The battery of the ipad is dying (wow, that sounds a little douchey) and the wi-fi here is more of a suggestion than an actual thing. Apologies for all grammatical errors and infelicities of style. Also these are off the cuff impressions, not well reflected poetical statements.
“We recommend you keep your nose and eyes covered until the spraying is completed”. Okay, that does not inspire confidence overmuch. Our plane is landing and the cabin crew is walking down the aisles spraying aerosols like it’s Poison’s dressing room in 1987, or Whitesnakes’.
Sitting at the airport in Male, capital of the Maldives. Waiting for our ride to the ship we will call home for a week. The heat and humidity have been turned up to eleven. Then someone turned the weather knob some more and broke it. There are big fans all around us but I can feel my shirt stick to me like regrets the mornings after. I’m struck by how small the world feels. The Maldives are a series of specks in the Indian Ocean and I’m pretty sure if all North Americans jumped in the sea at the same time, these islands would disappear under a foot of water. Today it is a multinational meeting point. Scandinavians, Chinese, Italians, Brits, Indians, French, these are some of the passports I glimpsed in line at customs (where we were asked zero questions, but our various visas and passport stamps were looked at). We are so far from seemingly everything and yet people from all over the place are here. The world feels very small suddenly. It’s a different sort of tourism though, it’s mostly (99%?) resorts. Admitedly the stuff of dreams, one hotel islands with little houses on stilts wading out into the turquoise ocean. Somewhat less expectedly this is a country ruled by Islamic law, outside of resorts no parties, and no bacon. Probably no bacon in the resorts as well. It is illegal to import alcohol (or pork meat)into the country. The customs declaration form had some interesting elements on it. Dick pics on your phone are probably a bad idea.
The ride to the boat turns out to be another boat. We walk out of the airport directly onto a marina. That ship will be our diving “dhony”, a Maldivian word for (somewhat) smaller vessels, it will follow our floating hotel throughout the week and act as a diving base. Our gear and the compressors are on board, two or three crewmen live there as well.
It is the tail end of our third day of diving, one more to go before beers. We are 8 dives in. We are currently crossing the Maldives from east to west heading for south Ari Atoll. Yesterday we spent the last of the daylight walking around a sandbar seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with limpid water up to our knees for hundreds of meters. Dolphins were jumping out of the water in front of a setting sun. I would be embarrassed to make that up. Crossing the open water is taking longer than expected, but we no longer measure time in hours or even half days. People are either sleeping or reading. There’s the hum of the engines, the slight buffets from the wind, the pronounced sideways rolling (a “pléonasme” I know, rolling is always sideways) and the merciless sun. Shade is a sought after commodity. All around us, the horizon is an unbroken perfectly straight line where dark blue meets light blue. An old diver just showed up talking loudly, I wonder if it’s because he’s getting old or if he was just always like that.
Obviously you come to the Maldives with very high expectations and that’s always a dangerous proposition. We have seen some very cool stuff, a school of nurse sharks (big big beasts), a twirling ballet of reef sharks looking for food (while hooked to the reef like kite’s in the heavy water wind), a nursery zone for sharks, filled with diminutive yet adult shaped black tip sharks. Gen of the laser eyes found me a juvenile emperor angel fish I had been wanting to see. Still, for now I’m slightly underwhelmed (perhaps that’s unfair), the coral is generally not noteworthy, except in a few precise places, and the general conditions can be challenging.
Most dives so far have been surprisingly deep, hitting 90 feet+ and hanging around 80-75 feet for extended periods of time. You need to keep an eye on your air and your no decompression limits. Tunas and sharks are frequent sight, though a very early morning dive into the big blue looking for hammerheads was not fruitful. Smaller rays, a turtle and several octopuses (octopi? Can’t check, no internet, but I’m pretty sure that would not be correct, either way, I seek your leniency in the matter) hanging around on top of rocks and changing colour, probably communicating, the colour was not camouflage, something along the lines of “please get out of my house”, unless it was “may I please have some of that beer thing you speak of?”. Octopuses are unfailingly polite in my head.
