Best of the Maldives: Snorkel Weddings – Oprefooshi

snorkel weddings

Maldives resort Oprefooshi has combined the top two reasons to visit this bucket list destination – honeymoons and snorkeling – into a single, once-in-a-lifetime experience: Snorkel Wedding.

Couples are provided with a Snorkel-Guide/Wedding-Officiant. Unlike underwater weddings (which have been conducted at various resort), snorkeling allows the bride and groom to share their vows by actually speaking to each other (while treading water). Why have a seaside wedding when you could be *in* the sea?? And you don’t require special training and certification to opt for this nautical nuptials (in fact, if you are a weak swimmer, the property has a special wedding dress with buoyancy aids sewn into the garment (which also add a special buxom look for your wedding photos).

We can fully appreciate the romance of the house reef venue as Lori and I celebrated our anniversary snorkeling (see photo below).

romantic snorkeling

Most Heart Shaped

Heart shape 1

Hearts will be everywhere today celebrating the annual Valentines festival of lovers. But where are the biggest hearts in the epicentre of romance, the Maldives?

The fantasy of a truly heart-shaped plot of sand in the middle of the ocean is pervasive on Instagram and stock photo sites. .

Heart - shape 2

Mostly these are the fabrications of digital editing (like the one above and two below) and not natural erosion or premeditated terraforming

Heart shape 4

These flights of imagination certainly seemed like they were pulled from drone shots of the Maldives renowned for being diminutive plots of sand and a few palm trees in the middle of the ocean (and some times just a lone sand bank itself in the middle of the ocean which has also been depicted – see below)

Heart shape 3

I first mused about finding a heart-shaped island in the 1900+ in the nation archipelago six years ago in my 7th instalment of “Haven’t Seen Yet”. I noted that Jumeirah Dhevanafushi had made the bold claim to me that they were the most “romantic” island in the Maldives substantiated by the facts that (a) they had the biggest beds, and (b) they had the most heart shaped island. Well, I took a look at an aerial shot of the island, Merdahoo (which it is the new name of the property since Raffles took it over from Jumeirah) before it was developed. The island does look like an impressionistic rendition of a heart at best. Or possibly, an anatomical version (see below)…but the clinical grisliness of that version takes a little bit of the aesthetic romance out of it.

Meradhoo    Maldives heart sketch

For that matter, I think Kandolhu (see below) probably has an equal claim to Meradhoo for cardiac caricature. In fact, if they thinned out a bit more foliage on the west side to make a sharper indention, the island could be quite heart-like in shape.

Kandolhu heart shaped

A bit closer to the classic heart shape is not an island, but the inverse – a reef lagoon – featured by Dreaming of Maldives.

Heart reef

So maybe the most heart-shape place to be today is snorkeling with your beloved…

Valentines snorkel

    

  

The World is On Our Doorstep

Save Something kitten

Earth Day today is traditionally a time to reflect on how humanity can save the planet, though it takes on a whole new perspective during this era of COVID19. Internet memes abound joking that the coronavirus is the planet’s way of scolding humanity and sending it to its bedroom as punishment with the admonition, “Now go away and think about what you have done.”

The pandemic underscores poignantly and painfully how interconnected we are in the modern world. How my respiratory survival is dependent on others changing their behaviours. How my toilet paper supply is dependent on global supply chains.

I had saved the post below from our daughter Isley especially for Earth Day given its theme of saving things including the planet. It was penned after we got together this past year and she was reflecting on her secondment at Soneva Fushi and Rihiveli working on a number of Maldivian writing projects.

The piece reminded me of the starfish parable…

  • “One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, ‘I’m saving these starfish, Sir’. The old man chuckled aloud, ‘Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?’ The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, ‘I made a difference to that one!’”

We can all matter to individual starfish, one-legged birds and kittens. And if we do, the whole planet can matter to all of humanity.

HOW TO SAVE SOMETHING

I wrote the poem “Today I Was a Starfish” during a short writing residency at Soneva Fushi. It’s two true stories in one: Soneva had a Precious Plastics initiative where inventors worked to recycle plastics in artful and purposeful new ways. Soneva also engages seriously with sustainability, saving and reusing wherever possible so it seemed right that I write a poem responding to this part of who they are. I also watched that little kid cry her eyes out over an ice cream, and laughed before realising that she was right: the ready appearance of another ice cream doesn’t erase the loss of the one she held in her hands.

