Best of the Maldives: Nurse Sharks – Dhiggiri

Nurse Shark

 

These creatures should get an endorsement contract with ‘Night Nurse’, the cold medication to help you sleep. It seems all these Nurse Sharks do is sleep. During the daytime when most dives occur that is.

My wife Lori got to see a couple of them diving Furana Thila from Kurumba. Her log book notes…

“Highlight of the dive was a young nurse shark resting in a shallow cave approximately 1.5 metres long. The mother is often there, but not this time. Saw another resting on the sandy bottom.”

Nurse sharks can be found through out the Maldives. They like caves where they can sleep during the day time. My nomination for the top place to see them is Fulidhoo Caves near Dhiggiri. According to Tim Godfrey’s book on Maldives diving, Fulidhoo Caves is one of 4 cave sites meriting the top 3-stars marks in his ratings and a great place for Nurse Sharks…

“The reef slopes from there to 50 metres with caves and overhangs ranging on depth between 25 and 40 metres. The most interesting feature of this dive are the nurse sharks sleeping in the caves.”

Why Do I Do It?

Kurumba blogging

 

What is most common question I get from folks at resorts when I visit?

  • What’s my favourite resort?
  • What do I enjoy doing the most in the Maldives?
  • How many times have I visited?

Nope. By far the most prevalent question is ‘Why do you do it?’ Or most specifically, ‘Maldives Complete is obviously the result of tons of work, but you don’t make any money from it so…why do you do it??’ The bigger the fan of the site, the faster the question comes up. The home page and About page both have brief comments on my motivations, but they do focus more on my ‘aspirations’ than my ‘motivations.’

For all those head scratchers out there, here are my top reasons I keep ferreting out the data and pounding out the posts…

  • Blogging Fun – One of the most time intensive and most highly trafficked part of Maldives Complete is the blog. This is not my only blog. I also write on the subjects of ‘Leadership and Management’, ‘Embracing Failure’, ‘Dynamic Work’ and ’70-20-10 Principle’. All of those are non-commercial too (as most blogging is). Not related to my day job, no advertising or other remuneration, not selling anything (though I used to sell consulting services around Dynamic Work). On the occasion of my 600th Leadership/Failure post, I wrote a piece ‘600 Posts Later’ which explained some of my motivations such as iterative improvement, serendipity, purge and process, and handy reference trove all of which apply to Maldives Complete.
  • Non-Zero Chance – As an elaboration of the ‘serendipity’ motivation mentioned above, I later wrote a piece called ‘Non-Zero Chance’ which picked up on Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ explanation for his own extensive blogging. He said ‘I make it a habit to have at least one project brewing at all times that has a non-zero chance of changing the planet, or making a billion dollars, or both.’ Admittedly, the chance of Maldives Complete changing anything or making a dime is miniscule, but it is like a lottery ticket that fuels a bit of ‘just maybe’ fantasy that someday it might turn into something really special.
  • Participate, Not Spectate – I love sports, but to play them not to watch them. I play in a basketball league, coach and row sculls, train at the gym and running. But the latest sport event I watched was years ago. I just prefer to be in the action than watching it. My involvement with Maldives Complete means that when I visit the Maldives, I am not just a visitor here for a few days, soaking up the sun, sights and savouries. I get under its skin. I meet people I otherwise wouldn’t meet and see things I wouldn’t otherwise see. I explore it and then participate in it by promoting it.
  • Perks – Now that Maldives Complete is a serious web site (some authorities on the topic tell me it is the top independent web site on Maldives), the resort owners are interested in helping me with my efforts as they would any publicity. Most resorts have standard protocols for providing ‘media’ with certain ‘comps’ and discounts. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the support of these concessions. It’s no ‘free holiday’. First of all it’s not free. We spent more money on our most recent trip than if we had simply booked a simple package (because we had such a chopped and changed itinerary). Secondly, it’s not exactly a holiday. Each day we pack up to move to yet another resort to visit, I take a tour, I take photos, I take notes, I write pieces, I meet with people. Very little of the typical lounging by the pool.
  • Transport Me Away – When I am sitting in my den on a dreary, drizzling, chilly British day (as I am right now!), and I bring up Maldives Complete or some email from resort marketing manager sending me some fresh resort photos, and I feel transported away to this tropical paradise at least in my escapist fantasy mind.
  • World Community Service – I come from an upbringing of community service. My father was a clergyman and my mother ran a community centre. Maldives is a strong and vibrant nation, but it is still growing and has lots of development to do for its citizens to achieve higher living standards by conventional measures. Furthermore, the Maldives is on the forefront of driving environmental awareness and changes so supporting the country helps support that cause too. Maldives Complete is a small contribution to help more people find out about the Maldives, visit there to spend their money, and help build the country.
  • Purple Cow Evangelism – I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and especially his notion of ‘Purple Cows’ – ‘remark-able distinctions that unpin all great marketing.’ Maldives Complete is both a chance to practice what I preach and promote the concept (through the Best Of) section.
  • Hobby – Maldives Complete is my hobby. I enjoy technology and coding the web site. I enjoy writing. I enjoy the subject matter. One person commented, “It’s an expensive hobby.” To which I replied, “Many hobbies are. Car restoring, skiing, collecting.” And my wife added, “And I’m delighted that his hobby is the Maldives rather than something like golf.”
  • Ego – Like most creators and their creations, I am proud of Maldives Complete. Though not perfect, many of the things I’ve pulled together with the site and how I’ve done them. I do get a small buzz when the Aquest Stats shows that it has hit a new high for visitors. But the biggest thrill when someone takes the time to email me saying how much they loved the site and how helpful it was for them planning their Maldive vacation. And that fan mail is coming more and more frequently these days.  Smile

