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.

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