After saying farewell to family, Harris and I took some couple’s vacation time, and indulged in a dive trip to the Maldives, one of those dive destinations on everyone’s bucket list. It did not disappoint, and we can proudly say that we are no longer whale shark virgins after over 4000 combined dives! We boarded the MV Carpe Diem, a liveaboard dive boat, along with 17 other divers, and headed out for 6.5 days of diving and cruising the atolls of North and South Male, Vaavu, and North and South Ari Atolls.
|Central Maldives map, route marked|
|Typical Maldives island|
|MV Carpe Diem|
This curious nation, only a few feet above sea level, has about 319,000 inhabitants, over 1000 islands, of which 200 are occupied. The location is far from everything, 430 miles southwest of Sri Lanka and 250 miles southwest of India. It’s possibly the world’s most Muslim country: locals brag that 100% of the population are Muslim, and their customs suggest how strong beliefs run: not only can one not bring in liquor or porn, but no dogs. No pocket poodles or Chihuahuas. Dogs are anathema to the devout.
|Minaret in Male shaped like a lighthouse|
This trip was all about diving, like most liveaboards, and not so much about luxury. The boat was quite comfortable (though the beds were rock-hard), and our suite roomy and bright with big windows. We awoke every morning at 6:15 except for the one day we went after alleged hammerheads and awoke before dawn at 5:15; ate a banana and coffee, and were in the water by 7AM most days.
|Divers Mel and Harris en route to a site|
Most dives were channel dives and the current ranged from moderate to impressively strong, like high speed trains. Because of the time of year, weather topside was dry and gorgeous; the water was filled with plankton and life (and I have the jellyfish and siphonophore stings on my face to prove it), visibility was usually low, but the reward meant big animals. They love current, and my dive log records one dive alone in which we saw one whale shark, a squadron of eagle rays, a manta, a leopard or variegated shark, two hawksbill turtles, tunas, gray reef, whitetip, and blacktip sharks in number I had not seen outside of Cocos Island. Of course, not every dive was like this, but we had enough high-voltage encounters to become blasé when a dive offered only half a dozen sharks.
|Imagine a dozen eagle rays instead of just four...|
|Sharks as seen in typically low visibility|
|Our suite in part|
|The view we had of one whale shark|
|Leopard or variated shark, one of many species we saw|
Because of the isolation of the Maldives, there are a few endemic species we were thrilled see. The cutest were the fish invented by Kodak, anemonefishes (or clownfish, like Nemo). Of the two species in the Maldives, one lives only there—the black-bellied Maldivian anemonefish, with its handsome white vertical stripe head to belly; these creatures only live in glorious heteractus anemones, which invert as it gets later in the day to expose vivid undersides of purple and green. The other anemonefish is the Sebae, quite dark with white patches near the face and caudal fin, and a pugnacious personality that again made me glad they are tiny fish.
|Maldivian anemonefish, lives only in this species of anemone|
Harris discovered that some eels have acquired a taste for human flesh. From time to time, we had to gecko dive, to hang on to dead corals and holes in the reef and pull ourselves along in the ripping currents. He stuck his fingers in a hole already occupied by a blackface eel, who proceeded to hunt him for the rest of the dive. Happily, it only grazed his knuckles but did break right through his gloves. Since eels don’t floss, we made sure the wound stayed clean and it’s fine now.
|Eel with a taste for human flesh...|
Between dives, I did a prodigious amount of napping despite the rock-hard mattress, suggesting I was truly tired, and sometimes we watched trashy dvds on the screen in our suite. Most of the other divers from the U.K., and for some reason, we never made real friends with anyone, though all remained cordial. Harris remarked it was the first time no one seemed to get his humor. However, it was a perfectly congenial group. We also enjoyed one evening ashore on a little island where the crew prepared a yummy barbeque with a special sand sculpture of a manta. I also went on a walking tour of one small village on an island in the South Ari atoll, which was partly interesting and partly an attempt to get us into the souvenir shops. Sadly, there are no impressive Maldivian crafts, and prices are sky high, owing to the isolation of the islands.
|Street in Maldivian village|
|Breadfruit, a local staple|
|Manta sand sculpture at the BBQ|
We did take a tour of Male, the capital. It’s not like Cairo, which meant clean and quiet. The most interesting parts to me were the old mosque, with its minaret shaped like a lighthouse, and the markets for produce and fish. Other than tourism, fishing is the other main source of income in the Maldives. It will be interesting to see if the nation abides as sea levels rise. Evidently, the Maldivian mission to the U.N. advocates actively for anything that can keep sea levels down.
|Male fish market|
|Male produce market|
|Enjoying a beer as the sun sets on Carpe Diem|
After the liveaboard part of the trip was over, we had two nights at a resort called Bandos Island to await our plane back to Cairo via Qatar. There, we did two more dives, but had become so spoiled by the diving in the outer islands that the dives seemed a little dull—though we did see the largest green turtle ever. But it was nice to sleep in a better bed, and we enjoyed the spa, where we indulged in a couple’s deep tissue massage in their honeymoon spa suite. The food was okay, not great, but resorts in the Maldives are impressively expensive, and I chose Bandos in part for its relatively reasonable price. Interestingly, there were virtually no Americans there: lots of Japanese, tons of Russians and folks from the various former USSR, plenty of Brits, and lots of families since they offered a kids club. Our little villa was quite a hoot, shaped like a tiki-inspired beehive, with a fabulous outdoor bathroom with a Jacuzzi. If we ever come back, my fantasy would be to combine a liveaboard trip with a live-ashore stay at one of the remote resorts.
|Bandos Island Resort view|
|You can tell it's our hut by the drying scuba gear|
|Couples massage suite|
|Harris in the couples jacuzzi (it was cold, so he's faking!)|
|A cocktail after sunset|
Returning to Cairo, with its traffic, noise, and garbage, was oddly comforting! Today is laundry, washing scuba gear, returning emails, and household stuff, interspersed with doing this blog. Harris got an exciting email from a publisher who is avid for his monograph on poetic theory, so he is busy thinking Deep Thoughts. I’m working on getting my brain going again as well since classes are scheduled to resume next week, ISA.
We plan on a short trip to Aswan for three days to see Abu Simbel, some of the tombs around Aswan, and to enjoy the Old Cataract Hotel and its spa. Any Agatha Christie fans of “Murder on the Nile” will recognize the hotel, where she wrote the book and the movie was filmed. We will be back from Aswan before the anniversary of the Revolution on 25 January, when ISA, all wil be calm. Our greetings to everyone.
|Sunset in the Maldives|
|They do sunset right...|