Havelock and Andaman Islands
Ami Elsius isn’t satisfied just being a tourist. She prefers staying longer in places she likes to really get a feel of how people think and how they live their daily lives. She has spent 14 years in total outside of the Swedish borders and has made herself a home on four different continents. -My best travel memory is when I was on an uninhabited island outside of the coast of Tanzania and I discovered my very own pristine beach, filled with the largest and most beautiful shells I have ever seen. Or the time when I learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and I will never forget the first time I bathed below a waterfall in the rainforest. Ami shares her experience of the Andaman Islands, where she swam with the world's last remaining ocean-swimming elephant. Is it suitable to have a green spotted puffer fish as a pet? Swedish photographer Ami Elsius heads to Asia's finest beach to find the answer, all while snorkeling with an elephant, getting amazed by an electric snail and discovering a kind of paradise she did not believe existed. Text and photo: Ami Elsius Andaman Islands - A tropical love story In the early morning, not much is happening at Havelock beach number seven. Everything is exactly as it should be. The beach is completely deserted; the water is crystal clear, warm and perfectly calm, except for the small rolling waves where the water breaks. I'm on my way up from a gentle swim and I look up and see the magnificent trees lining the beach. There is something magical and very ancient about them, and in the morning light they look as if they themselves are almost glowing. My gaze sweeps over the dense vegetation further down the beach, on to the other side of the bay and up the mountain. It occurs to me that I am surrounded by extremely uncommon, largely undiscovered and thus uncategorized plants and that the remarkable songs of the birds coming from the jungle cannot be heard anywhere else in the world. I wonder if the colorful birds with the large beaks are singing one of those songs. I also wonder if those birds I saw earlier, the ones with split tails and small plumes belong to one of the 14 endemic bird species. That is, if they only exist here on the Andaman Islands? I feel something tickling my leg. I look down into the crystal clear water and see a little colorful fish, without any worries, taking his morning swim around my legs. With a big smile on my face, my thoughts wander to yesterday's dive, though I struggle at trying to remember all the different species of fish that I saw. Not just fish by the way. I'm thinking about the electrical clam I saw in a small cave. It looked like blue bolts of lightning shot out from its comb, but it was in fact the clam going through very fast color changes that made it look like that. What a strange little creature. I probably became most fond of a large, green spotted puffer fish though, with giant eyes, who was swimming close to me. I could not resist playing with the idea of diving for hours every day and having him like some sort of a pet. He probably would have been both loyal and fun company, as long as he didn't get scared and got all blown up. Touching those spikes is isn’t really recommended. I chose a few easy dives instead of those really deep ones, which can have strong currents, even though they were tempting. At Andaman Islands you can find some of the best experiences for all levels of divers and snorkelers. Unfortunately, certain reefs have become faded and the tsunami of 2004 also did damage to them. Yet the place is still swarming with tropical fish, anemones, sea snails and various other types of marine lives. There has not been many times in my life that I have seen so many varieties and such density of fish, even if I compare to places in the Philippines, the Maldives, Australia, the Seychelles, and Mauritius. The diving and the sport fishing are world class here because commercial fishing fleets have never exploited the islands. The 1 000 – 2 000 m deep continental shelves on the east and the west of this group of islands are home to whales, dolphins, manta rays and large fishes such as: Blue Marlin, King Mackerel, Dogtooth Tuna, Coral Trout and Yellow fin Tuna. In the shallower waters there is a plethora of tropical fishes, sea mollusks, and sea anemones. Closer to the coast you can even find manatees and giant turtles. While feeling the calm morning breeze, my thoughts wander and I start thinking about the five groups of ancient indigenous tribes who live here on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. One of them, the Sentinelese people, is the only tribe in the world still living like we did in the Stone Age. They live completely isolated from the outside world and there is very little information about them. This idea is very hard to grasp. That I am only a few islands away from some small tribe of people who have not changed their way of living, at all, for thousands and thousands of years. They are completely self-sufficient, living on a beautiful island paradise with the waters surrounding them full of fish and the jungle filled with animals