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Published: February 6th 2018
No Filter NeededIt’s 5 o'clock somewhere, right?
My view from Floaty McBoaty
My companions and I, we clink glasses from our weathered deck chairs as the sun sets on a stormy horizon.
I’m in the Maldives on a traditional Dhoni boat I've lovingly nicknamed Floaty McBoaty
. Drifting south through the endless turquoise atolls and uninhabited white sand islands, this place is so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes. We are eight souls, with a crew of five, enjoying a happy hour out on the deck, while delicious wafts of seafood BBQ indicates what is to come.
I’ve always wanted to come to the Maldives. But I needed something different than what was on offer. Those ritzy resorts look fabulous, but they cater to newlyweds and ruby wedding anniversaries. Being a single solo traveler, it is a bit ostracizing. I decided that a sailing vessel of some kind would be the way to go. Decision: Brilliant
Only a couple of days ago, I left Sri Lanka and landed midday on the island of Hulhumale, Just a quick hop from Colombo. Hulhumale would be best described as the staging area for the rest of the Maldives. It houses the international airport and seaplane docks,
Girls will be Girls
Playing on the sandbags, a sad reality for the Maldives which is predicted to be underwater in less than 20 years.
ferry terminals, and boat marina. Actually, it was the Maldives old garbage dump island, reclaimed, and is now frantically growing upwards with apartment towers for resort staff and parasitic short stay hotels. The insanely dense city of Male looms in the distance as commuter ferries shuttle back and forth, quickly or slowly, depending on what you are willing to pay.
I'm staying at h78, a trendy boutique hotel with an artificial beach right across the lane. Selling point for me was their free airport shuttle and free breakfast, and the next morning they happily take me back to the marina to meet SV Koimala aka Floaty McBoaty
To the untrained eye, Floaty McBoaty looks a bit antiquated, but I assure you, she is speedy & sound. Besides, I am a seafarer at heart so any boat on any water will do.
Our group of eight are a friendly, eager bunch, two couples and three singles, and me. After a quick boat safety demonstration and pointing of lifejacket locations, the Captain gets underway. I cannot get over the Hulhumale marina, it is bonkers with tons of yachts, trawlers, barges of all different sizes zipping around port doing excessive
Mister Floaty McBoaty
If you could fall in love with a Dhoni, I would.
knots, their wakes push Floaty McBoaty almost over onto its starboard as we try to escape the harbour. Picture the traffic in India...but with boats
Captain Mo seems unfazed by all the chaos. A good sign.
Seasickness never even dawned on me but I've noticed that all the others on board are covered in dots and wristbands. I shrug as we head towards open waters. I never get sick.
Our itinerary today is to motor due south between the Atolls to find a nice spot to drop anchor overnight. The sea is that inky blue of the deep. We enjoy sitting off the bow watching the dolphins dance in our wake as they accompany us to the first destination. Which is a gigantic sand bar. With a human raft of about fifty Chinese tourists all wearing identical life jackets. And none of them can swim, nor function well, in the ankle deep water. But they are having the time of their lives. I did hear myself yell nooooooooooooooooo
in my head as I spotted the chaos ahead, but quickly realized that this was going to be highly entertaining to watch. And it was. Thankfully this group was
Jelly straight ahead!
Almost bumped into this bad boy on my snorkel sortie.
quickly rounded up and whisked away on a gigantic ferry, leaving us with the whole sandbar to ourselves. Commence holiday!
The young Maldivian on board named Egan is our trip overseer, and crew interpreter. He will be taking us "stronger" swimmers out on snorkeling sorties, but he will also be a field guide, and enlightening us with tidbits about his countries' culture and history. He is a typical millennial, a self-proclaimed surfer dude who keeps one eye, at all times, on his cell phone screen while doing his award winning "I'm so bored of life"
impression. He gets bonus points for having an actual drone on board.
