India Part 8: The Amazing Race

On the way to Port Blair

My over-determined original plan of flying to Dharmasala (a small Tibetan influenced mountain town North of Delhi) to do a week long yoga class, then take a toy train down to Armistar to see the Golden Temple, was abolished when an unexpected cold front transpired.  My wanderlust attitude of just going with the flow and not adequately researching the inevitable;  snow in January in the mountains, led to the consequence of digging into my savings and impulsively buying a plane ticket to the Andaman Islands for my last week with Melissa.  After browsing through Frederic from Belgium’s pictures and listening to his seductive sermon about secluded white sand beaches, money was no object (in this situation at least!)  But in the wise words of Donald J. Wooden, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” right?

Can I at least get a receipt?

The islands were a bit of a trek, but the more of a trek, the more of an adventure in my moonstruck mind.  A 2 hour plane ride from Delhi to Kalkutta.  An hour layover on the plane.  Another 2 hour flight to Port Blair.  We were pleased when our bags arrived and we made it fully through to our destination this time as our previous flight didn’t go exactly as planned.  Read below.

[On the flight from Kochi to Delhi, just after our first week, Melissa was kicked off the plane on our layover in Hyderabad due to a misprint in the ticket.  The airline did not print the continuing ticket from Hyderabad to Delhi.  Meanwhile, as she was snapping pictures of all the attendants name tags and work badges who were demanding she pay the difference it cost for the remaining leg of the flight, I had lost my onward ticket stub, and asked to exit the plane as well!  I rummaged through my bag on the way out, happy to find a copy of my e-ticket and waved in the security guards face, while Melissa was still rightfully disputing her situation with SpiceJet staff.  In her desire to not be stranded alone, angrily in Hyderabad on our girls trip, just as the plane was taking off, she involuntarily forked up the money, and we carried on, then later filed a complaint and request for a refund which we are still waiting on.  Note: Spice Jet Sucks!]

Cap’t Dada

From the port, we hopped on a 3 hour ferry ride.  After befriending Cap’t Dada and getting front row seats on his ship, he pulled out the map to show us where we were headed.  Havelock Island.   The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a large group of nearly 600 islands in the Bay of Bengal. Though they are a part of India politically, they are closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to the Indian mainland.  Something about not knowing where you are going or where you are going to stay is exhilarating, but also burdensome, especially after learning there are limited amounts of accommodations on the island during high season.  It is merely impossible to book the cheap hostels ahead of time due to the lack of technological connection to the mainland.  In simpler words, the islands are disconnected from the world.  The handful of hostel less backpackers unloading off the boat and sparse budget accommodations made for extreme competition.

Damon and our flat tire during the race

The race was on.  Melissa spotted an empty rickshaw and strictly commanded the driver to step on it to the first hostel in sight.  Melissa jumped in and out at each hostel, investigating the perimeter of the property, peeking her head in occupied rooms, and inquiring about the price all before the next competitors bombarded in all the way down the main strip.  Things got a bit intense as a rickshaw with a pair of challengers, closely following behind, cut us off and took the last of the lodging on beach # 5, leaving our driver, named Damon, with a flat tire.  The sun was going down, and many other opponents still frantically bulldozing by trying to find a place.  Melissa, eager with passionate perseverance, jumped on a motorcycle while I consoled our wonderful, patient, racing driver, Damon, who was more concerned with our situation than his.  He transferred me to his friend where I randomly met up with Melissa at the wildly expensive, Wild Orchid hotel and restaurant.  We desperately asked the front desk man, Sanjeev, who greatly resembled an Indian version of the micro machine man, John Moschitta, if they had any availability, mentioning we would do the dishes, cook, clean, anything for a place to rest our head.  He responded in his fast paced, micro machine mumbled English that rooms were close to $100 a night, clearly not in our price range.  He proceeded to call every friend he knew on the island who owned a hostel.  Frustrated and flabbergasted by our situation, we were ready to give up until Shrudi, a waitress working at the restaurant overheard our cries of despair to Sanjeev and immediately called Coconut Grove, which we had visited early on in the race.  We then heard a “Thank you Harry,” and she hung up the phone.  She ordered us to go straight to Coconut Grove and speak with Harry who was holding a room for us for the next week!