and fruits. Maybe they got it right from the start. Maybe they never found any reason to change. We might have more to learn from them than they have from us. I realize that this place is not just any other tropical beach paradise. It is totally unique. A wonderful exciting feeling of adventure is spreading inside of me and I cannot help but to feel like an explorer from bygone times. Just like the one I dreamed of becoming when I was a child. (Elephant photo) Should have been a movie star Ranjan, the only ocean swimming elephant, came to Havelock island from a neighboring island to take part in a movie. However the filming was shut down due to lack of money. Ranjan, instead, got a tranquil life on the island where he now has celebrated his 60th birthday. Unfortunately his tusks at one point had to be sawed off because they grew crossed, preventing him from moving his trunk. Other than that, he is doing just fine. Farther down the beach, I meet my boyfriend, who is now awake and excitedly awaiting our special morning meeting, a photo session with Ranjan, the only elephant in the world with whom you can dive and snorkel. The first time we met Ranjan, we had booked a private washing, cuddling and feeding session with him. Ever since childhood, I have had a fondness for elephants and Ranjan with his wonderful soft and curious personality has only made that feeling stronger. So now it was time to meet him again. This time to take pictures of this place's very own Yoga master together with the elephant. The Mahout (the elephant keeper) and the Yogi, who see Ranjan on a daily basis, are usually the only people who are allowed to ride the elephant. But sometimes there are exceptions, like today. I felt calm with Ranjan, even though I was warned that he could swing his head and I could be thrown far away. And what happened in the end? Well... In the end, the Yoga master ended up being the photo assistant and held the lights, while my boyfriend grabbed the camera and I... I got to be the elephant model! The Andaman Islands Selected Barefoot Hotel at Havelock, where we are staying, is the only hotel on beach no 7, a beach which has been voted Asia's most beautiful beach in, amongst others, Time Magazine. The same resort also owns and manages the bookings of Ranjan. He is the very last of the ocean-swimming elephants that ended up here and it is claimed that he is the last elephant in the world that goes swimming in the ocean ever day. Barefoot, Havelock's finest and most secluded hotel does not provide room service, television, Internet or a working mobile connection, but that is also the whole point. Here they manage to combine luxury with a Robinson Crusoe feeling. Spacious and stylishly decorated bungalows and giant tents lay scattered in the rainforest. The exquisite and widely popular fusion restaurant with a menu inspired by Italian and Indian cuisine, the cozy bar, and the wide variety of yoga sessions and spa treatments surely enhances the experience. It is calm and tranquil, with focus on nature and simple comfort amidst the tropical greenery. Idyllic escapade You can easily rent a scooter and swish through forests, meadows, beaches, small simple farms, coconut plantations, cows grazing freely and children playing along the way. The enticing tropical aromas along the way makes me want to invite myself for dinner. The island is peaceful and tranquil and just small enough so that you will never get lost for long. You just have to remember to get enough gas in advance, as gasoline is hard to find on the islands. Shopping There are plenty of restaurants, hotels, and dive centers here. The shopping experience, however, is nothing to write home about, although the necessities can always be found. Numbered beaches and villages Just like the beaches, numbers also name the villages. To buy food, withdraw money or check your e-mail it is best to try either village no. 1, where the ferry from the main island docks, or village no. 3, which is close to the diving centers. In village no. 1 there is a police station, a post office, a helipad, the fire department and a veterinarian. You also find the island's hospital and school there. A map of the island will tell you that there is an Elephant Beach and an Elephant Training Camp, but none of these have elephants. Elephant beach, however, is a beautiful beach worth a visit. You can find the elephants only at Beach no. 7. Beach no. 7 is what I can absolutely recommend, mainly because it is so beautiful and secluded. Go for a swim, take short walks or go on excursions and get that true "Marco Polo" feeling. You can also meditate, practice yoga, and enjoy all those beautiful Ayurvedic treatments. Good to know! The Andaman and Nicobar Islands with their 572 islands are located in the Bay of Bengal, some 1 000 km east of the Indian mainland, a little bit south of Myanmar and north of Sumatra. Only 30 of the islands are inhabited. Getting there The easiest way to get to the islands is by taking a flight from either of the Indian cities Chennai (formerly Madras) or Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to Port Blair on the main island and then take