This was back in 2018. I went from Soneva Fushi to Rihiveli, which had its own collection of stories about the importance of saving. Their icon is a beautiful white bird called Juliette, who ended up on the island after the 2004 tsunami, and was cared for by the humans there. She now doesn’t fly, but hangs around on one leg (incidentally at Soneva Fushi there was also a one legged bird who would visit at mealtimes, called affectionately Onelego). Another example of this spirit of care was its reopening as Rihiveli The Dream, when to stop the island from closing it was bought by a collection of guests and run in a way which preserved the staff and style of the island they knew well.

It was while I was at Rihiveli that I was asked by the London Theatre Consortium to attend a residential climate lab when I returned to the UK. I had no idea how many overlaps I would find during my time on that lab to what I had seen in the Maldives: most obviously, the science and history behind the climate catastrophe we face, and that the Maldives is at the knife edge of in so many ways.

But also, the Maldives became emblematic for the key revelation I had during my time at the lab, which has to do with structural and systemic barriers to addressing climate change, and found metaphorical manifestation in a little stray kitten…

On our penultimate day in the Maldives, in Hulhumalé, a tiny kitten greeted us as we had breakfast. We had plans to explore the island and snorkel, but they were abandoned to take care of this flea-ridden little beast with the wonky jaw and seriously cuddly cuteness. We gave her some egg and cleaned her when she toileted and held her in our laps while we picked fleas off her one by one, trapping them in selotape that we borrowed from the hotel reception. There are many stray cats in parts of the Maldives, cared for ad hoc by the working community. But this one was in my lap. She couldn’t chew properly. She didn’t seem to be able to poop. She fell asleep on my hand. We named her Dhaya. I needed to save her.

After realising that it would be impossible to process the paperwork in time to take her to the UK with me, I looked into getting her to a vet while we were still in the country. But the thing is there are ZERO vets in the Maldives. None. Not one. There is one man in Indonesia who makes a trip every six months to look over the pets of the residents, and everyone essentially crowdfunds his trip and tries to get their pet seen during his brief visit. We made a friend in Sujon, who worked in the hotel we were staying at – a fellow animal lover, he said he would keep Dhaya in his apartment and take care of her for us, until we could get the vet to see to her, which I could organise from the UK. I felt good knowing she had a home, and that it might not mean sending her all the way to the UK to keep her happy and safe. But that evening Dhaya took a turn for the worse. We could sort of diagnose the problem using the internet, and the treatment was straightforward, for a vet. But we didn’t have a vet. Or medicine. Or expertise. And she died.

The kitten was saveable. We all wanted to save it. But without a vet, we couldn’t.

The planet is saveable. We all do want to save it, even if we disagree about how. But without systems in place and upheld by governments, organisations, businesses etc, we’ll fail. We cannot crowdfund the climate revolution.

Yes we have to work as individuals – the child needs to not drop the ice cream. And yes we need to be grassroots in our approach to change – so much has been achieved by the Rihiveli community, contributing and sharing and organising in whatever way they can personally to achieve a collective aim. But those energies need to be focused upwards, at those with more power and resources to affect serious change. But as always, those with least resources and the least power are expected to do the most. Yes, me offsetting my air travel is good, but not as good as that being a responsibility of the airlines themselves.

This is what I learned at the climate lab, and at Rihiveli, and from Precious Plastics, and from the kitten.

I’m writing this over a year later now, after Greta Thunberg has proved that an individual (herself someone with significant clout, and inspired by activists before her) can at least influence others, and begin the change systemically. Extinction Rebellion sees many individuals coming together to encourage change and enact it within their reach, putting pressure on larger bodies to recognise their voice. Veganuary proves to be a huge commercial incentive for corporations and companies to be part of the change. And there’s a stray cat with mange that sleeps in my neighbour’s shed that I’m trying to trap and treat. They remind me of Dhaya. Which makes me realise a final thing:

It’s not wrong to want to help the kitten on your doorstep. But the world has been getting smaller for a long time now, and this story of international travel and relationships and communities is proof of that. And the fact is, the world is – and always was – on our doorstep. What we strive to make better in our own worlds impacts the worlds outside of our own, culturally but also ecologically. My choices have ripples that widen and deepen a very long way away. But I also need to think not just about this kitten that I can see the shed, but about all the kittens. But again – at risk of sounding like that Debbie… I can’t help every cat. No one can.

