Greeted by the afternoon sunshine, and the white, welcome-to-paradise beach, my hunny and I saw a couple of little brown fruit bats sailing through the air landing amongst the trees. Upside down, the small teddy bears with leather wings were undeniably adorable and appeared to be almost domesticated, as if they were yearning for the same gentle caress I give my kitties. With their loveable looks, the resident creatures seemed to be the rightful owners of the lush greenery, playfully watching the lucky visitors who sauntered slowly under the balmy sun rays and professed in awestruck tones at the islands natural beauty that separated them from reality.
Such expression is inevitable. The Maldives is a geographical miracle and a natural phenomenon. It was once part of a mountainous landscape below the crystal waters and has never had an ice age, so the diversity of marine life is immense. With its year-round tropical climate, warm sea breezes, pleasant ocean conditions, and almost continual sunshine, its beauty is unimaginable. On the way to our exotic dream home on stilts over the water, we walked along the beach and watched a black tip reef shark cruise past our toes. Slender and electrifying grey torpedo of a body, sleek and calculated with a million-year evolutionary edge over me in sub-aqua swimming. It was a small shark, maybe 11 inches long, but it moved as if a major predator: we imagined that in its mind it was the terror of tiny things. Wildlife sightings always feel like a visitation, a privilege, but sharks are special. Regardless of how the staff insists that they are harmless, our morbid imaginations rebel. Their beautiful, deadly shape is imprinted on our dreams and the thrill of seeing a fin glide by is riveting. By lunch it was three-feet long; by dinner it was a bad-tempered six-footer. To say we were proud of our sighting would be an understatement. We were survivors.
With its beaches, beasts, and countless adventurous water sports, the Maldives presents a healthy halcyon package. Since each resort occupies an entire island the only way to get around is by water taxi or seaplane. There really isn’t much need to leave the resort except to visit local fishing islands, or the capital Male for a taste of real Maldivian life, in all its Islamic constraints. It’s fascinating, but there’s no booze and women must swim in a burqa (optional for men). Prices are for the most part high, with the rich and famous being regular guests of the indulgent destination; the Maldivians themselves are courteously old-fashioned and welcoming. About 1.5-times the size of Washington, D.C., it is the flattest country in the world, which means they have the lowest high-point of any country in the world. The low level of islands makes them very sensitive to sea level rise and natural disasters such as tsunamis. Some scientists fear it could be underwater by 2050 or 2100. The UN’s environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level would be high enough to make the country uninhabitable by 2100. President Mohamed Nasheed now aims to turn the Maldives into an entirely carbon neutral nation by 2020. It’s already a diver’s paradise, let’s hope they can keep the floating jewels around longer than expected. The many coral islands are grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, ring-shaped coral reefs that encircle a lagoon. These atolls are strikingly beautiful above water and provide pristine diving grounds below water, it’s an enormous world of its own making it a prime destination for scuba divers worldwide. It was our first time diving into the deep blue but we had to because it’s a must-do! They offer many types of dive options such as thila, kandu, reef, and wreck. Thila diving is characterized by vast coral formations that top out just beneath the surface, colorful crevices and coral-filled overhangs, thilas are excellent for close encounters with all sorts of marine life, from schooling reef fish and turtles to numerous species of shark. Kandu (channel) diving involves exciting drift dives along the nutrient-rich currents that flow between the Maldives’ island chains. Sightings include eagle rays and sharks, as well as migrating pelagics such as manta rays and whale sharks. We were there in December and unfortunately missed the region’s manta season between June and October.
Reef diving explores the vibrant inner and outer slopes, wide edges and fascinating terraces, the Maldivian reefs are a destination in themselves. With over 1,000 species of fish, they feature some of the most beautiful corals in the world. Wreck diving is a special day at sea, diving the wrecks of the North and South Malé atolls, Lhaviyani Atoll and South Ari Atoll – from the 110-metre (310-foot) Maldives Victory freighter to the double wrecks at the famous Shipyard site. Clearly there are excursions for every level of diver and even the very basic brings the wow factor. At one point we were surrounded by jellyfish and I was captivated by their angelic nature. Of course, I got stung by one. Couldn’t help it, I wanted to drift with them and watch the luminous, dancing parasols. They glide through the water like they’re flying, beautiful yet harmful. Jellyfish were the topic of conversation with the dive instructor on the way back to the resort. He concluded with, “The fact that jellyfish have survived for 650 million years despite not having brains gives hope to many people”. Also, urine does not help the sting. Islanders are always rather refreshing, with their smiles on, carefree attitude, just playfully carrying out their lives.
The Maldives are truly a bucket-list destination with sand as soft as sugar and the smell of lemongrass and coconut everywhere. It’s no wonder the islands are frequented by honeymooners and heiresses alike. My sweetie and I were in complete seclusion in our three-story bungalow, with a hammock the size of my living room over the quietly moving water. We would lie there and watch the fish of all colors swim underneath us until the netting on the hammock imprinted our bodies with small giraffe like marks. Nature is clearly the best designer; the fish were decorated with shapes and colors every bikini wish it had. The gorgeous and diverse little swimmers drifted slowly below us through their equatorial paradise, under the sea, magic all around.
We were having the time of our lives, laughing and falling in love all over again under the stars. One night we were riding our bikes home after a dreamy, champagne filled dinner. Through the jungle wonderland we rode beneath the palm trees listening to the sound of water beginning to splash on top of the enormous leaves. With smiles on our faces, singing in the rain, we left our shelter and entered the narrow, wooden boardwalk about five feet above the shallow water that surrounded it. Things got real. What we thought were sprinkles while safely below the palms was actually a torrential downpour and tropical storm. We jumped off the bikes in fear of riding off the side (which could’ve easily happened), and ran soaking wet and out-of-breath to our private sanctuary. Once inside, the excitement only continued. We ripped off our drenched clothes and ran around outside under the pouring rain screaming and twirling as if we had gone absolutely mad and were thrilled about it. It was the happiest moment of my life.
The following morning revealed the rain had cleared. There was no evidence to prove that the enchanting storm ever happened at all. The spotless sky and glowing sun were just inviting us out to play away the day. Island life has a way of making us feel good, inside and out. On tropical vacations it can be easy to eat healthier, be active, relax, be lighter in spirit and on the scale. That is certainly true of the Maldives. Between yoga sessions, fresh foods, sun, and activity we were looking and feeling great. It seemed like the perfect place to experience Ayurvedic medicine – one of the world’s oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems. It was developed thousands of years ago in India with the primary focus being to promote good health, rather than fight disease. I mentioned to the doctor that I occasionally have problems with digestion and was told to soak four dates in a small amount of water overnight and then drink the liquid in the morning. It worked quite well. We then continued on our day of rejuvenation with anti-gravity yoga. My football player boyfriend was soaring, stretching, and floating through the air suspended by a lavender silk hammock. That was a sight to see but the best part was how it felt. It was liberating, the inversions really get the blood flowing (extended periods of hanging upside-down will do that), which left me feeling clear-headed and energetic after the class.
With an exotic playfulness in the air, we were unwound and calm from dawn to dusk, resting in a leafy haven, vitality coursing through our veins. The sound of silence, our ears hearing nothing except our heartbeats, waves crashing and birds chirping. Such a magical getaway enveloped in tranquility and remoteness, this is the ideal place to escape from the real world to a palm-fringed haze, especially with the one you love. The middle of the Indian Ocean, a tropical nation where dreams come true, a group of islands called the Maldives.