a ferry to Havelock. The airport is located about five km away from Port Blair while the ferries dock in the central harbor. If you are at all claustrophobic or have a tendency to get seasick, you should choose the slightly more expensive and faster ferries. On the way back you have to stay one night in Port Blair. It is recommended to book accommodations in advance as they can be completely booked up under certain periods. Travel Permits Nowadays there is no need to get travel permits to go to the Andaman Islands. You only have to fill out a form at the Port Blair airport to attain a 30-day permit for staying on the islands. For environmental reasons and to protect those still existing small tribes, it is forbidden to visit many of the islands. At the time of writing this article, the places that are open to tourists are: the southern parts of South Andaman, parts of the Middle and North Andaman, Port Blair and the beaches near Corbyn's Cove, Wandoor, Chirya Tapuo, Neil Island, Long Island, and Clinque Island. Since the rules change frequently, it is important to check this information before your departure. The Nicobar Islands, located south of the Andaman Islands, are completely closed to tourists. The best times The weather is at its best from mid-October to mid-May. Since the Andaman Islands are located in the tropical belt the air is always warm, 23-35 degrees C regardless of season. During the summer months, monsoon rains; heavy storms and cyclones often hit the Islands. Between August and October, the monsoon takes a break and then wreaks havoc again in November, but often in a milder version. The raining then declines during December. If you want to go diving: the diving season starts in early December and stretches to late April. Diving is forbidden during the rest of the year. Thus the best time to go diving would be from mid-December through April. Port Blair - The main island The city of Port Blair is the capital of the Andaman Islands and in its Aberdeen Bazaar area you can find shops, restaurants, markets and several options for accommodation. Unfortunately, the illegal trade of shells and corals is quite widely spread here, despite the fact that even buyers risk a prison sentence. Corbyn's Cove lies 7 km south of Port Blair. Here you can find what are unarguably the island's best beaches (though they are not numbered). There are calm waters to swim in but not much to look at below the surface. The easiest way to get here is by booking a so-called "Rickshaw". North bay, located a bit north from the city, is the only good snorkeling place around Port Blair. You can get there by taking a ferry from the Aberdeen Jetty; the journey takes about 30 minutes. Light meals and snacks are available on the beach and you can also rent snorkeling gear if you did not bring your own. There are often a lot of people here, but also a lot of fish to see. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (Wandoor) is worth a day trip. This national park was founded in 1983 to protect the tropical ecosystem. Today it stretches some 281 square kilometers and comprises 15 uninhabited islands, two of which, Jolly Buoy and Red Skin, are open to visitors during six months each. A day trip from Port Blair will have you ride on a regular boat, only to be replaced by a glass -bottomed boat at the end. (Photo) We stop at a small house, filled with coconuts. In the yard outside there is a man sitting on the ground, chopping the coconuts with an ax. Those with fine white meat are thrown in one pile and the rest in another. He scoops out the meat and sells it, while the shells are used separately. We get a sample but instead of satisfying my hunger it only makes me crave more food. Ross Island - A historical exploration Ross Island served as the capital of the Andaman Islands between 1858 and 1941, before a major earthquake destroyed much of the island. Then Port Blair became the new capital. This small island, located just a few km from the Aberdeen Jetty, is covered with thick forests and overgrown ruins. Here you can go on historical explorations in the spirit of Indiana Jones. The island also has a museum, operated by the Indian Navy, and a graveyard. Neil Island - Cheap prices and backpackers This is a small, quiet and beautiful island, which is very popular among the more bohemian backpackers, who seem to set up tents and hammocks everywhere (although it is actually forbidden). A handful of simple resorts are also available. Be sure to bring mosquito nets, as there are a lot of sand flies around. You get here by taking a ferry from Port Blair or from Havelock Island. To get back you take the same ferry - which departs once a day. Barren Island - Active volcano and diving This island lies about 140 km from Port Blair and can pride itself with having the only active volcano in Southeast Asia. You will find good diving, fishing, and snorkeling spots around the island but you cannot go ashore. South Button - Snorkeling and deep sea diving This is a small island five km north of Havelock. The waters around the island have many very popular diving locations whose depths varies from 1.8 to 20 meters.
