Monday, January 11, 2016

Kihineh Maafushi?

Our trip to Maldives was a first in many respects. First off, this was the first time we were going on a holiday together with the Baa Lamb's side of the family (which involved neither of the countries we were residing in). it was also the first time we'd be visiting a place with no particular agenda and nowhere to go. Also, as child 1 reminded us every hour, it was our first visit to a white sands beach. (child 1 gets his thrills from facts. The more random, the better.
So, Maldives. A short plane ride from Kochi. But of course like all our holidays we simply have to take pits stops at Dubai and Bengalooru first. but coming back to Maldives - a short plane ride and we were transported to a land of blue, blue seas and white sand (yes, they really were white) tiny islands dotting the place.

No, no, we weren't staying in any of these extravagantly expensive five star island resorts. We went a bit more local. 
The boat journey from the Airport island of Hulhule to Maafushi (don't you just love the names) was pretty uneventful, except for the pretty rainbows that the spray from the boat threw up, blue as far as the eye could see and pretty, puffy clouds.
Maafushi is one of the lesser know islands of Maldives in the Kaafu Atoll-most islands consisting of just a resort and nothing else. Maafushi was more of a sleepy village with a couple of resorts thrown in. The village had a grand total of 4 street crosses.
Local Flora

And... er... fauna. They even organise crab races with these little ones. 

Even their graffiti advertises watersports :)
Well, it is the smallest Asian country in terms of land and population. As we walked to our resort from the jetty - the entire island probably isn't more than half a kilometre so it can't be a long walk we caught sight of our rooms- what joy they were all facing the sea (again, considering the size, pretty hard not to have a sea facing room)! We spent the day just taking in the beach, the blue ocean lapping the shores, with water so clear you could spot fishes swimming by and the total lack of any sort of four wheelers. A perfect day to unwind after our previous hurried stopovers.
local kids fishing

The beach

The next day was Christmas- a fact that only registered with us when we checked our messages on Social Media. The baa-lamb makes up for his complete absence during the rest of the year by promptly posting about our activities during holidays. Yes, the little island may not have traffic signals, but God forbid it goes without WiFi. The largely Muslim population of locals weren't too keen on reminding us either. And we spent another day soaking in the sun and vegetation except for a little canoe ride along the shores in the evening. Dinner threw up a bit of a surprised that day when we were treated to a live concert. The lead singer and Guitarist (apparently brothers of our concierge) weren't half bad treating us to a range of largely pop songs with a couple of Aatif Aslam songs thrown in for the Indian audiences.

(Apologies for video quality, not really superlative. And child 2 as you can see was clearly interested in other things) Dinner itself, however wasn't particularly spectacular. I suppose that is to be expected when you are in a tiny island where there's no farming and you're not keen on sea food. I'm sure if I was, I'd probably be raving about the fresh local catch.
Day 3 and we decided to take a boat tour out around the islands. Our guide was an experienced chap called Ali who looked like Muttaiah Muralidharan's long-lost twin. He parked the boat off a spot called Turtle bay. And that was my first experience at snorkelling*.
Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO
No easing into it gently or anything. just jump off the boat into the middle of the ocean and get on with it. Oh well.
It took me a while to get used to breathing through the mouth instead of the nose- a pretty novel experience when your nose isn't blocked, but once I got the hang of it, it seemed fine as long as I didn't panic. And once we dipped our heads underwater, the stunning scene that opened up in front of our eyes made me forget to panic.
Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO

Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO

Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO
Ali then took a group of us further out into the sea to see if we could spot the sea turtles- and what luck- we spotted not one, but two of them! I didn't want to make my way out of the water, but the ones on the boat were getting restless - apparently we were being graded by the bossy baby on our snorkelling skills and I'm sad to say, I didn't score very highly.
Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO
Pickwick, on the other hand took to snorkelling rather enthusiastically, but chose to stay close to where the boat was anchored.
Image courtesy: Ali's GOPRO. That's Pickwick and me trying to chase the fishes. 
As we dried off on the boat basking the in glorious sun, Ali stopped at our next point - a spot which a pod of Dolphins were known to frequent. And sure enough, we spotted them frolicking around. What exhibitionists! They put on quite a show for us.
Just part of the very large pod of spinner dolphins
These cute Spinners thoroughly enjoyed being papped- and boy did we Papp!

