Sue and Jack's Excellent Maldivian Honeymoon (December 2000-January 20001)

Author: Jack

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The Maldives. Let's see, where shall I begin? How about getting there? We flew on Emirates from London (having spent Christmas with Sue's Mum), stopping over in Dubai for a few hours in the dead of night, before heading on to Malé (the capital city/island of the Maldives.) Emirates is a good airline, with decent food and personal interactive displays ala British Airways. One note, and this can be good or bad depending on your preference: Emirates allows smoking on their planes. Fortunately, after initially being told that they only had seats in smoking, we were upgraded to business class. Cool. Playing the honeymoon card paid off. Dubai airport is all about duty-free but don't bother stocking up on booze on the way to the Maldives. It's a Muslim country, and they'll confiscate it at the airport if they find any. I'm sure one could sneak some in, though. One of our diving companions brought in a quantity of Scotch in a hot water bottle. This served us well on New Years eve. More about that later.

Upon arriving in Malé (Actually the airport is on an adjacent island. Ferries go back and forth from here to the capital.) we were greeted by a friendly Englishman named Andy Hart, our dive master, and whisked to the MV Keema, a 24 meter vessel that was to be our home for the next week. There, we were introduced to the other 10 passengers. They were all English, with six of them being part of one group. Everybody turned out to be very nice - a good thing considering we were all together for nearly every waking moment of the week to come. I should point out that I was a bit nervous about spending a week on a boat. I had never done a live-aboard before, though Sue had once or twice. I figured claustrophobia would be a problem. I was mistaken. In fact, when it came time to leave the boat and do the second leg of our honeymoon - a week on an island resort - I was wishing we could stay on the Keema for a few more days. Overall, it was a great experience. I'm sure the friendly people, fine weather(!) and beautiful calm water had a lot to do with it. Not to mention the diving. I could certainly see how the absence of any one of the four could decrease one's enjoyment greatly. I guess we were lucky.

Speaking of diving, I guess I should discuss that a bit. I don't have as many experiences as Sue to compare it with, but I'll try and be objective. First off, the fish life was phenomenal! There were so many fish at times you could barely see the water around you. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but there was a tremendous abundance of fish life. I assume this is due to the fact that the government has outlawed net fishing and trawling in it's waters. All the fishing we witnessed was done by fisherman casting hand held lines from their little dhonis (the local style of motor boat.) Needless to say, this is good for the fish, which in turn is good for us divers. Good thing, too, because much of the coral was dead. Not that the dive sites were coral graveyards, but I certainly wouldn't recommend the Maldives to someone in search of beautiful coral and sponge life. But hey, who needs coral when you've got zillions of cool fish and other sea creatures to distract you. Let's talk about them for a bit. First off, lion fish. We must have seen at least one on every dive, sometimes three or four. I was bored of them by the time we were done. Morays, too. Green ones, spotted ones. Tons of them. Then there were the sharks. Not endless amounts, but we seemed to manage to see at least one or two every day. Mostly white tips, not the scary kinds. They were always a treat. Often we'd see them on channel dives, where we'd descend to the bottom, hold on against the current (which did get strong at times) and scan the blue water waiting for them to swim by.

Another cool fish in abundance were the humphead wrasse, or napolean fish. Huge, great slow moving behemoths that would think nothing of swimming right up next to us. I guess they're so big that they're not terribly frightened of people. There was also an assortment of turtles, lobsters, rays (though not many eagle rays), barracuda, trigger fish, trevallies, tuna, mackerel, bat fish, octopus, brittlestars, nudibranches and other such cool ocean dwellers, but the coolest were by far the manta rays! We finally got to see these incredible creatures up close. There five to seven of them chilling out in a "cleaning station," which is essentially a hangout for little cleaner wrasse fish. The mantas come by and swim around while the wrasse eat all the junk that has accumulated in and around the manta's mouths. We were snorkeling with the mantas for probably about 20 minutes before a boatload of Italian tourists flopped in the water and scared them off. It was a great experience. The biggest was probably 12 feet from wingtip to wingtip. They were so beautiful and graceful, we probably could've seen nothing else the rest of the trip and still been happy.

