I grew up spoiled by soft sand. Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts USA was renowned for its miles of flour soft white sand (kept clean and fine by an off-shore sand bar which acted like a filter of hard and soft debris). The brilliant white sand of the Maldives makes for great posts of the card and Instagram types. But on closer inspection with one’s sensitive piggy toes, one quickly realises that crushed coral (which is what the sand is comprised of) can be quite sharp (with plenty of broken coral bits washed up to really pierce your soles.
We have found a number of islands with soft sand (eg. Gili Lankanfushi, Safari Island, Mirihi), but we’ve not come across a property with plush icing sugar texture as Maafushivaru. I’d be wary of awarding such a kudo on just my experience, but I was convinced with veteran Maldives aficionado Francisco, who has visited over 40 resorts, made the same assertion.
Now Maafushivaru is in the diminutive island category which means they have less area to maintain. But maintain it they do. They had a team of a several groundskeepers raking the beach early every morning to sift out the shards and broken shells that had come in with the night time tide. Another aspect to tis distinction was the first impression made by the reception’s especially plush and floor like a rich, sand cashmere shag carpet whose softness you sink into.
Probably second to the sharks for looking fearsome and scary are the ubiquitous Maldive morays. The snake-like giant morays are everywhere, but like the sharks are pretty apprehensive creatures and prefer to stay tucked safely in some rock crevice with just their ominous mouth protruding. Often the teeth filled mouth is moving looking like it is practicing biting you (but it’s really just breathing). Occasionally, you will come across the more colourful Honeycomb variety. One snorkel, Lori even came across this baby (about 8 inches long) Zebra moray (see photo above) on the Kurumba house reef.
But we learned about the more extensive diversity of the Moray (or Muraenidae) family of eels during our visit to Maafushivaru. The Marine Biologist Nev held regular night snorkelings so you can see them when they are most active. You go out as sunset when there is still light and then watch the reef get darker as you bring out your torch to spotlight the nocturnal goings on. They have spotted the following morays on the house reef…
- Giant moray
- Yellow Margin moray (mostly at night)
- Zebra moray (mostly at night)
- Undulate moray
- Honeycomb moray
- Clouded moray
- Peppered moray
- White mouth moray
The house reef also features other eels as well including snake eels and cloudy eels.
We also learned that “Honeycomb Moray”, “Leopard Moray” and “Tessellate Moray” and “Laced Moray” are all monikers for the same species, Gymnothorax favagineus.
“When you’re at the Maldives with lots of eels in the sea, that’s a moray. When you’re at Maafushivaru and the eels are in view, that’s a moray…” ♫♪
The first functioning laser was operated by Theodore H. Maiman of Hughes Research Laboratories, 45 years ago this week. Since then, its unique optical properties have been applied to everything from cutting to welding back together again. They are use for both scalpel (cutting) as well as suture. It has very profound applications (like producing holograms) as well as some more whimsical ones (eg. creating cat videos for the Internet with laser pointers).
Maafushivaru is celebrating the latter with the introduction of its night time laser light shows…
“This month Maafushivaru is delighted to present its latest addition to spruce up its evening entertainment schedule. With the existing items that range from Maldivian evenings to resident DJ playing classic dance hits and acoustic duo performing while you indulge in a feast, the laser show make its mark as the newest and liveliest of evening entertainment taking it to another level. The spectacle begins at Water Bar, where guests may seat up on bean bags or on the comfy cushions outside the deck to witness a flurry of colours that blend in motion with a selection of music composed by the in-house disc jockey. Witness the Maldivian sky dance in an array of neon green and blue as you imbibe favourite cocktails from the Water Bar. The laser show will be featured once a week after 21:00hrs. Come over and experience this unique show in the Maldives, in Maafushivaru.”
The Swiss have long sought the refuge from the altitude in the low lying Maldives and until recently were the 10th highest country in terms of visitors. And the ultimate Swiss resort seems to be Maafushivaru. For a long time, a resort fully owned, operated and marketed by the Swiss-based Kuoni company primarily for the Swiss market. Despite the fact that Maafushivaru is now available to a range of markets, Swiss are still as much as 50% of the guest population.
