Shoemans Trail

The quest for liberation

Tag: Andamans

North Andaman – further off the beaten track

Directly the first night when we arrived at Kalipur, we could see a turtle nesting, we were so lucky as she was right there, starting the dig when we came to the beach – it’s a long procedure! First a hole needs to be dug, then the 130 eggs need to be laid and then the hole needs to be covered with sand and camouflaged – it was great to watch the creature that seems a bit lost on land.

We had quite some rainy days up north, I was longing for rain since months but as soon as it rained for a couple of hours I felt the negative vibes spreading, also no bikes available in Diglipur, the main town around, to explore the area on our own, we first decided to treat ourselves! Nice mango lassi and falooda (a cold sweet as hell beverage) – with that sugar intake the clouds went away and we embarked the rickshaw to visit the mud volcanos – a natural phenomenon of the area. Probably the best short jungle walk on a small narrow trail on the island and every 10 min a grayish spot with bubbling mud in the form of a volcano, the tallest of them being a meter in height, it’s the gas that makes the trick, you can actually light it and it will go up in a small fireball – I learned that after our visit though 😉

A proper hill, “Saddle Peak” with 732 meter the highest spot in the Andamans is just close by, it’s a good day hike. The first 3 kilometer we went along the beach, the wind was pushing big waves ashore, the roaring sound of the ocean was following us constantly – I never saw the Andaman sea so rough, not even in Thailand. The next 5 km were a steep climb up the hill with lots of roots and man-made steps through thick jungle with an awesome amount of butterflies and other insects, crabs and lovely birds – the forest was very much alive. The weather changed during our ascent – big clouds moving in blocking the view once we made it to the top, we could still see some islands off the coast but also big rain clouds wettening the land and the sea further east. On our way down we went right through the clouds and the nebula around with all the moos covered trees made me feel hiking New Zealand! It was a demanding hike we enjoyed it even with the clouds and the rain.

The other day we went snorkeling around Craegy Island – it took us 30 min to swim across, we properly explored the island and it’s rocky north east facing cliff, snorkeling was good with alive and colorful coral, even though the visibility wasn’t great, the second session the waters were more clear to spot bigger fish, snakes, squid and big ass coral – another sweet day in paradise and Thomas’ last, it’s been a pleasure my friend – see you again this year!

With Fotini and Warren the lovely Greek/American couple who always had a story to tell about almost every topic and Rachel and Sam from the UK two full on happy guys who always had a smile and a joke for everyone around, I went on a day trip to Ross & Smith Island. Two islands joined by a small stretch of sand in between which makes it easy to walk between the two. Smith is the bigger one and I walked along the beach to find a deserted recreation spot, of course I took a rest. Ross Island is rather small and no people linger around – being a wildlife sanctuary, still some good photo opportunities with jungle vines can be found 🙂
And the sandy bank that connects both of the white sandy beauties is screaming for a swim on either side, one more shallow and calm, the other rough and deep – of course I dipped in both – surrounded by ocean and the beach in the middle, just awesome!

With Rachel and Sam I also went diving, we explored the area around the left side of Stoney Island with awesome visibility, directly greeted by a sting ray and big schools of small fish, it was my first exploration dive and we had lots of fun! The second dive was at “Hard Rock Café”, the perfect reef off Craegy where Thomas and me snorkeled before, but this time we had better visibility and the perfect guide. Neil showed us around, he was also the one naming the dive site – now we all know why the name 😉 Beautiful intact coral, the biggest I’ve seen, coral walls reaching from 2 to 10 meter below the surface with active reef life happening all around. Soft coral, anemones with colonies of clown fish, moray with the cleaner shrimp, eel, snails, the smallest fish I’ve ever seen, 2 millimeter black with yellow dots – the macro life a reef has to offer is as splendid as the big stuff that can be seen – swimming with 20 humphead parrotfish measuring 1,5 m in size was just another magical moment.
For the next dives with Daniel and Erez we went to explore the right hand side off Stoney Island, Daniel called the site “Ray Rock” as he was the one to spot the biggest Bloached Fantail Ray ever, with 2 meter wingspan easily – a giant among us! The fish life was exploding all around – such an untouched site, feeling good to be part of the first season the diving has opened at Kalipur. The instructor Hanna and her boyfriend Neil a dive master had very much influence on the great dives we had, easy and relaxed and smiling all the time it was the best and longest dives for me in the Andaman’s! It’s been a sweet ride with all of you divers – cheers for the fun!

