Travelling is work. I know that sounds hard to believe, but travelling, not just vacationing, can be as hard as sitting in a stuffy air conditioned building pounding away on the plastic keyboard in front of you. Well, the best way to describe it is that travelling is a different kind of hard and not always the life of leisure that is portrayed in many of the Instagram and Facebook posts that bombard us during our average day.
Those things that make travelling hard, are the ones that are rarely talked about until the afterwards, where the memories make it seem less stressful than it was at the time. Jetlag (gah!), lugging bags up and down stairs (double gah!), dealing with changing weather (the heat!!), sweating through three shirts a day, transportation issues, constantly being surrounded by people that often speak other languages and constantly being in a new culture where you don’t know all the customs or rules of etiquette are hard at the best of times, but do that over and over again and have kids with you, and well, it is work. We are not complaining – don’t be mistaken to think that because we find it hard at times that wish we wouldn’t have travelled – no, absolutely not, it is just that sometimes, even on a supposed ‘vacation’ you need a vacation!
Enter the Maldives. For us, the Maldives was our vacation from our travels. Sure it was travelling, but it was our ‘splurge’ for this trip. We had been travelling since the end of July, and now it was January, and we needed a couple of weeks of easy travel. No this wasn’t a preposterously easy adventure that required no more than our open wallets to be satiated in our relaxiousness (not a word… don’t care), but it was one where we had fewer expectations of ourselves and the country being visited. [Note: I am sure the Maldives has lots more to offer than just beaches, but we weren’t searching for it this time!] Also, we wanted to see the Maldives while we still could. With the potential for sea level rise increasing every second that we don’t do anything to prevent it, the Maldives might not have long – an increase of 2 m in sea level would see almost the entire country under water. The other reason we chose the Maldives was because of the location. It is a mere 1.5 hour flight from Sri Lanka (and a reasonable price too), and we needed to leave Sri Lanka after 30 days, or pay to renew our visa, so why not? It is supposed to be one of the most amazing places on the planet!
Despite the ominous future for this country, we ended up spending a marvelous 21 days on two drastically different islands in the sun-baked nation, soaking up as much sun and sand as we could handle. Nothing more was expected from our visit than mellow days and quiet nights – but anything on top of that was a cherry on our proverbial cake.
For those that don’t know, the Maldives is composed of islands spread over a 300 km2 area of the Indian Ocean, between Sri Lanka / India and Africa, but closer to Sri Lanka. It has numerous inhabited islands and likely more resort islands spread over 26 atolls with a maximum above sea level elevation of about 2-3 m. The only way to reach most islands is by slow ferry, speedboat, or sea plane; the latter being the priciest. Also it is a 100% Muslim nation and finding a cold beer to sit on the beach with and enjoy while watching the sunset is near impossible outside of the resort islands. You can’t even bring it in with you!
So our adventure in the Maldives began in early January. We had just spent the last month of our travels in Sri Lanka in a one
bedroom ‘cozy’ rental house, and we were starting on month 6 of our full time travels – and definitely were wearing out a bit. Sri Lanka was/is full-on travel. The travel blogs show you the idyllic side of Sri Lanka, cool train rides where you can hang completely (and irresponsibly) out of the train, amazing beaches where you can be appear to be completely alone, and (the required third item in a list) huge temples at sunset where you can be at one with the world. Sure – those exist, but getting there involves a lot of sweat, dubious and somewhat sketchy car or tuk-tuk rides, guides with little to no actual useful knowledge of the area, and numerous other obstacles that take a 40 km journey and turn it into a seemingly endless trudge through the directionless countryside. Having been through all of that for the last month, we needed to get some quiet and hopefully this beautiful, paradise to the west of Sri Lanka was going to be it.
Departure from Sri Lanka
When asked what would be the ideal time to take a flight, I’m pretty sure almost no one will say 6 am; especially an international flight, but you can guess what time our flight from Colombo to Malé, Maldives was at on January 8th. Yep, 06:00. Gah! Double Gah! Triple Gah!
Our last night in Sri Lanka was spent at a cool little guesthouse, where the owners rescue animals from around Sri Lanka. There were too many cats or dogs to keep track of wandering the yard, but all turned out to be extremely friendly. The girls were of course enamored with their new found furry friends and proceeded to deal out belly rubs and back scratches by the boat load to the eagerly waiting animal population. Our location was ideal for our early morning flight, a short 10 minute drive to the airport, and for the first time ever in Sri Lanka the advertised time for the drive was right on!
