The exhilaration of the Maldives begins well before you land. It actually begins about 30,000 feet above the Indian Ocean about 20 minutes before arrival at Male airport. As you cross the first of the northern most islands, you are treated to an ultramartine vista that seems like you are descending on different planet with some bizarre aqueous landscape.
The Maldives are defined by their geography. They occupy a rare “Goldilocks” point right at the sea level’s edge. Not mostly below the water (like the Great Barrier Reef and Red Sea reefs), and not relatively high above the water (like the South Pacific islands). But right AT the water surface’s edge. As a result of this topographical anomaly, the islands paint a cobalt tapestry of colours. You can’t help but ask ‘how did all of this come about?’
The magical formations didn’t happen over night. They are the products of eons of plate tectonics, volcanic eruption, implosion, erosion, and coral formation. Many resort marine biologists cover this subject as a part of their routine bar presentations. But Park Hyatt Hadahaa has taken this odyssey a literal step further with their Island Creation excursion.
The guide walks you through millennia by taking to to an island that is partially submerged and then to another less so, all the way through the various phases of island formation until you finish at a large inhabited one. They show how different formations are representative of different stages of island (or thila or reef, etc.) development. A gee-whiz geology lesson.
The whole concept reminds me of our expedition in the Grand Canyon (another one of those rare destinations where you feel that you are on another planet). You start at one end and as you progress, you don’t just get a history of the canyon, you get a history of the Earth itself.
All of the most stunning places on this planet are so because they provide a glimpse to the ancient miracle of the Earth, its majesty and its mystery. Maybe they should name this excursion ‘the Majesty Mystery Tour’.
“I do pottery. I love it. It’s very relaxing; it takes me to another planet.” – Eva Herzigova
Some people think all you do in the Maldives is lie around in the sun all day. And some can’t conceive of wanting to do anything that would require any effort. But another group of folks actually enjoy doing things on their holiday break. Time to do the things they don’t get to do during their busy lives. And some of these “activities” can be quite relaxing in their own right.
One such activity is pottery. Especially, “throwing pots” on a wheel. The rhythmic rotation and the silky wet clay is reported as a very sensual and soothing experience. Perfectly apropos for a Maldives holiday. And the One & Only Reethi Rah has a full pottery studio. Set outside so one can enjoy the beach breezes while spinning or painting your creation, it even features a resident potter, Liliia Lapika Babych (see pictures) who provides classes and tutoring. The studio features pieces created by past guests as well as some of Lillia’s work. You can also make Venetian masks and other items with all of the equipment for glazing, painting and other creative media.
Yesterday marks the end of the Ramandan and the start of the three celebration of Eid ul Fitr. After 40 days of fasting, you can imagine that the celebration at the end has quite a number of long-anticipated feasts.
If you want a bit of coaching help on creating the most sumptuous and resplendent feast, the One & Only Reethi Rah’s Culinary School is where you need to enrol…
“Classes will be available in a range of culinary styles from around the world such as Maldivian, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Arabian, Japanese ‘Washoku’, Thai cuisine or French desserts and pastries. The experience starts with a guided visit to the chef’s garden where the culinary team will demonstrate how to select the finest and freshest products while guests hand pick organic ingredients for their chosen course. Upon return to the culinary school, One&Only Reeti Rah’s master chef will guide pupils through an epicurean selection of the finest cooking products and condiments from around the world including wines, vinegars, oils and olives. Then guests can prepare exquisite dishes with expert guidance and enjoy their own creations in a sumptuous lunch. They leave the course with a certificate, recipe card and their very own One&Only Reeti Rah apron and chef’s cap. Courses cost run daily for between two to four people and cost $180* USD.”
Lori and I visited it in July and it is a truly lavish set up in its own climate controlled area with access to the finest tools in a lovely surrounding. It has gorgeous bas-relief on the wall depicting an ocean sunset with a Mayan-esque boldness of form (see bottom).
Reethi even have a junior cadet offering as well (see below). With this post, I’ve added a new category tag to the blog for “Instruction” which has all of the posts on the best “Schools” and “Courses” that the various resort offer for those so academically minded.