The residents and management are not the only Swiss qualities. Maafushivaru is one of the smallest resort islands. It also really struck me for its sparkling cleanliness with carefully groomed beaches and paths. Its sand especially is as plushly soft and blindingly white as an alpine snow drift.
Celebrating International Women’s Day today is probably the most subtle yet dramatic piece in the Maldives honoring women – ‘Maafushivaru Eyes”. The piece at the eponymous Maafushivaru resort is a sort of wall sculpture carved into the wall by the restaurant. It features two eyes with flowing lines off to the right (see above). Also the adjacent reflecting pool and jetty were designed to reflect other aspects of the feminine aesthetic.
The creative and inspired installation evokes a piece of art specifically commissioned for International Women’s Day a couple years back – “Dhaalu Girl”. Showcased in the “Cool Women” film project, also done to honour International Women’s Day, the piece was painted by the exquisitely talented Aemii Musko. So impressed by this young Maldivian artist and her depiction of the feminine charm and power of the ocean, I purchased the piece and it hangs proudly in home now.
Here’s to the power and creativity of women around the world.
Something else that bothers me personally when I am in the Maldives, is equalising (the process of adjusting pressure in your sinuses whn scuba diving). With such world class snorkelling in the Maldives, it was some years after my wife started diving that I joined her in getting certified and one of the disincentives for me was general sinus issues which made for equalisation difficulties. For the 6 years I have been diving, these issues persist in irritating my dives, but over that time I have collected a range of tips from various divers and dive masters on how to alleviate the problem.
There are the classic tips that you learn when you get certified like…
- Wiggle ear and jaw.
- Hold nose and blow gently (I did find that a problem I had was trying to blow too firmly which both hurt my ears and wasted air).
- Descend slowly.
- Rise 2/10th metre when you start to feel discomfort.
Since taking the Scuba course, picked up the following added tips.
- Snort salt water. Before descending, suck some ocean water up through your nose. It actually works a treat to open up the sinuses. It’s not far off the traditional remedy for throat problems of gargling with salt water. However, Claudio at Sea Dragon Diving with Maafushivaru informs me that in most places that is a good trick, but in the Maldives there are many micro-organisms in the water the practice can cause infection. If you like this approach and are concerned about this, then you could bring some pharmaceutical saline solution with you.
- Sudafed. Or any non-drowsy cold decongestant. The scuba course will tell you not to take drugs for a number of good reasons (eg. they could have adverse side effect which is why you need to be careful to get non-drowsy ones, they could wear off and then problems could occur when you are in process of diving, they could mask serious issues or symptoms). In short, in the interest of absolute safety, the advice is that if you need any drugs to make diving comfortable, then you shouldn’t be diving. But, that advice is really geared toward people not well. If you are well, I have met a number of divers who do practice taking some Sudafed to assist the biological processes of opening up the sinuses and making equalisation easier. Note, my friend and veteran diver Eileen Brown informs me that pseudoephedrine can causing fainting if you descend to 30 metres (rare in the Maldives).
- Beconase (beclometasone). Same concept as Sudafed, but a different (and possibly more effective and immediate delivery mechanism). Beconase (the OTC name) is a nasal spray that opens up the nasal passages. It was recommended to me by my doctor for general draining of fluid from my ears after a cold. I had had blocked ears for weeks, but after one puff of the spray, my ears started that distinctive ‘crackling’ sound of clearing.
- Swim parallel above rest of group. Many times it just takes longer for the equalization to happen. The problem is that you feel that you need to descend to keep up with your group and it is the rushed descent that causes the discomfort. The divemaster at Lily Beach Nicole encouraged me to simply swim above the group, but keeping the group in view, and descend at my own pace (also, in addition to my buddy, she kept an extra eye out for me).
