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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 36: 30 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysUp onto the topmost deck for a better view. Great Nicobar does look like the stuff dreams are made of. Dark, wooded hillsides run down to the sea. No smoke to signal a settlement, no sign of a building, and what looks momentarily like a flash of light reflected on a window is the white foam of a wave breaking on an empty beach. (Later in my journey I was told of an outrageous but apparently successful attempt to bring tourists to Great Nicobar. During the monsoon torrential rain comes down spectacularly. A bright Indian entrepreneur advertised a tour for rich Arabs from the arid Gulf who could sit on their hotel balcony and watch rain for a week. It was a sell-out.)

Today's big event is a barbecue. The tireless Ivan has once again been the moving force, and the captain has agreed to pay for the drink.

Preparations start after lunch (i.e. about midday) when an oil drum, split in two and laid end to end, is filled with driftwood and set alight. Two 7-lb turkeys, skewered on a long metal rod and basted with salt and olive oil, are laid across the fire and turned continuously for about four hours. Everyone takes a turn, fortified with Zlatorog and mournful singing. Cans of Zlatorog tumble into the Andaman Sea and the singing becomes so awful that a huge cassette player is fetched out and a tape of Croatian songs blares out. More melodic than the deckhands' dirges but still no match for the sound of a 2800 horsepower engine.

The pathos in all this is that these are love songs, sung by a Yugoslav woman, and it will be seven months before any of the crew see Yugoslavia or a Yugoslav woman again.

3.15: first sight of the islands and coastline of Sumatra, and of a succession of vessels, 15 or 20 miles away, emerging from the Malacca Strait to head across the Indian Ocean to Socotra Island, Aden and the Red Sea. For a long time the land is a smudge on the horizon, barely distinguishable from the sky, but the moment when it becomes definably land, when features can be picked out, is for me one of the most exciting moments of sea travel, especially when it is a new land. The name of Sumatra I'd pored over in stamp albums and inky school atlases and read about in explorers' tales and quite probably Biggles stories. Now as I sit with the smell of woodsmoke, roasting turkey and diesel fumes wafting gently about me, it is slowly becoming a reality beneath a low band of dark rain clouds on the south eastern horizon.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 36
  • Date: 30 October
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Great Nicobar Island
  • Book page no: 118

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