All it takes is an “E” (Eid) to turn a “fast” into a “feast”.
It’s the optional extras that get you.
Just when we think we have gotten a great deal just within our budget, we come back a bit over-extended from all of the irresistible extras from souvenirs, diving, drinks and excursions. Special activities and special meals always seem to be a particular weakness for us and tote up some extra charges. But at Vilamendhoo, you can do both a superb activity and get a great meal all for $25! It is their Maldivian cooking class. You will work with one of their Maldivian chefs learning some of their traditional recipes as well as try your hand at preparing them for yourself.
Mastercard-friendly Master Chef!
No, not ‘free diving’ as in ‘free beer’. ‘Free’ as in unencumbered.
Despite all of the spectacular diving in the Maldives, it took me several years before I took up scuba diving myself. And that’s despite the fact that my wife started diving and loved it pretty quickly after we started visiting. My logic was that it seemed a lot of kafuffle and expense for not much extra benefit. I would be taking the kids snorkelling and set out the same time that my wife would head to the dive centre. We would be heading back in when Lori was just setting out for her dive having sorted out all of her equipment, etc. Then, when she returned and we united at lunchtime, she would recount her sightings of morays, sharks, turtles and so on. My response was that we saw all that same stuff snorkelling!
Eventually, I did get PADI certified and entered the undersea world more completely. The big bonus to diving versus snorkelling is that you could ‘be at their level’ (ie. the fishes’ level). With snorkelling, you are mostly looking down on things. Along these lines, diving allows you to peak under the many ledges and crevasses.
If you want to have your cake-and-eat-it-too combining unencumbered snorkelling with unlimited perspectives, then proper free diving is the key. Free diving teaches techniques in breath control, oxygen use and pressure equalisation.
LUX* Maldives is setting up a free diving facility. The Maldives has sponsored some Free Diving events, but this will be the first free diving as an on-going regular activity. Normally, I would hold off the post until such activity was live, but LUX* is already offering introductions to the discipline to guests. And the driver behind the initiative is none other than the resort’s own General Manager Dominik Ruhl. In fact, on our snorkel safari during our LUX* visit, Dominic joined in and demonstrated his free diving (see picture above). As noted, he was able to drop down quite deep to see things that the other snorkelers couldn’t. And with his breath-holding techniques, he was able to stay down a good amount of time enjoying the view before surfacing.
One of the best ‘semester away’ ever I think. Villa College is a higher education institution with a number of campuses in the Maldives including one on the island resort of Sun Island. Which is pretty apropos given the one of the most prominent courses is ‘Tourism’.
Other offerings include…
“The college offer a number of diversified programmes and courses in the areas of Hospitality Management, Business Administration, Information and Technology, Educational Studies, and Human Resource Management. Educational Studies, Information Technology and Business Administration programmes are available up to a Masters’ Degree.”
While Maldivians are the largest part of the student body, the school does attract people from all over the world including Europe and Asia. They have posted the YoutTube virtual tour below to provide a closer look…
Kite flying is no longer kids stuff. And today marks the opening of the Kite Surfing World Cup at The Hague. May always has been prime kite flying weather and it’s as good as any time to start learning the sport of kite surfing. As I’ve noted before, the Maldives is starting to establish as strong a wordwide profile for surfing as it has for snorkelling and honeymooning. And if you want to add the kite dimension to your boarding (or the boarding dimension to you kite flying for that matter), then Olhuveli’s Watersport World has established a specialised training facilitiy dedicated to the sport…
“Olhuveli houses the first certified kite surfing school in Maldives with impressive equipment, courses and lessons…The Team: Watersports World is an international certificated watersports school. Enrolled in the VDWS association…The Lagoon: There is a huge sandy bottom lagoon surrounding Olhuveli. That is unique in the Maldives and this is even one of the best watersports area in the world!! The wave point: It takes about 10 minutes by the speed boat from Olhuveli to get to ‘Guraidhoo’. The wave/swell season is from May to October with the South West monsoon wind. This spot is still uncrowded comparing with the North Male Atoll wave spots. Mostly, the waves are only for you! Wave beginners are not recommended.”
