Monday, April 26, 2010


It is summertime in Bangalore and the heat wave is not letting up. April and May are the hot months and the locals say it is unusually hot this year. Late afternoon thunder storms are welcomed, bringing with them cool winds. In fact, at the first sign of rain (it’s been five months), Alanna runs around outside until she is soaked, singing, dancing and doing cartwheels!

Some say the heat is a side effect of cutting down too many trees in the city. Construction continues in every corner of the town and it seems there is a price to pay. For most families the heat makes it difficult to sleep. They can open the windows to let some air in but then the mosquitoes come in too. Keep the windows closed and it feels like a sauna.

We have fans and air conditioning – most, of course don't. However, the electrical can only handle one A/C on at a time and three fans (if we are lucky) or else the entire electrical trips.

The drawback for us is not being able to sit outside on the (covered) patio. After 9:00am it is just too hot. Walking a block to the mall produces such a sweat, one needs to bring along a change of clothes. Thank goodness for the pool - at least the water has warmed up to a nice temperature now. For much of the year it was on the cold side.

Of course the flowers and trees are blooming, our bananas are finished for the year, but the papayas keep on coming. And now it is mango season and the little rain that we do get ripens them, making them juicy and wonderful to eat or blend into mango lassi - yum!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 6): Port Blair

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We left Havelock on the 2:00pm ferry. This time we specified that we wanted seats on the upper deck and all together. Last time our seats were all over the place although we managed to find some close together. In hindsight we should have taken the newer catamaran which is a comfortable one hour trip vs the two hour older ferry.

Arrived in Port Blair and stayed overnight at TSG Emerald View Hotel. It's a 2 1/2 star hotel and it felt clean and luxurious compared to Barefoot at Havelock. We had an excellent meal at the hotel restaurant, including huge tiger prawns, chinese chili chicken and more at very reasonable prices.

Unfortunately we didn't make it to the sound and light show at the Andaman Cellular Jail and in the morning when we went there hoping to tour it, it was closed for Good Friday.

Port Blair was stinking hot and humid. The kids went back to the room and Michael and I went for a walk through the town. Very pleasant little town, lots of little shops, temples and quaint cottage style houses painted in blues and greens. Lot of trees and statues as well.

Off to the airport to catch our Kingfisher flight to Chennai and once we got there we were told that our next flight, Chennai - Bangalore had been cancelled. We would have to wait there for six hours for the next one at 8:30pm. Not too happy about that so when we got to Chennai we went to book in and asked if there was any other flight that we could take. Much to our relief Kingfisher put us on a Jet Airways flight that left at 5:30pm. So kudos to Kingfisher, I was impressed with that. But I must say the Jet Airways plane was much nicer and took only 40 min. vs one hour.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 5): Waves

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When we first arrived at Havelock it was almost a full moon. The waves at Beach #7 were pleasant for body surfing.

After the full moon and by the end of our week waves were much bigger and crashing very close to the shore. Does the moon have anything to do with this?  There was also a 6.6 magnitude earthquake near the Andamans on March 30th, right in the middle of our stay. Perhaps that caused the larger waves?

Our kids love being out in these huge waves and so on our last day that's what we did. We hung out at the beach with some people we had met from Mumbai. I started taking pictures and then this other family came along - a Mom with three young children and the grandparents. They start blowing up those inflatable rings for the kids to float in. Sure enough their first wave was their last. The wave was huge and sent the kids into the "washing machine" effect...and out they came. You can see them in the above picture just before getting pummelled. Others didn't know whether to run towards the wave, or away from it!

...and here's a couple more...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 4) - The Other Side of the Island

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One day we ventured to the other side of the island. We walked through the forest to the main road and got a three wheeler (tuk tuk). Havelock is a small island, but hilly and jungle like, with the occassional coconut grove or rice field.

We stopped at Village No.3 (exciting names on this island, eh?) to look around a bit. Village No.3 is found at a junction and is just a few touristy shops and local shops selling this and that. Not much to see so we carried on to the beach and past multitudes of backpacker huts. Stopped at Emerald Gecko and walked to the beach. Very pretty, turquoise water but we could tell it was full of coral, nowhere to swim.

Lots of backpacker types with dreadlocks hangin' on the beach. We walked from Emerald Gecko to Wild Orchid and stopped there for lunch. Had some really good Thai curries, fish and chips and the best cheese naan. The beach all the way was sandy, but narrow, even with the tide out.

