マルジブ:桃源の滴 – Maldives: A Drop Of Paradise

The last portion of our trip was to be two nights in the Maldives.  This island nation is nothing more than a few cerulean atolls out in the Indian ocean and makes for the perfect destination for both honeymooners and the wealthy.  We of course are neither of those, but the cost of flying from Sri Lanka was negligible and we were able to get a late season rate on the room.  A destination such as this does not usually appear high on my list, but I figured it had to happen once in a lifetime, and we had just met my quota for rugged travel in Sri Lanka.  We deserve to spoil ourselves a bit, right?  But of course!  Besides, melting ice caps threatens to submerge the entire country before I die, which means that the next time I have the cash, it could be gone.

Our flight in was a bit drab and was graced with plenty of cloud cover, but as we were coming in for the landing, the beauty of the islands and atolls started to peek out.  The coral reefs appeared as incredible blue circles and there were patches of it all over.  The Maldives have tons of islands grouped into various atolls, and we were going to be spending our trip in the North Male Atoll.  Some of it is visible below.maldives_air1_800

After landing I exchanged some of my cash into the local currency needlessly, since I wanted it for my collection.  By law, I would be unable to use anything but hard currencies at the resort.  The guy working at the booth was kind enough to humor my request for one of each note, in the best condition possible.  Overjoyed to have six new paper souvenirs, I met up with Soeng just outside of immigration near an army of resort staff.  Each was assigned to a kiosk representing the various resorts.  We walked up to ours and confirmed our names before boarding the ferry and make the 45 minute trip.  You would not believe what this boat ride cost per person, but once they have you booked, there is nothing that will keep you from paying it.  Because the resorts are all located on private islands, separated from the otherwise strict Muslim way of life, there are no other ways to get there.  The ride passed quickly enough, but it was clear that we were the only passengers not celebrating lifelong fetters.

Meeru Island Resort, our destination

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We arrived at what was to be our paradise for the next few days and we were soon ushered into the main meeting hall to sign our papers and get ourselves checked in.  Before stepping into the large room, equipped with well groomed floors of sand, we were given the royal treatment.  While a small army of locals took care of the bags, we were sipping on juice and padding ourselves with cool towels.  Then they drove us over to the other side of the island where we were let into our water villa.

Snorkeling right from the room was fantastic

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Having our own little room sitting on stilts above the water was a luxury I had long wanted to experience.  I wanted to have my own shot at a postcard paradise.  At first I was interested in sticking around the main island to enjoy the much cheaper options, but then one has to ask the question: if so, why even come to this country?  Having arrived at a dream location we wanted to complete it with the dream experience, and this room did not disappoint.  We stepped in a wood covered room, complete with open air shower, hot tub, and incredible view out over the Indian Ocean.  Bueno.

I insisted on photos before it was trashed

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After getting ourselves settled, we walked over to the main dining area to begin taking full advantage of our all inclusive package.  We were directed to a table near the food (correlation between room quality and food proximity was noted) where we would eat each of our meals.  We were amazed at the quality of the buffet and did what most people would do and stuffed ourselves.  Also nice was the ability to order drinks to our heart’s content since it was all inclusive.  After a while, and a little guilt for what we just shoved down our gullets, we walked over to the main bar to enjoy the atmosphere.  This was all a good time, and then after that we retired to make the most of the next day.

On this morning we had another mammoth breakfast, and we were both so pleased to be eating some western food.  The plan for the day was to just enjoy the offerings of the island and to also make the most of our all inclusive package.  The first thing we had planned was a snorkeling trip to the island’s house reef.  Fortunately this boat ride was gratis.

I was rather dampened from the splash

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The was some chop on the water, but blue sky was poking through the cloud cover, so we weren’t going to to get it any better.  A 10 minute ride brought us a bit off of Meeru Island and over to a shallow area with lots of fish and coral.  After a short intro to the activity that some of the participants very clearly did not understand, we were overboard and happy.

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I had heard that this house reef was great, but they wanted us to stay in the vicinity of the boat, which limited what we were able to see.  I would have to imagine that it would just be more of the same though.  I had a waterproof camera given to me by Soeng and this was my first chance outside a bathtub to use it.  And functioning down to 10 meters, I was able to enjoy myself and dive down about as far as I could, the challenge of which I always enjoy.  There were a lot of brightly colored fish too, so our hour out there was definitely time well spent.

The aptly named Picasso Triggerfish

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Before getting back in the boat for the return trip, my travel partner and I got the mandatory photo of ourselves underwater.  Soeng had done snorkeling for the first time ever a few months prior and having another chance to do so here was her one and only request.

Looking horrendous

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When we got back to shore, there was another of our buffets to be had.  While the quality of the food hadn’t diminished at all, we were becoming aware of the similarities in the offerings.  We were starting to lose our appetite for it, but that didn’t deter us from our indulgence.

Filled, we spent the afternoon enjoying some of the other activities that are offered for free under the all inclusive package.  We got out to a driving range where Soeng demonstrated her competency of the sport and some boccie ball.  I always loved playing this game on the Silver Lank sand dunes, and my experience often led me to victory.  The backspin that my ape sized hands could put on the ball was my secret weapon.

