Andamans - First day on Havelock Island

chris (2007-12-31 08:26:46)
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I woke up to the sounds of squawking geckos, wind rustling the palms and waves tumbling on the beach. At the outdoor wash basins whilst brushing my teeth, I met Soyoung, Kim and Bobby - other guests in the camp. We went together for breakfast and tea in the heart of village no. 3. Alongside the makeshift kitchen where we ordered food was the local nursery. Within were a dozen or so tiny kids supervised by a gentle brute of a woman, who sat motionless, barking orders at the little ones whenever they showed any sign of misbehaving. We sat on a pair of benches outside eating samosas and 'parata' with chapati. Two rather manky dogs came to watch, hoping for a morsel of food. To my left a three year old self-ejected from the nursery hut, lifter her skirt and peed in the dust before us. Job done, she waddled back inside to play with her comrades.

We finished our breakfast, then the others hailed an autorickshaw to cross Havelock Island to beach no. 7. I went to hire a bicycle. It cost 40 RS for the day. I was presented with a 1950's style push bike with no gears, a bum-bruising saddle and a deafening bell. I loaded my things onto the rack, then swerved my way through the village ringing the bell as if it was the horn on an auto.

Cycling across Havelock Island was more than incredible. I started by passing the 'Havelock Zonal Library' and decided that I would visit later in the day. Cycling out of the village I found myself surrounded by jungle. Makeshift homes revealed themselves amongst the trees. Sometimes a large clearing would appear, offering grazing for livestock or rice paddies in which men and women worked, ankle-deep in water. I kept on peddling, weaving through children, immaculately dressed in their school uniform. Many said hello and waved as I rattled and squeaked down the road.
Everywhere people were working. Men along the way were working on the road - resurfacing in preparation for a rumoured visit from the Indian President at the end of December. Their work was hard. They used circular metal dishes to carry stones or soil, usually hoisting them onto their heads to transport their contents to the leading edge of the new road surface. Large barrels of tar lay in piles with fires lit beneath them to liquefy the tar which was then scooped and sprinkled, offering an adhesive layer to the new asphalt. Trucks, auto rickshaws and motorbikes plunge into the billowing smoke, picking their way through the works, still hooting and only slowing down in the most extreme cases.

I couldn't quite make it up some of the hills. I had to dismount and push three times, stopping a fourth to buy cold water.

It was 40 minutes before beach no. 7 revealed itself through an opening in the trees. Beach no. 7 is a stunner, offering endless acres of pure white sand bordered by jungle, with crystal clear water splashing to a backdrop of birdsong. I waked for five minutes or so, then plunged into the ocean for possibly the most eagerly anticipated swim of my life.

I found kim and bobby floating around in the water a few hundred meters down the beach. We ate at Barefoot's 'jungle resort' - thali and beer at somewhat inflated prices. Barefoot is a sort of consortium with investment from fifteen or so partners from around India and beyond. Each investor is courted into injecting capital into a group of 'exotic tropical resorts' - apparently with no clear exit strategy. The land is simply leased fro local authorities. So the Barefoot group make their money from hopeful investors, who in turn hope to make theirs through hugely inflated prices for tourist accommodation and excursions. I was offered a snorkelling day-trip for 2,500 Rupees (that's about £30). Two days later I went on a self-organised fishing trip for 200 Rupees (about £2.50). So if you are travelling on a budget, expect to pay well above cost for anything through Barefoot.

The afternoon rolled by with more swimming and watching elephants stroll up and down the beach.

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