Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mango Juice

22 February 2009 - Yacht Millennium anchored at Henry Lawrence Island, Andaman Islands, India. Day #6 in the Andamans.

Today wraps up the first chapter of our journey because Penny and Fiona (“Fuzz”) left our happy little family. I am not sure what I’ll do without Penny, because I’ve come to rely on her humour, wisdom and grace to get me through the hard bits.

The apparent goal of yachties is to anchor in uninhabited areas of natural beauty, so the only reason we anchored outside the little town of Laccam Harbour, was so that Penny and Fuzz could catch the ferry to Port Blair this afternoon. We had an adventure in this harbour town last night, when we dinghied in the dark to the rubbish covered beach and negotiated a jeep to drive us across the island to a “resort” for dinner in a little hut. We drank Hayward’s 5000 Super Strong Beer and toasted our last night together. Our jeep driver had been irritated by our request to be returned to the shore so late in the evening (9pm) and retaliated by not showing up to retrieve us from the dinner hut. Thus, we walked ourselves back through the unlit streets for 40 minutes, dodging the occasional honking motorbike or tut-tut.

This morning we woke to the not-so-pretty view of a handful of fishing boats on the littered shore of the harbour town. Our morning came to life when a wooden boat filled with pre-teen boys approached our yacht and negotiated the loan of all our snorkeling gear. John swam with them to the nearby reef and they were all smiles in our florescent coloured fins and masks against their dark skin and wooden boat. Later, we made our way to shore in search of chai tea and found ourselves at a “restaurant” run by one of the snorkeling boys’ mothers dressed in a bright and billowy red and gold sari.

We were surprised when Sacha, whom we’d met at Havelock #7 two days ago, turned up at the restaurant. Turns out he was searching for us because he wants to join the crew for the Maldives stretch! I’ve been on the fence about staying on the boat for the sea passage to the Maldives and was relieved that the addition of Sacha meant I wouldn’t be deserting a skeleton crew. Or, if I decide to stay, I’d strongly prefer to have another male crew member onboard. So, to be a little strategic, I discreetly approached Sacha and advised him on how to approach John about joining the crew: emphasize clean living, little to no drinking/smoking, no ego, willingness to learn …warned him that John previously declined a guy with tatts and a penchant for extreme sports as well as a gay, self-proclaimed “not-an-alcoholic” social drinker. I was curious to know if Sacha had talked to Lia about our full disclosure about the boat and the quirkiness of the voyage. He had talked to Lia and was undeterred (which means my good friend John R may be right - that our complaints may be bunch of girly whining about cockroaches and a grimy loo. Later Sacha came out to inspect the boat and his only request was that I move into Alyssa’s cabin so he could have my cabin. I obliged with Alyssa’s concurrence.

Still being strategic, I sidled up to John in the cockpit and timidly informed him that I may not continue on to the Maldives so he should factor that into his decision to bring Sacha aboard. Eventually we made our way back to shore, said farewell to Penny and Fuzz at the ferry (so sad!), and returned to the same restaurant for lunch. We ordered a round of Cokes from the boy’s mother in the red and gold sari. She said, “No Coke, would you like mango juice?” Sacha asked, “what about Sprite?” She opened an old-timey refrigerator, which was empty, except for one bottle of mango juice, and said, “Only mango juice. Would you like?”

We sipped our tiny glasses of mango juice while John put Sacha through a similar vetting process that he’d put Penny and me through late last year. What are your favorite hobbies? How much sailing have you done? Do you smoke? What kind of work do you do back in Switzerland? Sacha’s hobbies were outdoorsy – maybe skiing, snowboarding and something about having once been offered a contract to play professional soccer. He’s done some sailing years ago, but modestly assured John he’s forgotten navigation and how to tie knots, so he’s keen to learn it all again. As a matter of fact, he does smoke but would have no problem giving it up for ten days on the journey to Maldives. He’s quit many times before, especially when doing meditation in Thailand. John lit up at the prospect of Sacha being into meditation and explained, as he has to all of us many times, that he likes bringing “enlightened” people together on Millennium so we can learn from one another, meditate in the mornings and enjoy the plentiful supply of enlightenment books on board. Sacha casually mentioned to John that he doesn’t drink much, while throwing a knowing glance in my direction since that was in line with my guidance on clean living. To lighten the air of restriction, I announced to John that I will surely want to drink beer on this ten day sea passage to the Maldives.

The vetting continued and we learned that Sacha is traveling now for a year or two. He works odd jobs like parasailing instructor (maybe ski instructor?) and mostly as a secondary school teacher of subjects like art and shop and science. He travels for long periods because he finds Switzerland to be too closed-minded. He’d love to go to Madagascar and asked about crossing the equator – what I think is called the doldrums and is a stillness that can be quite horrible on a sailboat in the heat.

After lunch, Nat and John went on the hunt to purchase fresh fish since we missed the morning market. Alyssa, Sacha and I walked across the road, stopping in the shade where Sacha immediately lit a cigarette and gave me a sly grin. About ten minutes later we walked the rubbish covered beach to the dingy, stopping to snap photos of a pack of mongrel dogs napping in the shadow of a yellow wooden fishing boat. Sacha made his way over to me and discreetly asked what kind of alcohol he should bring for the passage. Rum? I said anything but whiskey, and breathed a tiny sigh of relief to finally have someone on board with a vice. He’ll meet us in Port Blair on the 1st of March.

I have about six days before we return to Port Blair, where I will have to make the decision whether to carry on to the Maldives or pack my bags and fly to Chennai. Oh but, ugh, I hate packing.

posted by ali's U.S. ambassador