- Relief, Not Release. Sometimes when you equalise, you get an incredibly satisfying squeak in your ears as the pressure finally squeezes through your ear channel to balance. I used to make the mistake of trying too hard to equalise and pushing to hard to try to achieve this effect. But this was the wrong approach. Not only did I fail to achieve the release, but the pushing too hard meant that I probably aggravated my sinuses and wasted extra air in the process. What I learned to do was the more gentle holding nose and puffing. The objective was not to get the ‘release’, but simply to ‘relieve’ the pressure on the sinuses. I soon realised that I could do the entire descent without the magic release, but I would avoid all discomfort by just gently working on keeping the pressure strong in my sinuses.
- Turn Down the AC. Air conditioning dries the tissues in the ears, and then when you emerge into the nearly 100% tropic humidity, it expands the tissues which will tighten up the ear canals.
- Push 2 Fingers Behind the Jaw. Find the soft tissue just behind the end of the jaw bone and carefully push into the soft tissue. It will feel a bit uncomfortable, but done properly with relax the tissue located there which can contribute to the tightening of the ear canals (courtesy of Thomas at Werner Lau, Medhufushi).
- Vented Earplugs. These special type of earplugs can alleviate pressure on the ear drum. Here is an article on them (thanks Stu and Nicki).
- Olbas Pastilles. Any eucalyptus lozenge should do to open up the sinuses before a dive, but many melt in the heat, while Olbas brand don’t (another Eileen tip).
- Vented Earplugs. These special type of earplugs can alleviate pressure on the ear drum. Here is an article on them (thanks Stu and Nicki).).
- One Side Head Tilt. If one ear is working but the other is blocked, then turn your head with blocked one toward the surface because the air is always going up and the pressured air from inside your head will go up to your blocked side to help equalise (thanks Marco Bongiovanni, Makunudu).
- Surgery. A rather dramatic solution, but one that might be a practical resort especially if the problems are confirmed to be due do abnormalities in the sinus tissue like a deviated septum. Such procedures are typically reserved for people with conditions like sleep apnea or recurring sinusitis, but it can be a appropriate and very helpful for individuals involved with diving. Not a very common solution, but Patrick Spitz, Sea Explorer Diving, Reethi Faru noted that one of his staff was getting the operation due to her persistent issues from this cause (thanks Patrick).
- Oil Drops. A traditional remedy for ear aches and infections (which do not have any medical evidence to support its efficacy) is using various oils (eg. Vitamin E,m Vitamin A, even Olive Oil) can soften the ear tissues to make them more flexible and easy to equalise (especially if they have gotten dried out from repeated immersion in salt water washing away the natural oils). (thanks Danni)
Here are some more handy tips from Aquaview.
Billionaire for a Day.
Maafushivaru’s neighbouring desserted island Lonubu evoked a billionaire’s paradise to me, one you could experience yourself for a night, from a number of different perspectives…
- “Buying their own islands” – My professional alma mater, Microsoft, was renowned for its generosity in giving out equity in the company to all its employees (originally in the form of stock options and later in the form of vested stock). This largesse was a big contributor to my affordability of the luxury of the Maldives for so many years. But this munificence actually became a problem for the company in the late 90s as it became difficult to retain some of the top talent who had made small fortunes. I remember Bill commenting that his objective in giving out stock was ‘so people could by themselves a nice house, not their own islands…’ I certainly never made enough to buy my own island, but a night on Lonubo would feel like it.
- Super-premium Micro-island Luxury – The Maldives is rivalling Dubai, Monaco and Mustique for the most exclusive bolt-holes. More than half of the resorts are 5-star to start with. Then, there is the arrival of the super-premium marques like Jumeirah, Four Seasons and even the rumoured Louis Vuitton. And beyond that, there are hyper-exclusive resorts like The Rania Experience and Dhoni Island (closed) with price tags starting in the $10,000 night range. If you need to be a millionaire to afford the 5-star plus properties, then these exclusive ones must be the playground of billionaires. Like Lonubo, these are eztremely small islands and it is not unheard of for customers to simply rent out the entire resort to themselves.