Ami’s Sicilian road trip tip
A round-the -island-odyssey focusing on Sicily’s most beautiful beaches, nature experiences and genuine culture…often off the beaten track and away from the usual tourist traps, with recommendations on the best places to eat and stay. Photos by Ami Elsius, all are from Sicily but not always in sync with the text “Cities and towns are written in bold font and the names of the beaches are underlined” Ps. I originally wrote it all in Swedish for the Swedish travel magazine Escape 360 and have just done a quick translation...so, sorry for the language that at times is a bit all over the place Keep an eye out for my next articles about the Sicilian temper, beach culture and food and wine introduction! But let's start with some general info about Sicily...or "La Sicilia" as she is called here in Italy... Sicily/ La Sicilia: The world's first multicultural society and Europe's most cosmopolitan region. Asians, Africans and many European peoples have ruled the island through history and have left their mark in art, architecture and cuisine, which you can still experience today. There are remains from settlements on the island from as early as 8000 BC. Sicily has attracted tourists, writers and artists for as long as 3000 years! It is not surprising given its magnificent scenery, exquisite cuisine and fine wines. Most famous however for the active volcano Mount Etna, Europe's premier natural phenomena as well as the "Godfather" films, but Sicily has as much to offer the avid historian and architect lover as the beach bum and gourmet. Sicily also has a fantastic nature, with forests, mountain ranges and miles of beaches…and this is what I will focus on in this article… * Etna is Europe's highest active volcano that extends 3320 feet above sea level and is one of the world's most active volcanoes. When: Sicily is most beautiful in spring, early summer and autumn, but even in winter, you may get the whole week with temperatures up to 22 degrees. Citrus fruits ripen in time for Christmas and the cherry trees bloom in February ... just to get an idea of the difference between the Northern Europe winter climate and the very mild winters south. I can recommend all months except August as many places can be packed with tourists. The temperature can rise to 40 degrees with a hot wind that pulls in from the North African deserts and the green hills burned yellow by the sun. Sicily was before, with all right, a popular winter destinations, but charter and low-cost airlines have made it harder and more expensive by just providing flights during the summer. Etna has a white snow-cap during the winter months and offers downhill skiing, with slopes and ski lifts. April is probably the month with the most contrast between Northern Europe and Sicily; while up north it is still below zero and snow, but in Sicily tourists are already sunbathing and swimming in the ocean (the locals waiting another couple of months). Transport Flight: Flights to Catania, Palermo or Trapani Low cost flights are available to Palermo and Trapani, and all inclusive packages to Catania. Many miss that Sicily is a big island (the biggest in the Mediterranean); 25.711 square kilometres. Often people make the mistake of purchasing a discount ticket to Trapani or Palermo and think they can take a taxi or bus to Taormina in a few min. It’s about 30 km distance, with winding roads, so count for 3-4 hours. Car: I can warmly recommend to make your way around Sicily by car. Unless you are in a hurry, and the goal is more important than the trip for you, then I advocate the smaller roads with fantastic sceneries. Se below for my road trip tip, a tour around the island by car. On foot: Sicily has beautiful hiking trails for all levels: in the mountains, rivers, forests, hills, through small villages and farms or along the ocean. www.vaicoltrekkiningg.com www.siciliaincammino.it www.mediteraneantreking.com www.sicilianmoutaintrekking.it www.yumping.it/trekking/sicilia Skiing: Go skiing on Mount Etna From December to March or April. 5 lifts and 5 runs, 1 green, 1 blue-red, and 1 red-black-red Elevation 100m. Climbing: Sicily has a lot of good and varied climbing with amazing views. For the serious climber the book "Di roccia di sole, climbing in Sicily" is recommended, written of Massimo Cappuccio and Giuseppe Gallo with a detailed description of 68 different locations (most with multiple routes). “Do like me and contact local climbers through the world's largest, Gothenburg-based climbing forum: www.8a.nu who can show you their favourite places.” Most Sicilians are very hospitable and generous and like to show off their island for the uninitiated.
The Last Light of Autumn
Soft romantic colours and materials of Danish designers. Shot on a cold, grey and totally overcast October day against a withering castel garden. One hand held warm light (Coloured Gel infront of the strobe...I used a mix of a soft pink and a yellow light creating almost a salmon colour effect) through the foilage creates the feeling of a distant sun. I am at 6:00 O'clock and the model at the centre of the clock facing me or on a slight angle, the strobelight was held at 10:00 or 2:00 O'clock, pointing towards the model through some foilage. Canon 5D Mark II Tokina Macro Lens 100 f 2.8 I used a very short depth of field, ranging from 2.8 to 4.0, making the background blurry and creating a softer romantic look QFlash Trio (QF8) Qflash Pilot (Wireless Control) Quantum Turbo SC Power Pack I used the Quantums standard light shaper with gels that I cut out from sheets myself. They have filter and gel packs that they sell but often I find them to strong when I want a soft natural effect. http://www.qtm.com Desaturation and filters in Lightroom and skin retouching in Photoshop
