Maldives QI – Oceans Eleven

COTS

  • Q: What’s the best way to remove coral reef devouring Crown of Thorns Starfish?
  • A: Spear them and collect them?
  • Q: Buzzz…When a COTS is distressed, by something like being speared, it reacts by releasing its eggs. These number about 10,000 per female. So spearing a COTS just makes it worse.
  • A: Poison them?
  • Q: Buzzz…Not great to put toxic substances into the marine environment

QI returned to our screens this weekend with “Season N” as in nautical nature news.   And today’s Maldives Complete QI instalment on the occasion is just that.  Breaking news on the fight against this scourge of the reefs.

Like so many Maldives islands, Kandolhu faced an outbreak of COTS earlier this year and researched a number of methods for effectively solving the problem. The resort Deputy Manager Laura is a trained marine biologist so they had a bit of a ringer in the battle against this reef destroying creature.

One technique she found was injecting bile salts that you could get from Australia. But that was very expensive. Then, they found out that injecting them with vinegar was effective in killing them and was a non-toxic substance. In the end, Kandolhu has removed 9,000 COTS in the past 6 months and appear to have the situation well under control now. We didn’t see a single one in our near circum-navigation of the island.

Tropical Anti-Depression

Maldives anti-depressant

This cartoon could have been my wife Lori 20 years ago. We had been living in the UK for a few years at that point and the grey, dreary British winters were taking their toll on her psyche. Eventually, she gave me an ultimatum, “Bruce, either take me on a sunny holiday or put me in psychotherapy. The choice is yours, but might I suggest that either way you are going to pay and you might enjoy the holiday a bit more.” And thus started our nearly annual trips to the Maldives laying the groundwork for Maldives Complete.

Today is National Depression Screening Day 2016 in the USA. So if you have been feeling a bit more down than you probably should be, look out for the many seminars and events being held to provide information and guidance. There many effective ways to address and treat depression these days…even if you can’t make it to the Maldives.

Maldives QI – Part X

Realm of the Great White Shark

…for “X” marks the spot where in the world the Great Whites are.

Q: When was the last shark attack in the Maldives?
A: A year ago?
Q: Buzzzzz! No. The Maldives have never had a recorded shark attack on a human.

World Tourism Day today and the Maldives stand tall (much taller than its famously low elevation) among the titans of the travel industry as a bucket list destination. And for selachophiles, the bountiful populations of a range of shark species is one of the many oceanic attractions.

Still, for a few of the more aquatically apprehensive, all these dorsal fins can evokes a number of cinematic fears brought on by everything from Jaws to Deep Blue Sea and Thunderball. In fact, nearly all species of shark keep quite a distance from diving and swimming humans. When you spend some time diving and snorkelling with them, you quickly figure out how they are the scaredy-cats of the ocean turning and fleeing at the least disturbance.

In most cases, these cartoonishly portrayed “man-eaters” are the species “Great White”. And if sharks’ docile temperament isn’t enough to re-assure you then, you can at least travel to the Maldives knowing that you won’t encounter any Great Whites. Great Whites are found pretty much all over the world east-to-west, and north-to-south. But there is one place they don’t hang out in and that’s the Indian Ocean (except for a patch off the coast of east Africa).

Maldives QI – Part Nine for N

Maldives QI heron
This bird is not attractive in the way you might think…

Q: The “Makana” bird (heron) is found everywhere in the Maldives (each resort seems to have its own resident). What makes it such a good fisherman?

A: The Heron making his own oil secreted from the toes which attracts fish.

Q: Buuzzzzz! No. The “stinky feet” story about herons turns out to be an old wives tale (or old fishermans tale)

“Fishermen of yore were convinced that a heron’s foot exuded oil that enticed fish within range of the bird’s five-and-ahalf-inch serrated beak. A formula from the year 1740 for a witches’ brew, Unguentum Piscatorum Mirable, to be smeared on fishing lines included heron’s fat as well as cat’s fat and ‘Man’s fat [which] you may get of any surgeons who are concerned in anatomy.’ To debunk this myth for his 1954 book on the grey heron (spelled ‘gray’ in this country), the Old World counterpart of our great blue heron, British naturalist Frank A. Lowe dropped heron’s-foot extract in an aquarium. The fish ignored it.” – National Wildlife Federation

QI Series N should be hitting our screens in a few weeks time. “N” as in “noisome nippers” perhaps.

Pina Perfection

Perfect Pina Colada

Coconut Full Moon tonight. The perfect time to toast that essence of equatorial elixir – pina colada.

