Best of the Maldives: Horses – Siyam World

Siyam World - horse riding

The big advantage to being big in the Maldives is that you can introduce a wider, and more creative range of activities. The newly launched Siyam World has not only introduced an exciting collection of features (many of which will be featured here on the “Best of the Maldives” in coming weeks), but perhaps the most ambitious is the introduction of a horse ranch:

  • “One of the Maldives’ largest natural island resorts at 54 hectares – more than 25 percent larger than Aintree racecourse – Siyam World had ample space in which to purpose-build the new 15,000sqm ranch. With dedicated stabling and large fenced paddocks and fields, the fully-equipped ranch is now the proud home of four beautiful, rare breed Indian horses – meaning Siyam World guests can saddle up and start living the dream of galloping along the island’s breath-taking beaches with the wind in their hair… Noor, a six-year-old full white mare; Jasmine, a six-year-old white and grey mare; Habibi, a five-year-old black stallion with white spots; and five-year-old full brown mare Kanbulo – meaning ‘sweetheart’ in Dhivehi – are all rare Marwari breed horses from the Jodhpur region of Rajasthan, India…The horses are happily settled at the Siyam World Horse Ranch, built specifically to ensure their safety and comfort. No expense has been spared in integrating them into island life, including stabling with stalls; feed and tack rooms; water troughs; dedicated storage areas for hay and bedding; abundant fenced paddocks and fields where the horses can gambol freely; and a full array of maintenance equipment. Experienced hostlers have been employed for each horse, overseen by a specially trained equestrian vet – permanently based on-island, and on call at all times. Regular checks by the Ministry of Fishery & Agriculture provide ongoing additional independent oversight of the animals’ welfare.”

Some folks have questioned whether horses are truly authentic to the Maldives. Well, the Maldives resort experience long ago stopped being purely indigenous with the introduction of the now ubiquitous water villas (concept imported from Bali). Since then, the Maldivians have crafted a range of updated interpretations of their marine wonderland and tropical paradise to appeal to a range of guests. The Maldives is big enough (with 1900 islands) to accommodate a range of tastes and preferences for different fun-in-the-sun holidays.

A few have raised concern over the welfare of the horses. Some tourism horses riding (eg. notably the city horse-drawn carriages) are indeed often mistreated, but actually part of the inspiration for the offering is Mr. Siyam’s personal affection for horses so he has kitted out facilities for them as top standard as the resort overall. Someone raised a concern over having horses in such a hot climate without appreciating that many breeds are indigenous to hot, sandy areas. Most famously the Arabian horse. The resort has selected breeds who native to hot climates so they feel right at home in their surroundings.

And if you are speaking of iconic images, right up there would be riding a horse along the water’s edge. So much so that it was the climax of the famous Old Spice “Smell Like a Man, Man” advertisement presenting a catalogue of romantic fantasy culminates with the protagonist on a horse on a tropical beach.

“I’m on a horse.”

Siyam World - Im on a Horse

Siyam World - horses

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The Original Octomom

Octopus mom

Happy Mothering Sunday! Especially to those octopus moms out there. Deep-sea octopuses are some of the best mothers in the animal kingdom. Once her eggs are laid, the octopus spends the next 5 years carefully nurturing and watching over the eggs until they are ready to hatch. Once her babies have emerged, the mother dies, her reproductive duties now complete.

Siyam World London Visit

Siyam World London launch
(photo of Siyam PR Angie Sloan with Lori and myself courtesy of Dafydd Jones)

Our virtual Maldives excursion carried on with a transfer cross-town to the Century Club where Siyam World celebrated its UK launch.  Deepak Booneady, Commercial Vice President Siyam Resorts, shared updates of all the resorts in the Siyam collection, ie. Olhuveli, Vilu Reef, Iruveli.

But the star of the evening was the newly inaugurated Siyam World. He shared the fascinating odyssey of the founder Ahmed Siyam Mohamed who started as a butler at one of the first resorts back in the 80s, parlayed his understanding of the business and his guests’ interests into a travel agency which then grew into being a resort company itself. Booneady described Siyam’s ethos reflecting this heritage with great people making great experiences for guests.

