Our beautiful boat, the Maldives Aggressor
The Republic of Maldives also referred to as Maldives Islands or just the Maldives, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. It’s consists of 26 atolls and is 700 km south-west of Sri Lanka and only 400 km south-west of India. Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. The population is only about 395,000 people and they live on only 200 of its 1192 coral islands. A third of whom live on the capital island, Male, a 1 hector concrete jungle. The atolls of Maldives are spread over roughly 90,000 square km; making it the world’s most geographically dispersed country. It’s also the planet’s lowest country. Sadly 40% of Maldivian youths use hard drugs.
During the December 2004 tsunami only nine islands escaped any flooding. Many were seriously damaged, many had to be totally evacuated and 6 were completely destroyed.
It might be the only country where the President is out looking for a new location for his country. Over the last century sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters. With a maximum natural ground level of only 2.4 meters and 80% of the total land mass only a meter above sea level – further rises could threaten the very existence of the Maldives. I hear he was looking in India, Sri Lanka and Australia and funded the search by tourism – which may explain the prices being so high. Tourism accounts for 28% of GDP and over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. The first tourist resorts were opened in only 1972! Today it is known for its luxury five star resorts and pristine white sand beaches. From the airport you can see several dozen sea planes waiting to whisk you off to your island resort – I’ve never seen anything like it.
We landed on Hulhule Island, which has little more than a few hotels, a small subdivision and the airport. The way our flights worked we had to spend one night before the boat, so we picked a small budget (keeping in mind budget in Maldives is $90 /night) hotel only 15 minutes away. Waiting for our transfer I decided to take a bathroom break. It was more difficult than usual. I find the signs on bathrooms can sometimes be confusing but you eventually figure out you are a Shelia and end up in the right room. Here the signs had one stick person with a long gown and a bun on his/her head and a second in a shorter skirt and long flowing hair. Hmmmmm We were finally picked up and within an hour we were checked in and sleeping. It had been a long day.
We got to sleep in and enjoy a slow breakfast after which I crawled back into bed and watched tv. Our pick up wasn’t until 4 pm and there wasn’t much (anything) to see on our tiny island. I was so excited to get going that the day dragged. At 3:30 pm we were transferred back to the airport where the jetties were. We found our boat guy and were introduced to Thomas, a fellow diver. Yipee! When the boat guy had us all we proceeded to the jetty. We were a small group of 10, the boat held 20, and I wondered if this could possibility be it. A group this size on a boat that holds 20 would be amazing. Luggage and everyone on board, we slowly made our way out into the bay. As we predicted it was full of beautiful boats. I couldn’t remember what ours looked like so it was fun to try to guess as the boat pulled close to one then away from it.
The Maldives doesn’t really have budget boats and after doing a few liveaboards I had requested a decent one. A week on a budget boat is a long long long time. We had booked the Maldives Aggressor; one in a fleet of high-end boats that do areas such as Palau, Galapagos and Egypt. They have a great reputation for service and diving. Now If only I could remember what it looked like. The rest of the group got excited and I knew we were close. Slowly we pulled up beside a beautiful white sail boat. OMG! It was huge! Much bigger than I expected. We were greeted with cold facecloths and fresh coconuts to drink from. We were asked to have a seat in the “parlor” while we did some paper work and were shown our rooms. I sank down into the cushions of a couch, sipped my coconut and had a dozen or so milk chocolates from the fish bowl on the table in front of me. Can we live here?
We were taken to our room, well not the one we booked (cheapest) but one upgrade, and given a tour. Our helpful guide showed us where everything was and how it worked. The room was wonderful. Modern, spotless, mould free and with tons of storage. We peeked at the smaller room and to be honest we’d have loved it too. The bathrooms were a nice size and again modern and clean. Seriously, can we live here?
After unpacking a bit I went to the parlor to find a glass of wine (all wine & beer are included!!!) and James went to set up our dive gear. Before dinner we got a briefing and met the crew. We also introduced ourselves. There were three guys traveling alone from Germany (2) and the US (1). Two more guys from the US, who I swear were the two old guys in the balcony from the Muppets, were really friendly sweet men. Then a family with a 16 year old son from Denmark. The group seemed laid back and friendly – not to mention small. We were all excited to be on such an amazing boat with half the amount of guests it normally takes.