The people and the great outdoors made me stay for a longer time. In the end I even met 2 guys from Berlin and we had a German evening with spicy Indian food! And of course there was Alex the all-round talent and resort owner, he could organize everything, he played doctor fixing small wounds, he’s a chef training local guys to cook and in the evening he played the music and else he did what he could do best – entertain everyone! He’s spreading such a good energy and we had deep talks and lots of laughs, when I ever make it back to this lovely piece of land I’ll come to the farm on Smith Island – I’ll take your word for granted Alex 😉

Cheers to all the good people of the two weeks in Pristine Beach Resort, it was a very social time and just the right vibe I needed for my last days in Incredible India, well and not to forget – the fabulous coconut panna cotta @ Pristine did the rest and we ate it all 😉

The next adventure will wait for me in Indonesia, I’m already travelling 4 month now and when looking back it was intense and so diverse. I’ve been to mountains, beaches, so many cities, towns & villages, I was partying quite a bit, spent quality time on my one, let my spirit rise a couple of times and found new friends along the trail – most of the goals I set for myself are reached but I feel there is something waiting ahead I’ll keep my senses alert and my mind sharp, ready to take off!

Long Island – On Robinson’s trail

On the ferry to Long Island I met Thomas from Switzerland, we instantly connected and somehow I was pretty sure we would travel together for the next days – of course that happened 😉

So after a good first chat on deck out in the sea breeze the ferry went to Straight Island, which is off the tourist trail, it’s the home if the Great Andamanes an ancient tribe almost extinct with only 43 members left – just a hand full of people enter – we were not even allowed to take pictures!
The ferry then took us to Long Island. Only 1 guest house for tourists is established, there is not much to do over here, living the Robinson life that’s what the guidebook says, actually there is a small village just by the jetty and it feels good the moment we disembark!
There are just two four wheelers on the island used to transport goods plus a handful of motorbikes, it’s a 20 minutes’ walk to Blue Planet Guest House on concrete trails through the jungle – simple island life with friendly people almost every little wooden house has a proper garden attached, the locals are hiding from the sun but venture out in the evening. The youth is busy at the football field where a couple of hours before the horses had fun with themselves 🙂 We saw a sea snake eating a crab right on the beach at low tide, which must have been a proper sunset feast.

After our visit at the forest department we got the permit for the walk to Lailaji bay, 90 minutes through the jungle with some good old trees – a nice little stroll.
The bay is a lovely stretch of white sand with some huts in the back that give a little shade, but you can find lovely spots underneath some big trees or palms as well, the waters just as splendid as in Havelock – the only difference we’re the only guests on the beach together with the lovely Finnish couple Hanu and Tiana. We tried some snorkelling off the rocks first but were not lucky finding the reef, it was a bit dangerous with the waves crushing at the rocky coast but we managed to get in and out in one piece. Later on we found the reef just the left hand side from the sandy stretch of the beach. In the shallow waters you can see colourful coral and small fish – it’s nice but not superb.
We decided to directly move on to North Andaman and not stay any longer for diving or hanging around, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be better than this and Thomas was running out of time on his trip. Up north the diving supposed to be the best in the Andamans so we went with the 7 a.m. ferry to Rangat, the best ferry ride of my life took us through thick forest of mangroves and lasted 1 hour such a peaceful journey in the early morning it felt like meditation.
From Rangat a rusty bus took us the rest of the way up north, 150 km in 5,5 hours, lots of curves, bad road conditions, lots of passengers squeezing in – a typical Indian bus experience 🙂 The road snaked along the coast and took us through thick mighty jungle, we smelled heavy rains and felt it just a glimpse of an eye later on – the first proper rain since the Nepali snow for me, the air stood thick and tropical this time!

Of course all windows were open in the bus and we had a little rain coming through, as it was one of the old busses, sent away from mainland, good enough to serve its last decades on the islands and lacking all comfort….
We were so done in the evening but if you want to go to the end of the world, where civilization is  scattered and the village becomes random houses along the small bumpy track, hidden in palms and thick bush, you take it as an adventure and the real adventure was just about to begin…

Havelock Island – beach, beach, party, beach, beach, dive!