We found lots of hermit crabs along the beach. They are so cool to watch. First they just look like shells but then you realize they are all moving.

The kids enjoyed them, as well as these tiny little crabs on Beach #7 that would dig a little hole and then make little balls made out of sand all around - super cool sand art.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 3) - Snorkeling

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We snorkeled at three locations.

One, Neil's Cove, is easy to get to as it is just around the corner from Beach #7. It is a beautiful little area, good for both swimming and snorkeling. It is best to go there when the tide is low as the tide goes almost up to the tree line when it is high. There is a good variety of fish in smaller numbers and some nice patches of colorful coral. We saw a school of Bump Head Parrot fish each day we snorkeled at Neil's Cove. Very cool. Unfortunately I do not have an underwater camera (although one could be a worthwhile investment), so here's a video link to these fish:

One day we did a snorkel trip and went to South Button and Lighthouse. South Button is a 1 1/2 hour boat ride from the Havelock Jetty. We booked it through Barefoot Adventures and it cost 2500Rp/person. This included snorkeling at two spots and lunch on board the boat. There were 12 of us and 5 crew.

South Button is a tiny island. We jumped in the ocean, put our snorkel masks on and looked beneath the surface. There was a  wall of yellow fish - hundreds of them, maybe thousands - it was unbelievable. The water was clear and the coral was magnificent in all shapes and sizes. Alanna tugged on my elbow and we went to the surface, "This is sic!" she said. That's a good sign.

We swam around the island in about fifty minutes. The tide was quite strong so for the first half it swept us along. There were many fish, in numbers and variety, and lots and lots of healthy coral. Of course on the return trip on the other side of the island it was a bit more difficult to swim against the tide.

Once we all got back into the boat we had lunch, a good Indian buffet. We relaxed and enjoyed the ride until we got to our next location: Lighthouse, only about ten minutes from Havelock. Here, there were not nearly so many fish but there were some giant clam shells which were impressive. It was nice to snorkel twice but it certainly was not going to come close to South Button. The kids took to jumping off the top of the boat for fun - sometimes I think that's their favorite part of snorkeling.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 2)...the Good Stuff About Havelock Island

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We were on Havelock Island for six nights and stayed two minutes from Beach #7, rated Best Beach in Asia by Time in 2004. Well, if you like a white sandy beach lined with trees that stretches for 2 km. this might just do.

Add clear, warm, turquoise water - no rocks, no coral - wonderful for swimming and you might start to love it.

Throw in amazing sunsets everynight.

Add an elephant or two in the water, on the beach or in the forest - and you've got the wow factor.

...and that's only some of Beach #7. Let's explore other parts of the island and more of Beach #7 next post.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Andaman Islands (Part 1): Barefoot at Havelock

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I guess I've been putting this off for a bit because this wasn't the perfect vacation. We stayed on Havelock Island which is gorgeous, full of trees, stunning white sandy beaches and some of the best snorkeling we've ever done. However, the place we stayed in was dark, dingy, hot and buggy: Barefoot at Havelock.

I guess I'll start by ranting and raving about the accommodation and save the positive comments and photos for later. First, in order to get to the Andamans we flew east to Chennai (1 hr), then out to Port Blair (2 hrs). The Andamans are way out in the Andaman Ocean, closer to Thailand and Burma than the Indian mainland.

We were greeted by Barefoot staff and driven to the ferry terminal, along with a few other families and couples. The ferry tickets were bought and given to us randomly. We handed our tickets over to the guy when we boarded and he did a double take. Each of our tickets showed that we were 30 - 32 yrs and all female except Craig. Yes, Michael became "Manisha" and we all had Indian names.

Two hours later we arrived on Havelock and again Havelock staff greeted us and off we went in a jeep for 1/2 hr to the "resort." We left our house in Bangalore at 4:00am and arrived at 4:00pm. Off to our two storey hut. It was a large, two storey thatched hut, quite picturesque with the jungle trees all about.

The bottom floor was dark, even with the (low wattage) lights on. We went up the ladderlike stairs to the second room and discovered that it was not enclosed, nor was there a door to the downstairs. There were mosquito nets on both beds, which means only one thing - BUGS. The upstairs area had slightly more light  but not much.

