Saturday, September 25, 2010

Keep it 'Kuda' - local island style

A popular misconception about the Maldives in general is that it is ridiculously expensive and near impossible to go anywhere except to resorts or to islands run by resorts. Reasons (or excuses) for this are most often given as a lack of reliable public ferry services and the availability of speed launches. This is simply not true, as the documenting of the island escape below will clearly point out. Surfing, fishing, diving or just craving the chance to get away and relax, the less costly Maldivian holiday is on the up-and-up.

Kudahuvadhoo, Dhaal Atoll - July 2009

A month into my Maldivian experience and I’d been handed the opportunity of a long weekend escape to Dhaal Atoll, South-East of Kaafu Atoll and a good 3 hour trip by speedboat launch. The one thing about living and working in the capital (Male) of an archipelago is that the old phrase ‘outta sight, outta mind’ really rings true, in that once you’ve settled it feels as if your island is the only one for miles and run the risk of never seeing anything else. So it was that an extremely excited group of mates and a surf guide from SIM (Surf in Maldives) that headed south into the islands proper on an easily arranged, affordable launch.

For that first hour, the majority of which was in darkness, we chatted away about the possibilities of what might await us. Our guide knew a little more than us for obvious reasons and let us in on the secrets of a very seldom visited, unnamed surf break that worked beautifully when the swell was big. He also mentioned the amazing fishing in Dhaal and the stark beauty of some of the uninhabited islands in and around Kudahuvadhoo (“Kuda”), the Atoll capital. But pretty soon that sun was up and the tropical heat blazed down on us from a cloudless, blue sky as our launch carried us amongst reefs (Faru), sandbanks (Fingahlu)and palm tree covered islands and on towards our destination.

A fair amount of fanfare greeted our jam packed speedboat when we docked 8ish. Our guide had arranged that family friends of his were waiting to greet us and after all the pleasantries our bags, boards and rods were whisked away to a local Guest House. Meanwhile we found ourselves being led down a sandy beach track, into the back of a beautiful, double storey house and sat down at a kitchen table teaming with local cuisine. Coconuts (Kurumba) with little straws in the top, Mas huni roshi (a popular breakfast dish of tuna, coconut and chillies that you roll up into a type of thin bread) and an bottomless pan of sausage, eggs and tomato lay spread before us. The timing was impeccable and we gratefully wolfed down whatever was laid out. Forcing another Kurumba down, we made our way out of the sanctuary of the homely kitchen to the shrieks of our guide’s younger cousins, who were super excited to give us a tour of the island. We spent the best part of an hour strolling along blindingly white sand and along palm- fringed pathways, coconut husks and smiling kids around each bend. With the island completely surrounded by a beautiful reef and a gentle ocean breeze just stirring, we might as well have docked, officially, in paradise. Unfortunately litter remains a massive problem wherever you go in the Maldives, and the only slight blemish on an otherwise perfect picture portrait, was the amount of plastic lining the shoreline. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the Jolly Fatties (a kind of hammock chair ubiquitous on local inhabited islands), reading, chatting and planning the evening’s events.

It was unanimously decided that we weren’t going to wait around for the weather report and would just go ahead and arrange fishing gear for the evening. Fishing gloves, strong line and round, plastic contraptions to tie our lines onto were procured; along with a fishing dhoni (wooden boats), food for the evening and the inevitable bucket load of bait that we’d be needing. With our dhoni stocked and enough fishing tackle and bait to see us through to the next millennium, we headed off into the late afternoon.

In no time at all the makeshift rods had been baited and lines were being wet. Another magic sunset triggered off probably the most memorable night’s fishing of my short career so far as Barracuda and massive Red Snappers were hauled aboard almost at will. There is something special about being out on the ocean at night, the quiet lapping of waves against the boat, the timeless brilliance of a billion stars overhead and then the sudden jerk of a hungry reef fish on the end of your line, as the silence and solitude is broken by shrieks of excitement and the scurrying of feet to lend a hand. Our brilliant guide again got the timing just perfect and as we were bordering on losing interest in all these fish, he had us suit up for a bit of night snorkelling, underwater torches and all. Well, as amazing as the fishing was, it pales in comparison to a nighttime snorkel on a coral reef in the tropical Maldives. The sea-life was generally a little sleepy, but the colours and shapes were phenomenal! After an hour or so, the girls started to get a little chilly, so we were hauled back aboard and headed home for a truly delicious Snapper, grilled to perfection on the open, coconut husk coals.

Another sunny day greeted us the following morning, our last of the trip, and just when we thought things surely couldn’t get any better, our secret surf spot appeared on the horizon due West. It was small and a good 100m paddle out, but what a session. Not a breath of wind, coral reef crystal clear below us and 2-3 foot running for a good 10 seconds down the reef. Sun, sea and surf! This was the only way to sign off on an incredible trip on public transport, to a local island in the south.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mantas run (swim) amok!