- Lost’s ‘moved’ island – The most famous ‘deserted’ island of modern times is ‘The Island’ on ‘Lost’. In fact, one of the great storytelling innovations of this iconic and billion-dollar TV series was making the island itself a character itself in the epic. The whole Lonubo experience reminded me of Season Four’s final episode when Ben ‘moves the island’. You have your billionaire in Charles Widmore. You have your mystical deserted tropical island. But the clincher is that Lonubo has a helicopter pad (see bottom below) and a helicopter plays a big role in this episode. More importantly, the helicopter pad is old, dilapidated and even partially submerged underwater like an ancient Man in Black period relic. But the killer is that the reason the heli-pad is submerged is because in the decade since it was built, the Lonubo island…has moved! The seas are constantly playing shell games with the sand banks and islands (necessitating the omnipresent groynes and sea defences). In this case, the sands of Lonubo have shifted the island about 100 yards (no confirmed reports of rips in the space/time fabric).
Maafushivaru offers a number of ways to enjoy this facsimile of a billionaire playground…
- Daily excursions – Every day a dhoni takes over resort guests for a visit to the island. Often special extras are organised like activities or a BBQ. Sometimes it is just an opportunity for a new place to snorkel or watch the sunset. For those short a billion or two, these excursions are entirely free of charge.
- Private Dinner – You can book a private dinner on Lonubo. The cost is $320 per person…”Prepared by your own cook and served by your own waiter, accompanied by the sounds of the ocean and a bottle of sparkling wine. After dinner, stay on Lonobu and enjoy the peace and privacy of your very own island, a beach bed will be set up for you to relax and enjoyu the thousands of beautiful stars…pick up at midnight.”
- Overnight Villa(s) – If you don’t want to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, you can also spend the night on Lonubo in one of their two villas (see below). These bungalows are what really set apart this desert island experience. You get the sensation of remote and solitary bliss…but with the comforts of home. A shower, bath, minibar, AC…even a TV to watch some old episodes of ‘Lost’. The cost of an overnight is $1,265 (for two sharing) which includes the special dinner. You stay until 10:30 am the following day when you are picked up by dhoni. There are two rooms so a family can even book the island if they like.
So if you want to re-enact the Lost experience, but prefer the homey bungalows of the DHARMA Initiative to the rustic living off the land of ‘The Others’, then set your Daniel Faraday machine to Maafushivaru’s Lonubo.
Great things come in small packages.
That is certainly part of the charm of the Maldives. When I try to describe the magic of the place, I often refer to the iconic tropical picture of a plop of sand and a solitary palm tree. That is the Maldives. And the islands that come closest to that romanticised ideal are the small ones. And as a result, they are pretty popular…and pricey.
Maafushivaru breaks from the overbooked and premium priced herd of mini-isles. It is in the top 10 of smallest resort islands in the Maldives, but it is only positioned as a 4.5 rating despite a very high standard throughout. Also, it has mostly sold its limited inventory to the Swiss market (Kuoni headquarters) and Italy (where people there know it from its previous incarnation as ‘T Club Maafushivaru’). As a result, it isn’t as widely known in other parts of Europe or Asia. But it is opening up inventory to those markets so it is an opportunity to snare a tiny island experience without a millionaire salary or booking a year in advance.
And if that’s not small enough for you, then there’s the neighbouring deserted island of Lonobu. It is an intriguing gem in its own right which will be my first ‘Best of the Maldives’ for Maafushivaru next week. It has two villas that you can rent (two to accommodate a family, but only one guest group at a time can have the island for a dinner plus overnight stay). It’s the desert island experience…with air conditioning, plumbing, mini-bar and TV at hand. Stay tuned for more.
The rooms are not small though. They have a spacious feel to them with towering cathedral ceilings. Extensive use of polished concrete is an elegantly simple design. Also, the black and white prints are very classy.
I came away with 9 Best of the Maldives pieces for Maafushivaru which will break their duck for Best Ofs.
Small resort with a big impression.