"Above water it's a tropical paradise. The sand is as white and fine as sugar. The sea ranges in colour - there is every shade of turquoise, green and blue. But underwater it's a psychedelic stage show. We see orange star fish as big as dinner plates. Fish of every size and colour-yellow, purple and blue. A crazy selection of coral- some like a giant's brain while others are like twisted deer antlers and wide velvety toadstools. Swimming through the endless schools of fish you realise it's literally a party down here. This place is pumping."
We were sitting at the airport in Doha lapping up a glass of champagne. Boy, had we earned a drink! We were giddy with the prospect of leaving the desert and heading to Sri Lanka for a family holiday.
The bubbles heightened our growing level of happiness – and slight craziness. Out of nowhere, Ben said, ‘It’s actually really cheap to fly to the Maldives from Sri Lanka. Dirt cheap.’
No, surely not. Nothing about the Maldives is dirt cheap. That sounds impossible.
Another glass of champas and we had booked return flights from Colombo to Male on Emirates for $250 each. Cheaper than flying from Sydney to Dubbo or Armidale.
Aware that the flights were cheap, but that the accommodation could floor us, we did a quick search online and found Summer Villa Guest House on Maafushi Island. $90 a night for twin share. Maafushi was described as an inhabited island, providing a magical mix of those famous white sands and turquoise blue waters, whilst providing an insight into local island life. We booked.
We flew into Male and jumped onto a speed boat with a Russian newly wed couple. Under a full moon on choppy seas we made our way to Maafushi Island.
We cruised past the long lines of luxury honeymoon huts. We looked a little longingly at these beautiful resorts reserved for the rich and famous or loved-up couples who had been saving a lifetime for such a holiday.
We pushed on until we hit our island. Maafushi is not big - it takes no more than 15 minutes to stroll from one end to the other. The population is a little over 2 thousand people – mostly locals.
We were taken past the one sporting oval where kids were playing some serious soccer; past the local pharmacy, doctor, supermarket and then to our guest house, which was located next to the island jail. Right. Ok. Not exactly as we had expected…
Our accommodation was however clean, comfortable and damn reasonable. We were very well looked after by the family running it and felt right at home.
We woke early the following morning and jumped on the guesthouse’s speed boat to the nearby Vaagali Picnic Island which was levelled by the 2004 tsunami.
Along the way we went snorkelling in what is without doubt the most magical waters we’d ever set eyes on.
Above the surface, the Maldives is a tropical paradise. The sand is as white and fine as sugar, and the sea ranges in colour from every shade of turquoise, green and blue. But underwater it's a freaking psychedelic stage show. We see orange star fish as big as dinner plates. Fish of every size and shade - yellow, purple and blue. A crazy selection of coral- some like a giant's brain while others are like twisted deer antlers and wide velvety toadstools. Swimming through the endless schools of fish you realise it's literally a party down there. The place is pumping.
We then find the island and enjoy a feast of fish, coconuts and rice, followed by copious amounts of tropical fruits.
We were in actual heaven, and we hadn’t broken the bank.
Guest houses like Summer Villa allow local residents to earn a living while staying on the island. The spread of wealth is more even, instead of a small number of businessmen and foreign companies taking the profits.
Our trip to the Maldives was not the typical experience you read about in travel articles. We weren’t staying in the lap of luxury. There was no five-star chef or private jetty. But instead, we had the chance to swim, snorkel and relax in one of the most spectacular tropical destinations – and at the same time learn about local island life.
An experience we won’t forget.
(P.S. Remember to wear lots of sunscreen. And don’t buy sunscreen in the Middle East and expect it to do the job on a tropical island. Trust me. )