I was surprised we weren’t diving today (hence the wine) and were also spending the night in the bay. We would dive this area tomorrow and move tomorrow night. The whole point of being on a boat is to get to remote and far away paces. Let’s cross our fingers we still do.
I pried my lazy ass off the couch and (wine in hand – did I mention how much I miss wine?) explored the boat. James came but took a different turn than me and we ended up circling a few times before meeting up again. It was a good size boat with lots of nooks and crannies to hide in, nice if you want some private time. A week on a boat with strangers (not to mention your husband) can be hard. The boat is a 115 feet long yacht and holds 20 passengers. All that aside what was really interesting was after it was built and on its way from turkey it was taken hostage by pirates. Real life, scary as hell pirates were on this boat! (Only a small crew were on board and no one was hurt.)
I sat in the parlor for a few hours reading then finally went to our room. Someone had been in to straighten it and left two small chocolates on our pillow. I have found paradise – diving, a beautiful boat, wine AND all the chocolate I can eat! I went to bed a very happy girl.
James hooked on, one of the final dives with the camera
Diving on the Aggressor Maldives begins with a 7:30 am dive briefing. Okay, maybe not completely paradise. A small breakfast was served before and I stumbled to the first one with a coffee in hand. Normally the first dive is easy to give the guides a chance to see everyone’s level of diving and for people who haven’t dived in a while to get back into it. We have been spoiled and diving continuously off and on for months so the first dive was a bit frustrating. It wasn’t all that great really.
After the dive we had second breakfast (I love second breakfast) and a small nap (I love morning naps) and met back on the dive deck for another briefing. The second dive was a bit better but still nothing amazing.
We had a delicious lunch and another nap. In the middle of my nap I was woken by the anchor. It honestly sounded like it was attached to my bunk. I had been sleeping soundly enjoying the rock of the boat and the sound of the waves lapping on the sides so it gave me a bit of a scare. At first I had no idea what it was. Hopefully we don’t anchor very often. We were still within sight of Male when we did the third dive and the diving still wasn’t great. The area has been having a small bleaching problem and it showed. There were fish but no corals, so the dives were quite colorless, flat almost.
Friendly baby shark
After the third dive I sat in the parlor with tea and snacks and visited with the group. I hadn’t found any place that sold sun glasses (where are all the men with suitcase full of them?) so tanning/reading/sleeping on the sundeck might be out for me this trip. The group might turn out to be one of my favorites. It’s not very often you have a group of 10 divers that are all great to dive with. Everyone was polite, new how to dive well (we of course had different levels of experience and certifications) and were aware of ourselves and others. No one felt the need to push their camera in anyone’s face or to get so close that you get a fin in the head. No one was bossy – quite the opposite, everyone was helpful and smiled and teased. We finished the dive day with a night dive. I am not in love with them. It’s kind of scary jumping into the dark sea and I don’t see much with just a little flashlight. What you do see is cool, very different form day dives, but not even close to the quantity. I also get a bit freaked out about the unknown, who knows what can swim up and eat me.
Dinner was as delicious. The portions were huge and I barely made it through half of my main course. After dinner I asked if they could cut mine in half for the rest of the week – seriously I couldn’t waste that much food (or not have room for dessert). After dinner we went to our room and I enjoyed my pillow chocolate, a glass of wine and a book.
Some of the many scorpion and stone fish, can you see them all?