The expansive island affords an expansive vison of amenities an activities while still preserving plenty of wide open space and tranquil areas. The property boasts quite a number of firsts in the Maldives to stay tuned for “Best of the Maldives” additions.

  

Amilla in London

Amilla - london launch

One of my many motivations for doing Maldives Complete is to be transported away from cold and less sunny England immersing myself in all things Maldivian for a several hours a week. While my escapism is usually digital, this week I was treated to some real bits of the Maldives live here in London. Amilla hosted an industry event to update its UK partners and friends on the latest and greatest at the resort.

Amilla announced its acceptance into the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection among other enhancements and new features. It wasn’t just press release and presentation, but an actual taste of Amilla hosted at Michelin-trained Kirk Haworth’s “Plates” restaurant whose ethos of sustainable, healthy and yet decadently sumptuous culinary creations fit right into the Amilla vibe. So much so that Haworth was hosted by Amilla earlier in the year and is scheduled for a return residence in the coming months. We were treated to such Maldives-worthy delicacies as “carrot & yuzu bellini crumpet, smoked carrot, seaweed caviar, champagne jelly” and “BBQ potato with sea lettuce, aioli, pickled shallots, nori powder” and “organic cocao and lion’s mane sponge, whipped coconut, hibiscus sherbert.” And all of the dishes were accompanied by rainbow (white, red, rose and orange) of locally produced organic wines.

Other featured Amilla residencies joining the festivities included style guru Kat Farmer (see photo) who recently hoted a fashion show with a Maldivian designer there. And the parting gift was an herbal bath tea from Amilla’s own garden. But the quintessential touch of the Maldives itself were the leadership team which personifies appreciating, investing in and sharing the Maldives – Jason and Victoria Kruse.

Best of the Maldives: Sustainability La – Sirru Fen Fushi

Fairmont - Sustainability Lab

The investment in sustainability by Maldives resorts keeps building to new highs, and Sirru Fen Fushi has recently introduced an ambitious Sustainability Lab to provide a range of activities and services for the island, its guests and the environment:

  • “Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, a private island in the remote Shaviyani atoll, has unveiled the latest in a series of pioneering environmental projects – the Sustainability Lab – the first of its kind in the archipelago. A hub of eco-education, the Sustainability Lab will turn plastic waste into bespoke souvenirs and unique products, educate guests and empower local communities. With the launch of our Sustainability Lab project, we aspire to be as close to zero waste as we can using current and future technology improvements to allow us to find better ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and upcycle our waste, whilst inspiring others globally to help secure a better future for our oceans and communities.”

Best of the Maldives: Largest Coral Regeneration – Soneva Fushi

Soneva - reef regeneration

The big focus for Soneva Fushi’s marine biologists is big indeed…the world largest coral nursery:

  • Partnership with Coralive and Ark2030 aims to propagate 50,000 coral fragments every year. Soneva has launched an ambitious programme to restore coral reef systems and create a coral hub for the Maldives. A partnership between the Soneva Foundation, the Swiss environmental organisation Coralive and the global ecosystem restoration organisation Ark2030, the project aims to protect and regenerate this vital marine habitat, which has been decimated by rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, El Niño events and ocean pollution…’When finished, the coral farm at Soneva Fushi will be 1 hectare in size – one of the largest coral farms in the world – and in the ensuing years it is our goal to cultivate 1 hectare of coral each year at each of our resorts. This is the scale that is needed to have a meaningful impact and it also represents a huge opportunity for the Maldives to become a global leader in an activity that will likely have considerable future demand,’ said Sonu Shivdasani, CEO and Co-Founder of Soneva’.”

