A little piece of India
10 February 2004 | Andaman Islands
"Our voyage hade commenced, and at last we were away, gliding through the clean water, past the reeds. Care was lifted from our shoulders, for we were free from advice, pessimism, officialism, heat and hot air."
-K. Adlard Coles
(well... not in this case)
We left Thailand in mid February and had a fast, but otherwise uneventful passage to the Andaman Islands 400 miles Northwest of Phuket. The Andaman Islands are part of India so the change came as a bit of a shock after being based in Thailand and Malaysia for the past year. This was definitely a small piece of India, reminiscent of what we saw in mainland India last year but surrounded in tropical blue waters, less crowded and not as intense. But the head wobble was unmistakable, the taxi's exactly the same imitation of the 1950's Oxfords and of course litter and cows everywhere. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there despite being a little frustrated at times by their bureaucracy and some restriction on our movements. We were required to check in with their port authorities every time we up anchored with an updated itinerary for the day, they kept a record of our movements at all times. However it was all worth it, as the scenery's unique and the fish life and diving is world class.
We arrived Port Blair, The Andaman Islands, Monday evening so actually only had 2 nights at sea. Not that it would have mattered as the conditions were perfect with 15 knots on the beam. In our last 24 hours we clocked 179 miles. Checking in here was quite an experience. Less fun than a trip to the dentist! Port Blair is a controlled port and you must obtain permission to enter and once anchored exact co-ordinates must be radioed to the Port Controller. All details were requested and everything spelt phonetically right down to port of registry. He obviously didn't understand my perfect Kiwi English. That was the easy part.
Next morning at 10.00 we are requested to collect three customs officials from the dock to start the clearance procedures. Everything started well - I even let one of them drive the dinghy - we chatted about the cricket, always a guaranteed hit with the Indians. Once on board an offer of a cup of tea was turned down in favour of beers.... surprise, surprise.. I dragged out some warm Chang's, another surprise they like, or actually prefer their beer warm - another legacy from the Pom's no doubt. Everything was going okay at this point despite the mountain of paper work they requested, much of which we had anticipated and prepared in advance. Then the Big Question.... "Do you have any compliments for us please". Now I'm no Einstein, but I figured out he wasn't expecting me to say that I thought he was a nice bloke or that he has doing a great job, he had his eye firmly on our grog stores. "What sort of compliments did you have in mind" I replied without flinching. "Two bottles of whiskey or something like that please". Now in line with our Nuclear Free and Corruption Free policy I said as politely as I could " No, we have no Whiskey on board and what alcohol we have, has to last us until the end of the year"
Clearly not the answer he was hoping for and things started going downhill from there. They insisted that all of the alcohol we had on board had to be counted and bonded onboard. Now we don't have a locker on board big enough to fit it all in "they're all full" we explained. They suggested we empty several lockers to make space "What are we suppose to do with the stuff we take out of those lockers" we asked. After lots of debate and accusations that we had far too much alcohol on board, they agreed that they would trust us not to touch it. We were told that they would board the boat again before we depart and if the quantities don't add up the shit would hit the fan big time. They then agreed we could take two bottles for our use and that if we needed more we would have to return to Port Blair and they may allow us additional bottles after they inspect the boat again! Yeah right! Whilst all this is going on we also get boarded by five coastguard personnel who arrived in a zodiac and wanted to search the boat for drugs, guns and side scanning sonar equipment.
They are all reasonably polite but it's a bit unnerving having these guys poking through everything, pulling books out of the book shelf to thumb through, playing with the computer when your backs turned. The comments and questions asked are in no way associated with the task they're here to perform. 'How much did your boat cost?" " How do you control your children from here?" " How old is Paula?" and "Why aren't you carrying guns?"
By this time the Port Controller is now repeatedly calling us on the radio asking us to collect the Immigration officials who are on the dock and had had been for the past hour. Eight Indian officials on board at one time are more than we can cope with. We refuse to collect them until we drop off the Customs guys, who by this time have realised you can't get blood out of stone. Paula takes them back to the dock and they appear a little miffed that the task was relegated to her and even more put out when she now refuses to let them drive the dinghy on the return trip.
Meanwhile the Coastguard has pulled the boat apart and decided that we are not a threat to National Security. After printing out screeds of lists for them and making it clear there were no "Compliments" for them they leave us in peace to deal with the two (now very grumpy) immigration officials who have become agitated at being kept waiting. An hour later I drop them off and return to the boat to help Paula tidy up. The whole episode had taken about 3 hours. Welcome to India!!
Last night we joined up with some other yachts to celebrate a birthday and went ashore for dinner. We had a blast, and the events of our first day faded away with the infusion of good company, Indian food and local beer .
Today we visited the Harbour Master and the Forestry and Conservation departments to file an itinerary and get permission to visit some restricted areas. They couldn't have been more friendly and helpful.
The town here is straight out of India. I guess being so close to Thailand we expected it to be a cross between two cultures, but it is very like Northern India we visited in November, minus the hoards of people . The taxis are old 1960's vintage Morris Oxfords, tuk tuks aren't, they are replaced with rick-shaws, sacred cows amble along the road or sit in the middle of it assured never to be touched, and the chanting and drums from the local Hindu temple sound like a massive party is going down. The woman, if you're lucky enough to see one, wear beautiful sari's even if they are doing manual back breaking work, (we saw one woman walking along the road with a load on her head that looked huge and heavy, with her husband walking along side with nothing but his briefcase!).
We visited the local markets and there is plenty of fresh fruit and vege's and they're cheap. Tomorrow we're off to explore the Islands and won't return to Port Blair until our thirty days are up and we need to checkout. The next trip to the Dentist no doubt!
04 December 2002 | Ko Rok Nok, Thailand
If you are having trouble with your fertility, you need to visit this place! Hundreds do...
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17 November 2002 | Butang Islands, Thailand
Our favourite group of islands between Thailand and Malaysia. It is a relaxing place to stop off to get back into 'cruising'.