Maldives is not my only tropical love. I am also an epicurean devotee of the pina colada. It is my tropical cocktail. I only really drink it in the Maldives because I do believe that ambience and context is as much a part of an exceptional drink experience as the drink itself. Like port with cigars and cards. Or Pimms at one of The Season events. I have occasional sampled pina coladas when I am at establishments renowned for their mixology just to explore their spin on this classic. But the experience is more clinical and investigative than my sensual savouring in the Maldives.

My pina passion has reached a higher profile as a part of my annual Maldives Tour posts to the Trip Advisor Maldives Forum. I post a daily thumbnail sketch of each resort highlighting things like the weather, my favourite dish, snorkel spottings. And I include a headline assessment of the resort’s pina colada.

For me the pina colada is as iconic a tropical drink as the Maldives is a tropical destination. And it can be an emblematic indicator for the resort overall. It’s complicated and varied enough that the resort’s own quality of ingredients, attention to detail, creativity, flair and even personality can shine though in this little alcoholic microcosm. You can have foamy vs. flat, shaken vs. blended, iced vs. chilled, not to mention a range of ingredient variations (eg. coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut flavouring). And it can be presented in simple tall glasses with a sprig or garnish to coconut shells with a cornucopia of fruit and frills.

Last year, the epicenter of all things coconut, Kurumba resort, rose to the “Pina Colada Challenge” with an unprecedented flurry of pina colada artistry on the occasion of my visit. The exceptional evening got me questioning my first principles. With all of the options and variations, what was I looking for in the “perfect pina colada”. That led to a bit more “research” and now my own recipe and guidance for the quintessential pinoconut concoction.

FUNDAMENTALS – What are my basic principles for the ultimate pina colada?

  • TemperatureFrozen. This is the counterfoil to the sun drenched tropics. You are melting away in the warmth and so part of the experience is the frigid coldness of the drink. The best pina colada is the coldest pina colada. Some tips to achieving this frigorific chill…
    • Store all of the ingredients in the freezer. Including the rum and the glass along with frozen coconut cream and pineapple juice. Note that you will need to freeze the coconut cream and pinapple juice in small chunks or cubes in order for them to blend effectively on mixing.
    • Serve in a “stem” glass so the hand does not warm the drink while holding it.
  • ThingsFresh. Fresh, top shelf ingredients should be a given, but I am always surprised at how many top resorts try to get by with inferior ingredients.
    • Fresh pineapple juice. Not from a can or concentrate (which almost always has added sugar).
    • Coconut cream (not coconut milk, coconut flavouring, or pina colada mix)
    • Top quality white rum. Not the cheap stuff. Not dark rum.
  • TextureFine. Another bad bit are…the bits. Yes, it is a “style” thing. Much like the difference between the more finely textured Parisian bisque as opposed to the more rustic and thicker Normady bisque. The pulp might seem to add to the appearance of freshness, but the mouth feel distracts from the focus on the flavours and the frozenness.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 parts Coconut Cream – (not Coconut Milk, it’s too thin and not coconutty enough)
  • 4 parts fresh Pineapple Juice – (not pulpy, see above on Texture)
  • 2 parts White Rum – (not flavoured)
  • 1 part medium sugar syrup (3:4 ratio of sugar to water)

Despite many classic recipes call for it, I first tried to avoid the Sugar Syrup ingredient. I thought one could get the desired sweetness with the pineapple juice and even the coconut cream would contribute a bit. However, in depth experimentation showed that the syrup really helped to smooth out and mellow the final product in a way no other balancing could (without sacrificing the rum kick). If getting or making the sugar syrup is just a step too far, then actually using Malibu Rum (the exception to the “not flavoured Rum” rule) provides the same sweetness and some of the mellowing effect (but unfortunately does introduce a distinctly “artificial” or even “chemically” tinge).

Also notice NO ICE. Ice just waters down the drink and interferes with the smooth sipping. The frozen ingredients provide all the frigidity that you need (and more than shaking over ice will ever do).

Perhaps the key objective here is balance.  You don’t want any individual ingredient overpowering the flavour.  You want all of the tastes to blend harmoniously.

RUMS

  • Baccardi Carta Blanca Superior White Rum – The classic and default option.
  • Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum – The premium option for smoothness and distinction (“clean, dry rum which contains fewer of the heavy alcohols which tend to provide other rums a sweeter flavour profile. The Especial Extra Dry is blended from a mix of rum spirits which have been aged a minimum of 2 years and up to as many as 5 years in White American Oak casks. The rum is triple charcoal filtered, and was developed as a high-end cocktail spirit”).
  • Malibu Caribbean Rum with Coconut Flavour – The oft-resorted to shortcut for coconut and sweetness boost.