Happy Valentine’s Day! What a way to celebrate V-Day! Breakfast, diving, second breakfast, diving, lunch, nap, dive and supper with a nice glass of wine. I cannot say enough about the service and food on the boat; it was better than I’d even hoped for. The diving on the other had is a little disappointing. We did a strong current dive today. We were supposed to do a negative entry and land at the mouth of a canyon, clip on for a few minutes to look for big action then sail down the canyon. We missed our landing (I think), were a bit too deep, had to swim against the current, a few divers ran low on air and we all flew so fast through the canyon we didn’t see anything. We had been told those dives were “the” dives to do in Maldives. They were the ones you saw big fish, lots of action and I was surprised when the dive guide didn’t explain/talk to us more after the dive about how to make it better. How to hit the sweet spot. I also worried they would just shift the diving to accommodate for the weakest divers, not that anyone was weak – just some weren’t the best in strong current. We were a group of 10 and had 2 dives guides and three instructors in the group. – I wondered why they didn’t split the group in two. At the end of day two we were less than impressed with the diving.
The only whale shark we saw
Today was a lot more of the same, wonderful food and under water exploring in a tropical paradise. Most of the islands we passed or saw were inhabited, but had white sand beaches and palm trees.
We didn’t do a night dive but had a surprise instead. The crew had set up a fine dining picnic BBQ on a small beach for us. We got ferried to the tiny island in the dinghy. Approaching the beach from the dock we could see a huge whale shark dug out in the sand. It looked almost real; someone has some serious sandcastle building skills. We spent about an hour or so enjoying the BBQ and the company. It was a nice touch, good to get off the boat. Before we left they lit the outline of the whale shark up and it eerily glowed – not sure why they lit it on fire but it did look cool.
Again I have to comment on the diving. Despite the amazing service and food we were here to dive; and were still not impressed. We understand the not everywhere you dive can be top notch and some of our favorites aren’t even close to the best. The Maldives though, is a pain to get to, quite expensive and everyone raves about it. We are already thinking it might be the first place we should have skipped but are glad we didn’t make it its own dive trip from Canada.
February 16, 17, 18
Sleep, eat, dive. Sleep, eat, dive. Sleep, eat, dive. Like that book but so much better. As usual when we are on a dive boat or doing more than a few days of diving things start to blur. Except for a few dives (one night dive has made it to the top 5 ever single dives) the diving stayed pretty much the same. There were lots of fish; even a bunch of sharks but the reefs and walls were bare. Lots of white/grey dead coral. We spoke to the dive guide about the current/channel dives (we only did two the entire week) and he mumbled that we were in the wrong area for them. I doubted him. It was disappointing.
The gold star of the week goes to the night feeding dive. We ascended to the top of a coral head (fairly shallow) and spent an hour watching everything from tiny specks of a fish to sharks and stingrays feed. Moray eels were out, slithering and shiny on the hunt; one even fought a turtle for a hole. Truth be told I was freaking out (no surprise) but didn’t want to surface after our hour. It was one of the coolest dives I’ve done.
Amazing night dive
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The silver star goes to a wreck we did. It had the most corals we ended up seeing all week as well as lots of fish. The wreck was small but interesting and it had the most amazing schools of glass fish around it I’d ever seen. We never even penetrated the wreck (the rest of the group did). I spent most of the dive swimming through them. We also spotted a few scorpion fish swimming and the guide found a frog fish. A most amazing dive!
On about day 3 of diving, on the first sleepy dive of the day I wasn’t paying attention and forgot lefty loosy righty tighty and lefty loosyed my regulator screw right off. It bounced once on the wood bench – hit my open palm and spun into the ocean. Not good. We (the crew) did a quick change and added my computer and mouth piece to parts of theirs and I was good to go. Luckily diving was almost over for us so I would deal with the missing part in Canada.
I felt bad for the boat. This ended up being the first trip in 200 that hadn’t seen a whale shark. We went to the area and spent an hour or so trolling up and down the shallow ledge they usually visit but had no luck. I was going to lie and not tell Blaine if we did.
Glass fish on the wreck
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Half way through the week James’ strobe stopped working. That’s the fancy flash. I considered us lucky. One guy on the boat had a few problems with his casing and he explained it was his second set. The first set up he had leaked and fried his camera. We’d had a few leaks, needed to re-wire the thingy and now lost a strobe – but still had the camera intact. We also had my point & shoot as a backup – which James stole every chance he got.
