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Magic days, Miracle nights | Wandering Barefoot in the Andamans

Cara posted on 12 October

By Cara Tejpal

Admittedly, I wrote six pages of pretentious prose in my one month in the Andamans.  The usual tripe – “ life changing," “adventure," “new friends," “sun, sand, surf, forest.” Right ingredients, wrong flavor.

So, I’m going to spare you the flowery spiel, banish that document to the deepest, darkest recess of this laptop, and instead, do what comes quite naturally to me – tell you how to live your life. It’s easier this way; you either follow my instructions, or you don’t. Yes, I’m feeling a little bossy, bare with me {pun intended, you wear very little on tropical islands}.

Book a ticket to Port Blair and make sure you get a window seat. Pack light, backpacker style, and make it to the airport on time. This is to avoid fighting with your father, running over your own foot with the trolley and spending the entirety of the flight trying to slow your racing heart. No use. It only beats faster when you get your first glimpse of azure waters and lush islands. You've obviously already planned to spend a couple of weeks at the ANET {Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team} base camp, and have mailed ahead to book your volunteer stint. Because you’re so organized, there’s a smiling, waiting taxi driver who chauffeurs you out of the mess that is Port Blair, and into the paddy fields and rainforests of South Wandoor. Now, quickly settle in to life on the islands. Forget the existence of things like shoes, denim, and running water. Tuck your mosquito net tightly around you at night. Work hard. Catch male fiddler crabs and measure their big claws. Survey amphibians in the dead of the night, and monitor trees by day. Record your information meticulously. There’re a bunch of international volunteers here. Unleash your inner extrovert {paradoxical?} and play raucous games of taboo and charades. For moments of solitude and soul searching, wander in to the mangroves when the tide is out. Be careful of snakes, and since I’m dictating your existence – you love all wildlife. The snakes don’t freak you out. Today, go hiking. Pack a snack and a bottle of water, and wear your bikini under your shorts. One hour through pristine rainforest, down a waterfall, and out on to what is quite possibly the most beautiful beach on the world. Sun soaked? Strip and skinnydip.

Ok. ANET is exciting but there are more adventures to be had.  You speak to people who tell you about Chalees-Ek. Forty-one caves that host the Edible nest swiftlet on another island far-far away. Strange little birds that you already know about {you love wildlife, remember} and can't wait to see. So, pack a bag and board a bus. Rattle through many kilometers of Jarawa forests and onto ferries that take you further away from home. A bus on a boat in the sea! Reach Mayabunder, stay in some crappy guesthouse. Next morning, meet Alex- your awesome tattooed, muscled guide. He navigates you through open waters to reach Chalees-ek. Hike, hike, hike, rain. Hello, forest guards. Caves! Squeeze through the tiny gap in the mountain face and plunge in to darkness. Stand knee deep in guano {bat shit.}, brave the bats and see these exquisite birds. You want to see more but the weather is too temperamental. Instead, agree to hike to the top of the mountain. Regret your decision as you stumble barefoot over crags and crevices. Know your mortality. Scale the peak, feel smug. Then there’s a torrential downpour that puts you in your place. Back down, slip and slide and earn some gorgeous bruises. You’re exhausted; you get back to the beach to find your dunghi has capsized. Battle the waves in an effort to turn over the boat, but ultimately resort to salvaging pieces of the shipwreck. Wait around for your rescue boat whilst being consumed by sandflies. It’s dusk by the time the new craft arrives. Clamber on to the boat. Shiver as the weather cools. Watch the skies go from ember to charcoal. Smile at the luminescent plankton that the spray is throwing up.

Downtime. This has been hectic. Now you’re going to invite a friend from the mainland to the Andamans and take a ferry to Havelock Island. A life of hedonism, por favor. Stay in bamboo huts on a tight budget. Devour nutella crepes and wash them down with cold beers. You have to now rent a cycle and traverse the picturesque villages from Vijaynagar beach to Radhanagar beach.  One cliché coming up – sun, sand, surf. Seriously. Don’t move till you can feel the sun in your bones. That’s an order. Because you’re lucky enough to have me rule your life, you’ve timed your visit well. The monsoons haven’t quite started so you can get a diving certificate. You’re aching to stay longer but the rains will soon begin their plunder of the islands. Admire your bronzed limbs, pack your filthy rucksack, get to the airport {on time}. Dammit! Delhi’s calling.

You’re on your own. I have commitment issues, I‘ve spent too much time with you already. It was good, no it was GREAT while it lasted but my own life demands my undivided attention. You see, there’s pretentious prose to be written and new places to get lost in.

Was this too fast for you?  Keep up. In the words of the Queen of Hearts,

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland