THE AMAZING ANDAMAN ISLANDS!
Where does one begin? To find a few simple words to describe a cornucopia of sensual overload is a task beyond me. You dear reader, will have to endure many words.
Let me clarify…by “sensual overload” I mean that all of my senses were overloaded. I’m not intimating of a sultry story of a woman alone on holiday on an island. That’s not to say that there isn’t an element of romance in this story, it’s just not what I am talking about right now. Having cleared the air, I shall continue.
Ok, I came to the Andaman Islands, in particular, Havelock Island, for a ‘job’ teaching yoga at the ‘Jungle Resort’. I arrived on Feb. 3rd, and after getting my room, I unpacked and went immediately to the beach for a reunion with the sea. Ahh, the sea, my best friend, my place of solace and serenity, in it I am restored, by it I am bewitched, for it I have immeasurable love. As I waltzed down the magnificent shores of beach number 7 listening to music, I felt at one with the universe. It’s truly a treasure just knowing that where you are right now-in this moment-is home for your heart. I belong here. My spirit sings and dances in joyous union with the sea! I am in love! I am liberated!
The next day at 5:30am I awoke. As I lay upon my bed, upon my luxurious pillow I drifted into a peaceful state just absorbing the lovely sounds of nature, the sweet blend of the many insects and birds. The whoop-whoop bird I always associate with tropical mornings (it’s actually called a rooster-pheasant) and even the far away cockerel adds his morning blessing in a quaint way. The background sound to all of this is the surf hitting the shore, with thickness of the jungle as it creates this amphitheater for sound. Calming and yet invigorating. I will record this sound on my camera. My friend the racquet-tail bird is flitting about the banana trees and stops long enough for me to capture his image in my camera. It is peaceful here.
There is blueness in the sky and in the ocean, and not a drop of blue in my soul.
It has to be stated that the first few days of being there were disappointing in terms of the yoga lessons. Jungle Resort was not full, and the clientele, I came to realize, are interested in yoga only if they make it out of bed in time, and only if they are bored and don’t have other plans. They come there for the ease of a quick holiday, most stay 4 or 5 days, some stay 2 weeks, but not usually more than that. So, suffice it to say that I was student-less for most days and although I loved having the day to myself, I found it a bit dull. (I’m being given food and accommodation in return for nothing!) Aside from that, these folks are quiet, self contained holiday tourists, not really into interaction with a traveler. Seriously, they might say good morning, or nod hello, but they are into their own space, which I understand, especially having worked in a retail outlet for the last year, I might just not want to have to talk to anyone on my holiday. I reserve exception for Helen and Paul, a very cool couple from England, and we got on like a house on fire. They truly helped my first 2 weeks on Havelock. We went on a fishing trip together that was good fun, and I helped Helen to a ‘higher level’ in her snorkeling experience, I hope to visit with them in London (Bristol) before I return to Canada. I reserve exception also for Clare and her 8 year old daughter Cameron. Having a wee one around was special, and I enjoyed our day trips snorkeling, Cameron and I became fast friends. We snorkeled together; body surfed and collected sea shells. She is a gorgeous child with a ‘been on this earth a few times’ demeanor. You can see it in her photo, I hope I managed to capture her spirit. She really susses out a situation and then decides if she wants to get involved. She’s cool, as is her mom, and we shared most breakfasts together. Yes, of course, I fell in love with her! She reminded me of when Jade was that age. You know, when you can easily spend an hour just watching a child.
My good friends Jez and Miranda, whom I had met 2 years ago, were working and staying at Café Del Mar on beach number 3. They run the dive center there, named ‘Barefoot Scuba’. I went to see them and hang out there because of the backpacker/traveler crowd that stays there. Within my first few days, Samit, the man who “hired” me suggested I teach over there around 4 pm. So we set it up and then I had students.
Most locals here cannot say Zan, instead it comes out as Jan, and then to ease everything I was simply referred to as “Yoga Madam”, which I grew to love. It was cutest when my dive gear was put together, “that BCD is for Yoga Madam”….I got a big kick out of it.