In other words, you might say that ‘I have my reasons…’

Best of the Maldives: Fish Feeding – Reethi Beach

Reethi Beach fish feeding

 

 

To feed or not to feed. That is the question of an increasing number of eco-activists. Certainly one problematic area of fish feeding is visitors taking it upon themselves to feed fish bread and other items purloined from the restaurant. This sort of ill-informed feeding can actually be very harmful as it can throw off the diets of these fish in subtle but critical ways. No visitor should ever feed a fish themselves.

However, fish feeding has been a common feature at various Maldive resorts. Typically around sunset, the resort will bring out kitchen scraps of fish and feed them to sting rays, reef sharks and other scavenger fish who quickly learned to show up for this routine feast. These feeding sessions are more informed about feeding the right things to the right species. But does that make it right? Some activists claim that even this apparently innocuous activity can have long term harmful effects on the species and the ecoysystem.

I’m certainly not enough of an expert to assess. Sometimes the argument is simply based on the principle that humans should interfere as little as possible in the natural environment. While I applaud that principle in general, I’m not of the belief that humans should never interfere with the environment. For starters, we humans interfere constantly without even knowing or trying. In order to remedy the environmental impact we humans have we need to muster broad based support for ecological initiatives. Sometimes the best way to muster this political will is to build rapport and relationships between the creatures and the humans. The ‘panda effect’ or ‘polar bear effect’. The more people fall in love with the natural world, the more they will be willing to support efforts to protect it. And seeing these creatures up close through fish feedings can be a way to enhance that affection for and fascination of them.

Fish feeding is done in a variety of ways. Kurumba used to incorporate it into their meal prep so that as they we gutting the days catch for dinner, the scraps were fed to a range of sharks and sting rays (they don’t do it any more). We always remember Filitheyo where they let the guests feed them (supervised and assisted). But Reethi Beach’s feeding time is so popular that it attracts guests from neighbouring resorts. More impressive, is that they have built a special viewing gallery for the comfort, safety and view of the guests.

 

Reethi Beach fish feeding 2

 

Reethi Beach fish feeding 3

Best of the Maldives: Aroma – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru pathway incense 2

Walking along a sandy path under the canopy of coconut tress. Lori and I love our sunset walks around the island when we visit the Maldives. How could it get any better?

