In all honesty, I have to admit that visiting India or surrounding areas have never really been on my bucket list of things to do before I die or grow too old to enjoy life. However, when opportunity knocks one makes sure to grab it with both hands and to make the most of the experience at hand. It’s a mantra that I try and live in my daily life. Try everything at least once before you decide it’s not for you or not to your taste.
Our recent Andaman Island trip came about after hubby met and consequently befriended a boat owner from Andaman whom at the time was visiting Mauritius. The connection was immediate and the two kept contact even after the gentleman returned to the Andaman islands.
Now, for those not in the know. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are situated in the Bay of Bengal, in the Andaman seas off the coast of Thailand, but it falls under Indian reign. This Indian archipelago consists roughly of about separate little 300 islands and many of the more remote islands are totally off-limits to visitors as it is still inhabited by indigenous tribes. One can find more information on these in the Anthropological Museum in Port Blair if you visit the Andaman Island. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a popular diving and snorkeling destination, however, when hubby first told me about it I had to ask my friend Google, as I’ve never heard of it before.
The new friendship forged, life went it’s normal way with J working hard and consulting his new friend from afar. There is something you should understand, something that we’ve learnt on our visit, the way of fishing in the Andaman islands are still very primitive. Much more artisinal and more of a way of life with the men going out to the fishing grounds and the women acting as the fish mongers once the catch has been landed. But more about that in a later blog. The two men, after many months, came to a mutual agreement which morphed into an invite to visit the island to consult in person.
It took almost a from the date the decision was reached, heaps of red tape, official letters and permissions as it is near to impossible for foreign nationals to visit the Andaman islands for ‘business’. My visa was no problem but we had to jump hurdle after hurdle with hubby’s until at last every detail was in place and then…..the monsoon arrived early and we had to postpone. Our original trip was planned for May 2019, we only were able to finally depart on the 23rd of August this year traveling from Mauritius via Reunion Island and Chennai and reaching Port Blair the following day still catching the tail-end of their rainy season.
Our first two flights went without a hitch, can I mention here that in 24 years with this man we’ve never flown anywhere by ourselves sans the kids so this was a revelation in it’s own right…….I discovered he is a very impatient traveler. I found this hysterical. This is a man that spends 8 days out of 15-18 potential days on the boat, just driving the boat to the fishing-grounds. This in itself is a hell of a feat as they have no WI-FI,no means of communicating except for email and it can be a soul deadening experience, I know because I’ve experienced it before.
To now find out he’s got no patience whilst traveling made me laugh so hard. Here I thought I knew him better than I know myself. Just goes to show. 🙂
We landed in Chennai in a state of exhaustion and totally overwhelmed as the international arrivals side spewed us out in a loud, busy, and very humid city with the son of our host whom was supposed to fetch us nowhere to be seen. It begs to be said that the International arrivals hall in Chennai is not very tourist friendly and just contributed to the foreignness we experienced. We found out that our host was in the vicinity but delayed to the the mass construction going on in the vicinity of the airport and in parts of the airport itself as they are busy with upgrades which is perhaps not a bad thing because NOTHING can prepare you for the difference in culture and ways of doing things. My first images of Chennai consists of a blur of images as we endeavored to get through immigration unscathed, wanting to use the restrooms and being confronted with the ‘hole in the ground’ toilets that are traditionally Indian. Imagine my relief when I checked the third cubicle and found a more familiar western toilet to use. My sensibilities were JUST NOT ready for the hole in the ground experience.
Waiting on our host we were besieged by taxi-drivers from all sides while we kept trying to convince them that we had a ride lined up but it was just a tad late. It took us a few minutes to comprehend that one of the ‘irritating’ taxi-drivers was just trying to offer to phone and let our host know where we were waiting patiently for him. We were ever so grateful as our phones weren’t working and there was NO airport wi-fi. We consequently found out that it is near impossible for a foreigner to get a sim-card in Andaman, (I cannot vouch for India itself), but our host had to register one in his name for us and the whole process took days! Having said that, wi-fi and internet in general sucks in Andaman…….I would probably die if I had to live there permanently. 😉
When we finally found our host in the cacophony of noise, people, goats, cars, buses and more we were ever so grateful. We were just too happy to have a guide in this strange place which were so far out of our comfort zones, strange and unfamiliar. It took us another hour to reach the area where he lives and the short version of that is that it was an interesting drive. Also one that would nearly cause us to miss our flight to Port Blair the next morning due to unexpected heavy traffic. As dreary as the international arrivals side of the Chennai airport was as interesting (and a bit scary) was our checking in amidst great consternation and stress due to nearly not making it in time to board.
The departure area is so unlike what we are used to it took us a few minutes to figure out what we had to do and where. In Chennai you take your bags to the x-ray machines yourself, they get scanned and weighed and then fastened with big red cable-ties to show that they’ve been checked. You then proceed to check-in which was a mission as we were running very late by now. That had the adrenaline rushing a bit as had being separated into a women only line shortly after where I had to empty my handbag and camera bag to a spooky repetition of the rules and regulations being broadcasted on a little transmitter standing in the middle of nowhere.
I was taken aside into a flimsily erected dressing-room on the other side and frisked and scanned with a hand-scanner by a female soldier after which I could then proceed to join hubby on the other side. I was freaked out to no end as this was my first ever such an experience. We were not allowed to take any photos in many areas of the different airports so I cannot even share this experience with you visually but I was a bit traumatized after the fact to say the least.
It would seem in the light of the constant threat of terrorist attacks, security at the Chennai airport is to the extreme in some cases. For us westerners it came as a bit of a shocker but we survived it. We finally made it onto our Port Blair flight and could sit down and relax for the next two hours. Our landing experience on the other side was shrouded in the monsoon rains that gave us absolutely no view of the island as we descended and which didn’t let up for the rest of the day. But that is a story for another blog all together I think.
I hope you enjoyed the first blog on our Andaman adventure. I’ve got a few lined up so be sure to watch this space. ♥️