It was a four day sail via the Similan islands to the Andamans arriving with an escort of dolphins. We arrived about 4pm and spent the evening lying on the trampoline listening to Indian music coming from shore. We were in definately in India now. After a good nights sleep we prepared for the well reported arduous check in procedure which we had been warned could entail a wait all day for the officials to come to your boat, so we were pleasantly surprised when they turned up at 11am! All 11 of them – we even had the coastguard contingent come over who proceeded to take quite a few pictures of both the outside and inside of Indian Summer. It seemed very overcrowded and one of the customs agents wanted a beer for his trouble but the whole process went off really smoothly considering we had to produce over 70 pieces of paper including lists of provisions, electronic equipment, medications etc. They locked up our sat phone in a tupperware with some duct tape and stamped every piece of paper with our boat stamp and we were done and dusted by 2pm.
We had to tie up to the ‘new’ vehicle jetty but as there were no cleats, a boatboy turned up and got into our dinghy and took her over to be tied up to a larger boat. He then clambered over the said larger boat, and over the one next to that and the one next to that which was tied onto the jetty! We were really happy we didn’t have to go through this process every time we left the dinghy – we just climbed onto the steps.
Rathnam had his driver waiting for us and he drove us into Port Blair which is only a few kilometres from the jetty. Wow – what a lovely assault to the senses. The colours, noise, smells and complete step back in time. There were Morris Oxford cars,cows, goats, tuk-tuk’s and beautifully sari-clad women. Nearly all the women wore traditional saris – and the little girls were all dressed like they were going to a party in brightly coloured dresses.
We had lunch at The Lighthouse restaurant – very popular and really good food. We seemed to be the only westerners here – we are quite early in the season as most boats won’t be arriving until mid February, and I felt quite under-dressed in comparison to the gorgeous well-dressed women around me!
We spent the afternoon exploring Port Blair – we went to the markets and were very impressed with the quality of the veg – we even found snow peas and beetroot. It was similar to many other traditional markets that us cruisers always go to when we hit a town but this one had the lovely smell of curries and Indian spices which gave it a definite Indian feel.
We also went to Rathnam’s office to use the internet. There is very poor internet in the Andamans – the restaurants which have wifi are very slow and often time out so to we used Rathnam’s office to check in with home. Before we arrived, we had to submit a daily itiniery of where we were going to be every night. The Andamans are very strict about knowing exactly where you are at any given time and recently have stopped yachts from landing on most of the islands. As a result we had to change our route quite a lot – with many islands within marine park which meant we couldn’t anchor. We had originally wanted to head to the west cost via the Homfray Straight which cuts through Middle Andaman and North Andaman but now this was not an option as they have stopped yachts from going through. We also wanted to visit some of the islands on the west coast but these are now also on the ‘do not land’ list so we decided to just explore the east coast. They have also requested that not only do we have to call in twice a day to report our position but we have to take a screen shot of our track to submit to the authorities on departure. The bureaucracy in India has to be seen to be believed.
The next day we headed back into Port Blair to visit the Cellular Jail. This jail was used by the British for political prisoners from mainland India. It is called the Cellular jail as it only consists of single cells condemning the prisoners to solitary confinement. The gallows are still standing and the cells are tiny. It contained 696 cells, all measuring 4.5 x 2.7 metres. The ventilation/window was place so high it was impossible to see out. There were 7 wings with a central tower where the guards to see all wings. It was designed like a bicyle with the wings being the spokes. Only two of the wings remain but the central tower is still standing and it was quite creepy standing there looking down at the cells.
We tried to visit Ross Island but it was too windy for the boats so we jumped into a tuk-tuk and found a cute little restaurant and had another fabulous curry – I think Indian food has become my favourite.
We headed back to the jetty where our dinghy was retrieved by the boat boy (he must have been at least 45) who earns $2.50 for every boat he looks after and was always wiggling his head enthusiastically and smiling and laughing. He was a delightful character and he would spend all day on the jetty waiting for dinghys. As we are the only boat at present here he must have had a lot of free time!
We set off the next morning for the islands. We are also hoping to catch up with Sarah & Mike from SV Soul who we were going to come with us but unfortunately are still stuck in Phuket with equipment failure.