Well, that’s what Four Seasons prides itself on. Those little touches that make a spectacle of the already spectacular. At Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, one of the their staff lights torches for lighting (instead of electrical lights) along the pathways that makes them all the more romantic. But that’s not all. He also lights little incense sticks that are put in the sand next to the torches. It gives the evening air a soothing accent making a simple walk to the restaurant or back to your villa even more magical.

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru pathway incense

Best of the Maldives: Iconic Island – Soneva Gili

Soneva Gili - One Palm Island

 

 

When people ask ‘What are the Maldives like?’, my first response is always, ‘You know those pictures of a tropical island that is a plot of sand with a single palm tree like in the cartoons? That is the Maldives. Just think of over a thousand of those.’

Well, of course, they are not all that miniscule, but it gets the notion across in a dramatic way. I find that I have to add a bit of hyperbole because most people struggle to truly get their head around the smallness of the islands. When you tell people the islands are small, they think ‘oh, probably takes just a short while to drive around.’ No, it takes a short while to WALK around.

But is there an island that actually fits that iconic stereotype. In fact, I use a photograph of such an island as the background to my About page.

It turns out the name of this dollop of sand is called…wait for it…One Palm Island. Not much in the imagination department, but I guess it is what it says on the tin. It’s just off the ‘coast’ of Soneva Gili about a few hundred yards into the atoll. The Soneva site describes the private dinner you can have there…

“Private dining on One Palm Island. Imagine a tiny strip of sand with one lone palm tree. Imagine the island twinkling in candlelight, surrounded only by the sea and the stars above. A private barbeque dinner on One Palm Island is an experience you will never forget.”

New Yorker - tropical island

Best of the Maldives Online: Resort Stories – Maldives.net.mv

Maldives net mv

 

I wish I had said that.

That’s what I keep find myself saying following Maldive.net.mv’s Twitter stream of, among other things, great scoops and stories on Maldives resorts. Fortunately, my pride is not so strong that I am beyond a plenty of borrowing from their leads (with full and proper attribution of course). And so, @maldives (how did they snare that tag?) has become my richest online source of leads for ‘Best Of’ candidates, not to mention my most frequented Maldive web site of late.

Actually, it is more than a website. Maldives.net.mv would also be a contender for the ‘Best Integrated Web’ distinction. They seamlessly and effectively use Twitter and Facebook to complement their web content. In fact, their Twitter stream is probably the best on the Maldives itself. It is smart not to simply mirror the same content across all three media, but instead tailor what is shown where and how it is shown.

The site at the heart of all this digital activity is a real star in its own right. There is not much advertising, just a discrete area to do bookings if interested and a top banner. The writing style is very current and very professional. None of the ‘destination dross’ that spins out of too many travel writers. Part of their secret is that the site is run and written by local Maldivians. So they have the inside track not to mention heartfelt affection on their subject. Still, sometimes material written by locals can sometimes get out of touch with what really interest the foreign visitors. But not at Maldives.net.mv where the stories and approach remain fresh and on the mark.

Bookmark, Friend and Follow it now.

What I Didn’t See

Blog Pix - Shortcut.lnk

My 2011 summer
tour was a huge success in ferreting out all sorts of impressive and quirky distinctions of the resorts I visited and elsewhere. After last week’s follow up round of new posts, I am now up to 180 ‘Best Ofs’ with that number again in the wings. I’ve even had to revamp the Best Of page which has given me the opportunity to integrate another great Sakis piece (everywhere I went, people knew about Sakis and his work).