A 6 am flight requires a ridiculously early wake up time – 3 am. Luckily the anticipation for all of us to see that world famous turquoise water was enough motivation to get up and get moving right on schedule.
Luckily the check-in, customs, and flight were uneventful, and a short 1.5 hours after take off we were calmly descending aboard the huge Korean Air A330 into paradise.
Arrival in Paradise
Exiting the airport after a lengthy customs delay we were hit by the blast of hot, humid air as the airport, as to be expected, is on an island and right beside the water! The entire arrivals area is open and just outside of the airport, across the street from the arrivals is a port, essentially filled with dozens of waiting boats – soon to take their eager guests to the multitude of resort islands. A few of the luckier people hop on a sea plane and jet off quickly to distant resorts and islands in search of their own private paradise.
While our appetite for a glimpse of the famed turquoise waters was soon fulfilled, as it surrounds the airport, our desire for relaxation was going to have to hold on a bit longer, as our pre-arranged speedboat from Malé (the capital city) to our guesthouse on Dhigurah (1.5 – 2 hour journey) was not leaving until 4 pm (16:00). Seeing as though it was only about 9 am at this point, the next 7 hours were going to be long. We stored our luggage at the small bag drop place at the airport and took only the essentials to town with us. We shopped for a few necessities that weren’t easily found in Sri Lanka, as well as a few other must haves for the tropics (e.g. fins), ate some lunch, found a cool playground / park for the girls to run around in, and then still had about 2 hours to wait for the boat.
When we finally got on the boat, a medium sized speedboat that held about 50 people, a couple of the travellers in our group were done. We had been up for over 12 hours at this point and had wandered around in the sun – and now sitting in a sweltering boat waiting for departure, it was too much. A little bit of gravol for the upcoming choppy ride, and with the sweat pouring down their little bodies, Maelle and Maxine fell asleep. It was way too hot to actually sleep, but when you are done, you are done – and each girl didn’t complain, they just leaned over and hit the snooze button.
We arrived around 2 hours later after a mildly choppy ride between the airport and Dhigurah to a waiting ride from our guesthouse. Finally, we were almost there. A short truck ride to the hotel and we now in paradise. Greeted warmly by our host with a cool towel and a fresh coconut we felt instantly at ease and at home. Our home for the next 11 days was going to be this little piece of paradise – Bliss, Dhigurah.
It will be hard to talk about Bliss without sounding like some kind of advertisement for them, as we found everything to be amazing, and the location to be perfect for what we wanted and needed for a vacation! Anne, the owner, was an amazing host and went out of her way to make us feel welcome and at home, as did the majority of the staff (special thanks to Brechtje!) The guesthouse felt new, modern, beachy (is that a term?), clean, and with a location so close to the beach we always left our sandals in our rooms instead of dragging them along. It was perfect for our stay and the bonus was that because we booked a family room it was two adjoining rooms, with the girls having their own room and separate beds! Having that bit of separation was perfect for all of us!
Bliss was as its name implies – total serenity and relaxation. The beach was an amazing shade of white, although not the sugary soft that it looks to be, but was more than adequate for our tastes. The next 11 days flew by at Bliss. Delicious food, snorkeling, a couple of boat trips in hunt of the elusive (to us anyway) whale sharks that are supposed to frequent the area, more beach, wandering around in search of hermit crabs (hint – go just after sunset, they are everywhere!), and just doing nothing – as much as possible with kids that is!
Over those 11 days we saw huge changes in the girls in how comfortable they were in the water. They had been snorkeling a bit before, but never really got into it. They would give it about 2 minutes and say that was enough – but here with the crystal clear ocean and the multitude of colourful fish, the girls gave it another shot and stuck with it! They became awesome little snorkelers in such a short period of time. We found that all it took was staying with them, being patient and letting them explore at their own speed at first, but really just letting them play around and get comfortable with the mask and snorkle. Once they were good with that, they wanted to explore more. Each one of them usually snorkeled right beside us, occasionally climbing on our backs for a bit of rest, but they were there in the waves, on the reefs, in the deep – they loved it! Maxine would get excited whenever she saw something colourful move, a gentle tap on the shoulder would amplify into a series of whaps on the side of the shoulder or head if the creature in question was big, very colourful, or in the opposite direction we were looking. These two little ones held their own out there on the water and were rewarded with seeing manta rays, black tip reef sharks, white tip sharks, huge trigger fish, turtles and countless other creatures of the reef.