All week we’d been chatting about finally getting another dive under the belt. Ever since a mate of ours had mentioned his chance experience with Manta rays off one of the resorts, not even an hour’s dhoni ride from Male. Phone calls had been made and boats booked, so it was with teary eyes that we watched the rain bucketing down on Thursday evening.

Nonetheless, we were given the green light early the next day and loaded onto a dive boat along with a few locals, Austrian Joe, Scottish Ewen and a Miss Perry-Bower from somewhere in Suffolk. The trip out to Manta Point (or Lanka Point if you aren’t lucky enough to see them joked one of the instructors) went by in a flash and before we knew it, we had been briefed and suited up for the first dive of the day.

Austrian Joe, this young lass from Suffolk and I were teamed off with Wadhook and away we went. No sooner had we begun our descent than these docile monsters of the ocean began floating past. Even the black-tipped reef sharks circling just off the coral drop-off weren’t enough to distract our gaze from what must be one of the more calming experiences in life. The way these creatures glide along effortlessly on those massive ‘wings’, front mandibles quietly brushing plankton into their mouths, side eyes ever alert! We were pretty much surrounded by Parrots, Orientals, Butterflies, Clowns and Travellies – but not once did my mind wander from the outside chance that we might just see a few more Manta. And they didn’t disappoint. No fewer than 5 huge rays visited our ‘lookout’ around the feeding station, the most of which get so close that they come across as almost tame.

Our tank limits were reached far too quickly and with the tapping of his metal prod, Wadhook signaled for us to ascend. Miss Suffolk 2008 seemed to pay no heed to the 3m stop off though and both myself and our instructor had to grab her feet to keep her from bursting through the surface a good few minutes too early.

Once back on the boat, the heavens opened once more – drenching us, but also putting the cap on some incredible diving and a memorable morning amongst the natural elements.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guraidhoo chill

Eid Mubarak!

And as good an excuse as any to get off the mother island and away to the south; hunting for surf, a bit of fresh seafood and some chill time somewhere a little less frenetic than Male.

We left school early, jumped in a taxi, collected our gear at the apartment and sped off down Majeedee to Jetty no.1 and the awaiting ferry. Our baggage was stashed away by one of the deckhands just as one of his fellow seaman was throwing off the bowlines and by the time we were safely ensconsed on the roof, our boat was already out of the harbour and into the open ocean. Maldivian timeliness at its absolute peak!

Both pretty stuffed after a hot and tiring week at the coalface, it wasn't long before we were both sprawled out on top deck, hats covering our faces and light sea-breeze bringing welcome respite from the searing midday sun. Needless to say, we didn't see much on our way down, apart from a very decent 2-3 foot of swell breaking off Kandooma, and arrived at Guraidhoo at 4ish. The ferry was packed to the rafters with folk coming away for the Eid break and they poured out onto the island now. It suddenly dawned on us that a spot to sleep for 2 nights might not be that easy to come by. Fortunately we were lucky enough to bump into our old mate Adam at the Surfers Shack and he arranged us a twin room at Riptides, which suited us down to the ground.

Having dropped everything off, we made straight for the jetty area, hunting for a spot to kick our weekend off with a late afternoon snorkel. There were no clear reefs around, so we threw ourselves off the furthest jetty from the main harbour and hoped for the best. Not the greatest underwater session of the year - murky and with lots of sea grass around, but the venture was made all the worthwhile when two massive sting rays drifted past us. Suddenly the immediate vicinity seemed alot more menacing and we made for the sanctuary of terra firma pretty soon afterwards. After a quick shower back at Riptides, we lost ourselves in a couple of Jolly Fatties and watched another cracker sunset settle out over the Western Front. Scant on cash we grabbed a quick Maldivian Noodle soup and a Nasigoreng at The Palm Restaurant on the harbour and headed home for the 'Shithead' Champs and a moveski.

Friday morning started late, and after trying to sneak across the lagoon onto a 4 star resort and being unceremoniously turned away by their hardcore Chinese bicycle patrol, we found ourselves perched once more in a pair of Jolly Fatties shooting the breeze and brushing up on ancient Greek mythology. The call of the wave is strong though and after a few hours with Gaia, Uranus, Zeus and Athena we had a makeshift lunch of pineapple jam sarmies and chocolate biscuits and went in search of some swell. The surf was nothing to write home about, but we had a few good laughs paddling the 300m across the channel and Hannah's debut on a board, so it was memorable. We were completed stuffed just from the paddle once back on Guraidhoo, so hit the Guest House for some kip before venturing out for our final evening on the town. With most of the local folk at friends and family celebrating Eid, the streets were empty and if our restaurant had two people in the whole place it was alot. On our way out of the restaurant we were mobbed by a youngster armed with a loud hailer and flyers for 'the party of the millenium' down at the football stadium down the road. We had to have a quiet chuckle as slotted 51st State into the DVD player later that night and wondered how many POS 51's might have been going down around the local goal posts.

The rest of the evening past uneventfully and by 7am we were back on the Male bound ferry boat, relaxed and recovered and into the final stretch of 2010.