Saying Goodbye to the Andamans

Sunset, Chitya Tapu on South Andaman

Sunset, Chitya Tapu on South Andaman

Cinque Island, Andamans

Cinque Island, Andamans

While we’re very sad to say goodbye to the islands, we are so looking forward to traveling around mainland India for the month of December and then coming back home to New York City. Beginning in January, we’ll be settling back into the pace of normal life and desperately trying not to freeze our buns off.

I realized that we haven’t properly told you guys what the heck we were doing out on the boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean and how we ended up there.

Wellllll, way back in May we finished our Divemaster course in Bali and started thinking about ways we could keep diving without killing our budget. A short but incredible diving trip in Komodo National Park helped us realize that paying for fun diving is not a feasible way to maintain our diving habit, financially speaking.

A few weeks later we serendipitously stumbled across an old college friend and former roommate of Zev’s who mentioned that someone was starting the first scuba diving liveaboard to be based out of India. We took one look at their website and were sold. A few emails and one Skype conversation later, we had tickets booked to the Andaman Islands.

Since the first week in October, we’ve been on the boat assisting with scuba diving courses and completing a few certifications ourselves.

The ambient noises of a constantly running kitchen, engine room, and dive operation became the sounds of home to us. The pressure cooker whistles and looping 15-song playlist of Bollywood hits emanating from the kitchen alerted us to upcoming meals, and the faint but constant rumble of the engines and generators soothed us to sleep each night. Keeping the boat clean and running and its inhabitants fed and entertained kept life onboard always humming with activity. The crew made the (not so) little ship feel like home. They kept the boat in tip top shape and were a hysterical hard working bunch. Spending time with them was one of the highlights of our time on the boat.

Our cruise director, an affable retired businessman with a booming voice and a silver ponytail coiling down his back, led the guests with gusto through early morning dive briefings, mid-afternoon naps on the sun deck, and evening cocktails and carousing. The head divemaster was the quiet but imminently wise and experienced Yoda of the dive team; when he spoke, we listened. Two local guys from the Andamans were our surface support while diving. The first, who gained the nickname “chotu” (Hindi for “shorty”) was the youngest and greenest guy on the boat and became notorious for hiding from the harsh sun under an umbrella. The other had spent his whole life fishing and swimming around the Andamans. When we weren’t on trips with guests, he would send us diving at his favorite local snorkeling spots provided we take photos of what we saw.

From the chef who was also a welder and artist, to the captain who had killer Michael Jackson dance moves, the crew was really a hoot.  They became our family for our two months on the boat, and they will certainly be what we miss the most.

The guests brought an infusion of excitement to the boat and made the hard work worthwhile. The divers ranged from students whose nervous hands I held through the first dive jitters, to professional divers with elaborate photography set-ups that resembled something straight out of the NASA Mars Rover expedition. One raucous trip consisted entirely of people in the film industry who showed up to every dive, dinner, and cocktail hour with a camera (or 6) in hand, ready to get the perfect shot at a moment’s notice. Another group arrived onboard with suitcases full of nuts, Indian snacks, and even chorizos out of fear the boat wouldn’t have their particular brand of post-dive munchy. Yet another memorable voyage found us scheduling dives between breaks in the gale force winds and pouring rain of a passing cyclone.

We’ve left the Andamans for good and are heading for the west coast of India. Our first stop is Mumbai, a city that I fell in love with when I visited as a gap year student way back in 2005. It beats with the frenetic pace of a metropolis but retains a tremendous amount of history and charm.

Neil Island, Andamans

Neil Island, Andamans

Most of the gang.

Most of the gang.

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I’m on a Boat, Andamans Edition

North Bay near Port Blair, Andaman Islands. We went looking for new divesites near the capital and were pleasantly surprised to find some nice easy reef diving.

North Bay near Port Blair, Andaman Islands. We went looking for new divesites near the capital and were pleasantly surprised to find some nice easy reef diving.

Castaways on Sir Hugh Rose Island, Andamans.

Castaways on Sir Hugh Rose Island, Andamans.

As you read this, we are cruising in the Indian Ocean around the Andaman Islands on a diving liveaboard. We’re on an enormous boat with a lovely sundeck and a great diving platform. I promise we aren’t suffering too much on this portion of our trip 🙂 We’ll be on the boat until December, diving and assisting with PADI courses.

It’s difficult to describe the Andamans without falling into the usual tropical island trap of ’emerald,’ ‘turquoise,’ and other hyperbolic gemological adjectives that never really suffice. But let me make my own feeble attempt. These islands are tiny, lush spits of land surrounded by cruise-commercial white sand beaches and electric blue waters.

In 2004 the tsunami came through and damaged many of the coral reefs that circle the 500 plus islands. Zev and I keep reminding ourselves that unlike most coral damage we’re used to seeing, this is the result of a natural disaster and not man made destruction (dynamite fishing, boats anchoring on reefs, global warming). The reefs are staging an aggressive recovery; soft and hard coral has begun to regrow and there are some really vibrant patches of reef.

The diving here is good and we are looking forward to visiting the more remote islands where the diving is supposed to be truly spectacular.

A tiny tiny nudibranch or 'sea slug.'

A tiny tiny nudibranch or ‘sea slug.’

Another nudi, great colors.

Another ‘nudi,’ great colors.

One of my favorite sea creatures, the octopus! Found at the Wall dive site, Havelock.

One of my favorite sea creatures, the octopus! Found at the Wall dive site, Havelock.