Staying a longer time on the island and hanging around with Teo I met more people, some of them became friends pretty fast. First there was Jasper & Lene from the Netherlands. He’s traveling with his 10 year old daughter and it’s not their first time in the Andamans. Jasper and me we share quite some common things in life – of course we had to meet here! Later on I got to meet Antti, Teo’s friend also from Finland, on and off between Nepal his home country and the Andamans – also a great soul. With that lovely pack we went to Full Moon Restaurant for some evenings treats – the best place to hang around, eat and drink on the island! A couple of times we went to famous Radhanagar beach or just simply – beach no.7 to enjoy the magic golden sunsets, to snorkel in the shallow waters and to relax. One evening we even saw an Elephant being guided home, it was Raju the last swimming of his kind! During the snorkelling I saw multiple turtles and stingrays, magical creatures they move as if they would fly and so fast, I hardly could believe the eyes, it was wonderful to watch them. Another encounter of a different kind was a sea snake winding along the corals, wearing grey and black rings – one if not the most poisonous snakes around, peacefully made its way until it vanished under a rock, the fish next to it didn’t even pay attention, seems to be a good fellow thou 😉 Of course the reef also had swarms of smaller fish and the 2 lip fish which are a bit bigger in size. As soon as you’re under water the vast variety of life just explodes in places like the Andaman’s, so you’re looking for creatures extremely rare. But I enjoy all of the underwater life, no matter how rare the species is, don’t try to look for something specific, it will come to you and every dive is different, that also includes snorkelling, you can even extrapolate that to life if you want 😉
Now being a certified diver I went to Johnny’s Gauge, and it was the best dive on Havelock for me. Conditions were just perfect, no current and good visibility we saw big schools of barracuda, bannerfish, shrimp, stingrays and even a white tip reef shark, colourful corals and bigger coral structures, giant clams,… life was just exploding 25m below sea level I was just stoaked, as was Miir my dive master – he was pretty focused on the underwater life too and felt happy that the four of us fun divers handled themselves very well…

The place is not a party location like goa although there are “happenings” almost every day like live music or DJ’s, I listened to a couple of acts and music while passing by the different locations on my bike, it was not worth it, but somehow as fate rolled the dice, a finish Psy DJ called Arwar played the other day at Cicanda, some really good tunes from chill to prog more than 4 hours – places shut down before midnight in the Andamans. I was enjoying the freedom of the sound and danced my ass off; don’t know when I did it the last time without being influenced by any mind altering substance like alcohol, tobacco… It felt great – all around me were smokers and drinkers and me drinking water – smiling my ass off, dancing barefoot to the rhythm till the moon rose across the jungle hill and shed bright light through the open roof of palm leaves to the dance floor – it was a trippy moon, clouds moving fast and low, making the moon light switching on and off, like Morse code with light on and off – good times!

Going round the island can be done with multiple means of transportation, bus, rickshaw, scooter, motorbike, bicycle and walking, I preferred the later the most, my bike took me everywhere I wanted in the perfect speed to gaze around and get a glimpse of what is happening around, I almost explored every paved road and some of the dirt roads too, just passing by private homes greeting the people talking to children I was quite a happening, they don’t seem to meet a lot of foreigners and are super friendly.

I also did a small bushwalk up the jungle hill to see the sunset but was not properly prepared – so many mosquitos when I just stopped walking so I returned after 20 min but I still saw many things, the strangest being a stick insect – the one with a very thin body I just saw it in a zoo before.

Walking is the best thing to properly inhale your surroundings and the beach walks on Havelock are just perfect so when the tides were right I walked from Elephant beach to beach no.7, being the only person on the way was great fun, gazing at the nature and life around me without being disturbed – although the Andaman’s are not as bustling as mainland India but Havelock has its moments where you just want to escape. The beach walk reminded me a bit of my trek in Costa Rica along the pacific coast on the Osa peninsula, this here was different though, lots of rocks and mighty trees right at the beach – after 2 hours I reached the best beach on the island and relaxed totally, enjoying the sunset later on for a last time.
Life has been treating me pretty sweet those 2 weeks but I somehow feel that Havelock gets too busy, too much people, too much noise and I need more freedom, we’ll see what north Andaman has to offer for me, I’m still hungry and my eyes are widened!

