Andrew Taylor has travelled the world and seen some wonderful sights.
He’s strolled Bondi Beach, snorkelled in St Lucia on Christmas Day and bathed in a natural spring high up in the rainforests of Grenada.
His favourite holiday destination was the Far East. Thailand, India, Sir Lanka, Singapore.
He fell in love with India on a Christmas and New Year stay in Goa.
Andrew’s memories of the Far East were golden ones. But all that changed on Boxing Day 2004.
Andrew, now 49, of Golcar, was on holiday in Beruwala, Sri Lanka, with his then wife Julie and friends Greg and Julie.
What he was to see and experience would cast the darkest shadow over his life for the next decade.
Andrew was in Sri Lanka when a massive earthquake caused a tsunami which wreaked death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.
Across the Far East almost 300,000 people lost their lives. Thousands more were left with terrible injuries.
Andrew and Julie were sunbathing around the pool at the five-star Hotel Eden Resort when the tsunami struck.
Nursing a Christmas Day hangover, Andrew was reading a book when he slowly became aware of mutterings around him. Some of the locals were pointing towards the beach and he could make out the words “water, water.”
Andrew recalled a conversation the previous night with the hotel manager who said it was a full moon and predicted “the sea will play tomorrow.”
Thinking it was nothing more than a high tide, Andrew settled back on his sunbed. “It’s the full moon,” he said.
After a few minutes Andrew lifted his head and saw his friend Julie heading back towards the hotel. Then he saw Greg running.
Puzzled and more curious than anything Andrew went to meet them. “Run. Just run for f***’s sake,” yelled Greg.
Back in the supposed safety of the hotel, the friends decided against going for a walk to watch the phenomenon of the rising sea.
Instead Andrew settled back on his lounger and carried on reading. It was only when the water started to lap towards his sunbed that he decided to move his T-shirt and flip flops to prevent them getting wet.
Suddenly, however, Andrew started paying more attention. The sea had travelled 100 yards from the beach and wave after wave brought it closer and closer.
Even then Andrew’s biggest worry was that the debris-ridden sea water would put the pool out of action for the duration of his holiday.
Hotel staff came out with brushes and mops but it was an impossible task.
Thinking compensation for a ruined holiday, Andrew suggested going back to their rooms to get their cameras. It was a decision that probably saved their lives.
The camera was in the wardrobe safe but Andrew couldn’t remember the code. When Julie came out of the bathroom she shouted out the digits and the camera was retrieved.
At that moment there was an enormous crash.
“I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” recalled Andrew. “The crash was our patio doors being ripped of their hinges by a wall of water which was at least 6ft tall.
“The glass had smashed, the framework had buckled and the ocean was flooding into our room.”
He snatched mobile, passports and valuables from the safe and yelled at Julie to open the door. It was jammed. The room was a third filled with water in just 20 seconds.
“I kept thinking it was not our time to die. We were too young,” said Andrew.
Suddenly the door was smashed down from the outside. A heroic member of the hotel staff was battering all the doors with a huge hammer.
“Can you swim?” he asked. “Go upstairs and keep going. The sea is coming in but will not reach the second floor, I promise you.”
Andrew hurled Julie towards the stairs and screamed: “Don’t look back!” They fled for their lives up two flights of stairs, pursued by the ocean.
They emerged breathless into the relative safety of the reception area to a scene of devastation. People were injured and bleeding.
Suddenly there was another almighty crash. Another 15ft wall of water was heading for the hotel.
“I couldn’t take it in,” said Andrew. “It had to be a dream. “Outside we saw people clinging for dear life to anything they could get hold of.
“People managed to climb trees, sit on the pool bar roof and climb onto first floor balconies.
“The water crashed into the grounds like a raging bull. There were bodies everywhere.
“The people in the trees weren’t high enough. The water picked them off.
“It was like a film, not Boxing Day on a holiday in paradise.”
Andrew looked out of the back of the hotel. It was a scene he described as carnage.
Then, out the front, was another wall of water, bigger than the first, heading for the building.
“I thought this was it,” said Andrew. “I couldn’t see any of us surviving. The hotel had four floors and the only way was up.
“We had to abandon reception. If people needed help they would drown simple as that. We had to make sure we didn’t drown with them.”
By this time Greg and Julie had appeared and Andrew shouted at anyone who would listen to flee upstairs.
On the second floor, they looked out again over a scene of utter devastation. The swimming pool, swim-up bar and terrace was completely gone. Some 300 lives had been lost.
As they watched, exhausted, the sea began to sink back. As quickly as the water had risen, it started to retreat.
They had survived one of mankind’s greatest natural disasters but this was one holiday story that wouldn’t be told for a decade.
Horror inspired a book
Tsunami survivor Andrew Taylor turned writer and it proved to be a cathartic exercise.
An accountant by trade, Andrew initially struggled to come to terms with what he saw in the aftermath of Boxing Day 2004.
He buried the memories but in 2010 he came across a copy of the Daily Express, dated December 28 2004.
On the front page was the picture of a young boy and the simple yet stark headline: Orphaned.
The first few words underneath hit him like a bolt of lightning.
“He is the boy with no name, dragged from the waves and so distraught he can hardly speak.
“His parents are lost, no one knows his name. As the British death toll rises, he is just one victim of the tsunami.”
It might have been six years on but it was the first newspaper report Andrew had read.
The report said the death toll in Sir Lanka alone could reach 25,000. Sadly, 33,000 lost their lives.
That report brought all the memories flooding back and the dad-of-one – now married to new wife Mandy – decided the time had come to commit his experiences to paper.
Over the next six months every spare moment was spent at his computer, tapping out a remarkable account.
His 186,000 words – written in an autobiographical style – contains as much humour as it does tragedy. Without it the sheer horror would be too much to bear.
“I never set out to write a book and it’s certainly nothing I wanted to make any money out of,” said Andrew.
“I had not written anything before, other than reports for work, but once I started I couldn’t stop.
“It is tragic, moving, gory but in parts it is also funny. The humour just puts things into perspective.”
Andrew, who has only shared the book with a couple of friends, hasn’t thought of publishing it.
“That wasn’t the idea,” said Andrew. “I just felt the need to start writing and I’m sure it helped with the emotion of it all.
“Once you have emptied your mind, you have let it go.”
Andrew hasn’t been back to Sri Lanka since but the hotel, though shattered at the time, still remains.
“I will return one day,” he said. “Just not yet.”