So I just arrived back from my honeymoon in the Maldives and I must say, I am frickin' freezing! I couldn't get my head around how, when I got back, it wasn't going to be anywhere near the solid 32 degree sunshine we were enjoying every single day out there. More so, I couldn't believe anything would stop me wearing my shorts and T-shirt and showing off my newly acquired tan. I was very wrong!
Anyway, the honeymoon was absolutely amazing. It began with a nice relaxing complimentary glass of champers in the lounge at Gatwick airport followed by a tortuous 9.5 hr flight direct to Male on Monarch. Cattle class and long legs do not mix.
Arriving in Male, we were ushered through the melee and onto the Trans Maldivian Air Taxi company for our short hop flight to Meeru. It was so bizarre being picked up by some laid back chaps in their shorts, t-shirt and sandals and delivered to a floating jetty in the middle of a lagoon around our island home. But was it awesome? Absolutely.
The Maldives is made up of 1192 islands, which are grouped into Atolls. Of those islands, 200 are inhabited - 100 resorts and 100 local inhabitants. Our island, Meerufenfushi (or Meeru) is the fourth largest resort island and was one of the earliest resorts to be formed in the 70's. That said, we could tell straight away that the island felt far from crowded, was incredibly welcoming and beautiful. At no point whatsoever, would we have said that we were anything other than completely satisfied with the size, level of activity and privacy on the island.
The only thing, which is very common in the Maldives, is that they have a policy of overbooking. We had read much about it on Tripadvisor before leaving and on arrival, we were informed that we would be upgraded to a Jacuzzi Beach villa for one night, then moved to our normal beach villa the next day. We were offered a three day cruise for free instead, which (to my disappointment and Mrs S's delight) we declined. Largely because our luggage hadn't yet arrived and the boat was due to depart in 30 minutes! The next day, we were in our accommodation and were able to unpack and settle properly. No problem at all.
When I went to Meeru, I had no intention of scuba diving. I hadn't dived for about 6 years, and it had been about 10 years since I did my PADI Open Water. Since Dad died (he used to be my dive buddy) diving just fell off the radar. But, one look at the crystal clear waters and who was I kidding. I signed up to do a refresher dive, but then thought, screw that! I went straight out on the boat for a nice drift dive at a place called Long Reef. It all came flooding back after a while.
Next dive was a place called Palm Reef, where, not wanting to do anything by halves, I did an adventure deep dive down beyond 30m and saw manta rays, napolean wrasse, and moray eels.
As much of what I do now is all about generating content - video, photos, editorial - I took the decision to do the PADI Digital Underwater Photography course, with the Ocean Pro Dive team on Meeru, specifically with their photography and videography expert Thorsten. This was covered in two separate dives, the first; a nice dive site at Kuda Thila. Following this dive, we had a photo review, critique, discussion and feedback, before putting the learnings into place on the second dive; a glorious coral garden dive site called Coral Reef. As you ascend up the side wall of the reef, you are greeted with the most stunning unbroken coral bed you could ever imagine. The only problem here was that the reef fish seemed extremely timid and particularly camera shy!
Along with the practical element, there was also reading to do for both the deep dive and the DUP course. Shucks, that meant I just had to sit out on the beach in the hammock with my iced tea, reading over my materials. Never been such an arduous study scenario. I also got through "Googled - the end of the world as we know it" and the audible book of "Accidental Billionaires" about the founding of Facebook.
I passed the course and got some cracking photos, but it didn't end there. My final dive expedition was to a place named Bodu Hithi Thila, which is renowned at this time of year for it's cleaning stations - where giant manta rays, white tip reef sharks and nurse sharks gather to be cleaned. It's a couple of hours boat ride across the North Male Atoll, and proved the pinnacle of my diving experience. Dive 1, we made our way down to the coral block at about 24m, settled in and got comfortable as 3 friendly Manta Rays made their way over and performed a graceful, awe inspiring dance for us onlooking strangers. It was majestic and captivating.
Following that delight, we made our way up for lunch. The boat anchored nearer to the reef and we spotted some more Manta's in the shallows close by. Donning snorkel, mask and fins, we were soon back in the water getting up close and personal to 4 or 5 extremely friendly Manta Rays. One took such a shine to me, I literally had to hold one of it's wings as it passed so closely, mouth wide open, taking in gallons of water and krill as it passed. Tearing ourselves away from this truly mind blowing experience was a bind, but food and a second dive was calling.
The second dive, in terms of logistics, was the same as the first - back down to around 22m and sit and watch the dance of the Mantas. A large stingray showed up, not to be outdone and made it's presence known along with a lonesome white tip reef shark of around 2m in length. It felt like everyone was vying for attention over the hypnotic Manta Rays. I took a look down to the rock I was holding, and again, not wanting to be overlooked, a small school of Oriental Sweetlips we floating around a foot from me, just looking and hoping to be given a moment of limelight. This was amazing, after the elusiveness of the Coral Reef inhabitants.
When swimming closely with one of the Mantas, I noticed some extraordinary markings on its back. I felt a connection with this creature and it's markings made me consider some higher level consciousness I never thought I possessed. When I got back to the villa, I looked more closely and saw what I thought I had seen. The markings, two parallel diagonal lines of different lengths and a third line, crossing the two lines at an opposing angle. It reminded my straight away of a hunter using a spear to fish - poised and ready to strike. It was almost like this beast was telling a story it couldn't verbalise but could, on some level, get across visually. Captivated and fascinated, I've decided to get the marking tattooed on my foot as a constant reminder of the occasion, the experience and the bond I felt with this giant creature.
The rest if the holiday was a relaxing, stress free, all you can eat, all you can drink amazing quality time with my beautiful, interesting, funny and fantastic wife. We enjoyed lounging in the sun, in the hammocks in the shade, making up names for the herons, geckos, bats, reef fish, sharks and rays that were on or around the island. We played ping pong, pitch and putt (on the only 9 hole pitch and putt course in the Maldives) and basically just enjoyed our time alone together.
We took the sunset cruise and watched dolphins playing in the light of the setting sun. Cas even came and watched me play two football matches - guests versus staff, on their amazing $500,000 artificial full size football pitch, in the middle of the island. The pitch was laced with water, so you can actually slide and fall over without burning your legs off. As the continued heat evaporated the water on the pitch, it became like playing footy in a sauna - which I'm sure they did on purpose!
The Maldivians take their football extremely seriously. So much so, they even drafted in a couple of professional national team players for the game. It was surprisingly close fought, and the speed, skill and fitness of the Maldivians proved triumphant in a classic 10-8 win for the home side. My two (modestly) stunning goals weren't enough to secure vistory on this occasion.
We met some fantastic people, including all the dive team from Ocean Pro, Helen & Howard from Manchester, Colin and his wife from Inverness, Ibrahim our waiter. I hope to keep in touch with them all in some way or another (Ibrahim by visiting the island again next year!).
Anyone who is thinking of visiting Meeru will not be dissapointed with their choice. it is a truly fabulous island, with lots to do if you want, but certainly no pressure, and your privacy is respected and encouraged.
Now we're back home, I can't wait for my next visit to the Maldives - but it has also tickled my interest for wider travel - maybe Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand or similar... Maybe now I should complete my Master Scuba Diver award? Anyway, back to work - I wonder how long the tan will last??