Island hopping in the Andamans

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We left early in the morning and sailed up the coast to visit Neill island.  This is one of the islands you can visit but the surf was too bad so we couldn’t land the dinghy.  We went snorkeling in crystal clear water and saw a some lovely fish life but the coral has been seriously depleted here and most of it is dead.  There are patches where there is new growth so hopefully it is recovering but it will be a very long process and many years before the reef is pristine again.  There are conflicting reasons the coral is in sure a poor state – we have been told it is global warming and also that the tsunami which hit these islands so badly caused the reef to lift bringing it closer to the surface. Either way it is very sad to see such large areas of reef dead – especially considering most of these islands are uninhabited and
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visited by so few people.  We spent the night on Neill and the next day headed for beautiful Radhangar Beach on Havelock Island.
20180120_155928 Beautiful Radhangar Beach

Havelock island is a tourist island with a few hotels (really backpacker places) and restaurants.  We anchored in the romantically called No 7 beach also known as Radhangar Beach.  This beach was voted as the Best Beach in South East Asia and I agree.  We launched the dinghy and headed into shore, again there was a surf but we did manage to get in pretty much unscathed.  We were met immediately by 2 officials in very tight fitting uniforms – seems to be the norm here – who wanted to see our paperwork immediately.  We hadn’t even pulled the dinghy up but they didn’t offer to help so we eventually got her safe and anchored and followed them down the  beach to their ‘office’.  We were then surrounded by 6 of them who all wanted to see, photograph and fill out various forms before we were allowed to walk down the beach.  About half an hour later we managed to get away and decided to take the bus across the island.For the grand sum of 30cents we had the bus ride of our lives….  It was so packed that personal space was non-existent.  Of course we were the only caucasians on board and even had our photo taken, so I obliged and took theirs back.  It took about 40 mins with the bus groaning to get up the hills and belching black smoke.  Havelock is covered in thick jungle so it was a very pretty journey and we arrived at the market in time for lunch.

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The people who couldn’t  get on the bus –

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The market in Havelock

We spent the day looking round this lovely little town and decided that we would explore more of the island by motorbike the next day. Unfortunately for us there was a strike planned so we took the rickety old bus back across the island and early the next day we sailed round to anchor in Havelock harbour for another night.
Even with the strike (all public transport and government workers) we had a lovely day finding the back streets, buying some fruit and we even found a great little ice cream shop. We felt a bit like royalty when we left in the dinghy as we had a jetty load of guys wave us off!
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 20180121_151324 The fruitsellers at the Jetty
We then headed north to visit the Button Islands. We went snorkeling but were a bit disappointed as most of the coral was dead. There was abundant fish life though which made up for it. We walked along North Button beach a but got bitten alive by sandflies so we headed back to the boat for our sundowners on board. The sandflies bites were very uncomfortable and so we decided not to venture on land at the other two Button Islands. Our next stop was Long Island a few miles further north. We were greeted on arrival by the ever present officials who wanted to sight everything. We told them if they wanted to see all our paperwork they would have to come on board – they declined but took photos of all the pages in our passports including our Thai visas! Boy you need patience with these guys… Long Island was cute – we walked around, passed the cows, goats and chickens grazing on the oval, spent a bit of money in one of the shops which they loved and then went back to the boat for dinner.
20180124_123214 The very crowded oval in the centre of town.
We have been in touch by HF radio with Mike & Sarah from Sv Soul and we were really happy to find that they were due to arrive in Port Blair in a couple of days so we headed back to catch up with them. We met them in the harbour and headed off into town for lunch. They were tired after the long journey so we all had an early night and the next day we arranged with Vijay – the resident taxt driver at the jetty – to take us to the Ross Island jetty in his old Oxford car for the 5 minute crossing.
20180128_092710 The Oxford car

Ross Island was the Administrative section for the Islands and then became a penal settlement but is now abandoned and is complete disrepair. There are remnants of the small town still there but now it is only inhabited by some deer. As Ian and I had already tried to get there but couldn’t because of bad weather, we knew which jetty to go to. Vijay took us to a jetty on the other side of the island to meet a friend of his who had a boat! We protested and said that it was Aberdeen jetty we wanted and he pretended not to know where it was! Eventually after a heated discussion he did take us to the right jetty – he didn’t remember we knew where to go! Unfortunately it was a Sunday and the public ferries weren’t running and we couldn’t get in a private one so again, we couldn’t go to Ross Island. Instead we had a fabulous lunch at The Lighthouse and went to the Anthropological museum instead which showed a very detailed history of the Andamanese people and their culture. Highly recommended. The afternoon was spent wandering around the markets and we ended up having a cup of chai at a fantastic street stall watching them make rotties and chatting to the locals.
20180128_142530Chai at our favourite tea shop
20180128_143548Roti making with a smile

We all jumped into a tuk-tuk back to the dinghy jetty with our take away from the chai shop – the cheapest transport in the Andamans.
The next day we headed south to catch up with Jeff & Cherie on Grasshopper. We all met up at Chidyatapu where we all had dinner on board Indian Summer – it was good to see them again – we hadn’t seen them since Rebak marina back in Malaysia.
20180129_190532 Dinner on board

The next morning Sarah & Mike and us went ashore to explore this tiny place. It is mainly used as a diving area and is spread out along the shore. We found an ECO centre and a fire station along with various little shops.
20180130_081707The waterfront at Chidyatapu
20180130_075041local kids outside their home.
IMG_6833 Soul & Indian Summer
Later that day we headed of to the Cinque Islands. These are the best islands in the Andamans but you have to pay both for your boat and per person to go onshore and so we anchored and just snorkeled around I saw a huge moray eel and there was great fish life but again the coral was not so good. There were some encouraging signs with much new growth so we are very hopeful. We dinghy drifted for quite a long way over some great rock formations and saw some very unusual fish – ones we had never seen before but without a fish book between us we didn’t find out their names!
That night we had dinner on board Soul and watched the rare blue moon come up from their deck.
IMG_6843 On board Soul watching the sunset and the moonrise.
The next day moved to the other side of North Cinque and did some more snorkelling. We were running out of time as we needed to get to Sri Lanka so the next morning we left Soul in the bay and headed back to Port Blair to check out. We found Rathnam and gave him all our screenshots of our passages and anchorages and he prepared our paperwork for leaving. It took over 24 hours but eventually we met up with immigration at the jetty. We were rather surprised this was where we were having our passports stamped until Rathnam explained that they caught their ferry home from here and wanted to kill two birds with one stone! We then had to wait for a couple hours while they looked for an ink pad to stamp our passports and we were then finally able to leave the country.

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