Andaman Island – the first few days
I’ve written only a little about our Andaman adventures last year, partially because while we were there the internet was non-existent at times so sharing anything online was just way too much trouble. Then we came home and life went back to normal so quickly that it sort of fell to the bottom of my list of priorities to do.
It seems like now, being in lock-down, with little else to do might be a good time to share some more of this adventure. In my previous blog I only managed to get as far as our arrival and then to my horrors I never told the rest. https://www.karolien-thereslifeafterkids.com/andaman-island-leaving-on-a-jet-plane/
Arrival in Port Blair was a bit of a culture shock to say the very least. We were the only two westerners on the last leg to the island and stood out like a sore thumb to say the very least. It was very clear that foreigners are a bit of a curiosity. Although everyone was super friendly and courteous they kept staring at us. My blonde hair and blue eyes caused a huge uproar everywhere we went for the next 2 weeks but more about that later.
Upon arrival we were frantically looking for the restricted visitors permit counter as it was made very clear to us that we couldn’t enter until we’ve filled out the necessary paperwork. Finally getting to the counter we were told that the RAP (Restricted Area Permit) has been scrapped a week or two before our arrival so imagine our relief at not having to jump through another bureaucratic hoop after 2 days and 3 flights. Just getting all our paperwork for this trip was a nightmare and took about 10 trips to the Indian Consulate in Mauritius I kid you not. Mine was approved fairly quickly but as hubby was going to consult a fishing vessel owner he had to apply for a conference visa (equivalent to a work visa). The hoops we had to jump through to get this was impressive. Taking into account that he was one of the first foreigners ever to be granted permission to ‘work’ as such he was subjected to a whole list of rules to stick to whilst on the island. The Andaman government take their rules and regulations very seriously! It was a bit of an eye-opener to see the strict rules imposed on tourists. Click on this link to read more. https://www.andamantourism.gov.in/Foreigners.php
In some areas the taking of photographs is strictly prohibited. I also mentioned getting a sim-card is next to impossible for a foreigner and our host had to apply for one for me. It also has an expiry date so when you get it, it is only valid for the however long you choose to register it for ie mine was valid for a month. Thereafter you have to re-register. The government are sticklers for staying within the rules. This meant that they would follow up with our hosts and guesthouse every couple of days asking about our whereabouts and daily routine. We were warned not to hold a conversation with anyone in an official position unnecessary so you can imagine I mostly spoke to no one outside of our host and his family.
Port Blair is a mix of Indian people from everywhere in India. Mostly Hindu from what I could gather but I’d rather not be quoted on that. This is what I gathered from my stay there. Our hosts were a kind Iranian family who’s been on the island for more than 40 years but still speak Persian in their home. They came to the island due to persecution in Iran because they practice the Baháʼí Faith. Learning about their faith by using Google was very interesting. You can read more about it here should you wish so; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baháʼí_Faith One can sure learn a lot in one’s encounters with others.
We were booked into a ‘self-catering’ room with ensuite bathroom a few kilometers from where they live. Self-catering in Andaman meant a curry and rice vegan dish and some sweet tea for breakfast, I declined after the first day. I can do curry any time of the day BUT not for breakfast. I made sure to pack my jar of Nescafe so I ordered 2 cups of boiled water each morning and a few times throughout the day to the consternation of the staff who didn’t know about our stash.
We didn’t see the host family daily but hubby and our host worked together every day whilst I was left mostly to my own devices during the times I chose not to accompany them to the harbor or whatever mission they were on at that time. Going out on my own was a tad daunting in the beginning not to lie.
Venturing out I made sure to wear some of my long dresses and covering up with a scarf around the neck. I did check on dress-code with our host before flying over and he sent me a voice-message chuckling whilst saying I’m welcome to drape myself in approximately 5 yards of material as is custom if I feel like it but other than that just dress as conservative as possible, well; that was a challenge after a year of living in shorts and short dresses in Mauritius but I managed to sort some outfits before leaving.
I quickly found out what an oddity I was to them when I went about my way greeting, making eye contact and smiling at everyone I encountered not understanding the incredulity displayed by most before they cautiously smiled back. When I mentioned this to my host he thought it was hilarious and then he explained that in the Andaman culture it was not the done thing to greet women as they are seen as ‘below one’ and me being a foreigner and a blonde and blue-eyed on at that was seen almost as a deity. As far as greeting the men, they were just plain chuffed that a foreign woman was taking the time to greet them as it wasn’t expected in their world. Both these statements were a shock to the system as being an extremely extroverted person and a South African at that it’s sort of a given to at least nod your head at someone when making eye contact.
Port Blair is the ‘hub’ in North Andaman. The capital city for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A hustle and bustle of buses, taxis, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, people, and the much-loved tuk-tuk which is a very much preferred way to get around. Not a lot of tourists around but a very very busy place indeed. Cows and goats everywhere, even in the road and NOT to be disturbed. Just drive or walk around them and make sure you have eyes in the front, sides and back of your head if you choose to cross the road because doing so is not for the fainthearted.
Something else to remember when visiting Andaman is that drawing money can be a huge problem. We were embarrassed by not being prepared with having cash on hand by having to borrow money from our host when not ONE of our bank cards worked at the ATM’s. It took us 3 days of trying every bank ATM in our vicinity until at long last we found one that accepted one of our cards even though this is something we have made sure to pre-arrange with our bank. It seems that the lack of internet also plays a role in whether the ATM’s can actually access the information needed to use a foreign bank card. Having said that, the transaction was extremely complex but we managed to figure it out eventually. This is where teamwork comes into play. One reads the instructions and the other one presses the buttons and then hope for the best. The best was when those rupees came flying out the machine.
What we didn’t realize was that although we now had money, there wasn’t all that much we could spend it on. Visiting one island from another island means I wasn’t really into the touristy gimmicks and we quickly discovered that shopping in Port Blair was quite a different story to the shopping that we were used to back home. For instance, shops don’t sell any meat or frozen products at all. All produce, from the chicken you want for supper to the veggies and fruit is sold at the very chaotic marketplace. Guess what? We ate no meat for the next 12 days. Let’s also say I was extremely grateful for the box of tissues that I made sure to pack as in Port Blair finding toilet-paper was close to impossible and met with peals of laughter when I asked for some in the shop.
Having no access to prepacked foods and fresh fruit and veggies didn’t matter as we had no access to a kitchen to prepare such foods in any case but it was an interesting observation showing casing the difference in needs and priorities. Something else that has been surfacing more and more during our current lock-down as the needs of the ex-pats and the island people are the same in the sense that we all need food but it differs vastly in the type of food and perception as to what is essential and what not. Not being able to cook our own meals meant that we had to find a restaurant or two to cater for at least one proper meal per day during our stay. This turned out as big as a challenge as the rest of the trip although we stumbled upon a little (of all things) Italian Bistro down the road from where we stayed. Needless to say we spent most of our evenings there scoffing a pizza or pasta after a day of very little food.
One of the other things we were very explicitly warned against was to NOT accept any water that has been opened already. Nor tap water. This was one rule I did NOT break as I was not keen on falling ill whilst on holiday. Delhi-belly was NOT going to spoil my trip so I only consumed water with the tops still secured and I was super cautious as to where and what I ate. I’d rather just have a handful of nuts than chancing getting sick. I was fortunate to have found a little hole in the wall restaurant where I found nuts very cheaply and freshly made milkshakes for about R10 each. Visiting India and in main Port Blair I can truthfully say foodwise it was one of the cheapest holidays ever.
I’ll end off on that note and save some more for a later blog. Hopefully it won’t take me another 6 months to write. #winkwink