Another incredible creature that we saw frequently, though not while diving, were dolphins. They came and swam by the boat numerous times when we were in transit. Always a treat! It's amazing how the mere sight of dolphins can make people so happy. If only it could be bottled - not the dolphins, the feeling!

With the exception of one dive where the current was sucking us out to sea, forcing us to abort, all of the dives that first week were very enjoyable. And there were a lot. We dove three times a day, with a couple of night dives thrown in for fun. The schedule basically ran like this: wake up at 6:30, have a cup of tea, dive, eat breakfast, relax for a bit, dive, eat lunch, take a nap, dive, have a drink, eat dinner, try in vain to stay awake, go to sleep. Oh yes, I forgot to include sunning on the upper deck - very relaxing. Clearly there's not a lot to do on a live-aboard. A good book (or two) is essential - I think I read five books during our two weeks in the Maldives. A record for me by far!

One thing about diving is that it takes so much out of you that you really don't want to do much but chill out afterwards. Hell, I could barely even manage to drink two beers before sleep beckoned me at around 8:30 every night. It's almost embarrassing. Come New Years eve though, we were determined to stay up to midnight. This seemed a daunting feat considering the latest we had managed to stay awake previously was about 9:30 or 10:00. As I mentioned earlier, one of the divers had been resourceful enough to sneak some nice old Scotch into the country, so we had what was probably the mellowest New Years party I've ever been to: lying on the upper deck, staring at the vast and beautiful sky, shootin' the shit, and sipping fine whiskey. Mellow but very pleasant. Andy the dive master had a good buzz on and was being very funny. As was inevitable, though, fatigue set in, and we fell asleep before the arrival of the new millennium. Oh well. There was diving to be done the next morning.

The week seemed to fly by pretty quickly and, by the time we knew it, we were ready for Phase 2 of Operation Honeymoon. So we said farewell to all of our companions, and boarded a small seaplane (my first ride in one of these) and headed to the resort island of Filitheyo. Before I go into the details of our time here, I'd like to summarize what tourism in the Maldives is all about.

The Maldivian government has actually done a very good job of dealing with tourism. When they realized in the 1970's that they had such great potential for tourist revenue, they hired a Danish consulting firm to create a plan. They knew they wanted the economic benefits, but that they didn't wanted the influx of Westerners to dilute or possibly even destroy their culture. What they decided to do was to lease certain islands to resort developers. Each designated island could have one resort built on it. The resort would have to abide by certain environmental and aesthetic criteria. If any of those rules were broken, the lease would be voided, and the resort evicted. I don't know if any resort has ever been closed down because of infractions, but it seems like a good way to keep the developers in line.

To minimize the interaction between tourists and Maldivians, thus (theoretically) maintaining cultural identity, the government has declared that all of the islands inhabited by locals (with the exception of Malé and a few islands where tourists can come for the day to buy crafts) are off limits to tourists. Therefore, the Maldives are a great place to come to enjoy beautiful natural resources, but not a great vacation spot for those looking to experience local culture in full force.

The majority of the tourists that come to the Maldives are German, Italian, Japanese and English. The only American we encountered there was the co-pilot of our seaplane. Oddly, nearly all of the sea plane pilots in the Maldives seem to be Canadian. Hmmm. Each resort seems to be primarily populated with tourists from a particular country. Filitheyo, though, seemed fairly evenly divided between Germans, Italians and Japanese.

Everyone on the island, particularly the staff, was very friendly, though many of the guests (ourselves included) tended to keep mainly to themselves. I got the feeling there were a lot of honeymooners there. The resort was quite new so everything was in tip top shape. The accommodations were very nice! I should mention that most resorts in the Maldives have traditional Maldivian bathrooms that are partially uncovered so that you can shower under the stars. A very pleasant feature.