  

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Marine Biologists Women – Cocoa / Siyam World

Women Marine Biologists Maldives

There are so many Maldivian women to celebrate during International Women’s Week, that we had to feature to in one post. Kaia Mohamed Ali at Cocoa Island and Mariyam Thuhufa at Siyam World are two friends breaking glassfloors into the depths of marine biology in the Maldives. I had the chance to meet Kaia during my recent visit to Soneva Jani where she had previously been working and we shared all lively and insightful conversation about Laccadive life. She introduced me to her friend and colleague in the field, Mariyam, who at the time was working just a (long) stone’s throw away at Siyam World. They both gave Maldives Complete exclusive interviews about their personal and professional journeys to the undersea world…

Kaia Mohamed Ali:

  • What atoll are you from?
    I am from Kaafu atoll, from the capital city of Male’.
  • What age did you learn to swim?
    I learnt to swim at the age of 4, but my parents would take me to dip in the sea when I was much younger. My parents felt it was important to teach me to be comfortable in the water since our country is surrounded by water.
  • What was your first snorkelling experience?
    The first time I went snorkelling, I was 15 years old. I spent ages 7 through 14 living in Sri Lanka. After I returned to the Maldives, I went for my first snorkel with a friend on the house reef of Villimale’. It was a surreal experience as it was my first time seeing the reef with my own eyes – something I had previously only seen during the many hours I spent watching NatGeo and Animal Planet. Before my first snorkel, I always had a slight fear of the animals that lived in the ocean. I had only ever seen them from the surface or in the shallows. I was afraid of sharks, stingrays and moray eels and always felt I would get attacked. I guess the false portrayal of these movies played a role in my fear. After I started snorkelling and spending much time on the reef, I understood the behaviour of marine life. Nothing would hurt me as long as I knew how to behave in the water – No touching wildlife, no chasing wildlife, and no feeding wildlife. As long as you respected the animals’, everything was fine. 
  • What was your first diving experience?
    My first diving experience was after I started doing my degree foundation in Marine Science. I was 16 years old. I signed up for my open water course and went on a dive to Male’s reef. It was fun and less scary than I thought it would be. I enjoyed my experience. I noticed the difference between the coral life at the surface versus a few meters below. I knew at that moment that I would never stop diving. I did not notice the sewage pipes sticking out the reef on that same dive until it blasted the diver in front of me with sewage. Very disgusting. I never went diving on Male’ reef again.
  • Where did you study marine biology?
    I studied Marine Biology at the Maldives National University. I am currently working in COMO Cocoa island as a resident marine biologist. I built up my resume through volunteer work and eventually worked for a non-profit in sea turtle conservation. Many years of work experience prepared me for the role of Marine Biologist. 
  • What did you do your final research paper on?
    Please refer to the previous answer. Although I did not do my final research paper, I have contributed to and conducted my independent studies during my time working, such as an internal scientific paper on the Sediment Dynamics on Olhuveli Island.
  • What is your favourite sighting diving?
    It’s hard to pick a favourite when you’re fascinated by everything underwater! But one that stands out/that I can think of at the top of my head is when I dove at a Manta point in Laamu Atoll. We saw a handful of mantas along with massive green turtles – two animals I love. There was so much going on I wasn’t sure where to look. I equally enjoy the dives where I find the small stuff – the cute tiny shrimp and nudibranchs – they’re harder to find, therefore more rewarding.
  • What is your favourite sighting snorkelling?
    I think it would have to be the first time I ever saw a Whale shark. I took a trip to South Ari atoll to spend time with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme for my birthday. After two weeks of no whale shark sightings in Ari Atoll, we saw three on my birthday. It was the first time I’d seen any marine life that massive. I can’t even describe the overwhelming feelings I felt. I definitely cried into my mask. A second favourite sighting was on a casual snorkel in Noonu atoll; I came across a  lone eagle ray cruising by. As I dove down to take a closer look, he came up towards me, made direct eye contact and circled me. We spent a few seconds just swimming around each other before he finally swam off. It’s just incredible to me that we can have such intimate interactions with wildlife.
  • How did you and Mariyam meet?
    Thuhufa and I initially met while she worked for a sea turtle conservation NGO called Naifaru Juveniles in Lhaviyani Atoll. I was working for a different sea turtle conservation non-profit called the Olive Ridley Project. I participated in a Turtle festival by the Naifaru Juvenile when we first met. I noticed Thuhufa as there weren’t many young locals working in conservation. It was nice to meet someone else with the same passions as me. We reconnected a few years later when we were enrolled for the same course in University. It was an instant connection – we became really close friends and we worked pretty closely during our time there.
  • What is the most prevalent misconception about the ocean and marine life that you find?
    That sharks are dangerous and want to eat you. Despite their reputation – sharks are not dangerous and they don’t want to eat you. They would much rather feed on fish and other mammals. Humans are not part of their natural diet and they rarely attack humans. You are more likely to die because of a cow than by sharks.

