Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yachting adventure in the Maldives...broken toe and all

We arrived at Male airport about three in the morning, after some flight delays in Sri Lanka. I must note, I was rather impressed with Sri Lankan airlines. They had the planes with humidifiers, free alcohol, and food on both flights. Although, I don't know why they woke us up, and gave us our food for an hour flight from Sri Lanka to Male at 2am. It was left uneaten, as we went right back to sleep.

When we arrived at the airport we had to have our luggage scanned as there are strict rules about what can be brought into the country, including alcohol, & religious idols. The Maldives is strictly Islamic. You can only be a citizen if you are Islamic. Kate and Kelley both bought decorative sandstone Buddha heads in India that were confiscated. Luckily, they'll be able to pick them up on the way out.

The Male airport is on it's own island, so we had someone from our hotel pick us up and ferry us to Male, the most populated island. I was pretty excited to have someone waiting with my name at arrivals. It's weird, but I have always kind of wanted that. We crashed once we got to the hotel and spent the next day exploring Male. Male is a clean, cute, safe island town. Interesting note, no alcohol is allowed on Male. Our hotel did have mocktail hour.

At 10pm we were back at the airport, where we met up with Elliot and Heather (friends of Kate from London). We were supposed to have more friends join, but several had backed out. Luckily for us, their deposits still allowed us to embark with only five passengers. After meting Heather and Elliot we met our guides and they took us to our yacht. We were all pretty stoked. Our guides, Hanu & Ali seemed pretty cool, kind of envious of their job. I think they were a bit surprised to learn we all were beginner surfers. They quickly realized this when they asked where are nonexistent surf equipment was. The charter we arranged through Wavehunters was specifically a surf safari. We tried to rent boards from the surf shop in Male, but they don't have boards (potentially a new business venture for myself). Later we found out our group was a nice break for them.

We were woken the next morning to beautiful views of crystal blue water and island resorts. We sat on the back deck and enjoyed a delicious breakfast (all meal have been great!). Then we assumed sun bathing position on the front deck as the boat set off. I had to pinch myself once or twice to realize I was actually in this amazing, exotic location. At one point, while we were cruising, we approached a group of dolphins. It was pretty amazing to watch them jump out of the water and swim along the boat. The water was so clear that we could see them really well, an unbelievable site.

We arrived at our first stop for the day, where we snorkeled. Again, I just can't quite express how unreal it is that I am here and witnessing this amazing marine life. Witnessing it, made me question why I never pursued my dream of being a marine biologist when I was younger. Although, there are still some marine creatures that I thankfully did not see that freak me out (sharks). But the stuff we saw was pretty awesome. There were so many colorful and exotic fish; neon blue and yellow striped fish, turquoise and purple fish, iridescent glowing fish, orange polka dot fish, and so many more (pictures taken don't quite do it justice). We learned that the coral had once been brighter, as the Maldives have suffered from bleaching in the last few years. It was still pretty amazing, if you ask me.

After that we moved on to a break to watch some surfers. Apparently the women's world champion was out there, she was pretty impressive. Our guide, Ali, the Maldivian bodyboard champion, rode a few waves. That was fun to watch. I definitely want to learn to surf, but the location we were at was not good for beginners because of the reefs, so we observed.

Our day ended with more delicious meals, sun bathing on the front deck, and then followed by a sunset swim off the back of the boat. This place is seriously unbelievable. It was hard to believe I was swimming in the middle of the crystal blue Indian ocean, with maybe one or two deserted islands near by, and an amazing sunset into the ocean! Yeah, going back home was looking more and more unappealing!

Kate and I are both certified divers, and wanted to get a couple of dives in. Nahu, our main guide, called his brother in law (a dive guide and part owner of the boat) to join us. We were able to get two different dive sites in on Tuesday. The first dive, I felt a little rusty, since I had just gotten certified, so it wasn't quite as relaxing. I had one little panic attack under water, but I quickly gained control and proceeded to enjoy the dive. The visibility was about 10-15m and we had gone about 80ft deep. Again, unreal the fish that exist underwater in the Maldives. We also saw some bigger fish and a wreck site (created by a resort). The guides pointed out a tiger fish and an octopus. I liked the big spongy looking starfish. The second dive was a little smoother than the first.

While we dove, Ali and Hanu took Heather, Elliot, and Kelley to a break to attempt body boarding. Kate and I arrived to our main boat to find one of the crew doing make shift knee boarding from the back of our dhoni (a little speed boat) with Heather, Elliot, and Kelley. He was driving, while one of them would lay on the surf board holding on to the anchor rope and being pulled from the boat. They looked like they were having a blast.