And then the food. The Maldives are not known for great cuisine, and our meals on the Keema were no exception. However, the food on Filitheyo was fantastic! Every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there was a huge buffet spread consisting of cuisine from all over the world: India, Italy, America, Japan, even English fried breakfasts. And almost without exception, it was great! We had to restrain ourselves from gorging at every meal. Yum.

When not salivating at the thought of another delicious meal, we primarily spent our time chilling on the beach. We did take some sailing lessons which was good fun, but did only a little diving. The water conditions around the island at the time we were there were not very good. The sea was rough, the current fierce, and the visibility left a little to be desired. Since we had done so much diving the week before, we decided we didn't need to put up with mediocre diving and hit the beach instead. We did opt to try the scooter dive, though, which was fun, though the noise of the scooters tended to scare the fish away. We also did a couple of fun snorkels around the "house reef" that circles the island. At one point we saw a school of about 40 trumpet fish, a species that I always find amusing. Also, there was a good process in place for Scuba diving from shore: sign up in advance, and they bring your tank to the spot on the beach where you want to begin your dive. When finished, leave the tank on the beach and someone will come and pick it up. Pretty simple.

Overall, I would highly recommend Filitheyo for anyone going to the Maldives. Despite the fairly large size of the resort, it never felt at all crowded. There always seemed to be plenty of privacy. Apparently, there are islands that can get much more raucous and festive, but this one was just the right speed for a honeymooning couple such as us. Of course, one could always choose the Maldives Four Seasons instead. Only $600 a night. Ack!

There's so much to write about that I feel as if I've barely scratched the surface. So, in summation, I'll just note a few additional thoughts, observations, etc. in bullet form:

  • The Maldives looks exactly like all the pictures I'd seen: beautiful! The most amazing ocean hues of green, blue, turquoise and aqua that I've ever seen. The islands are all tiny and covered with palm trees. Think Robinson Crusoe.
  • Malé is nothing special, but if you have to kill a few hours before your flight, it's worth a cheap ferry ride and a stroll around the island. There is a room available at the airport to store your luggage.
  • The best time to go is around February. January is good too, but, as we discovered on Filitheyo, there are still some strong currents left over from the rainy season.
  • The best way to dive the Maldives is by liveaboard. That way, if the conditions in a particular area are bad, you can just sail someplace else. Unfortunately, for non-divers, a live-aboard can get pretty boring.
  • I would recommend the MV Keema as a live-aboard option. With the exception of some problems with our air conditioning, everything about the boat was very nice. (Note: Marine heads are always pretty awful, but at least on Keema, everyone has their own.) The crew was also friendly and helpful.
  • Diving in the Maldives is all about the fish life, which is pretty spectacular. The coral is nothing special, but there are some cool thilas and ghiris, which are basically underwater mesas.
  • The water was a consistent eighty degrees Fahrenheit for our entire trip. Visibility was good, but not spectacular. Might be a bit better in February. There is a lot of drift diving, as that is how one dives the channels. Diving the Thilas and ghiris, there was no current. Except for when we dove Filitheyo, there was no swell. Easy entering and exiting the water.
  • All of the resort islands are very small. Filitheyo is about 1 km long by ˝ km wide. It never seemed too small, however. The island and the resort are very pretty.
  • From Europe, Emirates is a good way to get there. I believe Singapore Airlines, supposedly very good, goes from California. · Returning from the Maldives can be a bit of a drag. Our flight left at about two o'clock in the morning. Malé airport is not very efficient, so we wound up standing in one queue after another, exhausted and needing sleep. Don't forget, this was WELL past our typical Maldivian bedtime. Dubai airport has some nice "sleeping" chairs with leg rests that allow you to stretch out and take a nap.

Enjoy, and say hi to the Mantas for us.

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