I’m tying myself in knots here a bit now, because there’s no clear right way to fix this. The macro is the micro and vice versa / people power is real power but the real power is systemic / the cat I see suffering is not more or less special than any other suffering animal, or suffering person, and yet I can and should care for them specially.

As I sit in my car on my road, watching the trap I’ve laid for this latest rescue mission, hoping the mangy street cat won’t see me watching, will take the bait, and surrender himself to my care, I think: there are lots of ways to save things. None of them are perfect, convenient, comfortable, or ideal for everyone. But at least there are lots of them. This is one of the ways I can try and save things. And another is demanding that those who can do more do do more. If the infrastructure had been in place, Dhaya would be alive. So I’m going to keep saving the little kittens, but now I know to do that by challenging the fat cats.

Save something bird

Planet time out

Best of the Maldives: Local Beef – Mookowfushi

Cow snorkel

With interest in sustainable local sourcing of foods (and now some of the supply chain constraints with the coronavirus pandemic), the Mookowfushi resort is expanding its chef’s garden (where it has grown a range of herbs and vegetables) into a chef’s pasture that will support a small herd of Angus steers for the property’s dinner plates.

Their initial trial of the husbandry hit issues with the island not providing enough grazing land. But they quickly determined that the bovine palettes were as happy with sea grass as they were grass on land. The problem was that sea grass washed up on the beach was dead and sandy. They needed the bovine buffet to be fresher to the animals. So they experimented with the classic Maldivian accessory – the mask and snorkel. The animals took to the devices very readily (see photo) and were happy to use them to see and find fresh sea grass in the lagoon shallows that they can graze on.

Mookowfushi doesn’t just serve “Surf and Turf”…it puts the turf in the surf!

Putting Ocean Warming into Perspective

Ocean temp 1

Few places provide the perspective the Earth’s vastness as effectively as standing on the seashore and gazing out on the vast expanse of the ocean. The level horizon provides an uninterrupted vista of the planet allowing the view to extend miles and miles (well, 3 miles about). A dip into this immensity adds the dimension of depth as you realise that this body of water plummets to fathoms below. In fact, the lowest point down in the ocean (Challenger Deep 36,200 feet) is deeper than the highest point up on land (Mount Everest 29,029 feet).

This immensity cloaks the blue planet in not just an aquatic wonderland, the birthplace of life and countless resources, but it regulates the world’s climate significantly. It absorbs and releases heat and water constantly. And with the inexorable release of Anthropocene carbon into the atmosphere and the consequential inching up of average temperatures, the oceans are doing their bit to absorb both.

The problem is that when the oceans absorbs carbon it makes the seawater more acidic which makes it less hospitable for a lot of its creatures. Also, when it absorbs the heat, it raises the water temperature which makes it less hospitable for the one of the pillars of the marine food chain – the coral reefs. The result is the widely reported bleaching and dying of the reefs. Over the two decades we have been visiting the Maldives, we have applauded the destination growing in many exciting ways, but each year (especially recently) we despair at the painful shrinking of the living coral primarily due to the warming sea temperatures.

In the Maldives, the reefs are not just foundation to the ecosystem, but the entirety of the county’s very being. As such, the country has been on the vanguard of campaigning for eco-sustainability and cutting carbon emissions. With the global prominence of Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg and the impassioned television series by famed naturalist David Attenborough “Life on Our Planet”, the scale of carbon impact is getting a higher profile than ever.

But just how big is the impact right now? Forget all of the controversial models and forecasts. Forget the graphs showing tonnes of carbon emitted (as few of us are chemistry experts to know what all that carbon really means). Let’s just look at the actual, observed real world impact today of that carbon and climate change with a easily obtained and verified measurement – the temperature of the ocean.