The crew were great. Our every whim was taken care of. Our room was cleaned twice a day and the pillow chocolates every night were lovely. They even made a cake for the young guy with his parents; he turned 16 on the boat and a second cake to celebrate his 100th dive. The last afternoon after we had finished diving we had a wine and cheese party on the bow of the boat. The staff dressed up in traditional clothing and served a very nice French wine. On the last night (we were back in the bay by now) we were ferried to the airport island and we all had dinner, way too expensive, but good.
Some more videos from the week
Octopi-one of them quite angry
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Shrimp and manta
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The only thing I’d change – we had to check out at 7:30 am. After a week of getting up at 6:30 am everyday it would have been nice to sleep in for at least an hour or so. We did get a final breakfast and then we were transferred to the airport pier. Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we decided to visit Male, despite the warnings. Thomas joined us. The airport has luggage storage and Male was just a short ferry away.
The travel warnings for Male were due to a few people in the government being arrested and a forced resignation from the President. We were there during the height of the troubles and warnings were made to stay clear. Luckily they kept it from escalating and no real fighting occurred. To be honest it looked like business as usual.
We did a walk around the tiny island. We had a map but didn’t really follow it. It was interesting and every single square foot was packed. Approximately two thirds of the whole population live on the tiny island (5.789 km2). Thomas had to leave before us to catch his flight. We did a bit of shopping (well we didn’t buy anything, the prices matched Tahiti) and then stopped for lunch. I was tired and a little dopey. The dive week had taken its toll and the early start and heat had me missing my three times a day naps.
Finally we caught the ferry back to the airport pier. We grabbed our bags and made our way through to the waiting area. One nice bonus in places like this – air conditioned waiting rooms.
As I review what I have written about Maldives I am tempted to change it. It sounds negative and I’m afraid I sound like a spoiled, obnoxious diver. We meet people all the time who complain about dive destinations (the funniest being the lady who complained that Sipadan wasn’t nearly as good as the Gili Islands) and I’m careful not to. Everywhere I have dove (except maybe the Gili Islands) I have enjoyed and feel lucky to have just been there – they aren’t all amazing oh my god dives but they all are worth visiting for their own reasons. I honestly feel the Maldives is only mediocre at best and shouldn’t be the sole purpose of your visit. For the same money and effort there are so many more amazing places. Maldives does have top notch resorts. If I had the time and money I would gladly fly here rather than Mexico, Cuba or Dominican Republic. Most of the resorts here have private airplanes that whisk you away at the airport and drop you down in the sea next to your resort. Most islands only have one resort; luxurious, modern, fancy schmancy resorts. If you are one of the lucky ones to do a fly & flop to the Maldives and are feeling energetic than I suggest adding a dive or two. To come all the way just to dive; nope, I don’t recommend it.
Added note: We bumped into a guy who (carrying his dive gear) used local ferries & small private boats to get to the more secluded islands in the Maldives. With a lot of patience and effort he found the Maldives I was expecting. He said there were pristine, vibrant and healthy reefs and walls filled with fish. Also I talked with a shop owner that said part of the problem is that boats (most of which have been here for 3-5 years) all do the same loops, all diving the same sites, over and over and over year after year. He said if, and it’s difficult, to find a boat that goes off the beaten path you will find the Maldives everyone talks about. I suspect it would cost substantially more but if it’s as good as I heard might be worth it.
Second added note: James is making me add this embarrassing tale. On our walk around Male I was snapping away with my favorite ever camera. I am usually crazy protective of it (it has two lanyards and gets clipped to my purse) but for some reason my common sense was turned off; a week on a dive boat can do that. Anyways, right before Thomas left we were having a break on a stone fence beside a park. I set my camera down, didn’t attach it to my purse and when we walked off – left it sitting there. A few minutes later two young guys on bikes approached us and asked if we’d lost anything. I thought they were scamming us and said no. So did James and Thomas. But then they didn’t leave anything behind. A second later, after they asked if we sure….I remembered. OMG! My camera. They smiled and pulled it out of their bag. How unbelievable sweet is that. And unheard of. It reminded me that the few locals we had met were all polite, helpful and nice. I thanked them a thousand times and turned bright pink.