If you can’t get the people to paradise, bring paradise to the people. COVID’s travel restrictions spurred the development and adoption of many innovations to bridge the new distances imposed between us. Soneva Fushi introduced the especially immersive (and high tech) virtual reality electronic escape:
“Soneva Fushi, the original barefoot luxury resort in the Maldives, has an exclusive Virtual Reality (VR) experience to overcome restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience brings an enchanting insight into island life into viewers’ homes. A curated experience with discovery at its heart, the VR series shares Soneva’s SLOW LIFE ethos and champions the beautiful Maldives archipelago as a bucket-list destination.”
One of the first pieces of information I gathered for the resort database was maps of all the resorts. Back then, few resorts had websites and I had to scan paper copies I had collected. I’ve always had a special fondness for maps and have highlighted some of the more creative renditions. When I added a Room Type database, similarly, Floor Plans were a key piece of information. OZEN Maadhoo has applied some striking technical wizardry to its versions of these plan with complete 3D virtual models of their villas. That real gives you feel for where you are going to be staying.
Resorts have long offered presentations to their guests often on marine biology and sometimes on Maldivian culture, and some have extended these to featured guest presenters on topics as diverse as cuisine and wellness. Soneva Fushi features a distinctively rich slate of guest artists and authorities. It’s website presently features 36 upcoming special guests! But it has hit a new high water mark producing the first event TEDx event in the Maldives.
TED is the now famous conference on “Technology, Entertainment, Design” renowned for exceptionally high quality presentations (all strictly limited to 18 minutes) by some of the most renowned and talented experts and speakers in the world. The TEDx events are smaller conferences run around the world “organized by passionate individuals who seek to uncover new ideas and to share the latest research in their local areas that spark conversations in their communities.”
TEDxBaaAtoll could also be TED’s first ever TED event on a beach! Certainly first on loungers. Titled “TEDxBaaAtoll: SLOW LIFE” . “SLOW LIFE” is Soneva’s acronymic mission statement described by them as“our core purpose and stands for Sustainable – Local – Organic – Wellness Learning – Inspiring – Fun – Experiences…It is about reconnecting with oneself and the natural world.” The event synopsis describes the event as…:
“focusing on ways to find a deeper purpose beyond the superficial: reconnecting with the earth to live in harmony with the natural environment; working hand-in-hand with communities to make the world a better place; and nurturing our physical and mental wellbeing to be the very best we can be
Here was the line-up of special speakers and subjects:
Aki Allahgholi – “Time for Corals”: founded Coralive.org in 2016 to fully serve an eco-minded holistic approach to restore and protect a healthy ocean. He described the pragmatic approach to reef regeneration of experimenting in many ways and see what works.
Akib Jahir – “Zero Mosquito, Zero Fogging”: Passionate entomologist, avid mosquito hunter pioneering the way towards an integrated method sustainable mosquito management. Described a mosquito trap to 113k mosquitos in the first month. Only 5% of food supply to predators (birds, bats, dragonflies) who eat them.
Bruce Bromley – “Why every CFO should also be Chief Sustainability Officer” – Trustee for the Soneva Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation focused on mitigating the impacts of climate charge. Makes coherent argument that a good CFO is focused on “resource allocation” to build value for the future so that a sustainability mindset drive understanding, appreciating, and investing in all resources – financial, natural, human, social. I particularly applauded his exhortation to shift from thinking of “waste” as a “bye-product” [sic] to “waste as an asset” (and Soneva has been pioneering in this area with extensive recycling initiatives.
Carissa Nimah – “Do Job Titles Matter”: Worked for some of the world’s top luxury brands, and is personally motivated by creativity, purpose and ethical business. “Corporate and conventional job titles have lost their meaning in today’s work places.” Couldn’t agree more. My reports would ask me what their title was and I often responded that they could call themselves the “Grand Poobah of Whatever” as far as I was concerned.
Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed – “Why Seaweed is not a weed” – Region’s first ever PADI-certified Course Director, he also pioneered many of the country’s diving standards, and is researching the benefits of using the ocean’s resources sustainably through his farming. A local diving veteran who shared his perspectives from over three decades of exploring the Maldives reefs.
Malsa Maaz – “The human story behind the glass cabinet”: Cultural anthropologist passionate about Maldivian culture exploring the coconut culture of the Maldives. “Coconut is our national tree. The tree of life…What can you do with a coconut tree? Everything.” Also, brilliant trivia question fun fact: Dhivehi is one of the only languages in the world that doesn’t have a word for “city”, “village” or “town” (but there is a word for every single part of the coconut tree and every part of the coconut fruit). A great sales pitch for “Cultural Anthropology” – “It is an amazing feeling to know who you are. It is an amazing feeling to know where you come from.”
I came across a good collection of virtual tours, “10 Maldives Resorts with Virtual Tours” (for trip research or just your own vicarious escapism to paradise). Some are just 360 degree aerial photography. Some are simply panorama videos on YouTube. Some are galleries of 360 degree perspectives of various places around the island. Some do have hot spots that you can click on for drill-down panoramas. Malahini Kuda Bandos is close, but Kandima goes that step further with a clearer layout and more extensive range of island places you can explore created by “Digitally Immersive Virtual Experiences” or D.I.V.E.
Not purely a “Maldives” site, but ever so perfect for it. “Name That Fish” couldn’t be better named itself. Here’s the concept – load your snorkeling or diving videos up their website, they run it through their AI algorithm, and al the prominent fish in the video get prominently tagged with a box identifying their species. Lori and I love our piscatorial treasure hunts in the Maldives and can’t wait to get back to the room to go through our collection of fish identification cards and books to figure out the new things we’ve seen. Now we can just let the computer do the work while we go and sip our pina coladas.
The project is the work of Jake Easterling, co-founder of Scubotics, and features over 11,000 fish in its algorithm. The technology is especially interesting to me because it is the core of my day job. I run a company which uses machine learning algorithms to detect variations in brain health on MRI images of multiple sclerosis patients.
Before reviewing it here on Maldives Complete I thought that I should test it myself so I uploaded one of our fish soup heave vids from a recent trip. There is no formal charge for the service, but the site requests a donation and suggest $5 which seemed reasonable to me. I uploaded it and a few days later I received an email with a link to the new video in a Dropbox location (see above as I’ve loaded on my YouTube channel). It came out superbly capturing most of the main fish visible and no errors of identification that I could spot.
If you do find yourself staying for an extended period or are just looking for some other project to embrace in the final months of lockdown, then why not learn the local language of the Maldives, Dhivehi? I reached out to the stars of this fun and helpful vlog, Kate and Hambe, who gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview about their project:
What prompted you to make the Dhivehi lesson video? – I personally couldn’t find a strong source for learning Dhivehi online, so I thought, why not create online lessons with both a fluent Dhivehi speaker and non-Dhivehi speaker? I thought this would ease the learning and through bite-sized and theme-focused lessons that are around 5 minutes each, we hope to provide a quick and fun learning experience!
What’s your favourite Dhivehi word or phrase?– I like the phrase “iru ossey manzaru varah reethi” which means “the sunset is very beautiful”.
Can Kate read Dhivehi too?– I am learning how to read, it takes more time and practice. We would potentially start writing lessons in the future too.
Are there any special sounds in the Dhivehi language (that might be a bit unfamiliar to a new speaker)? – Not that I can think of. Most of the syllables / vowels are the same sound and it is quite a basic language with little complications.
What do you do for your day jobs? – Hambe and Kate are both working as freelancers, in the aim of putting aside enough time for Maldives Secrets to truly blossom as tourism starts to pick up in the Maldives over the next few months. Hambe is a musician and Kate works in Marketing and by being based in Hulhumale, they have the flexibility of being able to travel easily to all islands in the Maldives.