I’ve happened upon a couple of illustrations of ocean temperature increase recently which prompted this post. The first from the Futurism website noted that

  • After analyzing data from the 1950s through 2019, an international team of scientists determined that the average temperature of the world’s oceans in 2019 was 0.075 degrees Celsius (.135 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1981–2010 average…The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions. That averages out to four Hiroshima bombs’ worth of energy entering the oceans every second for the past 25 years. But even more troubling, the rate isn’t holding steady at that alarming figure — it’s increasing.”

But a possibly even more dramatic number and comparison is the simple quantification of the energy that the ocean has absorbed – an accelerating at average of 10 zetta-joules per year(and last year was over 200 zetta-joules added). ZETTA joules. You don’t know what that is? Not surprising since it is such a big number there really aren’t many things in the universe to apply it to. A “zetta” is “10^21” (1 with 21 zeros after it).

What To Do with a Male Layover?

Maldives lay over

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get is not about “visiting” the Maldives, but “passing through”. There are two major groups of these stopovers

  • Flight layovers
  • Cruise stops

What you can do is very dependent on how much time you have. The more time, the further down the list of alternatives below you can go…

  • MALE AIRPORT (more than 1 hour) – Velana airport has a number of things to do itself including eateries, lounges and spa treatments:
    • Moonima Spa (domestic terminal): Really fine little facility and all things considered a reasonable value for a range of packages it offered.
    • Hulhule Island Hotel (5 minute walk): Pool use fee and restaurant with elevated ocean view.
  • MALE VISITS (more than 2 hours) – With the opening of the new bridge, getting over to the capital city of Male is easier than ever (no more ferries needed), but you still require a shuttle or taxi ride over and the extra logistics will require having a bit of time on hand. Here’s my report when I made a day visit there.
  • HULHUMALE VISITS (more than 3 hours) – Adjacent to the Male airport island of Humale is the newly created and developed island of Hulhumale. It also takes either a taxi or bus ride of about 15 minutes so requires a bit more time available to get over there, but it includes lots of new restaurants, public beaches, shopping and provides a taste of modern Maldivian city life not quite so bustling as Male itself.
  • MALE EXCURSIONS (more than 4 hours) – A number of companies offer trips and excursions around the Male area based out of Male, but again, the duration and logistics required would mean having even more time on hand). The best place to start looking into excursions from the Male area is the TripAdvisor “Things To Do” list which includes comprehensive details and often useful reviews.
  • DAY VISIT RESORT (more than 5 hours) – A number of properties in the Male area do allow day visitors which enable you to see one of the legendary “drops of sand in the middle of the ocean” resorts in person and sample some of their trademark activities like snorkelling their house reef or enjoying their manicured beaches. However, these day passes typically entail a not cheap fee. Hulhumale Tours and Excursions features specific packages for visiting local resort islands (they also offer their other excursions for visits to local islands, diving and waters sports) which is a pretty comprehensive list of near-to-Male resorts that offer this service:
    • Adaaran Club Rannalhi
    • Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
    • Adaaran Prestige Vadoo
    • Centara Ras Fushi
    • Cinnamon Dhonveli
    • Club Med Kani
    • Fihalhohi
    • Malahini Kuda Bandos
    • Summer Island

Other islands which have featured day passes in the past or are reported to offer such visits (always best to contact the resort to confirm their current policy and protocol) include:

    • Bandos
    • Crossroads
    • Embudu
    • Paradise Island

Secret Paradise also offers a range of excursions including snorkel trips which I have featured previously.

QI: What Exactly Is It??

Q: What are those things swimming around the reef?
A: Fish?
Q: Buzzzz…there’s actually no such thing as a fish.

That’s the conclusion of eminent natural historian Steve J. Gould (small world coincidence – Lori sang in the same choir as him years ago). There are all sorts of creatures dubbed “fish” and yet they all exist on all different branches of the species taxonomy – jellyfish, cuttlefish, crayfish, shellfish starfish. There is no one Order or Genus that contains all or even the vast majority of species that people popularly refer to a “fish”. As a Telegraph piece describes: “Unlike mammals and birds, not all the creatures we call fish today descend from the same common ancestor. Or put another way, if we go back to most recent common ancestor of everything we now call fish (including the incredibly primitive lungfish and hagfish), we find that they also were the ancestor of all four-legged land vertebrates, which obviously aren’t fish at all.” (at least in the Maldives you can be pretty sure that the “fish” you are dining on is actually the fish they say you are eating which is not always the case elsewhere).