I'm sort of listening as our group peppers him with questions anyone can just google. 1190 islands, 26 atolls, 200 inhabited islands, 100 of them for the tourist resorts. One interesting fact he shares, is that in 1998, El Nino devastated the Maldives causing a severe reef bleaching event. For Egan’s family, it was the first time they actually saw how global warming directly affected their homeland. He said he grew up with a keen interest in reef conservation and rejuvenation because of that. He is a wealth of knowledge
Message in a Bottle
My reminder of the ugly side of the Maldives, trash I found on an isolated beach with some sea urchin bubbles I call mermaid eggs.
on the subject and it’s fascinating for me. The Maldivian government shows no interest in conservation, but the islanders do. He enthusiastically wants to take us to places where the reef was wiped out, to show how it has slowly bounced back after twenty years. The couple from Boston start in, challenging and quoting their president Trump's official position on climate change. I suggest that we all go have a look for ourselves and decide.
Our cook Ajoy is from Bangladesh and, if cooking was an Olympic sport he’d be in the running for a Gold. He puts out a huge spread of Maldivian influenced AND Americanized chow three times a day without fail. I think he's banking on the fact that us western guests won't be interested in their traditional food, so he and the crew get all the coveted Maldivian leftovers, but I am now a lover of mas huni and coconut fish curries and apparently my Maldivian food enthusiasm had worn off on the others. Ajoy also bakes us bread daily, serves fresh fruit salads, and makes sure there are high energy treats like raw coconut and biscuits on the cold and hot beverage station that
Party time Maldivian style
The traditional dancing and singing hypnotic
he freshens up throughout the day.
Our first evening on Floaty McBoaty and we anchor next to some fishing vessels in a bay. A manta ray the size of a trampoline appears at the stern of our vessel like a ghost and does mesmerizing spins to feed on plankton attracted by our boat light. We all scramble to capture it on our iPhones, but it lingers for hours, so there was no need to take panic shots. I do a little stargazing out on the forward deck, lying flat on the weathered wood with a glass of wine. A swath of a million stars sparkle in the night’s sky. I take pictures but cannot share them. Access to the internet is extremely expensive here, so I happily relinquish my self-imposed zero contact with the outside world, and chill.
Retiring to my comfortable cabin, Floaty McBoaty rocks gently next to a creaky fishing trawler, and I fall so deep asleep that I forgot I irresponsibly left my hatch wide open for the fresh night air. Sometime in the night, the shy Pakistani cabin boy Jhadoo frantically closes it before we are hit by a mother of a rainstorm.
Just leave me here
Taking the tender to go exploring inhabited islands in the Atolls.
Early next morning, some of us get up for a swim before breakfast. All around the sandbar life ebbs and flows in the low tide, the bathtub ocean is warmer than the air. I beach comb along the silky swath of white sand that feels so luxurious squishing between my toes. Most of the shells are occupied by hermit crabs but they are still beautiful to look at. Ghost crabs skittle past like they want to play catch me if you can. Swimming back to the boat, I cannot believe that I am here in the Maldives, I’m so very alive in this moment. I don't think I have smiled this hard in a long time
My face hurts, and I probably look like the village idiot. I also have that song in my head by U2, Ordinary Love. I can’t shake it.
The captain throws Floaty McBoaty into gear as we finish up our french toast breakfast, he is anxious to get ahead of a storm brewing just off the horizon. Motoring to our next atoll, our boat spooks flying fish airborne and they sail great distances over a glassy blue sea before plopping back in.
On our way to the next Island
I luck out on my travels, such lovely people on the boat with me.
I drape my feet over the side of the boat and swing them as spinnaker dolphins playfully ride the bow.
Our first snorkel is off a reef with no landmass, us solo strong swimmers are all YOLO despite the rough surf. The couples stay aboard, which makes Egan relax. He and I take turns free diving down the shelf to find creatures hiding in the crevasses, while the corals glow in their kaleidoscope of fluorescence. The fish are plentiful and brilliantly patterned. I struggle to recall the names of most of them, luckily there is an encyclopedia on board to refresh my old brain. The multitude of fish all go about their daily business in their underwater metropolitan as we float by overhead unnoticed.
