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Saturday
Mar062010

Dodging Coconuts and Fishing..

I spent six nights at The Holiday Inn, Havelock. Not THAT kind of Holiday Inn, before anyone gets too excited. It was mainly relaxation in a marvellous setting. The fellow guests were a diverse collection. A few British couples, a very nice Danish couple and their young daughter, and quite a lot of young Israelis who had just completed their national service.

   Me, Billy no-mates, in the restuarantThere were also two Danish men who were staying at a different hotel, but tended to come and eat at ours. A mixed group, but in the main, good company.

John, and the Danish group

Attitudes to alcohol vary across all of India. There used to be a total prohibition in many states, and, while a couple still maintain that, ‘controlled consumption’ now applies in most. Our hotel was not allowed to sell alcohol, and indeed, seemed to be subject to numerous police checks to ensure that they didn’t. That Andaman Commissioner certainly knows how to commission! There was, however, a fully legal, and very pleasant bar across the road.

Upstairs bar, part of a complex across the road

On about the second night I was woken by one of the biggest bang-crashes I have ever heard. It sounded like a small bomb going off. I listened for a while, and nothing else happened, so I bravely went back to sleep. In the morning, it transpired that it was a coconut falling out of a tree and landing on the tin roof of one of the huts. There was a very big dent in the roof to prove it. It turned out that we had chosen to visit Havelock right in the middle of the ‘Coconuts-falling-out-of-trees’ season. Most British people imagine coconuts to be those smallish, brown, hairy things that you can see in Tesco from time to time. In fact, when fresh, they are green, about three times the size of the Tesco jobbies, and weigh anything up to about six or seven kilos. In any competition between one of those, falling out of a tree at 32 feet per second, per second, - and your head – the result would be Coconut 1, Your Head 0.

View of the sea, from the restaurant. Note the 'occasional' coconut tree.

I don’t want to over dramatise, but I would imagine that the human population of Havelock could be counted in the low thousands. On the other hand, the coconut tree population could be counted in the high tens of millions. Eventually, an official ‘coconut-cutter-downer’ appeared and removed the coconuts from the trees near to where people would be likely to be. It wasn’t actually a big issue, there were only maybe three or four a day that fell nearby, but just reference the issue if you ever feel like emigrating to an idyllic tropical island.

Two of the main attractions on Havelock are fishing, and scuba/snorkel diving over the magnificent coral reefs. I think my holding-my-breath-for-a-long-time days are long gone, and I assume that much the same applies to John. So we did the fishing trip.

'Our' fisherman, steering.

It costs 1,500 rupees (£22) to hire a fishing boat, and we split this between four of us, John, myself, and an English couple from the hotel. The deal is that you turn up at the port at about 3.30 in the afternoon, and you go out to sea on the boat, and hand-line fish. The fisherman provides the lines, and the bait, and the expertise, and all you do is try and determine when you have actually caught a fish as opposed to having fed it.

         MY fish |!I caught a few small fish, and so did the English couple. The problem was that we had a true professional fisherman in charge of the boat, and he was determined that we should catch some ‘proper’ fish. So the trip went on and on. Darkness fell, and still we fished. Eventually, we reeled in and the fisherman set course back to the port. Except he didn’t, he set off for yet another ‘good spot’ and stopped again. We all had to tell him that we had fished enough, and that we were quite happy, before he relented and took us back to port. It was good fun, but just a little too lengthy.  

'Fishless John' - doing his 'Old Man of the Sea' impression

Over the weekend, there was an important religious festival.

Young Danish girl after having visited the colour festival

Part of the celebrations involve throwing coloured powder dye over everyone that you meet. The young Israelis got quite carried away with the whole thing, and even the Danish family went out and got involved.

..... and her parents

 Me? I am a great respecter of other people’s religions, but that doesn’t mean that I have to get either circumcised, or get plastered from head to foot in, difficult to wash off, coloured dye. I kept a very low profile, and only scuttled across the road for a beer once I was fairly certain that all the dye powder had been used up. The place was littered, for the next few days, with people covered in ‘nearly washed off’ dye stains.

Coconuts and colour festivals are all part of the pattern of life, and long may they continue to be so. It is a triumph that, in 2010, Havelock remains a rich and magical place. Long may it remain so. Perhaps the Commissioner is actually doing quite a good job.

Beach at low tide