I have now visited 28 resorts and yet there are a number of things I have yet to see. Given the frenetic arms race of the resorts to outdo one another with creative offerings and twists, these seem to me to be some candidates that range from obvious to obscure. I’ve broken them down into a few categories…

Enjoying the water…

  • Water slide – The ‘water slide’ keeps popping up in Six Senses concept CAD pictures (see above) as a villa attachment. Six Sense Laamu ended up abandoning that design, but why not a simple water slide in a kids pool or even off a jetty into the ocean?
  • Beach Wheelchair – Another obvious innovation overdue for the Maldives.
  • Sculling – First thing in the morning and into twilight, the Maldive waters, especially in the lagoons, is as calm as any lake or Thames River. A larger sized single scull or skiff would be a unique offering and provide a distinctive exercise opportunity. They have introduced rowing with the trans-equatorial crossing project. Would be ideal for a resort with a big lagoon. [NOTE: Any resort that wants to introduce this, I have a world class rower interested in marine biology who would be happy to come down to teach some Maldivian staff how to scull.]
  • In Ocean Dining – A couple of resorts are offering ‘in pool dining’, but how about ‘in ocean dining’. Some shallow lagoon with relative shallow water. Not feet in water or sand, but both!
  • Star Shaped Over Water Restaurant – I was impressed with the W Retreat’s ‘Fish’ restaurant which has an ‘H’ shaped deck for the diners. This shape meant that lots of tables could be arranged ‘right over the water’. It made me wonder why more resorts didn’t adopt such a ‘pronged’ decking design to optimise the ‘best tables’ even more. My Dad mocked up some drawings of what I’m talking about below.

Enjoying the vistas of the unique seascape…

  • Observation tower – For years now the trend in the Maldives has been to ‘go down’ (ie. underwater) for the super-luxury jaw-dropping attractions. A few top resorts are starting to ‘go up’ with some two story and roof top structures. These elevated places are actually quite appealing because they provide a broader vista over the turquoise and sapphire seas surrounding. For a long time, ‘going up’ has been a big approach to attractions (eg. Eiffel Tower, London Eye, Seattle Space Needle, Toronto Tower). For a super-luxe looking for that next ‘wow’ thing, I suspect this sort of feature might spark some possibilities.
  • Hot Air Balloon – Champagne ballooning…ah, duh. Modify the basket so it floats when it lands on water. No shortage of landing places. Nor shortage of aerial scenery. A senior official in the Ministry of Tourism thought that a resort had tried this years ago, but I couldn’t find any reference to it.
  • Skydiving – A group did a one-off skydiving trip in the Maldives out of Hanimaadhoo airport a few years back, but never followed it up with more. Parasailing is already quite popular and tandem jumps seems like the next step up to enjoy the distinctive views.

Neglected delicacies….

  • Banoffee Pie with Coconut Cream – Easy to make. A crowd pleaser. Local ingredients and tastes. Why is this not on the dessert menus?
  • Gourmet sausages – A big visitor population is British and a staple of the English breakfast is the sausage. Lots of people like a good sausage for breakfast and they are easy to prepare and serve. But sausages in the Maldives are always these anaemic little tasteless things. A number of specialty sausages are made from venison and other meats so an enterprising Maldivian could create a small business of gourmet sausages made from something other than pork. The closest I have come upon is Kurumba’s beef sausages.

Special sports…

  • Golf hole from one island to the next – The dearth of golf is one of the great holes (pun totally intended) in the Maldives offerings in the minds of many affluent travellers. And yet the Maldives has such great potential to fashion a ‘Holes to Play Before You Die’. Essentially, a tee on one island with the green on another. The greatest water hazard ever. Club Med Kani or Kandooma could set this up tomorrow.
  • Clay Tennis Court – Bit of a old-school, traditional cachet. Less baking hot, easier on your feet and typically more fun for recreational players than asphalt without the difficult maintenance requirement of grass courts.
  • Motorised Hammock – For those who are training for Olympic calibre indolence, I can’t imagine better training kit than a motorised hammock. In fact, I can’t imagine any place on earth that wouldn’t be made better by but the Maldives seems a natural with its soporific qualities.

Water restaurant layout design

Best of the Maldives: Beach Canopy – Club Med Kani

Club Med Kani canopy

 

When it comes to Club Med Kani, it is not all go, go, go. But even if relaxing on the beach under the shade of a palm tree is your thing, then Kani does that ‘big’ too.

