In planning our honeymoon—the location of which has changed a dozen and three times; the current frontrunner of which I’m not telling…for now—countless people have asked “why not the Maldives?” Our stipulations are excellent beaches, sugary boat drinks, top-notch diving and complete remoteness. So why not the Maldives? Well, first and foremost, I’ve been there before, and we want this to be an experience neither of us has ever had, somewhere we can both enjoy as first timers together.
But let me just tell you I’m not sure you can find a more stunning landscape than the Indian Ocean island nation. 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. I’ll never quite get over that fact when flying westbound over the International Dateline. I never did experience Monday, Nov. 26, 2007 (but from what I hear, I didn’t miss much), but at least on the way back I had two Dec. 2nds to brag about.
Once I touched down in Male, the capital of the Maldives, with only a sole minor mishap at customs, a record for me, I was met by the lovely Diana, who at the time was the Beach House at Manafaru’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 landed softly 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, I had been traveling nearly two fulls days, and unfortunately I was unable to see any of the scenery in the pitch black night as we sped by. But all in good time.
A single wooden jetty jutted out into the vast azure Indian Sea as a handful of staffers made their way to its end to greet me with a smile and class of an inviting ginger-and-honey concoction served up in an authentic coconut mug. Women in Maldivian garments adorned my neck with fresh-flower leis, as the general manager, a deeply tanned Frenchman, and his charming Uzbeki wife extended welcoming hands. In the distance, faintly lit grass-and-bamboo-topped huts, the island’s water villas, floated atop the placid waters. Once I was escorted to my beachside bungalow-–-you needn’t check in upon arrival; that’s conveniently taken care of at the airport in Male—the only sounds in the distance were 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 popped its curious head out from behind a rock, but I was already too well immersed in your lava-rock-bottomed pool to notice. Welcome to paradise; you can check your stress at the door. And one thing’s promised: You’re never going to want to return to the real world again. (And believe you me, it was tough to leave once my time there ended.)
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 my dad’s complexion and 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. Daily I would slathered myself from head to toe with SPF 50, which is stronger than I think I used even as a child, a minimum of five times. I want to come back golden, not cancer victim, after all. Yet, despite my precautions and their warnings, I still turned into a crispy tomato regardless. People traveling to the Maldives, take heed: The intense equatorial sun is not kidding around.
The whole purpose of my trip was not solely vacation (though I managed to finagle a whole lot of that, as well), but rather to cover a resort opening. Well, as often happens in the hospitality industry, the soft opening was pushed back a few months. My ticket (first class, Singapore Air), however, was already booked. So they let me come out and, well, have the resort to myself (half of which was still a construction zone, it must be said). Still, construction zone or not, having your own slice of heaven in the middle of the Indian Ocean all to yourself (save a few workers scattered here and there)? Not shabby.
To keep me occupied, they organized my days full of scuba diving and spa treatments on deserted isles (like the one above) and visits to local villages. Not a rough life at all. To be frank, I would have been content never leaving my pool and villa.
To this day, many moons and five-star resorts later, I’d easily say the Beach House is still my favorite spot of anywhere in the world. It’s only a shame SVV wasn’t there to experience it with me. (I sound like a broken record, as I say that after every trip!)
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 in the height of August? Try this on for size—there are sacrifices one must make for a killer tan and perfect scenery.
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 made me feel a bit like Gigantor, all towering 66 inches of me, but I just wanted to put them all in my pocket (Lord knows they’d fit) and take them back to the States with me.
With such close proximity to so many other countries—India is just an hour’s boat ride north, though you can’t cross international waters that way—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 sampled everything from lamb chops to pumpkin curry to fish salad for breakfast to gazpacho. The menu definitely never got boring.
They were determined to send me back a size bigger, I quickly came to realize (perhaps to ensure they’d keep their record as world’s tiniest breed). Each meal, breakfast included, was no fewer than five courses. Every time I was stuffed to the point of keeling over, another plate would appear 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 I returned home, I really had to amp up on the Bikram and running, as I was sporting a brand new belly to accompany my old. It was all worth it, though, every last bite.