The Republic of Maldives is a wee tiny chain of islands southwest of the southernmost point of India way out in the Indian Ocean. There are a few interesting facts about the Maldives that you may not know. First, it is the smallest country in Asia both in size and population. Second, it is made up of 1,192 coral islands in a chain of 26 atolls spread out over ~35,000 square miles. Third, the highest elevation in the entire country is just under 8 feet, making it the lowest country in the world, which also means that when there is a tsunami warning anywhere in this hemisphere the locals clench up a bit – unsurprisingly, there are few, if any, climate change deniers living in the Maldives. Lastly, the Maldives is a Muslim country so the culture is rather conservative especially when it comes to drugs, alcohol, showing skin, and many other things that people like to do when they take their vacation, however, the big resorts have worked out a deal where they can serve alcohol and people can rock their teeny bikinis, but god help you if you try to smuggle in drugs or alcohol because the punishment is dire.
We were lucky enough to get to spend a long week at the Six Senses Laamu resort in the southern portion of Laamu Atoll. To get there from Dalian we took a short hop to Hong Kong, a longer flight from Hong Kong to the Maldivian capital Malé, a small propeller plane to an island close to the resort, then a half hour speedboat ride across a very dark sea in the middle of the night – one doesn’t often get a chance to go tear-assing around in equatorial waters in the jet black night so ending the trip with a little awe and terror was a nice touch. The resort island is just a speck in the ocean – one could walk around it in minutes so in order to make enough room for everyone they’ve built over-water villas on three jettys and then larger villas on the beaches for groups and families. Our villa was over-water and was just the best because we could lay about in the sun then jump into the water to cool off or go snorkeling because the reef is right there. I will spare you the rest of the boring details about the resort and all it has to offer because their website does a much more eloquent job of that and, also, because they aren’t paying me to write this. Rest assured that we ate well, drank everything we could, and were treated with absolute kindness by everyone.
In the planning stages we had two objectives for the trip – the first was to finish our open-water diving certification (we had done the theory portion online and it was rather technical/boring/terrifying), and the second was to meet up with good friends Luci and AK from Dallas, who also graciously act as our mail/Amazon couriers, and have a generally good time in a tropical setting.
I am happy to report that we achieved both of the objectives but not without a little stress and strain when it came to the diving certification. The online theory portion of the course prepared us for a technical and somewhat dangerous in-water experience but nothing can really prepare someone for the scary shit one has to do to pass the course. I understand that the reason for the training is to prepare the would-be diver for all of the terrible things that can happen but when you actually have to take your mask off 60 feet below and then replace it or exchange emergency regulators with your dive buddy (a wide-eyed Blondie, also at depth), well, then stress levels reach record highs. We had two lesson per day – two hours in the morning and then two hours in the afternoon. After the first disastrous morning lesson we had a serious and quiet conversation about how we could best quit without looking like assholes. We decided that we would give the afternoon lesson a shot and if it sucked then we would retire to the pool bar for the rest of the trip. The second lesson did not go too well and tempers were lost and I let the instructor know that I was pissed and stressed and had no intention of spending the majority of my trip feeling like i wanted to murder someone. Blondie felt similarly, but our instructor, being a true pro, allowed us to vent our abject rage, without taking offense, and got us to simmer down enough to finish the lesson, which ended with a proper dive along the reef surrounding the resort. Once we were just swimming and exploring and seeing all of the underwater residents, there was a payoff – something that can only be described as Zen.
After that we were hooked and stayed the course all the way to the end. However, there were some serious hiccups along the way. There were the usual issues surrounding clearing of the ears at depth, and once on an emergency regulator exchange exercise in the shallows Blondie inhaled a mouthful of water and had to surface to cough it up and swear at everyone. On another dive I had a problem with my distribution of weights (I am remarkably buoyant – both literally and figuratively) so the instructor and I did a strange dance/struggle on the sea floor while moving said weights – at one point I was helplessly upside down holding on to his rig to keep from floating to the surface while Blondie looked on thinking that I was probably freaking the f__k out (I was a little). Lastly, the certification that we were going for was to depths up to 18 meters or 60 feet, and when people get to that depth the pressure starts reminding them that they do not belong down there – the most noticeable for Blondie was the onset of nitrogen narcosis – basically you start feeling drunk due to a combination of pressure and difficulty drawing a deep breath. The sensation freaked her out a bit but for some reason I completely enjoyed the way it felt – probably not surprising news for people who know me personally. After four tiring days and eight dives we passed our last test, a 200 meter swim in current and waves without the help of fins or flotation (G’ma Schuler’s thread and needle stroke for the win), so now we can dive alone anywhere up to 18 meters deep – preparations for the next dive trip are already underway – we are looking at you Seychelles and Cambodia.
When not diving we spent most of our time reading, listening to the waves, taking photo walks, eating, drinking, and complaining about loud families with Luci and AK (there were some testy children from various cultures all acting like, well, acting like little kids/holy terrors). There was also a lot of talk about a certain couple on the island who always seemed to forget their clothes whenever they went snorkeling – a serious offense in the conservative Maldives, however, bratty kids and naked Italians couldn’t even get close to spoiling the time we had. Now, rather than telling you about it perhaps it is time I show you some of what we saw and did. I procured an underwater housing for my camera but was unable to take it on my dives, however, I did take it snorkeling and managed to get a few interesting shots – here they are along with some other keepers from the trip.
And now for some from above sea level.
And now for a few gratuitous sunsets.
Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen. We had a hell of a good time in the Maldives and if you have the means to get there I suggest you drop any other plans you may have and go see it for yourself – your bank account might not like you for it but money is for spending, right? Check back soon for a post of photos taken from airplane window seats that I have made over the years – one of the few good ideas I have gotten from a post on Facebook.
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