I am remembering how much I enjoy the sounds of pop, crackle and crunches from their underwater world. Signs of a healthy reef. Hawksbill turtles keep a watchful eye on us, black tip reef sharks scoot off into the abyss as we approach. Gigantic carnival-looking jellies float by without a care. Egan and I count at least four hidden octopi that have their cloaking devices activated. I’m having so much fun, I don’t want
Impossible to get a bad picture in the Maldives
to get out.
This sea is every shade of blue you can imagine, a very eccentric crayons box.
Back into water for an afternoon snorkel at a new reef, the perpetual breeze has calmed the seas and keeps the heat of the day at bay while thunderstorms crawl across the skies, leaving a glowing silver hue in their wake. The couples struggle to get on and off the tender as we are strategically dropped in the open ocean. Egan gives us strong solos the freedom to explore the reefs on our own, while he chases after strays.
I finally haul myself out of the water around four and arrange my deck chair to take in my beautiful surroundings. Life can’t get any better than this. A good book, some tunes on my headphones, a cold drink, friendly company. I would just get comfortable when someone would yell about a gigantic green turtle bobbing nearby at surface, and over the side of Floaty McBoaty I would go again. I liked getting lost in the blue abyss. Sometimes I’d look to my side and Egan had followed me in. Or the chef. Or Jhadoo. They all seemed to mirror
Fresh seafood and Maldivian specialties were caught and cooked up by our personal chef.
my passion for exploration of the sea.
Every day went like this.
Diving, swimming, snorkeling, beach combing, fishing, cruising, eating, drinking. Weather wise, I couldn't have picked a better time of year. Raining or not raining, I was in the ocean. When the sun did come out, it was blistering hot and shade was a must or risk looking like a boiled lobster. Not another yacht or sailing vessel was on the horizon, I felt like I had the Maldives all to myself. As we go farther south, we find more deserted tropical islands surrounded by stunning coral reefs. My feet hover over a turquoise sea, I can see fish all the way to the bottom as Captain Mo tries to find the buoy to moor to.
For this particular spot, even though we have a tender, we all agree to swim in, this island looks like a computer screensaver. Palm trees sway in the breeze, mangroves line the white sandy shores. The sea around the island is the same shade of blue as my eyes,
the Captain points out. Egan looks embarrassed translating that.
Flattered, it gets named Andrea island.
It does have
No need for cars on the island, a nice ride with a basket like this will do.
that Castaways kind of vibe to it. But as we land on the beach, exhausted from our swim in on an outgoing tide, I am shocked by what we discover. My island is covered in discarded plastic water bottles, thickly spread like peanut butter along the shores. I pace up and down Andrea island on the white sand feeling angry. Outraged really.
Egan apologizes by saying the Maldivian government pays to keep the tourist beaches pristine, but not these ones.
I'd like to say I'm an ocean activist, but I am not. Landlocked for all these years, I've become so far removed from my passion for the sea, I feel like a traitor. Time to participate. Time for action
. I had naively thought the Maldives would be one of the last places ruined by all of humanity. Wrong.
I am heartbroken and sulk while everyone else frolics in the warm surf.
Captain Mo, with his blackened hide comes in on the tender to pick us up, and I think he could sense that my happy demeanor had changed. Egan had phoned him to ask that he bring some trash bags, and I’m surprised when all three
As we motor to our next Island, I contemplate life
of us go about cleaning up the beach. Mo tells me in broken English that in his sixty years, it’s only been the past twenty that the trash is piling up, he adds that the fish are also disappearing at an alarming rate. According to him, the Chinese poach everything from sea cucumbers to urchin, while south Asian countries clean out the big trophy fish. He shrugs helplessly.
Egan says on the Maldives there is no waste management plan in place that can handle the amount of tourism. All the garbage generated by the resorts that doesn't get burned off, gets dumped into the sea or was buried on the island of Hulhumale, which has now become the international airport. So a new garbage island has been created by the government, but we all know that is the wrong solution. We quietly squat together and pick up the endless plastic. After a few hours, our haul doesn’t even make a dent, but I feel a bit better leaving my namesake island behind.