Havelock Island – Scuba Diving: The sheer beauty of floating under water

I enrolled for my open water diving course right in paradise, 4 days – 5 dives up to a depth of 18 meters with a group of 6 students and 2 instructors we first learn the theory, mostly about the equipment and lots of physics and mathematics like air expansion, pressure, air mixture plus some basic hand signs for communication and of course the rules to follow J
Keen to dip in the waters after that, some handled quite well others needed a bit time to adopt, but after one and a half days we were ready for our first dive in shallow waters – it was amazing, for me it felt so natural, breathing and the movements, like in a dream.
Our Instructor Tiagu is from southern India his village Erode is near Coimbatore and after the course we got to talk about his home and Isha Yoga Center but now he made sure we get all the practices we had to learn right, like cleaning the mask, finding the regulator, inflating/deflating the BCD (buoyancy control device), properly kick with the fins and so on, he always had a smile for us and explained further more if something didn’t work quite well. Now is the time to practice if we’re in the open waters and deep down we should know our shit!
We meet round 7 every day at the dive center and 5:45 the sun comes up so I managed to start the day with a sunset on the beach quite often, not too bad of a start eh 😉
Most of the good dives are way out in the ocean heading there with the boat goes always along with diving – you get a sweet ride, one day we even saw dolphins!

The next day’s our small group formed and a new face joined Teo from Finland, he enrolled for his dive master. As soon as he appeared I knew he’s a good guy, his energy body was already enhanced, later on I got to know him better and the connection grew.
In groups of two to three students per instructor we went to deeper ground every day and visited multiple dive sites, jumping or rolling off a boat, wicked! Just with watching the experienced guys you can learn so much about diving, minimal movements and breath is key, so some asanas and pranayama helps being a good diver – maybe that’s why it came to me quite easy.
The underwater life was good up to that point, still being spoiled from Vanuatu, I always expect a bit more but just being down there is actually so sweet, all the movements it’s like floating the long dream of flying becomes true as zero buoyancy is the divers aim, meaning the weights are balanced – you don’t go up and down and basically float at one level. Hanging upside down, going sideways, rolls, spirals – everything is possible, just watch your head! Mine was a spinning and it felt a bit dizzy after some time 😉
On our final day we went to “The Wall”, one of the deepest spots around, boasting with underwater life but the currents were so strong I could barely move forward when already kicking the ass out of my fins, of course you cannot go on your own, always stick to your buddy! So there I was floating back, while the others were holding the line staying in one spot easily. At the ground the current wasn’t as bad and I could spot a fish the size of a shopping cart, amazing! We went up just after that, the conditions were too harsh and the visibility was also not the best, I still loved it – the power of nature, it was right there for me to feel! The fish I got to see seemed not to notice the current and just naturally went with it as the birds go with the flow in a storm – everything is connected…

And here we were after the short multiple choice test, approved open water divers – Yes!

But as 18 meters depth is not enough we all went to do the advance course right after, 2 more days and 5 more dives, that gives us the certificate to go down to 30 meters – this is where the cool cats go and the big fish roam so yeah, bring it on!
Directly the first day we went to Dixon – 3 pinnacles in the open sea, it’s been low tide so we just went down to 28 meters but that was a hell of a ride, somehow my right ear wouldn’t equalize going down, after 9 minutes and a couple of different techniques I made it and felt no more pressure. Teo was back with us again and once we reached the bottom he showed us a color chart – red is completely gone, no light is reflected anymore, it simply appears black in this depth – very interesting how fast the reflections vanishes deeper down and the light fades. We went counter clockwise round the pinnacle and watched the life taking place, the air we breathe in those depths won’t last long – more atmospheric pressure as water has thicker density than air. Imagine a column of water above your head the height of the depth you go.
We had 70 bar left and went back to the rope, all of a sudden my buddy disappeared and Teo went after him, leaving me alone – 15 meters to go up. “Well I’ll make it on my own now!” I thought to myself after searching them for a minute. With enough air left I ascent very slowly and waited at a depth of around 5 meters for 3 minutes we learned the theory so now I had to use it, of course this was a situation that should not have happened but this is real life and it comes as it goes and there’s never a complete safe way and diving should also not be treated easily it’s demanding physical and mental exercise. We all made it safe to the surface the two others were there way faster than me thou.
What happened was, my buddy panicked and shot up like a rocket he thought he won’t have enough air left but that’s what you learn before, if you’re out of air, you just share air with your buddy. Teo went after him pushing him down, he told me later he knew that I could take care of my own so he left me down by the big fish – he was right as we were connected before. This is what happens, real life situations, you need to be prepared for everything and know the one to trust, we all learned something there!

Some more dive sites we visited were M4, a shallow one, if you’re not that deep down your air will last longer, visibility was good with 15 meters and we directly saw a stingray, schools of fish and famous clown fish of course guarding the anemone, soo nice to watch those little fellows. We saw a bigger Napoleon fish at the lighthouse site and also got to dive a small wreck, a wooden boat sunk one year ago and is already falling apart, visibility was shit, 2 meters and less but still nice to see the old ship in the green misty waters, like a bad dream floating, it had something spooky but I felt safe – you just want to stick in the group.

