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Maldives tips

Going to the Maldives? Here's a bunch of things I wish I knew beforehand and other handy stuff.

Money

The local currency is Rufiya. It's about 12 to the US Dollar and 23 to the GB Pound. You can get these at the airport and resorts if you want, but you don't need them. They will take major currencies and also can handle credit cards. The de facto foreign currency, however, is the US Dollar. We brought a bundle from the UK and were glad of it. Foreign coins are not accepted, by the way (banks like notes only), which is another good reason to take dollars.

Tipping

Tipping is common, though you don't get the surly response for not tipping that you do in some countries. About normal seems to be $2 for carrying bags, $20 for room boy for week and $20 for waiter for week. Significant boat trips also are tippable. We waited until the end of the week, tipping based on total service.

Sun

The Maldives are south of India and Sri Lanka and just three degrees off the equator. This makes them hot. Being by the sea cools things but the UV level is high and it's easy to burn. We used factor 50 sun cream and still learned an early lesson when small bits of skin we missed went bright red.

A hat is a useful addition, though few seemed to use them. On trips I wore my trusty White Rock bush hat which protects fron UV as well as insects and rain.

Being equatorial, there is little seaonal changes in daylight and it gets dark within about half an hour of sunset, which was about 7pm in early June. We took a small torch which proved useful.

Rain

February is the driest month and June the wettest (17"). When it rains it chucks it down, which is good because it gets it over with quickly. No polite drizzle here. Rain is more likely late afternoon or at night. It can go from blue skies to rain and bach in half an hour.

Remember that weather is a variable thing. We had glorious sun in June and apparently it had been so-so for a good while beforehand.

Water

Island water is desalinated and fine for brushing teeth, etc., but the general advice is to drink bottled water. It is hot all the time and you sweat a lot, so drinking lots is advised. They said drink 6 litres per day. We drunk less than that and were fine. Watch for tiredness. Sip often. We took small bottles on journeys but were mostly on the island so not far from refreshment.

Swimming

The water is 25-30' C and you can float about all day without getting cold or hot. It is amazingly clear and there are loads of all kinds of fish who generally steer clear of you -- but not by much so you can get really close. You can feed them bits of bread, but watch out for the mad dash! Don't hand-feed them as the have teeth and can bite.

It's a good idea to wear something on your feet when in the water. We had both fins and waterproof shoes. There are stonefish in the area, though we saw and heard of none. We did see small and large stingray, which apparently bury themselves just below the sand. Treading on coral is also a bad idea not only from the ecological position but also because you will get a nasty cut that will take ages to heal.

It is also recommended to wear a T-shirt in the water, particularly when snorkelling as it protects your back and chest from the sun.

After swimming it is recommended that you wash out your ears (no q-tips) to prevent infection. Pull earlobe down - if it hurts, it's infected. We generally showered after swimming and were ok.

All this may sound a bit off-putting but it really is quite safe if you take a few precautions.

Insect and bitey things

Being a small island, there were not the clouds of insects and other creepy crawlies and nasties found elsewhere. We did notice a few mosquitos and got a few bites from something.

As ever, precaution helps. We mostly used 'Jungle' brand spray-on insect repellant (and bite relief).

Alternatives that also seem to work are lavender oil for insect repellant (recommended by an ex-African-military friend) and a piezo-electric spark device I discovered for bite relief, which is weird but works.

Snorkelling

I learned how to do this in ten minutes and subsequently had a wonderful time ogling the under-sea world. You can hire them there but we bought our own before leaving and were glad to have done so.

A key is in getting a well-fitted mask. Try out the mask in the shop by putting it over your face (do not put the strap around your head), closing your mouth and breathing in through your nose. The mask should stick to your face.

Get full-shoe fins so your feet are protected from stone and other nasties. Try them on in the shop with bare feet. They should fit closely against your feet without pinching. Any looseness and they could come off with wear. I needed a size smaller than my normal shoe size and was grateful I got them fitted.

The snorkel should fit comfortably into your mouth, so can bite on the knobbly bits whilst forming a seal around the mouthpiece with your lips. Mouths are flexible things and this should not be a problem.

Getting into the water, rinsing the fins before putting them on makes your feet slide easily into them. Also rinse out the mask to reduce fogging.

When out there, starting to snorkel, just stick your head in the water and breathe through your mouth. It took me 10 minutes of spluttering and an hour of increasing length sessions. After a week of daily snorkelling (it's addictive!) I could happily float face down for 15 mins or more at a time.

The limiting factor was a slight leak in the face-mask. To empty this, float upright (kicking feet helps keep your head out of the water) and just pull out the bottom of the mask to let the water run out.

When snorkelling in the ocean I wore a lifejacket the first time to build confidence, though it drags and makes travel slower. Great care is needed to ensure you are in easy swimming distance of the boat. Tides can pull you away and swimming head-down you can easily go off course. The simple solution is to regularly do a heads-up to locate the boat. Also stay close to other people.

Scuba diving is a small step from snorkelling and I am told it easier in some ways as your breathing technique is the same but you do not have to worry about head position and staying afloat.

Photography

On land, just snap away. We had blue skies and wonderful sunsets. Here's my Maldives photos.

Underwater photography need not be expensive. I bought a special flexible pouch for 20 from a local dive store in which I could put my pocket Nikon and Sanyo mini-cine. I shied away from submerging my expensive Canon in anything and the cheap solution gave adequate results. Sunlight and clear water help a lot with lighting as it can quickly get murky.

Photos under water come out with a very blue cast, for which you may be able to compensate on the computer. An idea I have not tested is to set white-balance compensation to 'fluorescent light', which also gives a blue cast.

Of course you can go the whole hog and buy proper underwater cameras and lights, but this is really only for professionals and serious enthusiasts with deep pockets.

 

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