The half hour drive between beaches was simplified with the use of a scooter that they offered for me to use. Everyday I scooted off to work and then home again. I was a commuter on a scooter! Driving it was a bit alarming at first, not the greatest roads; they get washed out with the monsoon and well, have lots of potholes. Driving during the day was ok; I managed, slowly, but at night, quite something else. The first night I set off on my scooter to home…. going through town was a bit crazy and I just blared my thankfully loud horn, because of a Bengali Celebration, there are many people in the center and through traffic is not a priority. I made it in one piece. I even crossed paths with a bus (a dreaded fear) and also some jeeps (another dreaded fear-all 4 wheel vehicles are dreaded)! Still I was fine. About ¾’s of the way home, I am ambling along minding my own business when I hear snarling behind me! Shit! A dog is chasing me! I gun it (dangerous on these bumpy potholed roads) and lift my feet up to my chest in case he is an ankle biter! For shit sake, this is crazy. Once my heart beat stops clamoring in my chest, I ease off on the throttle and mark in my mind where this is, so tomorrow I will be expecting him and drive faster to begin with. I do a quick scan: Heart rate back to normal? Check! Adrenaline stopped production? Check! Underpants dry? Check! Legs unbitten? Check! Backpack still in place? Check! Scooter still in one piece? Check! Able to carry on? Check!
The next morning I discovered that Rajan, the Jungle Resort Elephant, is going for a swim in the sea. So, I, with the other guests went along to the beach to watch this event. I wanted to swim with him, but it is too dangerous, or so they said. Regardless, it was just such a joy to witness an elephant swimming! He looked like a big teapot floating, dipping one end down and then the other. Way cool! I don’t know the stats but these domesticated elephants are rare and as far as I know, only here on the islands of the Andaman. Jacques Cousteau did a documentary on them, as did the BBC, as did National Geographic. Apparently these swimming elephants are used for tree felling – lumber industry- and then swim to the next island. From here, Port Blair can be reached in about 6 hours, that’s fantastic when you consider its 3 hours in a fisherman’s boat. A baby and mom elephant will be joining the scene here, as Susheel (the man who built Jungle Resort 12 years ago) has purchased the set and they should arrive here in a few months. I am positive I would like to be here again, same place same time next year, for the man of my dreams will be here filming a movie. Yes, Mr. Johnny Depp will be here! UNBELIEVABLE! The movie is based on a book called “Santaram” by George David Roberts, and Peter Weir is directing it. Apparently, they will be on a big cruiser yacht just offshore. I shall have to play my cards right and see if I can just be here. I think I will start to offer massage here: Divers Relief Massage, i.e.: back, shoulders, neck. Maybe Johnny would like one, ahh, the joy of fantasy. Oh the sadness of reality, maybe I can baby-sit his kids. Maybe Jade needs to be here with me!
I fell into a nice pace here; the morning yoga was not happening, but the afternoon one was, so I had the whole day to myself, and the whole evening in the midst of other travelers and divers. I began to have beers after class, with my friends, and every once in while I’d end up staying in whatever room was available so that I wouldn’t have to drink and drive. Taxis are hard to get in the later evening and costly too.
And then, I went on my first dive. It was a deep dive, so not much down time, but still, it got the ball rolling. I’m hooked again.
My days became busy… I went on another dive trip, with Laura from New York as my dive buddy, and Steven as my DM. Umeed and Narodi are doing the last of her advanced dive course, the Naturalist dive. Nice. Off to Minerva Ledge we went, almost 2 hours on the dungy (aka fisherman’s boat)! Man was it nice…. even though the current was intense and we used lots of energy just maintaining position over the reef. We had 2 dives at Minerva Ledge, with an hour break for lunch in-between. Offered up for our viewing privilege were the following: tiger cowry-shell, chocolate-dipped chromis, orbicular batfish, coronet fish, a large shoal of spotted unicorn fish, 2 radial fire fish (lionfish), a lovely diaphanous winged with a lavender spot in the center of it’s wings called a lyre-tailed anthias (looks a little like the fairy basselet), many variegated wart slugs, a moray eel, the palette blue surgeon fish (aka: Dorie from “Finding Nemo”), many Indian Star Cushions, a teeny tiny sea hare, a long-nose butterfly fish, a big lobster, clown anemone fish and their red egg sack, anemone crabs of all sorts, the mighty napoleon wrasse (just one), schools of red-toothed trigger fish with their medieval flag like tailfins of regal blue, and a first time sighting of the gorgeous clown triggerfish with its black and white spotted belly. Needless to say; excellent diving. I had a very nice time indeed. Back to shore at 2:30 meant rushing to get the log book filled, the shower taken, the hair combed and the coffee drank as I feel quite tired. I did manage to sleep on the boat, which was much needed. Amidst all of this preparation for my class, there were people coming up to me with questions about yoga, or about the dive, or whatever….and I just wanted to sit still, drink my coffee and be left alone for 15 minutes! Sheesh, now I know what Jez and Miranda are up against all the time. Everyone pulling at you! I feel like I am too busy!
