Saturday, April 9, 2011

Maldives - Close to Paradise

Ever since I was 12, I dreamt of going to the Maldives. I was mesmerized then by the Singapore Airlines print ad of a person sitting in the middle of nowhere, in clear blue shallow waters a drive away from the shore.

Two weeks ago, I fulfilled my wish by going there. We arrived late at night in Male, and were transported by a fancy motorboat to our resort which was 40 minutes away. Traveling in pitch darkness, guided by the stars, I could not help but reminisce about one similar sojourn 21 years ago. I had followed fellow undergrads on a low-budget trip to Tioman. We took a van from Singapore to Johor and then rode a boat to the island. The difference at that point was that the fisherman boat seemed questionable and we could have easily capsized and drowned. Kudos then for bravery, kudos now for being able to afford a more luxurious form of travel.

When morning came, all my mental images of the atoll came to life. Indeed, the Maldives is a pretty slice of heaven on earth. There stood beneath me fine white sand, above me the clear blue sky and before me, a small island fringed by palms. I could walk knee deep in seawater and still see my pedicured toes while black striped angelfish swam near my shins in curiosity. The island that our resort was on felt like a private wonderland. After all, it was the size of two street blocks in Manhattan.

Wow, I had to ride a dhoni sailboat to get to the spa located on its very own island. This was a first for me. How more spoilt could I get as I lay face down on the massage table, to be able to see through the glass window set into the floorboard and watch schools of fish swim beneath me. When I did yoga the next morning, lying face up at the sky, it was a hard choice between gazing at the morning moon on my left and the palm fronds on my right.

And oh, the marine life. Each subsequent snorkeling excursion got progressively fancier. Bigger, brighter coral reefs teemed with neon-striped fish and the signature blue surgeonfish. Nosey batfish swam up close and personal, big parrotfish gazed at me and little "Nemos" danced about writhing sea anemones. It was quite a magical underwater world. On our second daytrip, a dozen dolphins swam alongside our boat. Intelligent creatures as they are, they entertained us with their water ballet. Our last snorkeling adventure was a shark safari. As twenty of us trailed the biologist, we caught a glimpse of two sharks darting in nonchalance below us phalanx of sightseers.

All was not lost on us that future generations deserve to experience this same joy. We sponsored a coral frame whereby our family tied bits of living coral to an iron frame and sent it out to sea with our blessings. We will monitor its growth with periodic online photos.
We ended our holiday with a sunset kayaking treat, a maiden voyage for our children.

Even as I left the island in darkness once more, my eyes could not close to rest. The visual feast had not ended yet. The glittering constellation of stars beckoned for attention. I just had to grasp the sight of shooting stars.

The dream trip had come true.....the Maldives was everything I imagined it to be. I vowed that I would return again.

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