Neil Island, Havelock Island & the hostess with the lessest

Turquoise sea. White powdery sand. Relaxed coconut palms. Vibrant mangroves. Huge majestic trees. Colourful bamboo huts. A diminutive market that sells miniature mangoes, gigantic jack fruit and ready-to-drink coconuts. More bikes than motorised vehicles. A lone hut in which to buy diesel out of recycled water bottles. No wifi and just one school. This is Neil Island. One of the hundreds of islands that makes up the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Paradise.
Glad to see Shell/BP/Tesco hasn't driven this man out if business... Yet.

Of course to reach paradise in this age of globalisation one must expect a journey. And that it was. We set off on the 16th Jan around 2pm by rickshaw from our hotel to a catch a local bus from Kollam to Trivandrum. Then a rickshaw to our conveniently located hotel at Trivandrum airport (literally in the car park of domestic departures). We managed 5 hours sleep before a 5.50am flight to Chennai to connect with a 10.20 flight to Port Blair. We traversed the bay of Bengal to reach the not-very-nice capital of the Andaman Islands at 12.25pm. Then 1 night's stay at a homestay.

Enough to put me off homestays for the rest of the trip. Don't get me wrong the house was lovely but the host was, let's say, a glass half empty kinda person. And we were obliged to eat dinner and breakfast with her. She proceeded to moan about pretty much everything, including India and the Andaman Islands in general, the weather, she said a cyclone was heading our way - poppycock, you name it, she moaned about it.

We were very pleased to leave there to catch a boat to our final destination. Said hunk of junk, sorry, boat, took 3 hours and included a lot of sea-sick people (fortunately not us), far too many cockroaches and a cricket team. Then at 4pm on the 18th January we reached Neil Island and paradise at last. More than 48 hours after leaving Kollam!

Hunk of junk
Don't mention the dark smudge in the too left of this photo, Duncan's camera grew it while we were there :(
Neil Island from the boat

There isn't much to do on Neil Island. So we embraced that and did very little. We did hire bikes and cycle from beach to beach, eating wonderful dosas and drinking expresso coffee in our favourite market establishment named Chands. We shared stories with fellow back-packers and drank quite a lot of Kingfisher with them. We watched beautiful sunsets. And, adventurously one day; Duncan went snorkelling with some Danes off-shore by boat - I sunbathed.

Chand's dosa, yum.
Beach number 1, Neil island.
Beach number 1

After 5 days of doing the above we thought we'd better visit another island. Because homestay hostess with the lessest had instilled us with fear about getting seats on boats we cycled down to the jetty early. Stopping for a quick coffee en-route at Chands, Duncan realised he'd mislaid his passport. Gulp! 45 minutes of panic ensued but were over when the passport was found lying on the grass outside the post office shack where Duncan had stopped earlier to post a post-card. Phew!

I then, quite out of character, jumped the queue at the ticket office, so abashedly that i got pushed by an Indian man. I pushed him back and stood my ground and got us on the boat leaving for Havelock 2 hours later. I must admit though, hostess with the lessest had me queue jumping and getting pushed unnecessarily, everyone who needed a ticket got a ticket...

And so to Havelock, the more touristed of the islands. After trying a few places we found a gorgeous beachfront wooden house in which to stay. The house was split into 4 quaint flats and our second floor balcony was just perfect for watching the palms sway over the white sanded beach. This time we hired a scooter as Havelock is about 17 miles square (Neil was 7).

Our abode on Havelock
View from our abode
Evel Knievel

Again we used the two wheels to take us from beach to beach. Particularly from our beach; number 5 to beach number 7. Number 5 and number 7 were both named "Asia's Best Beach" in an article by Time magazine in 2004 and not much has changed. They do not fail to impress. What was so very wonderful about them and and the beaches on Neil Island, was the lack of people and that absolutely no buildings were built on, or could be seen from, the sand. You had wide stretches of beach all to yourself for most of the time and no sign of development or commerce.

Beach number 7. Where is everybody? (in brummy accent)
Spectacularly no development can be seen from the beach. Hooray!
Most of the time it was just us and the crabs

On our final day we decided to do an introductory scuba-dive with a company called Andaman Bubbles. Everyone seemed to be diving on the Andamans so we thought we'd better give it a go. We learnt the basics and dived to about 5m. The fish and coral were amazing, maybe we'll do the PADI certificate later on in our trip.

The 12 days on the Andaman Islands flew by, I could have stayed 12 weeks but the adventure had to continue. We waved a fond farewell to India. And headed to Bangkok where we had a lovely evening with Julia and Sinead, ate some street food and picked up our visas to Myanmar. Yangon here we come!


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