But, my class was great, and I can only hope that they enjoyed as much as I did. They say that they love it, and this is enough for me.
At Jungle Resort, I lived in Susheel’s house, in my own room, under his, and beside the room that his father lives in. Uncle, as I call him, has had a stroke last year and spends a lot of time in bed, or sitting in a chair. His has double vision, and slurs when he speaks, but is an amazing chap, with lots of wonderful stories and a happy disposition. I quickly grew to love him. He is so lonely, and with me right there, I spent time just listening to him talk and helping him to exercise. I met a lovely couple from Montreal, Jose-anne and Patrick, who are physio-therapists and I asked them to come and give us a lesson on what to do. It was a nice experience. They were very generous. They taught Dalip (Uncle’s day nurse) to have him cover his one eye and try to walk in a straight line. Uncle tilts badly to the left when he walks and cannot walk unaided, because he will just fall over sideways. Uncle and I shared many lunches together, and I made him an eye patch with my airline eye-covers. He could give Johnny the Pirate of the Caribbean a run for his money! Hilarious!
Another wonderful person I met is Umeed. He is partners with Jez and Miranda, the three of them are certified Padi Scuba Instructors. He and I have swiftly become friends, and I enjoy his company. I have asked him to teach me my Dive Masters Course next year.
Umeeds parents arrived, and he took them diving, I met them, and they joined my yoga class. They are so cool, and so sweet, and so interesting. I’ve been invited to join them for dinner, which I accepted, and we had a very nice time. They are so lovely with each other and with their son, and you can just see how much they respect each other.
The South Button dive was stunning, and I wanted to just stay there forever…..actually I dove it, snorkeled it and then dove it again!!!
Among the many spectacular sights to behold i saw many nudibranch, napoleon wrasse, barracuda, an amazing pair of pipe fish(seahorse like), collard butterfly fish, and spine-cheek anemone fish (my favorite crimson red and mustard yellow ones).
It feels so right to be in the water again, with a tank on my back….the sound of bubbles to measure my breath…the feel of solace and floating freedom as I dangle suspended in buoyancy…….the stunning seascapes of the coral reefs and their frequent flyer fish….the serenity in the beauty of it all.
Ah, the big deep blue.
By the time I got to shore it was 4:15, so I had a quick shower and asked everyone to wait until 4:30 for yoga. I must admit that I was quite spent. I asked everyone to sit in easy crossed legs and find their breath while I slurped up the cup of coffee that would give me the power to perform! It went well, but I could feel myself losing my patience a little, as I had beginners who don’t actually listen and it’s quite hard to keep saying things over and over without getting a bit testy. “Ok, bend your knees…ahem…..BEND YOUR KNEES! E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e-B-E-N-D your K-N-E-E-S!!!!!” I seriously could not think of another way to say it. Still, there were a few straight legs! I seriously could not think of another way to say it. Short of karate chopping the backs of their legs, I opted to just have everyone look at their legs and then see if they have a straight or bent leg. Communicating with people who have no body awareness can be challenging, having patience for it became my work.
My yoga classes were rewarding and a great education for me. I learned a lot about the dynamics of what makes a yoga class good. It is the good workout, surely, but for many it is the closing sequence, the relaxation and the meditation. I began to shanti my style and spend more time on the spiritual aspect of the class.
I wake up sooooooooooooooooooooooo happy, and spend each day being happy. I am not just saying that when I thought about it I realized I was happy. My happiness just kept surfacing daily like a dolphin swimming in my bow wave. Leaping up into the bright sunshine and painting a smile so wide across my face. I am so happy it hurts. I am crying over it. It’s the most bizarre feeling. It actually hurts. I never want to leave.
