Best of the Maldives Online: TED Coral Reefs

For those of you who can’t make even a brief stop over to the Maldives, but still wish to explore the wonders of its world famous coral reefs, I highly recommend Kristen Marhaver’s TED talk “How We’re Growing Baby Corals to Rebuild Reefs”…

“Coral reefs are farmers. They provide food, income and food security for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Coral reefs are security guards. The structures that they build protect our shorelines from storm surge and waves, and the biological systems that they house filter the water and make it safer for us to work and play. Coral reefs are chemists. The molecules that we’re discovering on coral reefs are increasingly important in the search for new antibiotics and new cancer drugs. And coral reefs are artists. The structures that they build are some of the most beautiful things on planet Earth. And this beauty is the foundation of the tourism industry in many countries with few or little other natural resources.”

Quite a few resorts now (17 by my count) invest in reef regeneration programmes on their island. Someday maybe Marhaver’s work will allow us to go beyond strapping coral pieces to frames and actually cultivate and propagate corals.

 

Best of the Maldives: Male Snorkel Excursion – Secret Paradise

Secret Paradise - Male excursions

For those travellers swinging by Maldives for a short stop, one of my Top 10 FAQs is “Is there a place I can do a snorkel excursion to an island/reed during my one day stay in Male?” People looking for this include…

  • Cruise stops
  • Flight lay-overs
  • Short-stay visits
  • Business visitors

Much as I have researched the subject, it has been one of my earlier “Haven’t Seens”. But now I’ve now found an operator in Male who offers snorkel and dive trips from Male as well as a range of other excursions from a the operator Secret Paradise. I got in touch with them and they were very friendly and helpful. They sent me the following details on the snorkeling trips that they offer which all include services of a guide, snorkeling equipment and local taxes and service charges…

  • An insight into Marine Conservation (12:00-17:00) – Dive or snorkel with local conservationists and actively contribute to our conservation effort in Villimale. You will gain an understanding of the Maldivian ecosystems and conservation challenges arising from coastal development unique to small island states. Enjoy a tour of the island of Villimale observe island life and the impacts of land reclamations and harbor development first hand. Share traditional Maldives afternoon tea ‘hedika’ at a local tea shop with the Save the Beach reef conservation group. Includes…
    • Snorkeling or diving Equipment (Certified divers only
    • Hedika experience
    • Return transfer from guesthouse to Villimale
    • $99 per person diving
    • $90 per person snorkeling
  • Morning Snorkeling (08.30-12.30) – Depart on a traditional dhoni at 9.00am for a group snorkeling safari, two of the best snorkeling points close to Male. Sites vary dependent on weather and current conditions. Return Hulhumale approx. 12:30. Includes…
    • Return transfer from guesthouse to dive centre.
    • $45 per person
  • Afternoon Snorkeling (14:00-16:30) – Depart on a speedboat for a snorkeling safari, two of the best snorkeling points close to Male. Sites vary dependent on weather and current conditions. Return Hulhumale approx. 18:00. Includes:
    • Speedboat transfer from Hulhumale jetty
    • $65 per person based on a minimum of two guests

So if you are in the neighbourhood of the Maldives and you want to sample some of its world-famous snorkelling, by all means, stop into this hopefully less secret paradise.

Secret paradise - reef

Best of the Maldives: Swinging – Anantara Kihavah Villas

Anantara Kihavah Villas - hammock

Kihavah King of the Swingers for Jungle VIPs.

I was particularly impressed during my stay at Anantara Kihavah that every villa was kitted out with a high quality hammock. Most resorts I have visited have communal pendulous pallets scattered across the resort. But also each villa deck has a sofa swings (see directly below).

Communal swings do abound throughout the resort with such exceptional models as their “best of” pool swing (see second below). And they even have the increasingly de rigeur lagoon swing (see bottom).

Anantara Kihavah Villas - villa swing

Anantara Kihavah Villas - pool swings

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Best of the Maldives: Tree Swing – One & Only Reethi Rah

One and Only Reeth Rah - tree swing

‘Best of the Maldives’ is all about extremes. And you don’t get any more extreme than One & Only Reethi Rah’s tree swing. Sort of the complete antithesis of Reethi’s workout Stott Pilates pulley swinging mechanism. A long rope means a longer, gentler undulation with a more languid rhythm reflecting the Maldives as a whole really.