At one point, while on the hunt for the whale sharks, the boat saw a large manta ray in the water – everyone jumped in to get a good look. Maxine and I (Mike) were the last ones in the water, but by the time we hopped in, the manta had left the rest of the other snorkelers and was swimming right in front of us. We were all alone with this magnificent ocean dweller. Its ~2 m wide wing span stretched out in front of us as it approached, mouth agape feeding, and swam less than 2 m away from us, effortlessly gliding just below us before circling and returning immediately beside us. We had a front row view of one of mother nature’s most breathtaking creations and it wanted us to remember it. It is always a humbling experience to be in the water with one of the wonders of the ocean – they make us look so helpless and immobile while they cruise past like the breeze. Maxine was calm and loved it – she really is super comfortable in the water!
While we knew that the first 11 days at Bliss was our real vacation, the next 10 days were to be spent in a reasonably nice guesthouse as well – but this time on the island of Rasdhoo, in a different Atoll. Another 2 speed boat transfers (3.5 hours total) – this time with less waiting, and we were there.
Rasdhoo provided a much different experience to that of Dhigurah. Dhigurah is a long island with clean beaches, lots of trees and jungle, and a relatively small town and small population. Rasdhoo, by contrast, is a smaller round island, and more densely populated – with little natural vegetation left. Rasdhoo seemed to have a mini mart on every corner and a souvenir shop in between, leaving room for few other types of businesses besides dive shops and hotels. On Rasdhoo the beaches do not completely encircle the island, but the section designated as the ‘bikini beach’ where foreigners are expected to stay, was relatively nice.
Oh yes, the ‘bikini beach’ – as you may or may not know, in Muslim countries (and I’m not an expert by any means on it) you are expected to maintain a level of modesty with your dress – especially if you are female, so wearing a bikini is totally out of the question. The bikini beach is essentially the only place on the island where it is deemed to be acceptable to be in, well, a bikini. It is mandatory here – so prepare for the mankini shots! (Kidding!) Each island seemed to have a designated bikini beach, but it was right beside the regular beach, so I’m not sure if anyone actually cared as we also saw many locals hanging out on this section of the beach on each island.
Our 10 days on Rasdhoo involved a lot of beach time. We snorkeled almost everyday, and even went to a couple of other islands in the atoll for snorkeling, including one with impossibly white sand, ethereal turquoise waters, and an incessant techno beat from the oversized portable speaker from the multitude of European daytrippers.
We did get one off shore snorkelling trip in, and Marianne did sneak in one early morning dive where she saw a ridiculous number of sharks (check the instagram page). Rasdhoo turned out to be a good place for snorkelling and seeing sharks, as the lagoon just off the bikini beach was shallow and easy for us and the girls and was the home to at least 3 juvenile black tip sharks. The sharks would patrol the shallows in search of their next snack. Also, of course Marianne spotted a moray eel on her first snorkel! She just can’t not find them now! In general the beach on Rasdhoo was smaller, and not as nice as Dhigurah – but it was still the crazy clear waters and beautiful sunsets – so nothing to complain about.
Those last 10 days went even faster than the first 11, and soon our time in the Maldives was up. We enjoyed the time we had there and definitely never thought it was possible to get there without breaking the bank, but the change in tourism in the last decade has made it easier. Maldives is highly recommended but be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen/sunblock (as it is expensive there), drink lots of water, help keep the islands clean, and enjoy yourself. Oh, and we did end up sneaking in a bit of geocaching while there. We found a couple caches around Malé and even one on Rasdhoo; Maxine found this cache all by herself and said asked if Grampy would be proud of her! Of course he would be, right Grampy?!
I would love to tell you about all the amazing adventures we had in the Maldives, but alas, as I eluded to in the opening paragraph, we needed a vacation from travelling, and here we did little other than relax! Of course after Maldives it was back to Sri Lanka! This time with 200% more adventure – more tuk-tuk rides, more lengthy car rides, a couple of cool train rides, surfing, elephants, meeting lots of local people, and generally just exploring some of what Sri Lanka had to offer. After the 3 weeks in vacation mode we were ready again to get back to work and travel.
Until the next episode…
M (co-founder of the M4 corporation and family)