We saw smaller schools of fish some nice corals although they’re pretty dead those days as of the changing climate the water temperatures are round 28 degrees Celsius and corals like it colder too. Still it was colorful down there with giant clams – like mussels the size of a flat screen tv, shining with vibrant colors bluish-yellow-greenish and closing when you approach magically, bellied vase like structures with munching fish, smaller structures of the typical coral and the fitting fish to each, some I already saw, some just introduced them to myself and I said hello to everyone, nice to meet you guys we’ll have a good time together this life 😉

Thanks Bertl & James, Shira & Aviul, Hagar, Idan, Teo, Tiagu and Abhi! The group is key and we made it happen certified Advanced Open Water divers – good times, lots of laughter and always a delicious samosa to munch on – bring it on!

Port Blair & Havelock Island: Welcome to Paradise

After a short flight and an even shorter taxi ride I finally arrived in Port Blair, the main gateway to the Andaman islands, more than a thousand kilometers off the coast from mainland India just 150 km close to Burma (Myanmar) India does it’s best to support the locals, lots of Bengalis who were relocated some decades ago to claim the islands for the subcontinent being a strategical outpost, politically and of course for military reasons. Although people from all over India can be found here, mostly working in tourist industry but still some indigenous tribes living in remote spots with almost zero contact to the modern world, most of them are almost extinct though, just the Nicobari tribe seems to survive as they adapted a bit to the outside world. The Andamans are actually some 600 islands most of them are uninhabited and also off limits for tourists. The close by Nicobar islands can just been entered by special permit, even for Indians, foreigners just get a chance to stay in a handful of the islands – for maximum 45 days. I’ll stay for a month and master the art of minimalism, one might call it also relaxing in paradise 🙂

Port Blair is a busy port town, it feels Indian and I book a ferry the next day and have a stroll around the war memorial beach with a lookout of Ross island the former British headquarters – all devastated by the 2004 boxing day tsunami which also hit the islands, some more hard than others though…I also checked out the cellular jail, now being a national monument of the country but back in the days it was the hardest prison for political dissidents built by the Brits. Torture and cruelty were every days life 120 years ago and the energies were still disturbed, a negative place, I could not spend much time near the cells and wanted to catch my ferry anyway, which took me to Havelock island – for many people this is Andaman, white sandy beaches, lots of nature, palms, ancient forests, lovely temperatures around the 30’s, emerald blue waters with temperatures around 28°C and also a diving paradise!
The island is big enough to get lost the first time and takes a while to explore by bike and I did the first days before my dive course started.

I explored the beach around the place where I stayed a bit, when the tides are low you can walk out the sea bed for a couple hundreds of meters – there is still so much life to spot near the sand and rocks – what a nice exploration!

Voted Asia’s most beautiful beach some years ago – Radhanagar beach or simply beach no. 7 has no doubt earned this title for real, the best white sand I’ve ever seen, the finest grain ever, it just feels so soft to walk, the waters calm and warm, on each side of the long beach a nice reef with vibrant life to spot, in the backdrop an ancient forest, so good! When I was walking I felt like Alice in wonderland with trees reaching for the sky and every now and then you get a glimpse of the beach when looking west through the mighty trees – it’s just a magical place!
All the pictures I’ve taken were so beautiful it was hard to make a choice, and I haven’t been talking about the sunsets yet, they are also one of a kind when the clouds support them even more pretty and with golden waters as a finish, best sunset in India for me!

Another beach with is further off the tourist radar and that’s why even more interesting is Kalapathar down south, the main beach is busy with tourists and rather small but the real attraction is the walk further on, here the crowd disappears and you’re completely on your own walking through jungle as the way becomes a path and the path becomes a trail through thick beach forest all along the coast, going forever and ever until you reach the most southern part. Big massive trees, some fallen down right at the beach as theirs friends still standing make a pretty good picture, the sun that cut’s through the thick bush – just beginning it’s descent behind the big hill – was illuminating as well for me. The energy levels over here were just wicked and I felt a bit dizzy the afternoon, really loved it and would have gone all the way if not the night was about to dusken in and I didn’t bring a torch, I wasn’t expecting a walk as fabulous as this one!
Also the humidity was unbelievable that day the warm breath of the ocean was kissing me wet the whole afternoon big heavy clouds hanging in the sky that made for a good sunset – even on the eastern side as the moon was rising bright – another perfect day in paradise, and it should become better and better…

 

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