Yes, I confess, I am a Spa lover. It’s not just about the pampering and the treatments…for me it’s an escape in to a more beautiful and peaceful world. A good quality spa, health centre or clinic is a place where you not only can get help to ease sore muscles, detoxify, relax and boost your overall look and wellbeing, but also a place to pause and reflect over your lifestyle, thoughts and habits. A place where you get inspired to be a better and healthier you, where you get reminded to take care of your health…both physically, mentally and spiritually. The modern day’s men and women lead very stressful lives with huge burdens on their shoulders of all the things they should be, do and become: successful, a good father/mother/friend/college/neighbour, rich, healthy, famous, beautiful, fit, handy, good cook, great lover, spiritual, cool, be mega social on twitter, facebook and your own blog etc. Not to mention all the things to decide about: from which phone and electricity company to use, to where to go for holidays, how to decorate the home, what to eat for dinner, which TV channel to watch, what politicians to follow, school for your children, house and car loans etc. You also have to worry about or take part in the debate about the end of the world, global warming, poverty, war, earthquakes, the collapse of the economy, trafficking, drugs, corruption and all types of pollution. Then you have the constant physical threat of additives in food and skincare products, harmful chemicals in fabric dye, wall paint ant inflammable protection for furniture, clothes and beds, air, noise and water pollution, radiation from cell phones, computers, TV’s etc. No wonder people stress out and hit the wall, eat anti depressants and medicine for stomach ulcers. Choose a holiday that is beneficial for your overall wellbeing Instead of just booking another shopping, party, or hang on the beach holiday….that might leave you with a lot to tell friends about, a nice tan and some new souvenirs…why not plan a holiday that is really beneficial for your overall wellbeing instead. Something that not just is enjoyable in the moment but also leave you recharged, refreshed and inspired. I have met too may people that try to fit in too many things to do and places to see in their holiday that they feel more stressed after the holiday than when they left. Many people have a tendency to drink a lot of alcohol or experiment with drugs on their vacations and feel worse than when they jumped on the plane in their home country. Over eating or eating the wrong things that result in a bad stomach is also common. Destination spa’s, day spas, healing clinics and hospitals, temples, ashrams and beauty parlours exist all over the world, from busy cities to empty beaches or magic mountaintops. Even if I am one for and completely recommend total emersion, you might not necessarily chare my passion for the intensive, results orientated spa experience. You can choose anything from intensive health regimes that lasts for months to the 30 min facial or foot massage. You can choose the spa as your destination or you can choose a destination near by a spa. Sometimes you have to compromise with your travel partner/partners or mix work with holiday…but there is always a healthy alternative that will fit your trip. Where as western medicine has a strong focus on the physical aspect of our being, Eastern medicine pay just as much attention to the mind and the spirit as the physical body. If you want an experience that is more than just skin deep, a trick is to look for a place where they have a tradition of practicing meditation and yoga. Below are some good websites that help you find the right spa for you http://www.fivestaralliance.com/besthotels/list/worldsbestsparesorts http://www.gayot.com/lifestyle/spa/thebestspas.html http://www.spafinder.com/
Travel Inspiration in Blue
Travel Inspiration Painted Blue Breathtaking panoramas, quiet beaches, deep waters and cloudless skies. Surrounded by blue, I never feel blue. Blue above and blue below, watching how they meet at the horizon...that's when I relax the most
Faluknama Royal Palace, Hydrabad, India
Taj Falukname Palace and Jiva Spa, Hydrabad India The Royal Luxury of Yesteryears
Hotel Metropole, Taormina Sicily
Here are some of the photos that I recently took for 5star Hotel Metroploe in Taormina, Sicily. You will soon be able to see them on their website and in their brochure as well. I still have a few more photos to finish and will upload them here as well once that is done....and with some more hotel info. In the meantime, enjoy the photos and start planning your trip to Sicily :) I do recomend a visit if you are in Sicily...even just for a meal or a drink. I am writing a post for the photo enthusiasts as well, about how I went about some of the shoots...you will find it under "Lessons" in a couple of days. I am writing a post for the photo enthusiasts as well, about how I went about some of the shoots...you will find it under "Lessons" in a couple of days.
The Mauritian Cultural Gem
Beneath the surface of Mauritius tropical beauty: with the sharp mountain line, rolling hills, white sandy beaches, rare plants and fragrant flowers, the rich marine life, fresh cascades and the warm turquoise blue ocean. Behind the famous five-star resorts, the high-class golf clubs and the world-class deep-sea fishing, there is a treasure that often remains undiscovered by visitors; the Mauritian culture…. or more correctly cultures.
Seychelles, Maldives or Mauritius?
What are the differences and how do you choose where to go? All three countries are located in the Indian Ocean and are famous for their white coral sand beaches, clear turquoise blue waters, excellent diving and deep sea fishing, as much as for their top class hotels and spas.
Sri Lanka; The Fishermen of Talalla
Imagine a place where time holds it’s breath and the hustle and bustle of modern civilisation seems eons away: A quiet place, peaceful and tranquil far away from stress, noise, traffic, news and information bombardment. Imagine a tropical paradise: clear turquoise blue waters, an almost deserted golden beach lined with swaying coconut palms and huge banyan trees. Giant sea turtles lay their eggs at night and the king fisher skilfully catches crabs during the day.