Now when I look at the Barefoot website I can read between the lines. "Experience the rare gifts of nature" really means "there will be bugs of all types and sizes in your room." And when they say "opens on three sides to the rainforest." it means you have no walls or windows and the bugs are coming in. "Mezzanine floor with low roofing" really means "this place is dark."

Anyway to make a long story short the place was dark, dingy, hot and buggy (hmm did I already mention that?). We had a turbo upright fan and a ceiling fan both of which we needed on because of the heat. Sounded like we were in a helicopter the whole time - so much for listening to the crashing waves or the sound of the birds singing.

The restaurant food was good but service lacked in all aspects of the "resort." Three of us would get our meal and finish eating before the forth person even got theirs.
All in all this was a backpacker experience at "resort" prices.
Had we taken a smaller A/C room our experience might have been better as they are sealed off from the outdoors - they have walls to the ceiling. The kicker was that Michael asked when we booked if they recommended A/C - and they said either would be fine, fan or A/C.

Barefoot at Havelock bills itself as eco friendly, and true I wasn't scared of the frog living in the bathroom. But did it really want to be trapped in there living in the sink console (we spotted it twice but didn't realize that was it's home til the last day)? What about the hundreds of ants on the toilet and all over the upstairs tea cup and desk that ended up dead? Or the big flying beetle bug that Michael stepped on accidently and killed - that wasn't pleasant for either of them.

OK, so that's my ranting and raving, next on to much better aspects of the island - beaches, fish, coral and elephants!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bangalore Days

Went back to see the Orthopedic specialist at RxDx yesterday (250Rs). As expected he just recommended resting my hand for 10 days. I was kind of hoping to get a decent splint from them but what he did was tape my 3rd and 4th finger together with that really sticky pink tape. He recommended coming back to see him in 10 days to start physio - ummm - probably not. Then they proceeded to charge 250Rp for the three little pieces of tape. That was strange. A consult with an Orthopedic specialist is the same price as three pieces of tape?? Oh well. First thing I did when I got home was take off the tape and reapply my own homemade splint.

I did ask the Dr.if I could do yoga and he said yes. So I got back into it today as spring break is over and the kids are back at school. I have to admit the headstand and handstands are a little taxing on the fractured fingers. Maybe I shouldn't do that for a couple weeks? But the good news is another spot has opened up on Fridays and so I will be doing yoga Tues. and Fri. It is so great!

Today is our 19th wedding anniversary and the doorbell rang at 7:00am. We ignored it the first two times but we figured they weren't going away by the third ring. Michael got up and it turned out to be someone from the restaurant in our complex wishing us a Happy Anniversary and inviting us to a free dinner tonight. Quite humorous actually.

Although it is tempting (especially for a Ukrainian) to take up an offer of a free meal just steps from our house, we are going to go downtown to the Taj to a recommended Vietnamese restaurant. Perhaps we can send the kids in our place for the free meal?

Tomorrow we have to go to the FRO office to extend our visas. I went down last week with Rohith (from Michael's work) who knows the people and helps us fill in the proper forms and get into the right lineups. Then we were given forms to take to the police station to verify that there are no warrants for our arrest. Tomorrow all four of us have to go and sit in the office while Rohith does all the work.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to All! We got up early and went for 7:00am mass at the local church. The church was full and it was a nice 1hr mass. They have a small choir and the priest speaks English well. It is a fairly simple church but colorful, especially with all the ladies wearing their colorful saris.

Came home and had one of my favorite breakfasts - fresh coffee and a fresh croissant. Michael bought the Italian Roast Starbucks in Beijing and I must say it is one of their better ones. We have the fresh croissants delivered from Chez Mariannick.

Then unfortunately Alanna and I were off to RxDx, the health clinic to see the Doctor. Alanna has an ear infection from all that wave jumping in the Andaman Islands. I have a slight fracture in my 4th and 5th fingers from a little accident I had when building with Habitat for Humanity. Alanna is now taking antibiotics and ear drops. I have to go back tomorrow to see a specialist.

RxDx is close to where we live and has a good reputation. It is clean, proffessional and they were quick to see us. The cost for the initial visit was 300Rp ($6.50 Can.). My xray which was done right away (and I keep it) was 250 Rp and Alanna's prescriptions 250Rp. A grand total of about $17 Can.

We were planning to go to Olive Beach for brunch but it's a bit far away with Alanna not feeling well. So we will go to Toscanos for their brunch.

Happy Easter, we are thinking of all our family and friends back home. I'll post soon about our Andaman trip!