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The other thing that I decided to give a whirl was wind surfing.  I had always wanted to try it, and again, doing it for ‘free’ had me excited.  The arrival of heavy winds was imminent, so I just lied and told the guy that I had done it before, some time ago.  That was good enough for him, so he helped me drag it to the water and basically wished me good luck.  Pulling the sail out of the water and against the wind was absolutely exhausting, but I later found out that I was doing this (and likely every other) part wrong.  When I did get the the mast up, it was as if I could never find the wind with it.  I would stand up on it, but with nothing to push it forward I would just list and capsize until I fell off.  Meanwhile, some other first timing Frenchman hopped on and was off – not glamorously, but certainly better than I was doing.  It wasn’t long before both Soeng and I gave up and hauled the thing back to shore.  There was another Aussie wanting to give it a whirl, a big strapping guy who too experienced the shame of failure.

The incoming storm should have scared me off, but I insisted on failing

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It was about the time that we were heading up that the weather struck and an out-of-nowhere downpour was soaking everything.  We sought shelter in another of the bars until a break in the torrent let us escape to our villa.  It was about this time though that I was starting to feel a bit queasy.  Within 30 minutes, it was being emptied from both ends in an apparent case of food poisoning.  Not sure how I remained just fine in Sri Lanka, but caught something tainted at a resort, but such is the reality of travel.  On a given trip, I have to plan on getting something like this at least once.

I spent the rest of the afternoon bidding farewell to my lunch and sleeping while Soeng went for a walk, ate dinner and eventually came back for an early night.  I slept restlessly that night, as I was constantly making restroom visits and trying to keep my fluid levels up.  In the morning I was feeling a bit better, at least good enough to go on and eat some more food.  Soeng was largely impressed that I could shake off such misery in under 24 hours, since such travel bugs generally put her out of commission for days.  I mostly stuck to foods like fruit and yogurt, but the complimentary breakfast champagne seemed alright too.

Dining hall complete with sandy floors.  This was really nice

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We had to check out by noon that day, so we continued to soak in the decent weather and got in a bit more swimming and strolling at the beach.  While blue skies weren’t really present, though the beauty of the sand, water, and palms were enough to make it incredible.  After walking to the point and back, we returned to our room to bid farewell and get packed up.  Despite the checkout time though, our ferry back to Male wasn’t for another few hours, so we were given the OK to keep eating (yay…) and continue making use of our all inclusive package.

At last it was time to say goodbye to our beautiful Meeru island, likely the only one of its kind that I ever go to.  To go more than once, and for a more than a few days is a wasted opportunity and time.  I am really glad to have checked such an experience off of my list, but we did it in just two days.  Some of the people we talked to were staying for a week or two, which neither of us could fathom.  Surely they would come to absolutely despise the food in that time, or at least have a bit too much of doing nothing.  I’ll assume that money isn’t an option for those people, but I can’t help but feel like what a colossal waste that it would be.

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We eventually arrived at the airport island but we had a few hours to explore the ‘real’ Maldives before our late night flight.  This is a strictly Muslim country, though you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t explore beyond the resort islands.  On any of the local islands, there is no alcohol, and many people are dressed in the typical Islamic garb.  We were both excited to walk around a bit and see what we could learn about the country.  After taking the local ferry over to the capital city, we started walking around.

Right away I could sense that it was a rather different place, and I’ve been to enough Muslim countries to know.  The Arabic culture and religion superimposed on these tiny tropical islands was pretty odd.  Whereas the gulf had large vehicles, there was little more here than scooters and narrow streets.  Male’ is one of the densest sities in the world, since they simply don’t have anywhere else to go.  We did stop into a supermarket to check the costs of everyday goods (very high) and also a couple other places to get some souvenirs.

Narrow streets, bikes, and dementors were everywhere

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One of the other stops we made was at a local market where they were selling various goods and produce.  There were tons of little peppers for sale, and also a strange fruit.  I always try new fruits when I travel since the offerings vary wildly beyond what the average westerner realizes.  Sadly, I didn’t get to this one, and such is my greatest regret…  Soeng’s upbringing meant that many of these exotic fruits and veggies were less so to her, but curiosity and nostalgia was enough to keep us both entertained.

Have you ever wanted this many bananas at once?

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Finally we went to a restaurant near the ferry terminal.  I had a bit more of the currency than I really needed, so I decided to throw a bit of it at a dinner for us.  This was the largest and most conveniently located place that we saw, and when we showed up it looked pretty chic.  The menu prices were fair enough, so we just ordered whatever sounded good: a tuna salad, some pizzas, and some other things too.  It took  awhile for anything to come out, but for every dish that arrived we grew less and less excited about the next.  Not sure whether it was lingering uneasiness in my gut or simply the mediocre quality of the food, but it was not appetizing  We took one of the pizzas with us back to the airport, but we immediately realized that neither had any desire of ever eating it.  Into the bin it went.

From here we had to begin the massive adventure home.  Overnight flight to KL – 6 hour layover – flight to Osaka – taking an hour long bus to the Jumbo Ferry Port – for an overnight ferry ride to Takamatsu – followed by a shuttle, a taxi and finally my driving to my house – only to start work within 2 hours…  This sort of return is obviously the worst way to conclude any trip, but if it gives me another day of fun, then it is definitely worthwhile.

This trip to both Sri Lanka and The Maldives was indeed fantastic and there were a lot of things that we could both to see and do.  Largely on account of blissful ignorance everything turned up better than expected, but as always we were able to cram a whole lot into the trip.  I fully believe that you have to do a country like you’ll never go back, because chances are you wont.  I also recommend sleeping Also, sleep when you’re dead.  This was my final international outing whilst a JET Programme participant, and it was definitely a good one.

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