Digression: A year ago around this time, after completing our first Intrepid Travel journey (Rajasthan), we were sitting(for 10+ hours) in Delhi airport, desperately waiting for our chance to bolt from India, back to the comparative luxury of Thailand. In retrospect, it wasn't that our lot was all that bad, it's just that the whole "India-ness" of India had finally worn us down. We'd both been suffering from "Delhi belly", that affects many (most?) travelers to the more polluted big cities in India. After a few days illness and recovery, in the slightly-better-than-crappy hotel in Delhi that started and ended our tour, we needed to escape. We were tired of instant coffee and white toast for breakfast and vegetable curry for every other meal. The "western bubble" that Kathy wrote about then, seemed like what we needed, and we ended up spending 10 days doing practically nothing (and enjoying it thoroughly) at a plush resort in Hua Hin, Thailand.
We learned from this experience that while we are "intrepid" travelers -- we travel to unusual places because they're unusual -- there's a limit to how long we can keep our senses of humor when being perpetually assaulted by "developing country" reality. Dorothy was right: "There's no place like home" - well, at least someplace with all the comforts of home.
With last year's After a long but excellent five weeks split between Sri Lanka and India, we were once again ready for a first-world respite. The two tours we'd taken with Intrepid (Sri Lanka and South India) hadn't been nearly as combative to our senses (or our bellies) as Rajasthan, this year we'd pre-planned our escape. Kathy'd earned some extra money during the year while Scott was off in school ("where he belongs"). We splurged.
The Maldives ("Mall-deeves") is a remote series of 19 atolls (chains of islands) hanging out at the bottom of India, south and west of Sri Lanka. Altogether, there are more than 1000 islands in the Maldives, most unihabited. The government doles out development rights on an island-by-island basis - essentially, each island is it's own resort. The focus is on sustaintable (and profitable) development, the government has progressively tightened the requirements for development. Each resort is self-sufficient, providing its own electricity, water, etc. It is a holiday destination largely for Europeans and the occasional Japanese; North Americans are rather novel -- the trip is long and circuitous.
Getting here is half the fun: While not a particularly long distance, the journey from Sri Lanka to here started before 5am, and even after we got to Male' (Madives' capital), it was nearly 3 hours before we got to the resort. Worth it? Absolutely.
After the Colombo-Male flight, we transfer with our luggage (including two complete sets of SCUBA gear) to a sea plane (deHaviland "Twin Otter" for the aircraft-curious). The views from the plane were spectacular, as we cruised over azure seas speckled with coral reefs and sandy islands. The sea plane drops us off at a tiny pier in what seems the middle of the ocean; it's within sight of the resort -- but not swimming distance.
As if by clockwork, a dhoni arrives and spirits us off to Filitheyo ("Fill-ih-thay-oh"). The island is small -- 15 minute's walk end to end in one direction, five minutes in the other. The entire island is one resort, and the resort is the entire island, the island part of an otherwise-undeveloped set of islands in this atoll. Still with us?
En route our bags are tagged with our room number, and they magically appear at our room. We're greeted with cold towels and fresh coconut drinks. They escort us to our bungalows, a five-minute walk literally through jungle paths.
It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. This is the quintessential remote luxury resort: thatched bungalows with spacious, elegant bathrooms featuring outdoor showers (shower under the stars!). Most of the bungalows are nestled amidst palm trees (with a dozen or so actually built over the water); facing the beach of blinding white sand, turquoise blue water rife with exotic sea life. The view from our room is to the right.
A "Room Boy" meticulously attends to each need. Twenty-five "Leaf Sweepers" come from a neighboring island each day: their job is to sweep the paths of the previous day's jungle vegetation. Care to scuba dive? There's a world class reef 100 feet from your front door. Another Staffer will wheel your equipment to wherever on the island you choose to begin your dive, and pick up your tanks when you're finished.
Local fresh fish are on the menu every day in every way (from sashimi to deep-fried). The restaurant [we've booked the resort "all inclusive", so all our meals and drinks are included] is over the top: this is a problem: the food is fabulous and for the first couple of days we practically waddle away from the table after each meal. The place is missing a few things: the floors in the restaurant and main bar are white sand; there's no nightclub, no karaoke, no lounge-lizards, no one making you have their idea of a good time, yet a staff-to-guest ratio of about 1: 1.5 to ensure that your seemingly-every wish is granted. It's not bad.
In fact, we both think this is the best resort we have ever stayed at. After the first day... we decided to stay a 2nd week.
Repeating the "having a good time is our job" mantra, we carelessly structure our days along these lines:
We've omitted an activity or two; use your imagination.[rotating images - bed w/flowers, buffet, snorkeling, jungle path, drinks, sunset]