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A Maldives Paradise

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Like many people, I get one of those 'travel bargain' emails that scrapes together tail-end cheapies from around the web. Normally, I hum and haw and do nothing, but a few weeks ago a super-bargain full-board week in the Maldives caught my eye. A quick scan of some very complimentary blogs abut the island had us convinced and we booked up over school half-term. My wife is a teacher and it's rare to find good deals out of term time.

After booking, I found we were flying with Monarch, so googled them too. Oh dear: they get panned with talk of delayed flights, cramped seats and surly staff. Yet they have also won an 'airline of the year' award. Strange.

Sunday 27 May 2007

Got to the airport stupidly early at 2pm for 8:15pm flight. Got good seats partly by being early and partly by a little exaggeration of Eleri's nervousness of flying. Two seats by themselves near the back rather than in a block of three. Read books, sipped tea and chilled out.

Flight delayed until 9:45. Uh-oh, Web warnings coming true?

In fact the flight was fine. The seats were great with oodles of leg room and the staff were lovely. I turned down the volume on the mp3 and closed my eyes.

Monday

Landed. No rain; cloudy and warm. Got charged $4 for small Sprite at airport caff. 1.5 hrs on super-fast boat to Summer Island Village. Wow. It's like Disney or something. White sands, palm trees, flowers and all.

Overall, it's relaxed, simple and sufficient (which suits us just fine). All-inclusive food is delicious. Beach bungalow inches from the ocean. Multi-coloured fish lazing around the lagoon.

We went for a walk clockwise round the island, then aniticlockwise, then had a cup of tea.

Then discovered snorkelling. More wow. It's like swimming in an aquarium!

Delicious dinner then in bed at 8pm.

Tuesday

Woke up at 8am after 12 hrs solid sleep. Not done that for a while. Had breakfast. Read book. Swam in lovely tepid lagoon. Had lunch (mmm, that fish!). Took lots of photos of fish, coral and fish. 10 mins of torrential rain followed by blue skies and pin-sharp horizon (took more pix). Read more. Had rum and coke with afternoon tea. Sat and watched sun set with heron. Blogged. Had dinner (more great fish).

I have decided I like this place. You can't do much yet there's lots to do. Every watersport under the sun. Assorted other games. But most of all I am enjoying chilling out and just doing a bit of being for a change. My job entails lots of thinking and doing and stopping the bus, whilst rather difficult, is highly therapeutic. A mark of how friendly it is here is that Mr. Waheed, the assistant manager, lent me a personal copy of a rather good book on photography.

Wednesday

Another very long and sound sleep, broken only by monsoon rain very kindly doing its bit at night. Had breakfast.

We went out on boat to snorkel in ocean. After navigating a ladder in fins (tricky), I managed to head off in wrong direction, surfacing some time later to find people on small and distant boat waving frantically. Thankfully I had opted for the dorky life jacket as I got very tired very quickly fighting the tide on the way back. Otherwise very enjoyable.

Lunch. More of the delicious fish they serve here. Chilled for afternoon. Read. Snorkelled in lagoon. Booked massage and parasailing. Had afternoon tea plus rum and coke (half a glass of rum seems normal). Watched sunset and heron catching fish. walked down jetty and ogled huge manta ray. Had dinner. Got another rum'n'coke from bar and sat out for ages watching moonlit tide come in. Scurrying crabs. Hunting heron. Sozzled us. Went to bed to read and dream.

Thursday

Woke at 8am to another glorious day in paradise. We're still pinching ourselves. This place suits us down to the ground. Unpretentious, relaxed, friendly. "Cheap and cheerful" in its best sense. Oh, and did I mention gob-smackingly beautiful?

After breakfast sat out and read. Watched hermit crab. Went for drink at bar (juice!) and sat on other side of island under palms. Fed fish. Went for marathon snorkel before lunch (more fish). Read. Snorkelled. Watched fruit bat. More rum'n'coke. Another glorious sunset and moonlit night.

