Our short jaunt to the Andamans started with a flight from Chennai to Port Blair. The flight was two hours and five minutes long. From the plane, the view was magnificent. When we landed, we saw someone standing with my mom’s name on a board. Mom had a long conversation with the driver about the islands as we drove to the ferry point, while I just sat and looked at the view. We were greeted at the ferry point with two boxes of food and water and told to wait till the ferry arrives. The boat ride was one-and-a-half-hour long and the ride wasn’t very pleasant; so I fell asleep. When Mom woke me up, I looked out and the sight was spectacular. The sparkling emerald-green water reminded me of Maldives. After a thirty-minute drive through the villages of Havelock Island, we arrived at the gates of the Barefoot Resort. While on our drive to the hotel, I had noticed that a solar power plant, but it didn’t seem to be functioning. It is quite sad that the Andamans gets its electricity from burning fossil fuel when they could be generating electricity from solar power plants.
At Barefoot Resort, the staff greeted us with two big coconuts filled with water. After checking in, we walked to the beach to enjoy the sunset. What a beautiful way to end a long day! All the fish at the hotel restaurant was the day’s catch and very fresh, so we had a delicious seafood platter for dinner.
Mom shook me awake at 5:30 in the morning because she had booked a scuba-diving refresher course for me. I ate a light but high-calorie breakfast consisting of eggs, toast and hot chocolate. After breakfast, we walked down to the jeep to go to ‘Barefoot SCUBA’. I had got my diving license in Redang, Malaysia, when I was ten years old. I hadn’t gone diving since, but before I came to the Andamans, I read through the course book just to remind myself. Just to be safe, Mom made me do a refresher course. At the scuba center, I did some drills and took a small recap test. Then we set off in another small jeep to the mangrove-lined beach. Mom sat on the beach while I waded into the water and put on my equipment. The dive coaches were very helpful and we went over all the important signals. I got used to it after a while. There was another person with me who had just started to learn how to scuba dive. He had to do all the exercises but I only had to do half of them. Since I was ahead of him, another coach had to come and train me because we were running out of time.
After the training session, we went for our dive. The aquatic fauna we saw underwater was amazing. I saw clams that closed up when you went near them. I also saw a puffed-up puffer fish and schools of clown fish swimming around the coral reef. The sunlight filtered through the water and made everything look magical. The forty-five-minute dive was over so quickly that it felt like it was only ten minutes long. When we came up to the surface, everybody else had left and Mom was the only one left on shore. It took half-an-hour for the car to come and pick us up. We had to stand in the hot sun while swatting away the sand flies. When we reached the scuba diving centre, we had to wash all the equipment and put it back. As soon as we reached our hotel room, I ran to the showers.
For dinner we went to a restaurant called ‘Geeta Restaurant’. Even though it was just a little hole-in-the-wall, it was highly recommended by the locals for the seafood. What the restaurant lacked in ambiance, it made up with its food. The prices were very reasonable and it was a one-man show. We ate lobsters and crabs to our hearts’ content.
Main Scuba Diving at South Button and Tamarind Island
Mom booked scuba diving for me again because I really enjoyed it the first time. The only downside was that we had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning again. I didn’t really care because I was so excited that I was already awake when the alarm rang. Since we were already staying at ‘Barefoot SCUBA' so we just needed to get out of our room and walk towards the scuba center. My dive instructor, Marcus, was waiting for us. He helped me choose my equipment and we started to walk towards the boat. The ocean today wasn’t very choppy so it was easy to walk to the donga. We had to take the small donga to the big boat, which would take us to Tamarind Island and South Button Island for scuba diving. There were many other people who came with us. Mom had a long conversation with Marcus, my diving instructor, about cooking because he used to be a chef and Mom has written a cookbook. I was busy taking pictures with my GoPro camera. It was a one-hour-long boat ride, so we made some friends.
When we arrived at Tamarind Island, Marcus revised the basic signs that we should keep in mind in case of an emergency. I waddled up to the edge of the boat with my heavy equipment pulling me down. My flippers were on my feet, my buoyancy control device (BCD) and oxygen tank was on my back and my snorkel was on my face. I was all set to go. Marcus had already jumped into the water and I was next. I stared down at the dark, ominous waters below me. I stuck my right foot out, clutched my snorkel and regulator, looked out on to the horizon and jumped into the water. At first I sank because of my weights and oxygen tank, but then I started to swim up to the surface. When I reached the surface, I gasped for air and started to fill my BCD up with the air from my tank. Marcus immediately swam up to me and helped me with my equipment. After I got used to it, we started off on our dive. The first fish I saw was an angelfish. She was swimming around the coral looking for food. There were many other small fish swimming around too. We came across many clownfish homes and baby clownfish. They looked adorable! The most interesting thing that I saw was a type of thin, tall coral that looked like weeds. They would sway in the water and looked very fragile.
After fifty minutes, we surfaced for lunch. Since I was a bit tired, Marcus let me lie on my back and he pulled me back to the boat. Everybody else had gone to the island for lunch, but Marcus, Mom and I stayed on the boat. They sent our lunch on a little kayak from the island. There was chicken curry, rice and vegetables—ordinary fare but delicious nonetheless. We spent an hour debating about restaurants and different types of cuisines. It was interesting to see what Marcus had to say about Indian food.
When everybody came back, the engines started again and we made our way to South Button Island. South Button is a small little island in the ocean and it looks like a small button poking out of the water. Here again, we went through the same drill. Marcus wanted to take me down 18 metres, which is the advanced level, because he thought that I was very comfortable in the water, but Mom said no because I was still a junior diver and you can only get your advanced license when you are fourteen years old. I thought it was quite unfair because I really wanted to go. I was told that there were a lot of currents at South Button, so I had to be careful. We checked all our equipment and leaped into the water. This time around it wasn’t that bad because I remembered to hold the regulator in my mouth. Since it was already late into the afternoon, the sunlight was filtering through the water and it looked breathtaking. The fish were happily swimming around and doing their own thing. There were many caves, which you could look into and see the shadows of fish in the distance. There was a funny type of fungus stuck on most of the coral. They looked like bubbles and as you moved closer to them, they started to close. As we went closer to the shore, the currents became stronger and it kept pulling me back. Marcus had to hold on to my arm so that I didn’t fall behind. After forty-five minutes, my ears started to hurt because of the pressure and we had to return to the boat. Everyone else was already waiting for us. On the boat, Marcus brought me a plate of food. When I saw it, I thought that there was way too much rice and chicken curry on the plate. But he just sat me down, put the plate in front of me and walked away. At first I just looked at it and then I decided that I should eat a little. After some time, I ate so much that I finished everything on the plate. How did he know that I was that hungry?
By the time we returned to the diving centre, it was low tide and we had to carry all the equipment back to clean it. I got my instructors to fill out my dive log and we went back to the other Barefoot hotel on Radhanagar beach.
Radha Nagar Beach at Sunset
But before we went to our rooms, Mom wanted to go to the beach to cool off after the hot day in the sun. Radha Nagar beach is very famous and was voted the Best Beach in Asia by the Time magazine. The beach looked spectacular, with the blue ocean turning orange at sunset, the white sand and the green forest in the distance—so unlike any other beach I have seen before. It was a great way to end an amazing holiday.
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