What are your top 3 tips for choosing a guesthouse? / What is your top tip for choosing a guesthouse? – The Island: When choosing a guesthouse, it’s important to understand the island you’ll be staying on. With thousands of islands in the Maldives, it may seem challenging to pick the right one… but trust me, there is definitely a local island that will suit your needs. Head to Dhigurah for the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks, or explore the lush agricultural farms of Thoddhoo… Or go to the eco-friendly paradise of Hanimadhoo in the very north of The Maldives and do yoga every morning on the beach. These experiences are tailored to the island you’ll be staying on… so pick wisely!
How well do people who run guesthouses speak English? – Usually very well, Maldivians in general tend to have a good level of English as it is a requirement to learn it at school.
What are the most useful phrases when staying at a guesthouse or visiting a local island?
What type of food would you like?: Koaccheh kaan beynumi?
I want to try Maldivian food: Aharen kaan beynumi dhivehi keun
No spice: Miroos naala
A little spice: Kuda kuda koh kulhikoh
A lot of spice: Varah kulhikoh
Can we have the bill?: Bill genes dheebah?
Where are the toilets?: Koba fahana?
Food is great: Varah meeru
I need some water: Aharen fen fodheh beynun
Thank you for the service: Varah bodah shukuriyyaa
With all that body building, I recommend some serious stretching to keep from getting muscle bound (maybe too late for some fashionistos). They probably want to check out (as would any Maldives Instagram devotee) Cassie Foley’s @OceanYogaCas feed.
Cassie herself is clearly an accomplished practitioner who posts engaging shots regularly. All based in the Maldives where she works full time running yoga sessions for guests. But also, just as important for this online medium is the quality of the shots done by her partner Aaron. The collection is really a masterclass of shooting the Maldives – well chosen dramatic skies, impeccable lighting, aesthetic framing. The tranquil drama of both Cassie’s poses and the tropical backdrop complement each other completely.
Cassie kindly gave Maldives Complete an exclusive interview to share their world of shutter stops and shavasan.
Which resort are you based at? – Currently based in Atmosphere’s Sangeli resort, I have previously stayed and worked at OBLU Helengeli and Constance Halaveli
How long are you based there?– I moved to the Maldives at the start of August 2019, during this time I spent almost 14 months in Constance Halaveli (yes, my partner Aaron and I stayed through the lockdown, patiently waiting for work to resume) In October we moved to Helengeli, we split up for a month as he was sent to Sangeli and I soon joined him in November 2020, we have been here since then.
What is your most popular yoga session that you offer? – I actually work in the Maldives as a Scuba Diving Instructor! The days can be incredibly busy with up to four dives a day, in fact, my Christmas day was spent entirely in the ocean from 8 am to 7:30 pm – we did a night dive! (of course, I did come up for some lunch at one point!) My yoga practice is done at sunrise almost every day, I practice on the beach, in my room, on the jetty, anywhere outside is perfect for me, then I really get that connection to nature, those deep breaths of fresh sea air – now that’s true medicine. I have yet to start teaching online properly as I have never had stable enough Wi-Fi to offer a class, but I did complete my YTT online during the lockdown.
What is your favourite Instagram yoga pose photo? – I think the ones where you can see I am truly connected and peaceful or focused (the balancing ones!) are my favourites, that’s the essence of yoga – not to really care about the outside but to focus on what’s going on inwardly.
Who takes the photos? – All the photos are taken by my absolute soul mate and love, Aaron. He is so talented and manages to wipe that early morning, sleepy vibe right off me and make me look fresh and glowing – he’s got the magical touch. Often, he takes the photos whilst I simply go through my early morning flow, gently waking up my body and setting my intentions for the day.
Where are you from originally? – Aaron and I are both from the UK, originally from either side of London. We met on a boat in the middle of the ocean in Western Australia whilst looking for a whale shark (but that’s another story!)