Best of the Maldives: Stott Pilates – One & Only Reethi Rah

One and Only Reethi Rah pilates machine

Versatile athletes need weight training for strength, cardio for endurance and  technique. Pilates is tainted with a bit of a “aging bored housewife” stereotype, but it is great for the flexibility and core fitness needed for top technique in most sports. I have also started practicing Pilates every week with a group of guys in the neighbourhood. And if you want to see a real manly pro then check in with Lindley (photo) at One & Only Reethi Rah who offers “Stott Pilates” instruction. The “Stott” variant focuses on the “natural curvature of the spine” rather than a more straight alignment of conventional Pilates.  Our sessions at home use maybe a ball or a band, but Reethi is kitted out with a number of high-tech specialist Pilates machines for the most advanced workout I’ve come across.

Best of the Maldives: Walking / Running Path – Kurumba

Kurumba - running pathway

Olympic Day today. And a particularly timely one with Rio 2016 just around the corner. Elite athletes around world (well, the clean ones at least) will be in the final stages of preparing for their lifetime’s pursuit. A few of my friends in the rowing world will be making the trip to Brazil with Team GB.

If you fancy a bit of chill before the thrill (or you are consoling yourself for missing out on selection), then you can still carry on your roadwork training in the Maldives…at Kurumba. The resort features a handy little running track effectives. A paved pathway circumnavigating the island.

Running on the beach can provide a more exhausting workout, but the unsteady surface can result in a losing your footing and maybe even twisting your ankle (not something you want to either right before your Olympic event or even just on holiday). Many paths in the Maldives crisscross the islands, but Kurumba’s is a handy loop which allows for a convenient circuit just over a kilometre (see above). Some parts pass under nicely shading palms trees and other parts run fairly close to the ocean’s edge for an inspiring seaside vista.

Every time we have visited the resort, we have seen a guest jogging on it. In fact, GM Jason Kruse shared his own run (see above).

Gold medal to Kurumba.

Best of the Maldives: Dive Yoga – Constance Halaveli

Halaveli - dive yoga

Yoga enhances the whole person – mind and spirit. But some poses can be particularly effective at helping certain parts of the body. Each week, our yoga teacher asks us what is hurting and what we want to focus on. Sometimes a tender back will call for a few extra twists and Child Poses. She worked on our hips and arms to get us ready for the golf course in the spring.

One of the most apropos yoga specialisations have been offered by Constance Halaveli – dive yoga. Diving is about body control. Slow and deliberate movements are the focus for both yoga and diving.

But perhaps most of all is the breathing. Yoga turns this autonomic routine in a mindful practice. A scuba diving is all about the breathing. Breath control not only regulates how long you get to stay under water (making your oxygen last longer), but it actually controls your movement in the water. Take a deep breath filling your lungs with air and your increasingly buoyant body will slowly rise. Exhale, and your body will sink again.

The resort describes the programme…

“TGI Diving , DBI, Constance Halaveli Resort and Spa & Katy Appleton team up to offer you an unique adventure to the magical Maldives. Many people would say that the Maldives offers the best diving on the planet, so we are taking apple yoga to the North Ari Atoll for a remarkable combination of underwater discovery and yoga designed especially for diving. We have designed packages to suit all levels of ability and experience – for both diving and yoga. You will be able to join us for just one session or the entire week, it’s up to you! You will experience all that the Constance Halaveli Island has to offer while enjoying daily yoga practices and sublime diving in this piece of paradise.”

For a slightly less aesthetic portrayal of what the dive+yoga combo might be like and a bit of cheeky chakra, Dive Plus on Maafushi posted this pic of their own offering…

Maafushi - dive yoga

Destination for and Origination of Wealth

Maldives cowrie money

Long before the Maldives was the ultimate destination of the world’s wealthy; it was the ultimate origination of the world’s wealth. The Maldives was the veritable Fort Knox of the nascent global currency system.