Friday

Y0u know, these glorious days in paradise are getting boring. Well, not really. We went out in the lagoon again, feeding and filming fish. I bought an underwater camera case before we came -- it's little more than a plastic bag but has been brilliant.

The fish around the jetty are used to being fed and swarm in quickly and fight over food.

This was a properly lazy day and we did nothing but laze around, read, swim, snorkel, get massaged, watch another fabulous sunset and sit in the bar playing caroms. The staff were amazed that westerners knew the game and other guests looked on, baffled. We showed a young couple how to play and they picked it up really quickly and nearly beat us.

Saturday

Ho hum. Yet another glorious day. Still pinching ourselves. Went parasailing and took lots of pix of island and boat, then island from boat. I'm not great with heights so perhaps it was rather daft, but then I also did it to challenge some of those demons. As ever, it was the waiting in the wings that was the worst and once up there, sailing like a bird and looking down on the land and sea, it was quite enthralling. The biggest trick was changing cameras without dropping them. All went well and I took lots of stills and video clips. Chatted with young couple on a romantic break from long-hours recruitment jobs (hello Ben and Liz!). Ah, to be young and in love. Still, I can't complain. Eleri and I have been married for over 30 years and the fizz is still there.

Lunch. More fish. Then out on a boat ocean snorkelling. Despite high tide, the ocean is like glass and the dappled, lazy world beneath the water was like another planet.

I hear we are lucky this week as it was overcast and a bit rainy last week. We feel lucky, just being here.

Went kayaking later across the lagoon. Sat above family of 6' stingrays for ages, watching them swirl and turn. Just wonderful.

Then afternoon tea and another glorious sunset as the heron grabs fish near the shore. Dinner (you guessed - fish, though by choice over chicken, beef, etc).

Then playing caroms in the bar until weekly disco starts up. Retire to beach with rum'n'coke to watch moon'n'tide.

Sunday

Off on the early boat to Male, capital of Maldives. Male is still just a small island, like all the other 1189 others, and home to 85,000 people (1/4 of the population). Factoid: the Maldives are the size of Portugal - but 99% is under water. Another factoid: The Maldives is the lowest country on earth: nothing is more than 2m above sea-level. (Hmm. Climate change, melting polar caps, rising sea levels...).

Passed many islands along the way. Spotted traditional boat along the way which was dwarfed by many cargo ships anchored around Male. Male itself wasn't that special. Bright mosque. Old mosque with hand-carved coral walls and nice new corrugated iron roof. Presidential place. Tired gardens with old banyan and young banana trees. Streets swarming with motorbikes and shop owners trying to sweep you into their shops. We succumbed to some, just to get into a cooler clime for a while. Interesting traditional fruit'n'veg market and fish market that was not for the squeamish. Oddly, we tailed two guys dragging yellow-finned tuna down the road, holding up the traffic. As you do.

On the way back seas got choppy. Saw interesting storm on horizon, great light on the sea and parts of a rainbow. Arrived back in time for afternoon tea, caroms, sunset and dinner, moon and bed.

Monday

Going home today. Sob! This has been a wonderful holiday. Much more than the half-term break we were seeking.

We booked the luxury of a 15 minute seaplane ride back to the airport rather than the 90 minute splash. This also afforded a luxurious tarrying with a later breakfast and one last stroll around the island, but it was not to be. We were half-way through breakfast when there was a panicked call -- the seaplanes were on strike and everyone on the boat was waiting for us. A quick dash and we got there and waved goodbye to Summer Island from sea level.

Male airport had been touted as good shopping but had UK-level pricing. Never mind, we got good seats and got some fair shots of the Maldivian coral rings with occasional inhabited islands and resorts. Beautiful. Look out on the way back at mountains and worldscapes and felt small.

Got home late and collapsed into bed. I've some big meetings tomorrow. God, I'll be wrecked, but it will have been totally and utterly worth it.

 

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