The next day we set off for the south atolls. We pulled up to a deserted island where we were dropped off for snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach. The snorkeling site was pretty incredible. We saw some new varieties of fish, along with some of the others. The reef appeared to be a bit brighter. The group then read on the beach for a bit. There were some great swinging lounge chairs they took advantage of. I sunbathed in the clear blue water on a lie-low (British term for raft or Seabed if you are Maldivian) for a while. I had forgotten to bring my book, and I began to get antsy. I also think the fact that I was on a deserted island had something to do with it. I didn't really know what to do and what time our dhoni was coming back for us, so I got a little stir crazy. I guess I'm not very good at relaxing. The group wouldn't entertain the idea of me burying them. So I began doing cartwheels. How often can you say you did cartwheels on a deserted island. Finally, the boat came for us and we resumed positions on the front deck. Again, we went for a sunset swim. Kelley had some impressive flips off the boat. And Elliot and Heather did a little fishing from the back of the boat, while our captain took the dhoni for 'real' fishing. All Heather and Elliot caught was coral. Our crew did come back from their trip with some pretty big fish that we later enjoyed for lunch and dinner.

Thursday, was a bit of an earlier day for our crowd. We had breakfast and then Kate and I set off for another dive, while the others snorkeled. This dive was pretty sweet. I finally felt more comfortable and could enjoy the dive a bit more. We dove along a huge reef wall. Again, the fish are unreal. This time we saw even bigger fish. We also saw about 20 Mobula swimming above us. Mobula are eagle rays I think. They are in the Manta ray family.

After lunch we were taken to another deserted island. This time I brought my book and was able to relax. After the island, we played on the speed boat again. I gave the make shift kneeboarding a try. It was a lot of fun! It's crazy to think I was in the middle of the Indian ocean knee boarding. After my final turn we head back to the big boat. I had a little accident getting in to the dhoni from the water. I totally slipped, biting it as I stepped in. I nailed my foot into the boat wall. When I looked down, I noticed my second to last toe was turned outward, the opposite direction it is supposed to be. Sure sign that I definitely broke it. I began to get that nauseous, jittery feeling I have felt with other broken bones. As I was transferring from the dhoni to our main boat, I realized I had also cut skin and was bleeding. The guides were great about cleaning it. There was talk of going to an island hospital, but jack of all trades Kate is a certified EMT. She took a good look at it and said it wasn't too deep, that I should be okay. I agreed with her. Plus, I really didn't feel like dealing with an island hospital, or the idea of leaving the boat. I knew it was broken and there isn't much you can do for a broken toe. I was going to tough it out. I'll visit a doctor once I've hobbled my way back to Chicago.

The broken toe was a bit of a humbling experience. First, I didn't like all the attention when it first happened. I don't do well when I'm the center of attention. Plus, I felt stupid in front of the crew, especially with my guide crushes...why couldn't I have been smoother? The other thing I realized, is that I'm not very good at letting people do things for me and help me. I like to be independent and in control. However, stepping down on my foot and walking caused throbbing pain. I quickly realized getting around the boat was a bit problematic, I clearly would need help. The rest of the trip I just hopped around the boat (I felt like Lisa Turtle in the Saved By The Bell sprain episode), succumbing to the fact I needed help. The first night I was determined to partake in the nightly social on the front deck, regardless how daunting it was to hobble there. The frustrating thing was that my bladder was pretty small, and going to the bathroom was a daunting task. My bathroom was downstairs, and of course I had the room at the very end of the hall. I managed to master the stairs going down on my behind and up on my knees. At one point, I resorted to crawling from the bedroom to the stairs. Ali, saw me, and I was a bit mortified. Looking back, it was probably a funny site to see. Everyone, crew and friends, were all pretty great throughout. The crew was quick to react when it first happened. I know they felt bad about the incident. The one good thing that resulted from this incident is that they gave us a free bottle of wine with dinner (alcohol is expensive in the tourist spots due to the fact the country doesn't really partake). I'm thankful for to everyone for being so helpful!

The rest of the trip was spent laying low on the big boat, reading and sun bathing. At least the foot injury happened towards the end of the trip, and I got to try out all the activities, with the exception of body boarding. I guess I'll have to come back next year and try that out. Nahu did tell us to come back. I've had an incredible time in this exotic paradise (contemplating a way to move here) that I will return to the Maldives again sometime.

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