As you can see from their commentary, May marks the onset of prime Kite Boarding season in the Maldives as well.
Olhuveli’s equipment includes kites from size 3.5 to 17 from North Kiteboarding (Buzz, Evo, Rhino, Rebel) and Cabrinha Kite (Convert IDS 2009 / Contra 08). Their boards include North Kiteboarding (Phantom 143/154, Gonzales 151) XRide 141/129, Mallory 129, Jaime S, Freestylefish 5’0″, Sumo, M2, and Cabrinha Board (Custom, Imperial).
Surf’s *way* up, up, up…
In light of the ASP World Tour which started this week with the Quicksilver Pro event, I thought I would do a few surf pieces. I’ve already covered the Maldives hosting this very same event in June 2009. But you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy surfing in the Maldives. In fact, it would be an ideal place to start. It doesn’t feature the giant rip-curl waves of Hawaii. Instead, the Maldives are famous for long runs of gentle rolls as more modest waves hit the long breakers of extended reefs. If you have never even surfed at all, then the place to go is Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and their Tropic Surf surfing school.
They offer special beginner course for 2 days called the ‘Dream Programme’ where you learn safety, paddling, standing-up and falling-off (I thought that I might be able to skip that last bit seeming well proficient in fall off many things, but the instructor informed me that there is a ‘proper’ way to fall off). They then take beginners to surfing spots that are ideal for novices for guided and supervised outing.
Tropic Surf has a “100% success rate getting people to stand up on the first lesson.” They feature ‘soft boards’ and an instructor is always in the water with the student. I met with the manager Chris Prewitt (see picture above) who described the programme as a “shortcut to success”
For the more ambitious, Kuda Huraa also offer a 4 night ‘Surf’s Up’ package as well as surf cruises on various boats (including the Four Seasons Explorer yacht) to different locales around the Maldives. The Male atoll itself has 8 surf breaks for all levels of skill such as ‘Sultans’, ‘Jails’, and ‘Honkys’. For more information on Maldives surfing check out the Surf in Maldives website or the Maldivian Surfing Association Facebook page
Reef protection is big and getting bigger in the Maldives. The latest tip of the hat goes to Kuramathi for its accolade from international tour operator Tui for its annual International Environmental Award.
The award specifically cited the work of Reinhard Kikinger who has been working for 10 years on coral reef preservation in the Maldives and heads the Eco Centre there. In particular, it called out the video it had developed and uses in its education programme to both guests and local Maldivians…
“Water pollution and over exploitation through tourism can lead to irreparable damage. The compelling concept of the Kuramathi Eco Centre for bringing nature conservation and tourism into harmony is based on research, the sustainable use of resources and the raising of public awareness, which are performed in cooperation with TUI and the local population. From the very beginning TUI was involved in the commitment of the research centre as an important partner playing a catalytic role. A project currently being undertaken is the production of a computer animated short film for tourists highlighting sustainable behaviour in coral reefs. Several times a week video presentations are shown revealing the coral reefs habitat. On top of that are microscopic demonstrations which provide tourists with an insight into concealed worlds. And guided snorkelling safaris reveal the beauty of and also the threats facing the underwater world. Moreover, the Eco Centre cooperates with the school on the neighbouring island of Rasdhoo.”
The best Christmas presents are the ones you make yourself. And perhaps consummate eye for artistry in the Maldives, Sakis Papadopoulos, has spotted Shangri-La Villingili’s artist programme this month featuring Gregory Burns that will inspire any artist to colourful creations…
“Shangri-La’s Villingili Maldives will fulfil all Artists wishes from December 10th until December 28th. The resort will host the famous American Painter Gregory Burns. Worldwide acclaimed, Gregory Burns is also known to be a multi-medal-winning athlete at the Paralympic Games. Painter since he was 6 years old, his work is exposed in UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and USA. During his stay at Shangri-La’s Villingili, he will conduct many Painting Workshops as well as an exhibition of his paintings from Villingili on Christmas Day.”