17 November 2010

The Maldives...

We have had a lot of great trips to a lot of great places: surfing, diving and exploring rain forest in Costa Rica, canyoning, biking and rafting in Utah, big mountain skiing in Canada, surfing and diving in the Caribbean and numerous others. We know that once our little girl enters the World things will change, at least for a while. So we opted to have one last trip. With Katharine being 6 months pregnant it was not going to be a wild one but that was no reason for it not to be special.

After looking at lots of options we settled on the Maldives. I have always wanted to go there and it suited our needs perfectly. Sun, sand and lots of options for being lazy. I have been feeling pretty tired and run down recently, work has been fairly stressful so I needed some R & R as much as Katharine. I had also heard that there was good diving and maybe a bit of surfing, so I wouldn’t get too bored.

We flew with BA and managed to get some good seats on the way out. The joys of travelling with a pregnant woman! It’s a long over night flight and when we arrived in Male it was hot and sweaty. I always imagined the Maldives to be up market and luxury so I was a bit surprised by the airport in Male which is pretty shitty and run down. Nothing bad, just not the opulence I had expected.

A quick, 40 minute boat ride from the airport to our island and things were looking up. The Maldives is a collection of desert islands. These islands are formed from the build up of carbonate sands on top of coral reefs. They are fringed by a lagoon which is in turn protected by the outer reef. That’s the science bit, a better way to describe them is to think about the cartoon Robinson Crusoe island with a single palm tree. They are not much more than that. It took 20 minutes to walk slowly around Kandooma, the centre was a dense jungle and the edge was fringed with sandy beaches and turquoise seas. The accommodation was in small single cabins and there was a central area by the harbour with a couple of restaurants and bars. It was all very luxurious and the staff were super friendly.

The room/hut was in the jungle, two minutes from the sea. It was surrounded by palm trees which were filled with huge fruit bats and all sorts of noisy birds. The shower had no roof and it was amazing to be able to stand in your hut, taking a douce, looking at the jungle and getting rained on. Nice touch.

We checked in and checked out the island. A quick tour and I found the dive centre. They immediately got me in the lagoon on a muppet test and when I had passed that promptly persuaded me that Nitrox (diving with enriched air) was the way forward and got me signed up on a course. I thought this was supposed to be a holiday?

Over the next week I dived pretty much everyday. The diving was excellent. Saw lots of sharks, rays (eagle, sting and manta) and some excellent reef life. We did a night dive and dived a purpose sunk wreck. The diving was in fact much better than I had been led to expect, I would say World class. The people in the dive center were super nice and very professional, I even passed my nitrox course without too much effort.

Each day there was the same bunch of people diving, plus or minus a few. There was a nice bunch of brits who were pretty funny, a german dive photographer who spoke to no-one and ignored his buddy (me) in the water. There was a lovely Spaniard from Mallorca and a Russian called Sergi who adopted a “free fall” sky diving position when descending. He had a lot of kit including the biggest dive computer I have ever seen and two knives. Given that he was also totally ripped – I think he was some sort of special forces dude. He said very little.

Away from the diving we went snorkeling with hordes of Japanese. It was a zoo. We later saw them having snorkeling lesson in the 1 m deep pool by the restaurant. Twenty of them in life vests swimming in circles being instructed on how to breath through a plastic tube. You might think such training is unnecessary but the next day I say one of them trying to eat wetabix with chopsticks!

We spent a lot of time sleeping, I hadn’t realized how tired or wired I was. It was great to just relax and read. I read the excellent and chilling “Handmaiden’s tale” while Katharine got through about three books. We also spent a lot of time eating. The food was excellent, there was one restaurant in particular, right on the beach that was amazing. You could watch the crabs digging holes , fighting for their bit of beach while a heron fished from a rock, all while eating dinner. And after eating we would adjourn to the roof top which was covered with large cushions. There we lay out, drank beer (or cranberry juice for the pregnant half of the duo) and watched the stars trying to spot constellations. It was fantastically relaxing.

I also had a try at wake boarding. It normally takes me a while to pick stuff up so I was pretty happy to get up on the board on the 4th or 5th attempt. Even the instructor seemed surprised. He said it was unusual for “someone of my size” to get up so easily. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment on my dexterity or an insult about my size. I’ll take the former…

And then our week came to an end and we checked out, paid our bills and caught the boat back to the airport. The boats departure was delayed while they searched the bags of an arab girl and confiscated all the bits that she has stolen from the room. Classy!

The Maldives is amazing as a place to relax, but its not cheap. Kandooma is run by the holiday inn, although it is way more up market than any holiday inn I ever stayed in before. As far as the Maldives go its good value and the luxury is fantastic. The facilities are excellent, the setting is fantastic and the staff are friendly and attentive. There are virtually no Americans there and their hideous tipping culture where you always think people are just working you for a better tip is totally absent. Everything is just booked to your room and you pay when you leave. It is an excellent place to go on holiday, especially if you need to unwind. I even started to develop an interest in Carbonate sedimentology.