It was fantastic to be back in India again – the colours, the traffic, the kind people – but Port Blair is like “India lite”.
The traffic is much less hectic (but still anarchic), the place still has a buzz but there are far fewer people, it is much cleaner and there appears to be none of the grinding poverty you see in the larger Indian cities.
However, one thing is exactly the same – the language barrier. Despite speaking exactly the same language, our accents sound strange to the Indians (especially Australian) and we struggle to understand theirs (especially on the VHF) radio.
There is next to no Internet access so despite our agent Rathnam giving us a SIM card, there was really no social media to speak of. Listening to VHF radio traffic between Port Blair Port Radio and visiting yachts fast became a substitute! As soon as a boat called into Port Blair Poet Radio on the listening channel (16) and were instructed to go to 10, all visiting yachts switched channels to hear the highly entertaining conversations.
The most hilarious were when you (without the stress of needing to get the information correct) could understand what each side said when the people involved had no idea. The perplexed silences and the completely incorrect guesses at what had been said gave us all a good giggle.
For example: “Port Blair Radio we are upping anchor and request permission to exit the port”. Silence at the other end – you could almost hear them thinking “what is this upping?”
Then after a short exchange Port Blair Port Radio says “Wait on 10”. Not hearing or understanding the word “wait” the sailor says indignantly “I am on 10” and confused, goes back to 16.
Back on 16 Port Blair Port Radio “Yes you can go”. “Go oh” is the reply and you can hear the sailor thinking (who by this time is half way out of the harbour) “does he mean go as in leave or go to Channel 10?” “Yes go, go,” Port Blair Poet Radio says with a touch of frustration. “Go to 16”.
A few minutes later Port Blair asks “what is your latitude and longitude?” The yacht gives its coordinates. “Oh so you have left already?”
Then another yacht travelling with the first yacht asks permission to leave. The first exchange has taken so long they too are nearly out of the port. To compound matters their radio starts to malfunction. Port Control “you’re not much clear”. And so on….
Like every other country, India wants to know where yachts are, where they’ve been and where they are heading. Unlike Australia, Thailand and Malaysia where they can track you to the nearest millimetre electronically, India does not appear to have the technology to enable them to do this. It seems therefore, that the port authorities are being overbearing and officious when really they are just requiring the same information as other countries expect but can obtain more easily.
The importance of having this information is completely understandable in the context of the 2008 Mumbai bombings where the terrorists came in undetected by boat.
Similarly, the ban on Satellite phones- during the hotel sieges the terrorists were obtaining instructions from Pakistan via Sat phone.
Our mission for day two was to get some cash. In India the conundrum with money is that you aren’t allowed to buy rupees outside of the country and bring them in but ATMs often have long queues and then can run out of money.
The bank workers’ strike the previous day obviously exacerbated the problem and in the end after trying a number of different ATMs, we managed to withdraw a very small amount as there were only 100 rupee notes left ($2) in the machines.
With wallets bursting but with very little money, on Rathnam’s advice, we went for a lovely lunch at a hotel restaurant on top of a hill called the “Megapode Nest”.
The restaurant was part of a hotel that appeared to be housed in buildings that dated from colonial times. It had a superb view of the entrance to Port Blair and we found signs of a gun emplacement so we thought some of the buildings might have been barracks in former times.
We have found that most restaurants in the Andaman Islands do not serve alcohol – at the Megapode we were able to order a drink at a bar in a separate building and sit on the terrace and enjoy it with our lunch.
We were unable to buy a second one because the bar closed without warning while we’re eating!
After a late and long lunch we made our way back to to retrieve our dinghies and return to our yachts.
The day finished with the crews of Yantara, Smart Choice and Paseafique coming for Sundowners on Bali Hai which was a lovely end to a great day.
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