Mariyam Thuhufa (here is another fine profile on Mariyam)

  • What atoll are you from?
    I am from R. Atoll Rasmaadhoo. A beautiful local island just north of Male’. The island is known for its Surf Spot and for the local boat buildings. It’s a small island with a big sense of community still intact.
  • What age did you learn to swim?
    I can’t recall when exactly I learned how to swim. When I was living in my island I would have been around 6 or 7, I used to follow my cousins out to the water and we used to spend the day in the sea. I remember this one memory vividly. One day I followed my cousin brother to our islands famous surf spot. He went out on his board and I stayed near the beach. But at one point I wanted to get in to the water so I swam out. Next thing I know I was caught in the surf. I remember being under three consecutive waves and not being able to breath. I remember being terrified but I went back to the ocean the very next day. I guess, after that incident I unconsciously taught myself to swim, or at least how to not get caught in huge surfs.
  • What was your first snorkelling experience?
    My first snorkeling experience was in the house reef of Villimale’. Villimale’ is the closest island to Male’ and was considered a picnic island back when I was a kid. I used to go there with my family on the weekends and started learning to snorkel during these trips. At first, I would stay in the shallow lagoon area and get excited whenever I see a lone fish passing by. One day I wandered off to the reef edge and it was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. I saw lots of colorful corals and huge parrot fishes. This was way before the 2016 el Nino, so the reef was vibrant with healthy corals and lots of species of fish. It was an amazing experience.
  • What was your first diving experience?
    My first diving experience was way back in 2014, when I was working at the Maldives Whale Submarine. How the submarine operated was that when the sub goes down with the passengers, scuba divers would go down with it and fool around with the fishes and eels and entertain the guests. I had always wanted to go dive with the scuba team. One day after much talking, one of the instructors from the team decided to take me for a discover scuba session. It was the most amazing day. I loved everything about my first dive. How the sun’s rays looked under the surface to how the eels came and wrapped themselves around me so gently. I loved discovering the smallest invertebrates that day and playing around with an octopus while it changed colour frequently. It was a day I will never forget.
  • Where did you study marine biology?
    I did my bachelors in Environmental Management at Maldives National University. Most of my knowledge about the marine environment I have gained from working and volunteering at different NGOs. I am currently working at the newly opened 5-star resort SIYAM WORLD as their Resident Marine Biologist. But before I landed this job, I’ve worked with Maldives Whale shark Research Program, Turtle Rehabilitation center in Naifaru Juvenile, IUCN and I’ve done coral and fisheries research at Maldives Marine Research Institute.
  • What did you do your final research paper on?
    My Final Research Paper was on the ‘Perception of Maldivian Grouper Fishers on the sustainability of the Current Practices and the Management Plan’. In my paper I did an in-depth analysis of the current practices of the grouper fishery industry of the Maldives and how effect the current management plan is on combating the unsustainable practices that has been going on in the industry. I also conducted a survey questionnaire to understand how well the fishers know about the management plan and tried to understand how their livelihood was being affected by the sustainability practices enforced in the management plan.
  • What is your favourite sighting diving?
    It is so hard to pick one sight. But on the top of my head I think the best sight was when I was doing a fun dive at Vaavu Atoll a few years back and we came across a ball of trevallies. It was the most amazing thing. We went right inside the ball of fish so we were surrounded on all sides by them. This was something I’ve always wanted to experience and it was just so surreal. This was a dive I will never forget.
  • What is your favorite sighting snorkelling?
    I think my favorite sight snorkeling would be anytime we get to interact with Mantas or Whlaesharks. Whalesharks specially are such gentle giants that we get to spend atleast 30 minutes with one and it just becomes such a meaningful experience because you get to learn so much about them during this interaction.
  • What is the most prevalent misconception about the ocean and marine life that you find?
    There is a lot of them ranging from ‘corals are plants’ to ‘all sharks are dangerous’. Amongst fishers that I have talked to there is also the general idea floating about that since the ocean is so big, we will never run out of fish. I think this is the biggest misconception that I find, especially in the Maldives where our livelihood and food resource is so directly connected to the fisheries industry of the country. Fisherman thinking sustainability during fishing practices is unnecessary because they don’t believe in the declining fish stock populations while research clearly shows otherwise. This is why, currently there is a lot of effort put into conducting awareness sessions for the local fishers regarding issues like this.