The water was so clear we could see clean through them. 

All this snorkelling and frolicking had made us a bit peckish and so, on we went to our next destination- the sandbank, where we were offered lunch and drinks. Being on the sandbank felt rather odd- very Swiss-Family-Robinson-ish. Pickwick and the Baa-Lamb were the most enthusiastic of our lot and promptly rushed onto the bank even before the boat could be anchored securely.
The guide was joking about throwing them a couple of pineapples and picking them up in a couple of days (at least I hope he was joking). I was sorely tempted. The sea, however was rising and started getting choppy even before we lifter anchor, so getting everyone back on the boat was an adventure in itself. I don't think I've ever had this much fun in the sea.

After that we went off to another island just off Maafushi to snorkel before heading back. It was at this point that we discovered that both the baa-lamb and self had fallen prey to sunburn in our enthusiasm to catch the sun. In my case it came as a bit of a shock as I considered myself and my skin a veteran of sorts when it came to all things sun-related. The Baa-lamb was more severely burn while I had only a mild version- clearly the Melanin was slacking when it came to doing its job. And it was this that we spent the greater part of that evening recovering from this minor setback. This however didn't prevent us from a visit to the beach to watch the kids build a sand castle to beat all sand castles in the evening. As we settled onto our beach towels, our eyes were drawn to a flurry of activity going down at the beach - which is odd for Maafushi. Maafushi is alien to flurries of any kind. We realised we were witnessing an impromptu island wedding, with an ecstatic bride and groom staying their vows in the most idyllic settings.
Thought it would be rude to click pictures of the bride and groom- but we did capture the wedding cake!
Image Courtesy: Aruna Sriram

Image Courtesy- Aruna Sriram
Although I did notice that the groom had a slight problem with relinquishing control - what with telling the staff exactly how the cake should be places, telling the priest/ registrar (he looked like neither.) exactly where to stand while conducting the ceremony and telling the photographer from exactly what angle he wanted the pictures. All-in-all pretty entertaining.
Having sufficiently recovered from my minor sunburn, I decided to go snorkelling with the sis-in-law the next morning. Just as I stepped into the water, I see a baby black-tipped shark swim by, casual as anything, not 5 feet from us. How incredible was that! We donned our snorkels and fins with gusto and set out in the hope of spotting the shark again, but although we spotted a whole host of other interesting fish- like the Tiger fish, the Flutemouth and a whole variety of surgeon fishes, the shark remained elusive.
Watersports at sunset. That isn't any of us, by the way - it was a local. We stuck to the canoeing and snorkelling

This holiday was also a role reversal of sorts for the kids- Pickwick, usually the quiet, indoors kid, couldn't wait to go out to the beach, make castle and forts, snorkel, wade out to the sea, pick up hermit crabs or climb a tree. He simply didn't want to ever come indoors. The little one, on the other hand was perfectly happy just wading in shallow water and playing with her brothers. None of her usual high-energy shenanigans on display.
A beautiful Maafushi sunrise

We spent the rest of our Holiday in a similar fashion- snorkelling, canoeing, relaxing on the beach, chatting with the family in the evening as a cool sea breeze gently swings our hammocks back and forth and marvelling at nature. It wasn't until the ferry ride took us back to Male and ground reality that I reluctantly got my head out of the clouds, the Sea, the corals and beaches. I honestly can't think of a better way to have spent Christmas, can you?

* all underwater snaps are courtesy Ali- our trusty guide. Thank you!