Where Life is a Musical

Ahh, tropical oasis — although it was rainy season, the sun would shine for most of the day. Persuaded the manager at the nicest resort to let me stay for pennies — he was very bored. Tucked into my beautiful bungalow in the middle of the jungle — set back from a beach of powdery sand and blue water. Every night I would have fresh fish and local vegetables for dinner, after an early evening swim. Hired a scooter and zipped through the villages bordered by green rice paddies studded with beautiful silk saris. At one point I managed to get lost on the 30km’s of road, and found myself in a small village at the foot of the jungle. The route was a bit hazardous — women spread the hulled rice on the road to dry and be threshed by vehicles — but I managed not to wipe out. Morgan arrived the next day, and I met her with my scooter to take her to beach #7. Felt a little bit like a boda-boda driver in Uganda (need to tell you still about the crazy scooter and motorcycle taxis there) — it’s quite difficult to drive those things with a pack in the front and a person on the back with a really large backpack, but we made it with only a few small skids. Morgan opted to stay at another “guest house” really just a smurf village with elevated tents made with palm fronds. Spent a week wandering around the beaches, did a bit of snorkeling and ate really well. At one point a German couple showed up stocked with a full bar, very happy to share during cocktail hour.

Alas, much too soon it was time to leave. Arranged to met Morgan on the bus the next day en route to the fast ferry to Port Blair. Woke up in plenty of time, had to wait awhile for my bill to be calculated, and then longer while they fixed the mistakes, but managed to trudge through the rainy jungle to the road for a 8:20AM arrival (bus was due at 8:30AM). No one appeared to be waiting. Checked with the chai shop, and found that the bus had departed already. Ok this was a problem. Walked up to Morgan’s guest house (she had managed to catch the bus), and discussed my problem with the very nice owner. Turned out there was, maybe, quite possibly another bus at 9:15 — giving me plenty of time to catch the ferry. The bus arrived at 9:30 — I was still in theory likely to
make the fast ferry at 10:00.

It is essential here in India that buses retrieve people from exactly right in front of their home or path they walked to reach the road. In this case pick-up points were space about 15 feet from each other. Of course the trip would be much faster if people looked to their right, and their left and somehow congregated in a central location. But, really, what is the importance of time when you live on an island paradise. Unless you need to catch a fast boat. I endured the frequent stops, with (I believe) and a great deal of grace and no whining. We pulled into the jetty at 9:56.

I patiently waited while the driver maneuvered the bus back and forth for about 2 minutes trying to find the perfect parking spot. After his 3rd attempt, just as he entered the 4th, I shoved my way to the front, explaining I needed to catch the boat, jumped off the slowing lurching vehicle and hit the ground running. Ok, so those of you who know me well are well acquainted with my complete anathema to physical exertion. I hate being rushed. I hate having to move fast. However, when faced with the thought of missing a “fast” boat which takes only 3 hours and being forced to take a “slow” boat with a journey time of 7hours — I’m willing to move really fast. As I  rounded the corner and spotted the boat – gangplank up and about to pull away — I found even more energy which resulted in an extreme burst of speed. As I was running (up of course), I heard the pounding of feet behind me and shouts of “madam!” Finally, reaching the boat I leaped to the ledge of the ferry and clung to the side (the ledge was only around 2 feet, and with my packs I’m about 3.5 feet front to back). Looked around to see 2 soldiers or policemen — never sure whom is what or which — asking to see my permit (you need a different permit to move 10km in addition to the overall Andaman permit). Retrieving the permit was a bit difficult given my complete lack of coordination, my perilous footing and the fact that the permit was in my money belt underneath my packs. Managed to extract the piece of paper without landing in the drink, and shouted the number to officer #1 who wrote the number on his arm with an ink pen. They found the situation very humorous.

Thinking I was home-free, I suddenly heard the boat captain shouting done at me:

“Madam do you have a ticket?”

Of course I didn’t have a ticket I had just sprinted from the bus to the ship. Regardless I was not getting off the boat.

“You must return to the ticket counter and purchase a ticket.”