On a similar note, Bird and Moon flippantly points out another aquatic “Animal With a Misleading Name” – the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. They look like a walking lobster tail where the claws and long legs have been removed (but they’re not even Lobsters either). Mantis Shrimp are their own distinct order of “Stomatopods” (which falls under the Subphylum of Crustaceans). But their mendacious moniker isn’t the only curiosity of this colourful creature. In fact, the Oatmeal, illustrated a complete portrait of the bizarre life of the mantis shrimp (“my new favourite animal”) with such factoids as and they can move their limbs so quickly they can supercavitate the water (like boiling it), they can accelerate as fast as a bullet, their limbs are so resilient that the cell structure has been studied for the development of combat body armour, they can’t be kept in aquariums because they tend to break the aquarium’s glass.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Mantis Shrimp nightmare

Maldives Tour 2019: Maldives Weather in July

July Maldives weather

Per ritual, we checked the weather.com forecast for the Maldives the week before we departed. We tend to visit in July and pretty much the standard forecast is “Thunderstorms” EVERY day. But this time, several of the days showed the graphic above – pretty much a perfect depiction of Maldives weather in July. It combines in a single JPEG rain, cloud, thunder, sun. It’s basically the meteorological equivalent of saying “hell if we have a clue?!?”

One would think this profusion of thunderstorm forecasts would spark trepidation for our keenly anticipated trip to the tropical sun. It certainly does for a number of TripAdvisor Maldives Forum posters who fear their trip of a lifetime is going to be spoiled when they see these predictions. But, as I have described numerous times, you have to know how to interpret these forecasts.

When it says “Thunderstorms”, it doesn’t mean that thunder and lightning will be raining down on you from dawn till dusk. In fact, in many cases, the predicted storms hit at night when you are tucked comfily in your cozy villa and when you wake the sun is breaking through the clouds to dry up the puddles littering the sand-scape. The thing is that most of these storms come in quite isolated “little black rain clouds” (as Winnie the Pooh would say). Sometimes we entertain ourselves sipping cocktails and watching these storms approach our island and placing bets as to if it will hit us. It gets closer and closer with the sheets of rain becoming more and more visible. Sometimes it just bypasses us completely. Other times, it hits us full on and we scamper for cover while it passes over for a few minutes.

The video below is a classic example of one of these isolated “showers” we filmed at Faarufushi. We had just emerged from snorkelling (so a bit damp already) and the heavens just opened up on us. Strangely, the day was quite sunny and when you looked all around you saw plenty of blue sky. It’s just that one particularly sodden cloud decided to dump its precipitation on us then and there.

As I was flying amidst these mid-summer clouds themselves, I perused the Trans Maldivian Airways Magazine “Island Skies” piece from Eleonora Fiorini titled “It’s Always the Right Time to Visit the Maldives”. He starts off noting himself “Bruno’s father used to visit the Maldives islands every year for a month in July, and every time, he never had more than just a handful of consecutive days of rain.” The article goes on to look at Bruno’s meteorological study of the area explaining why Maldives weather is “basically nice all year round”. ]

First of all he noted that the Maldivian weather is, by definition, unstable saying “The climate at the Equator is like a boiling pot, and you have to guess where the next bubble will come up” (and micro”storms” like the shower in the video below is a perfect example of a little bubble of weather).

  • Constant Low Atmospheric Pressure – “first index of weather instability
  • Surrounded by Hot Water and Humidity – “it is enough that the atmospheric pressure drops slightly for the air around to raise enormous quantities of moisture from the ocean, dragging them into the atmosphere where they quickly condense generating clouds and downpours in a short time.”

But what the equatorial conditions do to volatility, they also do to moderation:

  • No Coriolis Effect – “…Which allows huge amounts of energy to be stored in the atmosphere, no hurricane can occur in the Maldives, and bad weather doesn’t last long.”
  • Low Moisture Accumulation – “The atmosphere is not able to accumulate amounts of energy so the bad weather episodes cannot last weeks as in other parts of the world.”
  • Highly Localisation – “If it is raining on our island, chances are that the sun shines brightly on a island located two sand banks south