Harry and his American girls

Harry, the owner, had opened C Grove 5 years ago in hope to cater to budget travelers, but his place is not easy to get into.  He picks and chooses very carefully and always holds his returning loyal customers as highest priority.  Once we learned this, even though we were paying about $8 total for our hut, we felt like we had climbed a little higher in the social hierarchy of the islands.  We were “in.”   Harry works closely with the locals and is adamant about keeping the island sustainable, eco friendly and campaigning against resorts and tourism that drives out the locals.  Harry and his heart made the atmosphere of the Grove more like a long term resting place to stay, while safely surrounded by a community or family of like minded people of all ages, contrary to a typical Lonely Planet advertised, money hungry hostel where strangers are coming and going every hour.

Pappa Bear, Lisa, Gino and Donna

We occupied hut C-4, nestled closely between our neighbors: Lisa and Pappa Bear from England, who annually rent C-3 for over a month with their best friends Donna and Gino next to them, and the Israeli couple who never left their porch once in the two plus weeks they had been vacationing there.  The majority of population of the inhabitants at Coco Grove were from Israel and had just finished the army.  To the left, Pappa Bears redoubtable roaring and snoring each night, matched in volume to the right by the Israelis late night shuffle of music and repeats of “Let it Linger” kept us from falling asleep and hitting the bottle a little harder than we usually would, counting the final stiff drinks of the night as our “nightcaps”  in hopes to be lulled to sleep by the alcohol, instead of the annoyances.  Richard, P Bear’s old school friend, sometimes joined us late night telling us his fishing stories and heartbreaks back in the day.  Pappa Bear interrogating us each day with “Mornin ladies…Did I snore last night?” while his wife Lisa sternly yelled from bed, “What do you think John?” fondly reminded me of my mother and father, which made this place feel even more like home.

Starry, Melissa and Eugene

Other long term tenants included Starry, from Korea, just across the way in hut C-14, who prepared us Melissa’s first Korean meal of, nothing but the best, ramyen and spam stir fry!  Eugene, also from Korea, specially bought a bottle of  cheap Indian rum to go along with the Korean instant dinner.  We sat and reminisced about cultural issues, concerns, lifestyle and politics of South Korea, while slurping down the salty noodles blasphemously using forks instead of chopsticks.  A little inkling inside of me missed cold, icy, frozen Korea while chatting away to my new Seoul buddies.  I quickly snapped out of it when I realized I was comfortably clothed in a sundress and sandals in a tropical paradise.

Coconut Grove

And then there was the interesting and intriguing European couple who spent their vacationing days de-fleaing the  seven newborn pups on their porch all day long with a bucket of flea bleach and a tiny comb.  After chatting with them for over two hours on their porch, ignoring the epidemic of fleas, I suddenly started to itch.  Maybe it was psychological, or a case of mosquitoes, but tiny red dots dotted my legs and arms after that encounter.  From that day on, I selfishly greeted the lovely, caring, couple with a wave,  smile and chat with enough distance from the pups and their porch to remain flea free.

We may not have won the Amazing race, or found a diamond in the ruff  (figuratively speaking, we did find a Diamond, to be later explained) but apart from the rawly repulsive washrooms in the huts and symphony of strident sounds during the night, we landed in a chill, cheap, not too shabby, beachfront hut with everything we needed.  But above all, great company, staff and memories.  With Damon still on our mind, wishing we would run into him and pay for his flat tire as an apology and thank you for his speedy service as he recklessly rushed us everywhere during the race, we were determined to find our friend before continuing on.  We had no idea at this point that he would play such an important role in our memories of our time spent in the Andamans….Stay Tuned for India Part 9!

“On the beach, you can live in bliss.”

– Dennis Wilson



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. woodman46
    Feb 17, 2012 @ 02:29:21

    Jo, How can you ever travel again without Priscilla…….whoops I mean Mellisa. She sounds like a miracle worker and knowing you as a father does I’m sure you worked a few miracles on your own. Get on with Part 8 quickly……….


  2. woodman46
    Feb 17, 2012 @ 02:30:17

    Sorry I meant Part 9.


  3. Donna
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 03:54:48

    All i can say is I want to follow you. I love everything you do and say and everywhere you go! :”Aunt Donna”


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