An ancient ceiling fan creaks slowly overhead, chopping into the thick air with monotonous futility. Sweat is beading down my face, carving long rivers down the back of my drenched shirt, yet the man behind the counter looks impeccable. Dark hair neatly combed, a striped tie knotted elegantly around his collar. His white long-sleeve shirt remains immaculate despite the humidity that feels like you could wring it, wet and dripping, from the air. “Not possible,” he says, unblinking. “We’ll pay extra,” we plead desperately. “We’ll stand.” “Not possible,” he replies blankly. “Maybe Sunday.”
Sunday. Three days from now. A swell is marching across the ocean towards a tiny speck of jungle that lies 12 hours away. We have already traversed thousands upon thousands of kilometres, days melting into departure lounges and taxis, broken by fitful sleep on streets outside airports. A boat ride is all that stands in our way, one final obstacle. But the island we are trying to reach is tightly controlled by the military. No other vessel besides the government-owned ferry is allowed to transport passengers there.
The ferry used to run daily, we’re told, until it capsized a few years ago, swallowing hundreds of passengers. Now the schedule is erratic and nobody seems to know with certainty when it will arrive. That morning we’d joined a large crowd gathered outside the harbour gates, pushing up against each other in the hope that there would be an open space on the ship that had arrived unannounced overnight, hoping that someone with a ticket wouldn’t show up. An hour of shouting and confusion ensued, sticky bodies pressed together, before we were all turned away. The boat was full. There wouldn’t be another for days. In desperation we tried the ticket office again.
“Please, we’ll do anything, we have to get on the boat,” we beg.
The clerk looks at us impatiently, adjust his glasses and sighs. “Maybe Sunday,” he says again, bobbing his head from side to side with finality.
India has over 1000 islands, small jewels tossed loosely across the ocean, connected to the mainland through invisible lines spanning centuries of trade 046 and conquest. These islands are not known for waves. Swells have to creep thousands of kilometres further to make landfall here, a final death run as they push past the Maldives, beyond Sri Lanka, across the imperceptible line where the Indian Ocean melts into the Arabian Sea.
We all knew it was a gamble, the vague hope of a swell that would travel far enough to coincide with our journey. But Tim Williams, his prodigy son Sebastian and Jordan Alexander had all signed on willingly. Now we were watching helplessly as that unlikely swell prepared to pass us by.
Outside the harbour a cacophony of hooters fill the tangled streets. A cow saunters across an intersection, swatting flies with its tail. The endless roar of cars and motorbikes instinctively changes course and flows around the holy diversion. Crumbling pavements and buildings overflow with people, who spill onto the road. A teenager pushes past us in the crowd. On his shirt is a psychedelic marijuana leaf emblazoned with the words “Welcome To Hell.”
We need to think, to come up with a plan, so we follow the scent of the ocean through the maze of hills and streets to a beach where a crumpled resort bookends the sand. The water is grey and warm. Swimmers frolic inside a chain-link enclosure that extends like a giant U into the listless sea. There is a lifeguard perched on a broken seawall and we ask him what the enclosure is for.
“This is for the crocodiles,” he says, as he