I decided to dive as much as possible and as we roll upon the surface of the mighty ocean in our little boat, I feel each wave’s gravity pull my heart in the sensuality of it, and as my hair sweeps across my back and shoulders I am once submersed in a overwhelming sense of contentment.
Not only am I on top of clouds, I am a cloud. I am utterly gob-smacked happy. This is THE LIFE. I am bliss. I am so alive. I spend more time in the water than on the shore it seems and this suits me very well. Hard on my hair, but I don’t care. My make-up remains unused as the smile on my face brings all the beauty I feel to the surface, why cover that up?
Far too quickly three weeks have gone by and I decide I cannot leave this haven yet, and because Samit has asked me to stay, and told me how easy it would be to get my permit extended, I accept the offer, and settle into 3 more weeks of nirvana. i.e.: diving, yoga, sunshine, boat-trips, and friendships.
Sunday, February 26th, 2006
Today I spent an hour with Susheel’s dad and helped him do his exercises. He told me about his wife, and how she died in his arms. Then I went down to see Anna and Sonny
(a couple I met in Mahabalipuram) and met their friends, the Italians who had the turtle encounter. They shared their photos with me. Let me share their story.
‘They are lying on the beach, he is on his stomach reading a book, he feels a scratching under his towel and thinks he is on a hermit crab, but when he pulls it back he witnesses a newly hatched turtle emerging from the sand. I can only imagine the rest. I can only fantasize that I was actually there! The story they told and the photos they shared are pretty damn close anyway. They told me that of the 38 they counted, 10 were already dead, and 28 made it to the water….with the help of the sun-bathers!’
So pure is the nature there that turtles hatch right beneath your feet!
Monday, February 27 th, 2006
One of my favorite experiences came early one morning on the day I should have been flying off of the Andaman Islands but decided to extend my stay. It was a reward for making the right decision. I got to swim with Rajan. He is resident Male Elephant of the Jungle Resort. He was left there after being used to shoot a movie 2 years ago.
Where do I begin? I find it hard to describe the grace a beauty and agility of such a large cumbersome creature performing underwater “asana’s” with such magnificence! Rajan tipped his head forward and planted his trunk and tusks in the sand, then lifted both back legs, one front leg, and his bum… for what I am going to call ‘trunk stand’. Then he reversed this into ‘bum stand’; shifting the bulk of his weight into his rear end, bending both back legs and lifting one front leg while extending his trunk out of the water for air! All this with the Mahout (trainer) on his back! Wow, this was a very intimate experience, one I won’t soon forget. It had a strange effect on me; it was like I shared something with him of the caliber that only lovers can know. When I gazed upon him in the water with my snorkel and mask, I watched him watching me, and we had this exchange of glances. I fell in love! He is so beautiful. I even cried….it was a truly blissful and fortunate moment in my life. What a wondrous creature!
Out of breath and heart pounding I left the water when he did and resumed photographing him. He rested his rump upon a tree and began scratching his feet, legs and butt upon the trunk of this tree. Incredible, and so fun, he really is a joy to behold. To my surprise the Mahout offered me a ride on Rajan which I readily accepted, and we ambled along in the forest for about 5 minutes, me atop a great big long legged hunky elephant, wearing a bikini and a smile bigger than the sky! Getting down off of him was funny too, it felt like a ride at the midway, and I had to hang on very tight to the Mahout or I would be ‘ass-over-tit’ in a minute. All this before breakfast! Jungle life is pretty cool, no? Exhilarated and feeling a bit like blissed-out overload, I returned to the water to swim and just absorb the moment more fully. I feel drugged with the adrenaline and good fortune. I began thinking that today I have horseshoes up my ass…I feel so lucky. My moment with Rajan was like gracious gift from heaven. I feel blessed.
Monday, March 6th, 2006: Duncan Wreck and The Wall.
So, I should admit that I am not a ‘wreck’ diver, but I have changed my mind. The dives were lovely, really, the shrimp box at the wreck blew my mind and I wanted to stay there forever. In this cupboard on the side of a wall, is an amazing assortment of little shrimps and pipe fish. Some shrimps are transparent and wee, others long armed red and white striped, and others are blue-lined. It was like this whole little microcosm!