The captain is not happy with the moor, so we set off in search for a night anchor. Towels and clothing flap in the wind out
On the captain's home island, we were greeted warmly and enjoyed our stay
on the lines. Bananas sway on the bunch. Egan plays with his drone as we putt along the outskirts of another Atoll, looking for an appropriate parking spot. Here, another perfect island glows from afar. Upon closer inspection, this one is littered with construction debris and garbage. Egan says this spot is popular with young Maldivian men who come to do drugs & drink & play rap music far from the overseeing chokehold of Islam.
In the morning, we inspect the island and do some shore combing before going out onto the reef for a snorkel. Someone had attempted to build a eco lodge on this island but ran out of money. Abandoned, it has a brand new dock and jetty, gigantic black catchment tanks, cement platforms for huts, and a tree swing. I start to fantasize about being left here to finish where they left off. What could go wrong?
I’ve already fantasized about having a sailboat and returning to the Maldives to float around the Atolls indefinitely selling pizza. I guess if I win the lottery someday.
In the meantime, Floaty McBoaty suits me just fine. The blazing sun is out and beats down on
Maldivian Bus Stop
Egan demonstrates how to wait for the next bus. Which never comes. Ever.
us. I hide under the tree on my swing and daydream, until the Mozzies make me retreat.
I'm waiting to see what the "big surprise" is for this afternoon.
As a special treat, Captain Mo takes us to his home island. It is a busy little community, slightly impoverished but tidy. We take a walk around as the islanders go about their business, cleaning their catch of the day and feeding the guts to gigantic manta rays that patrol the shores, kids skip rope and bicycle the sandy lanes between their coral huts. The Mudimu’s call to prayer wails overhead from the mosque.
We are introduced to Mo's extended family and have a traditional meal with them. Fish with coconut, coconut with fish in 50 different ways. They are so welcoming but not exactly friendly, maybe shy and lost in translations, his elderly kin are indifferent. It's the kids that treat us like we are the circus come to town. Mo proudly walks us through his retirement plan, an infrastructure he and his older brother have built. It is a six room hostel with cafe. So far, his only customer is the volunteer English teacher from Holland
Huge manta rays would arrive at the back of our boat each night and put on a spin show as they fed.
and a few backpackers, but he hopes business picks up once completed.
I am alarmed by the monstrous piles of sandbags that line the shores. I had read somewhere that in less than 20 years this whole country will be underwater. It seems so hopeless and tragic. The little kids clamber over them like it's a jungle gym, blissfully unaware of how climate change will force their lives onto an unpredictable path.
As the sun sets into the glowing silver ocean, we are all thrilled to be invited to watch some of the men practice their traditional dances and songs at the community hall. These musicians and dance troop make big money at the fancy resorts during the high season. Their wives and kids, plus all the neighbours come out to participate. We all sit shyly along the walls at first until things get going. I had no idea it would turn into a techno rave, I’m dancing around like a crazy person minus the glow sticks and ecstasy, just loving it. Females dance with females and the males with males and it somehow passes Islamic scrutiny, even at this ear bleeding decibel.
Islam is deeply embedded
Most of the shell were occupied by these guys, so they went back.
here, it is so tightly woven into the very fabric of the Maldivians, even though it doesn't feel like it fits them.
These islanders seem stuck between being naturally sensual, evident in their hypnotic, provocative dances, and following the strict beliefs of their religion. Egan and I have had many conversations about this subject and He admits the younger generations are being heavily influenced by western media and the older generations are panicking and imposing restrictions. I aleady know how that will go. I keep my opinions to myself and just enjoy the moment.
The gigantic sting rays that patrol the shores, give us our final entertainment of the night. The locals reprimand them like misbehaving puppies as they climb up legs and bite, getting them to do tricks and beg for food. I'm kind of spooked by how tame they are.
Back on the boat, the crew continue to play shy with us, no speaky the English, and I can’t have that. So, I coax them to join in on our card games, I know they want to, they have been watching without watching us intensively, like inmates do. We settle on a version of crazy
Parking the boat
Using a drone to get aerial footage of our moorage
8’s that internationally suits everyone. It's a great pastime while we fish for our dinner. We are hoping for a yummy fat red snapper for the BBQ, but instead get a rather large nurse shark. After a bunch of splashing and hysterics from the crew, it releases itself unceremoniously. We have pizza.
