Tango with the Cyclone

A Blog about a Trip that almost did not happen!

My husband and I chose to go to the Adaman Islands for our annual holiday in December. All our bookings were done by September itself. Our plan was as follows-

10th December- Pune -> Mumbai. (Watch Cricket Test Match at Wankhade Stadium)

11th December- Mumbai -> Port Blair (4 am GoAir flight, visit Kala Pani Museum and do scuba diving)

12th December- Port Blair -> Havelock Island (ferry ride and enjoy 2 nights here)

14th December- Havelock Island -> Neil Island  (ferry ride and one night stay)

15th December – Neil Island -> Port Blair (ferry ride)

Port Blair -> Chennai -> Pune (connecting Jet Airways flights)

We were ecstatic in anticipation of our first wedding anniversary trip.We planned the trip to the T. Booked really beautiful and comfortable hotel rooms. We even booked our private ferry rides online. Everything paid in advance for deep discounts!

On 7th December we first heard that a cyclone had hit the Adaman Islands. On 8th and 9th, the real panic started, the Navy had to be called in to evacuate 1500 tourists trapped in the Havelock and Neil Islands. The devastating photos were all over the news and every person who knew about our trip was calling us up to ask if we had heard about it. Both of us busy at work did not really pay attention to all this until 9th evening.

I had reached home early, when both sets of parents asked us to try and cancel our travel plans. I kept my work aside and immediately asked my husband to forward all the booking details to me. I starting calling all the hotels up. Not a single phone was reachable. Next step, I started reading all the terms and conditions carefully. The hotels said that in any event, if the cancellation is made within 7 days from the check in date, the charge will still be 100%. The ferry rides first said that if there is any cancellation is made due to bad weather conditions, the entire liability will be borne by the customers. My anxiety levels started soaring high! In spite of both of us being so financially prudent, this was going to be a major hit! Kartik asked me to start looking for alternate holiday destinations, but in case of no refunds our plan would have very much been only Goa! It was already 7 pm, our flight leaves from Mumbai in 33 hours and we have absolutely no plan of action! Our tempers were flaring and continuous arguments were taking place on calls and chats.

I decided to make myself a nice cup of coffee and relax till Kartik reaches home! I then remembered that I also had to close down the kitchen so I started clearing up. That’s when I found the last Chinese fortune cookie left from the Diwali hampers. It read ” Each day of your life is going to be a new adventure from hereon”. I took a deep breath in and calmed myself.

Kartik was home by 7:30 pm. I greeted him with positivity and informed him about everything. We decided to reassess the entire plan starting with the flights. Our attitudes changed to “if flights are operating, we are going there”. GoAir has probably the worst Customer Support system, but the flight was on schedule. Next step, Port Blair was functioning but the other two islands were not, so we could go to PB. I re-read all the terms. Found a loophole in fine print for the ferry rides, if the cancellation is done by any other reason apart from bad weather and before 2 days of the ride, only Rs 100 penalty, that too if the cancellation was done only via personal contact. Again, phone lines were down, so Kartik started writing emails. We even started negotiating with our hotels around their refund policies. All the flights were non refundable, so we decided to play along with it. Our action plan was, 2 nights in Port Blair instead of 1, prepone only one sector of the return flight i.e. PB to Chennai from 15th to 13th, 1 night in Chennai with our doctor best friend, then drive down to Pondicherry next day morning for a night and catch the same 15th Dec afternoon flight from Chennai to Pune. We started making all the new reservations.

10th December morning, with so much to do, we cancelled our Mumbai plan, and decided to take a KK Travels cab directly to the airport at night. We spent all mid morning at Jet Airways office at the Airport for all the changes. Our hotel reservations in PB, Chennai and Pondicherry were confirmed. We then booked a Self drive Zoom car for a round trip from Chennai to Pondicherry. By 1 pm, we finally started packing our bags. The weather updates were that Cyclone Vardha had moved away from Andamans and the weather was cloudy.

All went well and we reached our hotel Mega Pode in Port Blair by 8 am safely. It was hot and humid. We had not slept all night, so decided to chill at the beach the entire day and do scuba diving the next day. We decided to hire a bike to roam around, instead of a cab. The Senior Manager at the hotel Mr. Delhiraj (yes that’s his name!) took an instant liking to our free spirited nature and invited us in his cabin. He took charge of planning everything for us, including drawing road maps on the back side of old bills! (so cute!) img_20161211_083403

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Much to my husband’s dismay, we were given a non geared bike with a feminine helmet. We spent the day at Wandoor beach, about 28 km from our hotel. It is a virgin beach with less than 60 people around including the small time vendors and policemen. Little did we know that our troubles were not yet over.

Next day, we went to the dockyard from where the ferries depart for scuba diving. We got our first shocker. All transactions in cash! A nightmare in times of the Demonitization drive in India. We had to give away all the cash we had, 9k approx there for the booking itself. There was some time for the ferry to leave, so we decided to hit some ATMs to withdraw cash. We did not have an SBI account so our limit was 2k per person. So we went to HDFC ATMs. None had cash either. So we went to the Branch there. Words cannot express the kind of customer service we received at HDFC. In spite of not carrying our cheque books, they had a provision for cash withdrawals and we were refueled with enough cash for our entire trip. We reached the dock, just to find out that all ferries have been postponed. My dad calls me up with news! Cyclone Vardha decided to change its course and has hit Chennai badly. It will then move onto Pondicherry! My husband and I burst out laughing instead! We just could not believe our luck! Were we following the cyclone or was the cyclone following us?

After 2 hours of waiting more at the dock, the officials announced that the Deputy Commisioner has cancelled all ferries and there will be no water activities because of the cyclone threat. Another bummer! We both decided, that we are not going to let anyone or anything ruin our holiday. Instead we decided to head to the Sunset Beach at Chidiyatapu. I can’t decide what was more beautiful, the ride to the beach or the beach itself. The road was either through the jungle or right next to the coast. We stopped multiple times just to listen to the silence of the forest with absolutely no other human around or to gasp at the sea side wonders. It looked even better at night. The beach itself was like a swimming pool for us since the water was calm and we could go deep inside and watch the sunset! In water, jungle behind, the orange sun setting on one side behind the mountains and a full moon on the other side shining between the clouds. I have never felt more spiritually alive in spite of being in a crowd. It was all worth the effort! (unfortunately I completely forgot to click pictures at the beach, and these are only of the drive)

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Our flight to Chennai was delayed but nevertheless we reached there but were unable to meet our friend thanks to the cyclone damage. In Pondicherry, we ate at The Promenade, walked along the Boulevard sea coast in the evening, attended a Salsa Night at The Disdis Cafe & Co., had French food there, then had authentic Italian ice cream while sitting on the rocks by the sea in the moonlight!

For 5 days we were completely disconnected from the rest of the world, no internet and rarely any mobile network.We reached home in one piece and have never been happier in spite of so many bummers. After being together for 5 years, we learnt a new thing about our relationship, we are indeed capable of crisis management!

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