After yoga class at dinner, Umeed and I talked about Jade-MY NEICE, and how I want to bring her to the Andaman’s’ next year. Now get this…..Umeed asked if he could have the honor of instructing her to become a junior diver…and if I take my Dive Masters course at the same time, than I can assist in hers. I had to hold back the tears of joy! I did cry, for this moment, and for the way I am missing Jade right now, just describing her to him, who she is and what she is like, and how I imagine they will get along famously.
On yet another day:
I had cancelled the Yoga class today-too busy diving- and had the luxury of having a little after dive nap. When I lay my head down, I fell immediately to sleep…when I awoke an hour later I vividly recall that I was still floating in water, all of my limbs still swimming, I felt like I was in the dream sequence scene from ‘The Hours”: the one where Julienne Moore tries to kill herself and drowns in her bed, except I didn’t drown, I was part of the ocean, it was part of me.
Friday, March 10th, 2006
This day is a sacred day, a celebration of life, of survival, of gratitude. 22 years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and look at the way it changed the course of my life. Without that event, the likelihood that I would be here right now, experiencing this reality is very low. I like to play at imagining what my life would be instead. I fancy that I would be divorcee, fat, with 3 kids, and stuck in Olds. Ok, it would be fine, I’d have my family and my life, but it sure would not be this! My god, I am so fortunate. So damn lucky…..so many fine fine people in my life, so many glorious experiences and travels. Even my alter ego is envious of my life. Umeed took the day off from leading dives, and we went diving together with others but in our own space, on our own separate dive. He brought his big underwater camera and we went to Duncan Wreck again. This time the visibility was fantastic and I agreed to be his model in the photographs. Unfortunately, I discovered a hawksbill turtle, dead, and caught in a net that the wreck claimed long ago from a fisherman. It made me sad, of course, and I managed to give it a little prayer before we left it.
It was interesting to model for underwater photos, the most interesting part is communicating with sign language, and of course, Umeed is well trained for this, it was I who needed the help! What fun.
To celebrate this day I have invited Jez, Miranda, and Umeed out for snitzel at Eco Villa. Of course, we left late, but never-mind, it was just fine. Unfortunately I drank too much beer, ate too little food, and was rather laconic before we even left. I really just wanted to go to bed, but after a coffee, I pulled it together and we had a very fine evening. The speech I had in my head evaporated with the lateness of the evening, and I simply said that I was so fortunate to be here, and that I am thankful for getting cancer, for the freedom it gave me, how it liberated me from the standard confines of society. I am thankful that I am not a fat divorcee, and that meeting them has enriched my life. Actually, it didn’t come out as graceful as that, but I think they got it. It came from my heart.
Sunday, March 12th, 2006
My last night….I had a terrific dinner with Jez, Miranda, and Umeed.
Because I couldn’t sleep, I quietly left the bungalow, and went down to the sea. Under the soon full moon, I lowered myself into the low tide….like a crocodile or turtle I ambled out further in search of deeper water. I was taken back to a time when I was a young girl, living near the river, sometimes I would go in to the shallows and just walk upon my hands, body floating, hands guiding me along the rocks and stones…..I had this same feeling now; a child at one with the water. I then let my tears join the sea, salt to salt; a fair exchange. I said my farewell. I can’t do this! I can’t leave. Why do I have to leave? Stop time, give me more, please, can I not just stay?
Monday, March 13th, 2006 my last morning here…
Today is an ugly day. I feel terrible, I have diarrhea, and a headache, and my heart is splintering. I feel abandoned by everyone as they left on their dive boats, and I am all alone. I had a last lunch with Uncle, and forced myself to pack. My heart is breaking for leaving my ocean…my love of life and the sea only intensified with each and every day in that moment that unfolded its beauteous wings to me. The friendships I forged and the special bonds with those who became very close to me became sacred.
On the verge of sounding like I smoke too much ganja, I ask you to read the sincerity in this excerpt. I could have gone on and on about the diving, and all the rest, but I think by now you have an idea of what the last 6 weeks was like for me, and why I found it so hard to leave. And maybe you’ll understand why I will return to this home for my heart next year, for 3 months, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a way to join me in paradise.
I invite you………..
October and November are still unknown to me, but by the end of 2006 I will again be Andaman Bound! So come see me in the first 3 months of 2007, let’s go diving, or ride an elephant, or just hang in a hammock in the jungle and watch turtles hatch!
Life is a journey…..and I am wanderlust-lost,
Yet, everywhere I go, I find myself!