There’s just so much to say about this hidden nook of the world that I know not where to begin. It took a full 30 hours from San Francisco to reach the private island on the northernmost atoll in the Maldives – a flight to Hong Kong to Singapore (with a nine-hour stopover) to Male to Hanimaadhoo, then a 45-minute midnight speedboat ride to Manafaru – but it was worth every second of it.
Missing a full day of your life is odd, though, completely eerie at that. So if anyone wants to share what I missed out on not having a Monday, Nov. 26, I’ll compensate by predicting the future and tell you what will happen on your tomorrow. At least on the way back I’ll have two Dec. 2nds to brag about.
The flight was an experience in itself (more on that at another time). Once I touched down in Male, the capital of the Maldives, with only a sole minor mishap at customs, a record for me – since Manafaru is a brand new island and the resort is yet to open, it’s not even on their radar yet, thus I think they thought I was trying to pull a fast one – I was met by the lovely Diana, the Beach House’s head of sales and marketing, and quickly ushered to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to the north which was departing, oh, the second we reached the gate. Forty-five minutes after leaving Male, we touched down in Hanimaadhoo, the cutest, little airport I’ve ever seen – and do I mean little. After disembarking and walking to the terminal, we retrieved our luggage at a small stone table and sign that said “baggage retrieval” – how quaint is that? Then, we hopped a speedboat that would take us to our final destination. By this time, it was well after midnight and, unfortunately, I was unable to see any of the scenery as we sped by. But all in good time.
A single wooden jetty juts out into the vast azure Indian Sea as a handful of staffers make their way to its end to greet you with a smile and class of an inviting ginger-and-honey concoction served up in an authentic coconut mug. Women in Maldivian garments adorn you with fresh-flower leis, as the general manager, a deeply tanned Frenchman, and his charming Uzbeki wife extend welcoming hands. In the distance, faintly lit grass-and-bamboo-topped huts, the island’s water villas, seem to float atop the placid waters. Once you’re escorted to your beachside suite – you needn’t check in upon arrival; that’s conveniently taken care of at the airport in Male – the only sounds in the distance are the gentle waters lapping against the white-gold sands and the occasional breeze whipping against the oversized banana leaves that line your private back garden. The occasional lizard extends its curious head, but you’re already too well immersed in your lava-rock-bottomed pool to notice. Welcome to paradise; you’re never going to want to return to the real world again.
They (being the GM Phillipe and wife Veronika) told me to wear sunscreen – at least five times, that is – but I simply didn’t listen. Blessed with what I thought to be easily tannable skin, I declined. A half hour after sitting by my (yes, MY) pool, I had completely new tanlines and a crispy top layer of epidermis. This intense equatorial sun is not kidding around. Today, I’ve slathered myself from head to toe with SPF 50, which is stronger than I think I used even as a child. I want to come back golden, not cancer victim, after all.
The great thing about the Maldives is there are no seasons per se: It’s sunny year round. Some people claim they “need” a change in climate; I say, bring on the sun. I could live in this perfect 80-degree weather year round. Though it is a bit stifling, humidity wise (you think the South is bad during August? Try this on for size.), there are sacrifices one must make for a killer tan and perfect scenery. The landscape is absolutely stunning, and because the country is so small, you’re never more than a few minutes walk from the water. The ocean is still and remarkably clear, and the foliage is a mixture of palm, banana, coconut and mango trees, among others.
Maldivians are particularly proud of the the three Guinness Book of World Records the country holds, the most notable being that the country has the highest rate of water in the world, 99% of it in fact! Its 1,192 island components only make up roughly 300 square kilometers (sorry, the CIA Factbook doesn’t work in miles), or just over 1.5 the times of DC, and the islands disappear and reappear depending on the tides. How’s that for a country under water?
The Maldivian people are some of the most genuine and naturally charismatic people I have ever met. The men barely graze five-feet tall, and the women could all shop at Limited Too and Gap Kids. Kind of makes me feel like Gigantor, but I just want to put them all in my pocket (Lord knows they’d fit) and take them home with me.
With such close proximity to so many other countries – India is just an hour’s boat ride north – the Maldives are a unique blend of Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Indian, Malaysian, *insert random Southeast Asia country here* culture, particularly where the food is concerned. I’ve sampled everything from lamb chops to pumpkin curry to fish salad for breakfast to gazpacho. The menu definitely doesn’t get boring. And they’re determined to send me back a size bigger, I’ve come to realize. Each meal, breakfa
st included, is no fewer than five courses. Every time I’m stuffed to the point of keeling over and another plate appears under my nose. And how can you not eat it when a cute little Maldivian man with a huge smile hand delivers it to you? After just the first day, I had Diana ask the kitchen staff if we could have light lunches from then on. So for the next midday meal, they brought out a plate of sandwiches. Perfect. And then another and then another. In the end, the “light lunch” consisted of six platters. Sigh. When you see me next, refrain from commenting on the extra stomach I’ll be carrying around with me.