How did you get into yoga? – From 2012 I worked in London as a Marketing Manager, I lived in Camden and I was also a freelance writer. I’ve always like to have a personal project on the go as my career didn’t fulfil me whatsoever. By the end of 2012 I was having some serious health issues, undoubtedly emanating from my non-stop lifestyle, my mum suggested me to start yoga. Every amazing idea, every brave new step I took in my twenties often came from my mum – she has always taught me to reach further than my grasp, to believe in myself, I am so grateful to her for that because it has led me to constantly fulfil and exceed my dreams. She saw that I was struggling and pushed me gently towards trying yoga, she must’ve mentioned it twenty times over six months before I went to a local class which my housemate & best friend, Rachel had found for me. that was in March 2013. Starting yoga sent me on a whole new path, very gently and subtly my perceptions changed, my ambitions grew, and my confidence saw me leap into my dream of travelling in 2016. ultimately ending up where I am today, sitting with perfect health, in utter happiness, gratefully watching the ocean from my water villa in the Maldives. Now, as a professional scuba diver, yogini and content creator, I see my whole life a personal project; inspiring, expanding, creative and free and I am so in love with it.
What else do you do to pass the time in the Maldives? – I wake up at 5 am for yoga and meditation, I go to work for 7:45, I can be diving all morning or in the dive centre speaking with divers and guests. Lunch is between 12:30-2:15 and then it’s teaching in the afternoon, getting new divers certified or perhaps guiding a turtle snorkel or sunset dolphin watching before finishing my day at about 6:30 pm. Then there’s time for dinner, some catching up with friends, family and of course, Aaron. We will send some emails, create some content and right now, we enjoy sitting out under the stars for an hour or so before going to bed. What more could I want? 🙂
What tips do you have to guests who want to do yoga in the Maldives? – Bring your mat and get into nature here – listen to the ocean, feel the breeze, try not to get too sandy if you opt for the beach, but most importantly, get up early or give yourself time in the evening – otherwise,, it’s much too hot. Yoga doesn’t have to be about following a specific sequence, it should be dynamic and appropriate for what you need each day… sometimes that might be fast, sometimes it might be slow, sometimes it may be simply to lay flat on your back in Savasana and simply breathe – there’s no wrong way, you just need to give time to appreciate yourself at that moment. (I have a beautiful travel, eco-friendly yoga mat from Yogo that I couldn’t recommend more – use my code OYC10 for a special discount on any purchase.My outfits are also sustainably made and eco-positive, from a carbon-neutral company which ship worldwide. Shop Wolven here and use code OYC20 for an amazing 20% off these beautiful artisan yoga, swim, night and daywear collections!)
· “We’re in Week 5 of our online Junior Marine Biology program with amazing work sent in to us from kids all over the world…Or that manta rays “dance” because … well tune in to find out! Particularly special is the recent remote underwater video footage captured in the waters around Laamu as well as the chance to meet a manta ray in virtual reality. The video works on your computer, tablet or smartphone, but we recommend a tablet or smartphone for the most immersive experience.”
Back at the resort, they also have a set of VR glasses to bring the experience to guests with even more realism (see below).
Underwater immersion without being immersed in water!
“Since 2016, we’ve worked with the team at Critter to develop a mobile app built on their Track system, and in 2019 we’re proud to release the next generation full of exciting new features. ‘Whale Shark Network Maldives’ now takes technology that has long been the preserve of scientists at desktop computers and puts it into the hands of anyone with a mobile device. This innovative approach representing a huge leap for efficiency in citizen science engagement caught the attention of Apple, who selected the app from over 2.5 million others on the app store and championed it in the Keynote of Apple’s annual World.”
Whale Shark Spotter on steroids. They’ve also merged two general features of Maldives Complete – (a) a spotting tracker, and (b) a database lookup (with individual profiles). Add a blog and you have Whale Shark Complete!