Palm vistas surround the island, but beach side is the most dramatic and about a half kilometre in length. Facing out onto the lagoon, they were planted years ago in striking, neat rows by the previous resident. Forget the thatches umbrellas peppering most resort beaches, this boulevard of palm provides the living, natural, towering shade for as far as the eye can see.

 

Club Med Kani beach canopy

Best of the Maldives: Fish Frenzy – Velassaru

Velassaru fish in lagoon

 

A perfectly tranquil lake-like ocean with shimmering shades of mottled blue…then suddenly it erupts with a hundred tiny splashes. What the…?

This is fish hunting. Big fish going after little fish. The little fish congregate in big schools for some sort of anonymity in numbers, but it only seems to concentrate the opportunity for the big fish like trevallys and jacks. These predators also work in teams casually circling, or should I say ‘encircling,’ their targets until…Wham…they dart through the schools trying to snap at any unfortunately glassfish or blenny they can get their teeth into. The prey shift gears from their near suspended animation to an immediate emergency retreat to any exit they can find including right out of the water into the sky if that means safety.

It is a delightful ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’ spectacle that you see across the Maldives. But, we were especially captivated by it during our very first trip to the Maldives visiting ‘Laguna Beach’, now redeveloped and renamed to Velassaru. My favourite picture ever taken in the Maldives came about because we were woken from our sleep all the way over in our bungalow early in the morning from the racket of one of these ‘feeding frenzies’. While we have seen many similar sights, we always felt that they were never quite as stunning as what we witnessed with predictable regularity and consistently large scale as what we saw at Velassaru.

We always chalked up the difference to ‘first-timer nostalgia’. But then we had the chance to re-visit the island on our last trip in July and what did we see the very minute we stepped off the boat…cinematic feeding frenzy. In the picture above, you can see the vast shoals of tiny, silvery fish in the lagoon. The light-shaded shapes in the midst of them are the wake of reef sharks who have joined the trevallys in their stalking. The fish wisely clear a path as the juvenile sharks wiggle through their masses. The picture below shows the dynamic more clearly and you can click on it to see even more close up.

I’m suspecting that the intensity of the feeding frenzy action at Velassaru has something to do with its massive shallow lagoon. In the direction of the water villas, the lagoon extends for 2 kilometres. While the long, sandy table means no house reef, I think it does attract more schools like this looking for the protection of the shallows.

Velassaru shark hunting

Best of the Maldives – Nautical Restaurant: Meeru

Meeru - Goma restaurant 2

 

 

The wooden deck of a classic schooner…the perfect romantic complement to a ocean adventure. Many resorts offer various boat trips for sunrise and sunset cruises with a whole range of boats. But if you don’t want to pay a supplemental excursion fee and or if your sea legs are not the best (though with the calm waters of the Maldives, seasickness is rarely an issue), then Meeru offers a nautical evening for its guests without any extra costs (aside from the food consumed in its restaurant) and without leaving the dock.

It has turned the Goma sailing ship into one of its resort restaurants. As it happens, my family took a sunrise cruise on the Goma back when it was part of ‘Rangali’ (then known as ‘Hilton Rangali) before its retirement into stationary culinary service.

“Goma was built by Philippe Laurella, in 1992, on Velidu, a local island in Noonu Atoll, in the northern Maldives. In Dhivehi, the local language, Goma is an ancient royal title, reserved for a princess. Philippe, a Frenchman, arrived in the Maldives in 1978, fell in love, marrived a local woman and works as a boat builder, fisherman and artist. Goma is 22 m (70 feet) long by 7 m(23 feet) wide. Her built up area is 196 cm and she displaces 39 tons. Her hull dimensions reflect the traditional dhoni design that the hull is 1/3 the length, providing better stability. In 1993, Goma was purchased by Afeef, the Owner of Meeru Island Resort, and operated as a safari boat.”

It’s complete menu and further background is available here.

 

Meeru - Goma restaurant 1