We carry a reef hook and a surface marker buoy (a big bright orange inflatable sausage meant to let our boat know where we are as we surface) on every dive. A reef hook is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a hook, tied to a rope, clipped to your gear, that you hook on something sturdy (preferably rock, but you don’t always have that luxury) when you want to stay fixed in place in a current that would otherwise SHOOOOOOOT you down the channel. We’ve had some strong currents, and though you are mean to tap your target with your hook before actually hooking it (to let various creatures that might live there a chance to get out), there was one moment where I felt I needed to hook myself rapidly, and thought to myself: if there’s a shrimp in that hole, it sucks being you buddy. I still balk a little at the use of the hook, as a diver brought up in the Caribbean just thinking about touching the coral is anathema, so the use of the stainless steel hook goes against the grain a little.
Chris , the head DM, just came up to the top deck where I’m writing between dives. I half expected him to rouse the sleeping troops with some army drill sergeant expressions, instead he just went with a sedate waky waky! It’s time for the briefing then we go diving.
Apparently there’s a big washing machine to be avoided.
Dive and survive, that’s how the head divemaster characterized our last outing, but what is a washing machine? It’s a circular current, either vertical or horizontal. For Maldives newbies they are difficult to spot. I got caught in one, and went from 50 feet to about 12 in 2 seconds, wondering what the hell was going on, purging my bc and kicking down the whole way, only to be shot back down a few seconds later. At the safety stop there was a horizontal version, we kept on bumping into each other. A bit of a shit show but a learning shit show.
The hunt for whale-sharks was a complete bust, unless you count the one sculpted on a deserted beach/island to keep us company during diner. That evening we walked around the tiny coconut tree filled island, from far every inch a paradise. Yet on this little speck of super fine white sand and greenery, in the middle of the ocean, you could pick up as much dirty washed up plastic as you cared to.
Plastic needs to become fully biodegradable or it needs to disappear. We only poison ourselves when we poison the oceans.
It’s two days later, we have just finished our 14th dive of the week, two more to go (this is a 4 dives day) today, and la utlima of this cruise tomorrow. In the last two days we saw manta rays like I could only have dreamt of. They were large, majestic, graceful, mysterious, beautiful. Circling above or around us, l literally had to move out of the way to avoid being slapped by a wing tip. Among my top dives ever. I’m getting used to the reef hook, and after seeing people kneeling on rocks and coral or grabbing on with their hands I understand how it is the lesser of several evils. The current can be dangerously strong. When anchored strategically, flying like a kite in the ocean streams, you can relax and take the most amazing pictures. I’m convinced I took some fantastic, award winning in fact, images of the mantas and also of sharks, but I’ll never know.
I lost the gopro. Don’t ask me how are when, but the carabiner it was on either opened or I did not clip it properly. Either way it is now adrift somewhere in the Indian Ocean, maybe it will beach itself somewhere one day… Charles, you know what you are getting for your birthday right?
So no underwater pics from this trip. Meh. Watchagonnado?
Aside from the mantas, current should be the thing that comes to your mind when you will think about diving here. It can be very strong, not very predictable and can be very, very little fun. It’s a completely different kind of diving and reading of the reef. I was very glad for our divemaster Hammu. Stay close to the reef, seek shelter behind outcrops or in depressions and keep an eye on the fishes. A school of fish that isn’t moving has found a quiet spot. You can share it. Listen to your guide, if she/he is any good, you will have a nice time and become a better diver.
The Emperor Voyager was outstanding for food, cleanliness, and rooms. The food was tasty and varied at every meal, and the “Maldivian night” delicious, as was the BBQ on the island. Linens were changed, beds were made, fans and AC turned on for you, even the stray item of clothing waiting neatly folded. Real fresh coffee and cookies available throughout the day.
Wow it’s over. Sitting in the airport lounge waiting for our flight out. No beers to be had at all in the whole place. I could have used one. Or two. We go there early as we were punted off the boat almost at daybreak. With time to kill we went to Hulhumalé, a city close by the airport to walk along the beach and have coffee. We were told by the cab driver there were two beaches. The “normal” beach and the bikini beach. Clearly not everyone got the memo, we saw the modesty police have a chat with three skin showing tourists. Please, when in Rome… Back at the terminal we saw the meet and greet person from our ex-boat, another batch of divers was about to start on a journey. Small sigh. It’s interesting that instant, and slightly fake, intimacy you feel on a dive boat with both crew and divers, then puff, gone. Next. C’est comme ça. Back to Sri Lanka to close that chapter with a few days in the south at Weligama and hopefully some interesting scuba. It will be a long day, there’s a five hour drive waiting after the flight.
Talk to you soon.