I shouted up that I would just purchase on board.

“It is strictly prohibited to purchase a ticket on board.”

Asked if he would wait for me.

“The boat leaves promptly at 10AM, you must take the next boat.”

I really was NOT getting off that boat. Shouted again that I would just purchase the ticket on board.

“It is strictly prohibited to board the ferry without a ticket.”

I figured that since I was already on the ferry this was a moot point. Glanced at the officers, who were doubled over with laughter at the sight of me clinging to the side of the boat having an argument with the boat caption above me. Finally made up a story about having to take a flight.

“Ok, you pay double.”

Fine with me meant the ferry cost $1 instead of 50 cents.

As the boat lurched away from the dock, I inched my way along the ledge to the deck, stowed my luggage and plopped into a seat next to Morgan, red-faced and sweating of course.

The talents I’ve acquired since traveling are nothing short of spectacular. I can scale a 30ft truck with 20kgs on my back, leap on to a ferry, climb back into rocking boat while treading water without losing my bathing suit and successfully run for transport. Still very lazy though. Still have difficulty walking down the street (in fairness the streets are often punctuated with big rocks, “potholes” that are 2 feet deep, open sewers, and a variety of vehicles and live-stock trying to mow me down.)

Arrived in Port Blair without further incident.

It was raining — a good day to avail ourselves of the Bollywood entertainment offered by the local movie theatre. Bollywood (located in Bombay) is India’s version of Hollywood and bears a surrealistic appearance to the original. The movies are all big productions. Lots of singing and dancing. There is always love, love lost, tragedy, and a big happy ending with true love found, all set amongst stunning scenery with lots of spectacular song and dance numbers involving large groups of people and numerous costume changes. The audience become very involved, singing, sobbing, shouting and cheering.

The production playing in Port Blair was called Army or something similar. The theatre itself appeared to have been left over from British occupation (Port Blair was a penal colony for political prisoners), and in very very sad repair. We were escorted to our “seats” in the front row of the balcony, by a guy with a flashlight. Took a few minutes to find seats with some semblance of upholstery and no sprung springs. Despite the lack of subtitles the movie was fairly easy to follow. Although the Army context was a bit hard to follow, coupled with the large number of male characters in high-80′s fashion with mustaches only minor confusion resulted and it quickly faded in light of the big song and dance numbers.

One of my favorite scenes (in addition to the Jackie Chan style fight sequences), was when the main heroine revealed herself to be 9 months pregnant to her male companions. Of course a few shots earlier she’d been impersonating an army officer (perhaps this was where the name came from) with a very flat tummy. While racked with contractions, she gave a long speech, tossed the men out of the room and sank down behind the bed. The men spent several screens gnashing their teeth and having musical flashbacks. She finally emerged in a spotless silk sari cradling a beautiful and very clean baby boy, at which point she broke into a big dance number.

The audience was getting very involved. The evening was extremely entertaining despite the spring that sprang in my seat, the 10 cockroaches I killed, the large rat running along the balcony rail, and the guy behind me who kept just missing me as he hacked and spat paan juice.

Flew to Chennai the next day, just couldn’t face the very boring boat ride — plus I was determined to make it to Ladakh before the road closed. Flying is an incredible luxury after extensive road and ship travel. I never wanted the flight to end. Jet Airways is the best airline in the world. They give you sweets, good food, and these little packets containing all sorts of useful items like sugar, salt, and pepper in packets, moist towelettes, spoons and forks, and many other essential items. My neighbors never mind handing over their extras — although I do sometimes feel like one of those senior citizens who pockets the extra rolls at Denny’s.

Upon arrival in Chennai we managed to make it to the train station where I booked a ticket to Delhi for that evening, and stood in line with Morgan to purchase her ticket to Tirapati. Tried to cut the queue a few times — ladies are allowed to take such measures — however, it appeared to be strictly prohibited. At one point, the woman behind us started complaining because we were standing 5 inches from the person in front of us, rather then the requisite 1 inch.

Said goodbye to my friend and settled down to wait for my evening train.