DIRECTIONS

Blend ingredients until smooth. Not too little so that it is lumpy. Not too much that it overly thaws the drink. Depending on the type of blender you have, you might want to pre-crush the frozen coconut cream as this can freeze quite solidly.

GARNISH

You can let your inner Carmen Miranda go crazy if you like, but there is only one classic garnish – a skewered Maraschino cherry and pineapple slice perched on the edge of the glass. Some say the cherry is dated and even twee, but I guess I am just too old school.  And no straw! The drink needs to be sipped from the glass like a fine wine. Straws are mostly for drinks with ice (see note above on “no ice”).

The Guardian has also published their pina perfection path “How to make the perfect piña colada”. It’s an okay recipe. I’m against the use of ice for a truly “perfect” pina, but I understand how it is an expedient way to achieve coldness. And the piece provides some in depth perspectives on some of the dynamics of the drink.

Happy Hour Coconut Moon everyone!

(special thanks to our friends Wayne and Lucille who contributed as research assistants in the methodical lab testing)

 

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

QI – 7: Seeing the Blues

  • Q: On this so-dubbed “Blue Planet”, what is the earliest and most prevalent word for a colour in early ancient langages?
  • A: Blue?
  • Q: Buzzzz…A bit of a misleading set-up there, but linguists have actually found that the word for the color “blue” is almost universally the last color to enter a language.

As a result, researchers have even questioned if these earlier generations possibly even perceived colours differently to modern peoples. With the sea around and the sky above, such a conjecture certainly would have limited the descriptive capacity of people living in the Maldives. Fortunately, at leas today, the Dhivehi language does have a word for blue – “noo.

Best of the Maldives: Most Wave Names – Fuvamulah

Fuvamulah waves Maldives

Dhivehi Language Day today.

While the Maldives is renowned for romantic islands and underwater reefs, the unique reef bottomology (as opposed to “topology”) has also made it one of the world’s top surfing destination. Not for Hawaiian monsters waves, but for long, gently breaking ones (great for the increasing popular trick riding not to mention beginner learning).

One of the top surf spots is Fuvamulah. So much so that the wave richness has infiltrated their language. Like “snow” to Eskimos and “rice” to Japanese, the Maldivians on Fuvamulah have more words for “wave” than any other language. And like the Eskimos and Japanese, the wave words on not simple straight synonyms, but rather designations for subtle variations.

The Maldivian outlet Sun Online featured a superb piece on the subject titled “Fuvahmulah people could break record for most names for waves!”

“Fuvahmulah has just one and one quarter of miles of reef around the island – resulting in huge ocean waves battering the island unchecked. A wave is not just a wave to the people of Fuvahmulah, who assigned specific names to different types of waves (ralho) – based on their size and the current. This made it easier for the fishermen of the island in the olden days – as they knew just what to do when they heard the name of the type of wave they would be facing that day.”

Eighteen different words have been coined and examples include…

  • hudhu ralho – waves that produce more white foam than regular waves
  • kalho ralho – waves that break at the point where ocean and lagoon meet.
  • vago ralho – waves that appear as if out of nowhere.
  • beessaa ralho – waves that do not form curves but flow smoothly toward the beach.
  • gunburaas ralho – the biggest waves that break on Bilhifeyshi Olhu

Best of the Maldives: Windows Seats – Virgin Airlines

Virgin Airline glass bottom plane

With the cancellation of the Sri Lankan Airlines direct service and British Airways curtailing its own London-Male service in the summer months, most UK travel to Maldives has required the tedious stop-over. But the customer-focused Virgin Airways has not only stepped into the breach with its own daily direct service to the Maldives, but it has done with an aeronautic innovation so appropriate to the destination…glass bottomed planes.

Richard Branson himself announced, “The Maldives is a destination renowned for its spectacular seascape. People marvel at its aquatic sights underneath the surface with glass floors in many villas and they do so when they fly above this amazeballs azure archipelago. It is the perfect destination to launch our new state-of-the-art planes which lets every passenger enjoy this turquoise tapestry when they arrive.”

Using the same pressure-resistance, high tensile strength glass that the famous underwater restaurants there use, every seat is a window seat! The scenic wonder is ideal for that climactic arrival to the otherworldly archipelago as the distinctive tapestry of blues emerge in the seascape below. I much prefer these windows-full planes to the windowless planes the industry has been talking about recently. And lest you think this can’t be real, see the full details on Virgin’s website – “Virgin launches glass-bottomed plane”.

Virgin Airline glass plane