling subsided but didn’t quite go away. When I hit the water for the second dive it stung really bad but by the end of the dive was feeling better. The swelling had gone down and all that was left was red dots. The amount of pain I felt I figured it would be weeks. The funny thing was that I still had the rash from the last time a hydroid got me. Diving is painful.

Jelly fish aside it was a great last day of diving. The Whitehorse guy was great company and it was fun to talk about Canada. After the diving we cleaned up our gear and sat on our patio drinking tea and eating cookies. I absolutely love being near the sea, and love diving even more. If I were a few years younger I’d get certified and spend a few years in the diving industry. I know it doesn’t pay much but it would be amazing to dive every day for months on end.

We had beer, cheese and crackers for dinner on our patio. I, as usual, threatened I was staying.

James getting a manicure from some cleaner shrimp
A nice swim through a school of fish
The always creepy sea snake
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 3MB, 9MB and 3MB)

Yummm. Sidewalk fish chunks.

March 2

Our next flight and the ferry schedule didn’t match up so we had to travel back to Port Blair and spend one night. I wasn’t excited to board the stinky boat but didn’t really have a choice. The crossing seemed to take forever. On the dock we got bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers. We had a good laugh at one that told us $12 was a good fair, an Indian fair. We walked to the road and paid $0.50. The guy we took said he knew our hotel – and what will soon be an Indian thing that will drive me nuts – and really had no clue. We drove around for a while as he asked directions and got cranky with us. We finally got to our hotel and checked in, dropped our bags and left for a bite to eat. We were taking Lonely Planet’s suggestions and walked about 15 minutes down the road. The place had a huge menu but again had almost nothing in stock. We were really wanting a cold beer and decided to leave when they didn’t even have that. We decided on a second choice and jumped in a tuk-tuk for the drive. He of course said he knew the spot. We drove around for way too long – I kept telling James we were going in the wrong direction. We had left the map at the hotel thinking we were going just going out to one place and returning – and at one point tried to drop us at the back entrance of a hotel. We said no, take us to the front – thinking he had brought us to the place we wanted – and he grumpily did. It was the wrong place. He then took us to yet another place and insisted WE had the wrong name and that we should get out now. So we got out, and then had the lengthy discussion with the driver as to why we wouldn`t be paying for the pleasure of wasting 20 minutes driving around to be kicked out even further away than where we started because he had lied and said he knew the place. We (now starving) had no idea where we were so got in another tuk-tuk and had him take us back to our hotel. We got the map and the same really nice tuk-tuk driver took us to the place we really wanted to go. “Sigh”

The correct place had a wonderful view of the ocean, delicious Indian food and cold beer. We lingered, enjoying the breeze and view. There is pretty much nothing to see in Port Blair so we went home early and spent the night in front of the tv. While we watched tv a news update came on. King Fisher Air was in trouble. King Fisher was who our next flights were with. We groaned and crossed our fingers. Hopefully we’d be okay. Not much we can do about it tonight.

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