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Bibliophile – Soneva Jani

Soneva Jani - bookseller 3

International Book Day today. And no better place to be in the Maldives than the home of Maldives own resort bibliophile Malsa Maaz, overseer of Soneva Jani’s bookshop. Yes, the Soneva sister property, Soneva Fushi pioneered the bookseller concept, but Soneva Jani adds the extra distinction of being over water (like most of Soneva Jani) so you can browse with azure vistas around you. The other distinction is that the “Barefoot Bookseller” is a Maldivian herself. Maldives Complete was fortunate to catch up with her during its recent tour and she provided an exclusive interview with her own riveting story.  For many of us, the pandemic lockdowns resulted in more reading than ever, and for Malsa it changed her life…

  • Where are you from in the Maldives?
    I am from Malé, the capital city of the Maldives. I grew up and finished high school there.
  • What was the first book you remember loving?
    The very first book series I remember falling in love with was the Magical Faraway Tree collection by Enid Blyton. The story revolved around three children who discover the Enchanted Woods with its magical folk. Enid Blyton’s books such as the Famous Five and Secret Seven were quite popular with Maldivian children and were readily available in the school library or bookshops.
  • What did you study?
    For my Bachelor of Arts, I studied Archaeology and Anthropology and I have just finished my Master of Research in Engaged Anthropology in the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I focused on documenting the Maldivian cultural heritage and learnt a few traditional arts & crafts such as coconut thatch weaving and lace embroidery weaving using traditional tools. It is a brilliant discipline that allows me to work just about anywhere.
  • How did you learn about the bookseller role?
    Over the first lockdown, I joined a lot of bookclub groups where I saw an article about a dream job selling books in paradise. I didn’t even realise it was the Maldives at first! But I was still studying at the point, so I couldn’t apply then. Few months later, as I was finishing my thesis, I saw the job role advertised again on a local news article and it said they were looking for a local candidate. It was perfect timing – so I applied as quickly as I could and now here I am!
  • What was a question that they asked you in the interview?
    I was asked about my previous work experiences and how I would utilise them in the Barefoot Bookseller role. My answer: I was working whilst in university to support myself and have experience in research, retail, hospitality and F&B. All of that work experience and studying a humanities degree has allowed me to improve my people skills especially when it comes to communication and engagement which the Barefoot Bookseller would require.
  • What is your favourite non-fiction book about the Maldives?
    The Maldives Islanders and Folk Tales of the Maldives by Spanish anthropologist Xavier Romero-Frias. He has lived and done fieldwork in the Maldives for a number of years and has contributed to documenting our unique cultural heritage and history.
  • What book have you re-read (the most)?
    Probably Pride and Prejudice! Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite literary characters of all time and I somehow always associate with her as she is not scared of breaking barriers. That inspires me – so I always end up re-reading it whenever I feel like I need a little motivation boost.
  • What book are you reading now?
    I am currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – recommended to me by a lot of guests. I am also reading The Apollo Murders which is a space mystery thriller by my favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield.
  • What is the most popular book requested recently?
    I have had a lot of requests for the new Bill Gates book – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster and we should hopefully have it in stock soon.

Soneva Jani - bookseller 2

Soneva Jani - bookseller 1

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Weight Machine – Amilla

If you want to build your appetite or beef up the Swiss Family Robinson way, Amilla puts the ‘jungle’ into ‘jungle gym’ by putting its gym into the jungle. I’ve seen a some of these charmingly natural fitness devices in other resorts, but not the coconut weight machine.

  • “Our Jungle Gymnasium features fun, island-made, ‘Flintstonian’ fitness equipment including barbells, a coconut weight machine and monkey bars.”

Amilla - coconut maxhines