The key to value is scarcity – gold, Bitcoins (based on hard to solve problems) – are all premised by the difficulty of counterfeiting because simply can’t magic up more of the stuff easily. It turns out that one of the earliest forms of currency were cowries shells from the Maldives. They were quite distinctive in shape and look and back in ancient times you couldn’t just waltz over the Maldives to gather up a few more.

Today being National Money Day is an apropos time to check out “Stuff You Should Know” which has a fine good account of Maldives cowrie currency in their podcast “How Currency Works” (mins 9:10 through 6:00 – the counter counts down to time left in podcast…thanks Isley).

I recently highlighted the Maldives’ first archaeologist and one of the subjects she is investigating is this very area. Coincidentally (I means big time “it’s a small world”), Haour and Jaufar explore the links of the cowrie trade between Benin, West Africa. “Benin” is now the name of the county neighbouring Togo to the east, but also the designation for the general area. In Togo’s capital Lomé, I resided at the “Université du Benin” and my residence compound was called the “Village du Benin”.

My time in Togo way back in 1980 was the earliest seeds of Maldives Complete. I was stationed there as an overseas correspondent for a firm doing travel writing. Hence, my initiation into research the obscure and fascinating in exotic destinations.

Below are a few of my mementos from my year there – a cowrie voodoo amulet (top), a cowrie bracelet (middle) and a cowrie money shell (bottom). Maybe these shells from the Grand Marche were my first contact with the Maldives over three decades ago?!

Togo cowries

Best of the Maldives: Golf Analysis – Velaa

Velaa - golf analysis 2

Golf seasons kicks off with the US Open this week. Lori and I have gotten our clubs out this week and I shot my best ever round. If I want to improve further, it seems like the modern game has become as much science as any art or athleticism. Weight training, nutritionists, sports psychologists. And an entire armamentarium of gadgets to dissect every nuance.

No surprises that the titan of the tees in the Maldives, Velaa resort, has some of the most space age technology available to help with your game. Among their tools is a Science and Motion (SAM) Putt Lab, but the centrepiece is their Flight Scope Doppler Radar. A $50,000 piece of kit. Velaa Golf Pro Frank Murray took me through a few pointers on my swing during my Velaa visit see below) so hats off to him and his armoury or arm analysis for whatever contribution he made to my progress.

Velaa - golfd analysis

Best of the Maldives: Lobster Bisque – One & Only Reethi Rah

One and Only Reethi Rah lobster bisque

For “Best of the Maldives”, I try to focus on unique offerings and features. The easiest way to be the best is to be the only. If I haven’t seen it after visiting 60+ resorts and 20 years of research, then chances are it is pretty unique.

It is harder to (and I am more hesitant to) do “Best” pieces for more commonplace things. It might stand out in my eyes, but not having methodically sampled every version in the Maldives, who am I to say it’s the “Best”. Partly, that’s why I chose a blog format for this material. It allows readers to Comment do if I have missed out something, they can set me straight.

Also there are areas where I have quite a bit of experience (eg. house reef snorkelling, pina colada tasting) and others where my expertise is more limited (eg. wines, décor). Today’s post is both a nod to Lobster Day and an intersection of the (a) popular, with (b) expertise – lobster bisque.

Lobster is the stereotypical luxury seafood. And its prevalence in the Laccadive Sea makes it a popular dish at the exquisite Maldives restaurants. One of its most classic preparations is Lobster Bisque. Now this is a specialty of mine. I will *always* order the lobster bisque if it is available. I will seek it out and make a special trip to restaurants who offer well reviewed versions of it. I’ve sampled bisque all over the world and across most of London’s finest establishments. And I’m not the biggest chef, but one dish I have taught myself to prepare is a proper lobster bisque.

So despite this dish being quite prevalent in the Maldives resorts, I felt quite comfortable calling out One & Only Reethi Rah’s version. Reethi’s is so close to bisque perfection that while there might be others out there in the Maldives just as good (I haven’t had them yet), at best they could be is as good as Reethi.

The best bisque I’ve had since Wolesley Hotel in London (who sadly has since removed it from their menu). I should also clarify that I am a devotee of the coulis school of bisque. Thin and hot enough with just the right touch of cognac to ignite the stewed flavors of subtle herbs and lobster broth. The creamy (Normandy) style is fine, but simply not as elegant or flavourful as the traditional style.