I am tipetoeing along the beach as all the little shells are moving. Each time I pick one up for my collection a crab comes out and tickles my fingers.
Waking up at 3 am is a killer. We have to be at the airport by 5 am for a 6 hour flight to Port Blair, then a very hot 3 hour ride in a rusty ferry with no fans. By the time we arrive at our destination we are hot, sweaty and dishevelled.
We leave our luggage in the beautiful hand thatched bungalow, throw on our swimming costumes and head to the beach. The view is slightly obscured by enormous mangrove trees hanging into the sand and coconut palms swaying in the breeze. We are startled by the beauty set out before us. The clear lavender blue sky falls into the aquamarine ocean, there is almost no distinction between sea and sky. We submerge ourselves in the bath warm waters of Havelock Island on the deserted beach outside our rustic guest house, The Emerald Gecko. Paloma and Otie are in heaven splashing in their blow up animals. We let them float away out to sea and let the tide bring them back.
The Andaman Islands conjure up images of pirates, explorations, tropical Islands, ship wrecks and savage tribes from the days of old. The modern day reality is complete peace, serenity and beauty.
Havelock Island is small, but there are much smaller islands in the Andamans. It consists of a bazzar, a pharmacy, a hand ful of identical shops selling identical goods and beach balls, a tiny round-about which every one drives around the wrong way and one of the worlds most beautiful beaches. And an Elephant that swims.
Coconut palm groves line the bumpy road leading to The Emerld Gecko, shiny black curly horned buffalo are tied up ourside thatched houses, licking their nostrils in a zen like manner as we whizz by in the rickshaw. The air is thick with moisture and clings to our skin, pressing on to you like a lover. If you feel claustrophobic, just lean on a coconut tree and wait for the breeze.
Days pass and Paloma and Otis have become wild, feral animals. Their hair has sprung into curly blonde mops and they rip off all their clothes not allowing us to dress them at all. Every day they wake up and race into the water, running amock with the dogs and local kids, searching for treasure in the shimmering pools. Paloma has been waiting to get to Magic Beach with Aunty Lili and Otie for months and she excitedly recites the lines from her favourite book, Magic Beach by
‘Wild white horses are thundering past,
Waiting to get to the land.
Plunging and prancing and tossing their heads,
then fading away on the sand.’
And then throws herself in the sea yelling out more lines she loves.
The Calypso life is my kind of life. A simple hand woven bamboo and palm thatched hut to call home, fresh fruit and roast coconut pancakes for breakfast ,mango salsa prawns for supper with lime spritzed cold beers and nothing to do but think, dream and gaze at the delicious blue, blue, blue. Oh, and did I mention two crazy kids?
Paloma and Otis act more like brother and sister than cousins as they have spent almost every week of their life together. Amidst the cute conversations of calling each other ‘Kitty-Cat’ and ‘Meow Meow’ or ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’, they kick, push and irritate each other, and us. But when they are good they are very very good. And when they are bad we throw them in the sea!
In search of the promised Elephant we leave the perfection of our home and cross the island to another version of perfection through paddys, past road side temples, and a cremation. We watch vignettes of island life out the window of the rickshaw on our way to Beach Number 7. It has been listed as the second most beautiful beach in the world.
No matter how many times we come to visit him the elephant remains a mystery. Not even a foot print is discovered. We are told that when the British came to the Andamans they saw it was filled with timber and to transport it from one side of the island to the port they trained the elephants to swim the timber around. This is the last remaining swimming elephant. Our disappointment is rewarded with the view. Pure white sand is lapped by emerald green ocean waves, big enough to body surf on and big enough to nearly drown Paloma and I. Splashing about happily one day I don’t see the huge wave sneaking up on us. As it breaks almost in front of us we are thrown under the water, rolling round and round, I clutch her slippery body with all my might and loose my favourite sun glasses in the fray. Lucky she had her floaties on! We come out of the water gasping for breath. ‘Wasn’t that fun?!?’ I splutter and she nodes her head in agreement. After that it seems any fears she had of the ocean have dissapeared and she races into the waves, falling down and coming out yelling ‘I went under! Under the sea!’ Otie follows her and they race back in giggling their heads off to do it again.
When you are in ‘Paradise’ you are aware how easily it can turn into hell. The Emerald Gecko looks surprisingly similar to the guest house Ben and I stayed at on Boxing Day 2004 when the Tsunami hit and we ran for our lives. A week before we arrived in The Andamans a tsunami warning had been sent out. I am always on the look out for the highest hill and the most sturdy building, just in case. We didn’t experience any Tsunami but everyone seems to be struck by some sickness. Otis has a mysterious vomiting bug. Paloma looks like a pirate with conjunctivitis in both eyes. I lose my voice and the only one holding it together is Lisa.
After we have eaten dinner and the kids have terrorised the dogs, entertained the other travellers and then turn on each other we creep through the palm forest. We stop and look up at the milky way twinkling above us through the fronds. We all pile into the double bed under the mosquito net and the fan, which sounds like a helicopter about to take off, and fall asleep in a tangle of limbs all finding their spot like pieces in a puzzle.
Geckos chirrup, the children have re named all the dogs, black butterflies dance in the sun, we lose days and find others. Making friends with the local fisher men the children are rewarded with pet fish. And they teach the kids all about life and death. Paloma is ecstatic when she is given a small silvery fish to play with, it flips and flaps around in her hands until they teach her how to hold it properly. Soon it stoops flapping and she is even happier that she can now carry it round for a few hours…eeeew!
We return to the Magic Beach in the last hopeful attempt at having a ride on the elephant. He is still a no show. We return to our favourite coconut seller witht he filthy tee shirt and select two huge coconuts to take home with us. We entree on the delicious coconut meat as we ride back to The Emerald Gecko for our Last Supper in the rickshaw. The sky shows off with a spectacular swirling psychedelic affair over the green mountain, fields and groves. Fire flies flicker in the trees and a new moon hangs silvery in the sky. We send our love to dad who is in Afghanistan by wishing on the biggest brightest star in the sky we have now re named Paloma star.