So far, we all seem to get on quite well. The couples aren’t strong swimmers, so they opt to stay on the boat during the more difficult sorties to see where the coral reefs bleached back in 2008 and 1998. On a side note, the bleaching areas are vast and devastating. But in little pockets all over the ghost white landscape, new coral is forming. There is hope. It takes about 20 years for coral to get a hold and regrow. The guy from Boston scoffs again over the climate change discussion and theorizes that someone simply poured diesel over this reef. End of story. I get him to say shark
over and over for my own amusement. Ajoy bakes a birthday cake for Boston's wife, which is well received surprise.
Motoring between the Atolls during the days, we catch jacks and Bonita on long lines
I'll be snorkeling if you need me
Couldn't get me out of the bathtub warm water, unless someone offered up food or drinkies.
for our lunch. Ajoy quickly guts and filet the tuna, serving them up with wasabi and soy. The couples turn up their noses, but us younger solos are in heaven. So fresh, I will never be able to have Sashimi in a restaurant again.
Egan asks us if we want to go and see sharks be fed at a local resort. My Eco conscious self says no, but I'm outnumbered. Captain Mo jockeys Floaty McBoaty into the narrow harbor, I can tell he’s not allowed to be here but its tolerated. This stunning resort offers cabanas over the water for $2000usd a night. It’s mostly jetsetters with big bug sunglasses and floppy hats, they stare from their beach loungers, horrified by our peasant boat that has crashed their party.
Mo announces we’ll have to swim in and we are forbidden to step foot on their jetty. The Boston couple immediately refuse to swim in with sharks lurking around, which makes no sense, but neither of them want to be left behind either, so in they go.
I was in a great mood because they must have said shark
at least 50 times while pleading their case.
One of thousands of inhabited islands we got to explore and beachcomb
Us solos get to the feeding site first and I’m overwhelmed by the black trevallies that come to eyeball us, they are the size of tires on a monster truck. Below there are 8 ft nurse sharks shyly resting in the shadows consulting their watches. Sure enough, at 11am sharp, the divers start handing out chucks of flesh on sticks, and everything that has fins moves in. So does everything in a neon bathing suit and lifejacket. I actually had a Japanese tourist swim over me, another one kicks me in the face. Obnoxious Brazilian models in dental floss swim costumes are flailing and shouting.
It just becomes a soup of ugly humanity.
The guy on the jetty is also chucking chunks of meat from a wheelbarrow so I back off to give myself space to observe. That’s when I see a gigantic tiger shark patrol by just off my shoulder. He and I just float quietly around watching the chaos. I look again, and he’s gone.
We anchor off a reef for the night and Ajoy and his assistant Kulin attempt to catch cuttlefish for our dinner. I’ve never seen cuttlefish up close before, so I
Off to visit another Atoll in the beautiful Maldives
am absolutely mesmerized as they dart back and forward eating plankton off the back of the boat. This beats TV any day.
Our last full day on Floaty McBoaty comes way too quickly.
We need to start motoring back towards Male, but Captain Mo makes sure we have a few stops along the way to swim and snorkel, before we overnight one last time on a sandbar. The cityscape is far off in the distance, the tallest building, a new hospital. I see how the city pollution has turned the blue sea a greenish hue from algae, and I can feel the sea lice nipping at my body as I take an evening dip.
The Maldives has seriously won me over.
Being a strict Islam nation, the no bikini, no booze, no bacon
laws may be restrictive for some, but not me.
I'm convinced Maldivians are my spirit people. I can’t explain it other than to say I was I was one of those babies in the 70's that got experimentally flung into a swimming pool and would right myself to the surface. At age 5, I fearlessly body surfed the big waves off the
Last night on Floaty McBoaty, it was bittersweet
north shore of Oahu. I spent my entire childhood in and around the oceans in British Columbia.
I don’t know what happened, but somehow I ended up landlocked. It took this trip to make me realize I need to fix that.
One last perfect rusty sunset, glasses are clinked together for the final time.
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