Friday, March 07, 2008

Diving in Havelock - Dive India, Island Vinnie

This blog post is about Dive India / Island Vinnie's resort. Hopefully it will be used as a reference and be helpful for people who are interested in diving course / accommodation in the Andamans (Havelock).

Soon while researching I realized my only option to go on holidays around the Andamans is in Havelock. It seemed to be the only place I could figure out the transportation easily and after very positive reviews about Dive India and Island Vinnie, I looked no further.

Naturally I started browsing their website which had plenty of useful information. Actually the only place I could find such. The plan your trip part was essential and recommended even if you don’t plan to stay with them but only to visit Havelock.

For me, the easiest option was to take their all inclusive package. Later I found it to be the right decision. It included the diving course, PADI certificate, accommodation, fun dives, food and great company. The resort and the diving center is owned and run by Pritha and Vinnie for 5 seasons now. One can easily notice all the hard work and their awareness for details.

The diving course on its own costs 17000 rupees and package 23,500 (440 euros). Three and half days were devoted entirely to the course.

The first day was an introduction and an overview for the basics one needs to have. The following 3 days started fairly early. Sunrise is at about 5 and sunset at 6ish due to the Indian standard time the island follows. At 6:55 we were all at the restaurant, placed our breakfast orders, walked to the diving center (at the same ground) then we assembled the equipment and went back to have our breakfast. At about 7.30-8 we were on the boats and ready for the day. It took us about an hour each direction to the diving location in quite rocky but pastorally boat.

During this time our awesome instructor Vikas used to brief us with the plan for the day. We went down for the dive / skills practicing for about 40 minutes and then went back up to the boat where we found fresh tasty Samosas, coconut cookies, bananas and hot Chai. After a short rest while the boat was already on the way to the next diving spot we were back in the water for another session. The time in the boat was the best way to see Havelock and the other islands from the sea. On most islands non-indigenous are not even allowed to be on so from the boat we were safe. Needless to mention the beautiful turquoise blue water surrounding us all the time and the dense greenery on the islands.

We were back in the center at about 2pm every day. Ordered lunch, went to take a shower and sat down for lunch. Afternoons were devoted for theory classes and videos. At 9pm I was so exhausted and fell asleep in my bungalow:

The center and the village (it is really the same place) are very laid back and made me feel very comfortable. I stayed in the non-deluxe bungalow which was more than enough. We had shared showers with hot water these were kept very clean all the time and shared with about 8 bungalows. The resort is right on the beach and 15 minutes walk to the small market in village #3.

I do recommend staying in the village and using the diving center it is the friendliest I’ve seen.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Havelock, the Andaman islands

Not having lay-back holiday for a long while, I decided to take a week off after work to relax in an exotic place. A week before I was still undecided as where to go; Goa or the Andaman Islands. The Andamans were with no doubt the preferred option but with the down-side of expensive flights and lack of information online or in Lonely Planet. I spent hours on the web trying to figure out ferries to the smaller islands from Port-Blair. It was not easy. Having in mind that I wanted to do open water diving course did not make it any easier. Luckily I came across a detailed blog post which helped me to set up my mind and pick up diving center.

Although searching quite a bit I didn’t manage to find information. Focusing on Havelock and the blog directing me to Dive India helped a lot. So I browsed their website for a while and emailed them to verify some of the details (although everything was on the website and up to date). Pritha the owner (with her husband Vinnie) replied to my queries fairly quick and even put light on my concerns about the ferries to and from Port-Blair which later on I found can be a pain without the right connections and bribe.

I spent a week in the resort where I also completed the course and made friends I hanged out with most of the time. I will write another post about my diving experience, the resort and the diving center later on.

To get any of the connecting ferries to the islands from Port Blair forces anyone to spend some time in Port Blair. 4-5 hours on the day of arrival and over night a day before departure. Port Blair was a lil disappointing and not much of an interest, just like most advices indicated. Having said that, I’m sure it is only because I didn’t have the time to explore outside of the city. The island seemed very green and relaxed.

My original plan was to get to an isolated island, do nothing and relax after an extremely busy time at work and traveling over the weekends. Of course it never happened. I ended up barely having time to sleep or even to look around the island. One evening I managed to go to beach no #7 which is apparently the best beach in the world and one can notice why quite easily. It is so beautiful I only wished I could spend an entire day there. I also tried tender coconut which was yumm.

... and in sunset

The book I brought with me remained almost untouched till I spent some time on the roads on my own while on my way back to Hyderabad and then home. Since I left Hyderabad I avoided “spending” my iPod worried I will have to use it while resting – it was of course full.

I do have plans to come back to this island. Hopefully it will not get spoiled with the hundreds of tourists by then. I had in mind going to night fishing and birds watching which I unfortunately had to skip.

Nevertheless I am satisfied, PADI qualified and tanned :)

Kerala's backwaters

For the last weekend with my fellow expats we decided to go for a sail in the backwaters of Kerala. I’ve been told by most of my team-mates that Kerala is a must stop and I soon realized why. Already from the plain I could tell how beautiful it is going to be.

Surprisingly arriving on time, we took a prepaid taxi to Alleby the place where all boats are docking at and leaving from. It took us about 2 hours where I had to sit on the gear stick which was not pleasant at all.
Arriving to our very basic but lovely guest house horribly hungry we went for dinner in Park hotel for A/C and booze.

The next morning Aly, Priz and myself volunteered to wake up early and go for some bargaining. The “quick” breakfast we were thinking of took more than an hour with terribly slow going kitchen staff.

We walked out to the main road to bargain for an auto-rickshaw which really upset us (extreme greediness) and after 10 minutes we arrived to the port where we could see tens of tens of boats getting ready for their noon departure.

After checking out a dozen of them we found the one we wanted and was available. Bargaining for the price was not easy and made me VERY annoyed and I even yelled at the “agent” which was a pain. Next time (if ever) I’ll do it completely differently. If you are going to go there do the research and talk directly to the boat operator. You will end up getting a better price and no misunderstandings and false promises.

We hopped on at about noon, and with our request (and money) the boat was packed with booze. We spent overnight with the extremely nice staff which cooked beautiful food (including giant shrimps we bought from a passing fisherman.

So we were 11 people on 3 double-bed boat and we had to fit in somehow. Excited (and stupidly) Aly, Priz and myself volunteered to sleep on the roof deck. You can imagine how many bugs were around us. I could not sleep all night but the girls were fine.

The next day we went for a walk at the beach in Allepy where we saw from distance dolphins. Hungry again we walked (more than an hour) in the unbearable heat to a nice restaurant. And later on to the A/C pub to regain powers for another 2 hours ride back to the AP.