NeilIsland, The Andaman Islands

The sea was warm and calming like a luxurious bath. It lapped up against my skin and cooled me as I floated there on the surface. The sun beat down, scorching my skin. The surrounding islands could be seen on the horizon, blanketed in a lush jungle green. The group of twenty something’s at the hostel told me of a dugong that occasionally visits, and of the best parts of the ocean to snorkel and discover tropical fish and coral, so I ventured further out and set off to snorkel.

In the shallows where I relaxed, remnants of rocky dead grey coral peeped out from under the sand, a marine graveyard; a shift which occurred after the 2001 tsunami. For a couple of hundred metres out it all seemed bleak and lifeless, when suddenly, there was a huge underwater drop in the shape of the land and I seemed to be looking over a huge cliff. Spread afore me was the most alien, beautiful landscape I have ever seen. A thick thriving, moving, psychedelic coral garden, teeming with bustling crowds of colourful fish! Colours fell like a mantle, glowing bright yellow, violet, white and blue in different shapes and textures, a patchwork. Ripples of light that reflected from the surface moved across the garden, adding underwater magic. I swam down towards it, where the water instantly felt cooler.

Butterfly fish in striped yellow and black swam in synchronisation, clown fish fed on purple coral, lonesome green parrot fish rummaged in the undergrowth. Some coral glowed like white orbs, like spaceships and were as tall as myself, some grew even taller. I was careful not to touch the coral, but I was afraid to swim too close to the orbed ones as to me, they almost looked electric.

A person from the twenty-something hostel group had come into vision. He came to join me, an Austrian stone worker named Gus. His arms waved at me frantically when he came into sight and bubbles streamed from his snorkel. He pointed downward beneath him to what looked like a huge part of a tree trunk. I got closer, only to see it recoil from my presence- an enormous sea slug slowly
rippled its body, eyes protruding from stalks within its head. It was at least three foot across; an absolute beastly creature. I have always thought they would be no bigger than the commoner garden slugs and snails, but I guess there is space for them to grow in this aquatic expanse. I was amazed. I watched it for a time, not doing much before I turned to my friend who then pointed out a pair of giant Kingfish. They swam together, their heads moving one way then the other as though in a swift hunt for food. They were wide and intimidating, their teeth jutted out at all angles like that of a piranha, their eyes did not blink. They swam under us, their tailfins stroked the souls of my feet. I panicked a little and swam to the surface. My friend rose up with me, where we both ripped the snorkels out of our teeth and began jabbering, “Oh my days! Did you see that? That was huge!”, “Their teeth are massive!”, and other excited ramblings. We swam ashore after feeling rather cold and vulnerable in the depths of the ocean. There was no sighting of the dugong this time around.

Back at the hostel, we relaxed with the same people as the morning with bottles of water, beer and funny chat. It was mid afternoon and much too hot to do anything else. The owner of the hostel joined us and asked us for our orders for dinner.
“What do you have for dinner?”
“We have rice with fish curry, grilled snapper, Kingfish…”
“Yes, the giant silver fish, very wide, very tasty!”
He showed me a picture of a live Kingfish from the hostels diving folder. It was the fish I saw earlier.
“I’ll have a Kingfish please!”
“Haha, you are very lucky! Next month we will not have Kingfish. We wait for two months while they breed and refill the sea before we fish for them again. Boiled rice or naan bread?”
“Rice please.”
He took everyone else’s order, “Very well, we will go fishing now and your dinner should be ready for around 7pm.”
I laughed, amazed at the remoteness.

L Lane

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