The Maldives: Thulusdhoo II (Aug 2015)

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As we flew through the clouds, snippets of the turquoise water and sandy island atolls confirmed we had made the right decision. After the stress of the previous week, I could not wait to lay on the beach in my bikini, soak up the sunshine and sip on a cocktail until I remembered that the island Rhys and I had chosen was a surf camp on an inhabited island. This meant no bikinis and definitely no alcohol due to the strict Muslim culture. My visions of decadent resort living with manta rays swimming under the glass floor of my private bungalow began to quickly disintegrate.

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No decadent beach bungalows and swimming pools but this did happen, so close enough for me.

As we walked out of airport, we noticed a distinct divide between the type of travellers arriving. There are those that arrive in large groups trailing designer luggage who have booked lavish packages through Maldivian resort companies. They dash quickly from customs to their air-conditioned glass boxes for refreshments often involving cocktails and canapés as they await the arrival of their seaplane so they can be promptly whisked away to their island utopia.  And then there are people like us. We look for directions to the local ferries, then stand in line in the humidity holding our backpacks and boards just hoping to catch the right one for a budget price. We are travellers on the hunt for surf, sea life and adventure trying to get wherever we can for as cheap as we can and that is just the way I like it.

Our ‘fancy’ waiting area.

We paid for the ferry and settled in for the short ride to Male (from Hulhule) in order to catch a connecting ferry to our island of choice Thulusdhoo. All up our trip would take around 2 hours but only cost a couple of dollars. Little did we (or the other Australian couple we met on the ferry going to the same place) know, the ocean had been deemed ‘too rough’ for the ferries and an expensive speedboat was our only other option if we wanted to arrive on the island that day. We tried to wait out Mother Nature in the hope that the last ferry of the day would run if the weather calmed. Meanwhile, we walked around town, purchased some very cheap thongs to replace a plugger blow out, surfed in rough, sloppy waves while watching planes land on the runway as our backdrop and then waited some more until it was confirmed: no ferries would run until tomorrow. Mother Nature had won yet again.

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Our choices were: stay on Male and catch the ferry the next day which meant we would be forfeiting our accommodation or, split the cost of the speedboat between the four of us. We bartered a little and managed to get the US$200 cost down to US$160 but it still hurt the hip-pocket. I tried to console myself with the image of the four of us, bikini and board short clad standing on our sleek, black and white luxury speedboat as the wind swept my hair and we raced across the waves to our destination and the shirtless, handsome captain waved at me. Thirty minutes later we were indeed making our way across the waves but at more of a mild speed in our fairly average fishing boat with two scrawny but smiling locals at the helm as we sat in the back getting splashed in the face with sea water. Finally, we arrived at Thulusdhoo and departed the boat with our luggage ready to try and find the guesthouse we had booked just the night before. Unfortuantely for us, the clouds began to roll in and looked a little angry.

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The Maldives: Thulusdhoo Part III

The thing I noticed first when we stepped off the boat is the unbelievable, turquoise water lapping at the white sandy shores, the second thing I noticed was the rubbish in the water and strewn across the beach. It is such a pity that nature’s beauty can so easily be scarred by mankind’s touch.

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After walking across Thulusdhoo (it isn’t very big) to the surf side and desperately asking people of they had ever heard of our accommodation name, it became clear that there had been a double booking and we were out of luck as an older couple had already moved into our room. Thankfully, a lovely local called Thol (from Isola Maldives) saw us looking a little distressed and took pity on us as the rain began to fall from the clouds overhead. He ushered us into his guesthouse for a cold drink and to help sort out what had happened by ringing the owner of our guesthouse. Our fears were confirmed, we had been double booked but fortunately Thol did have a spare room available and it was the best decision we made. Thol’s new guesthouse has four rooms with ensuites for US$80 a night including all meals. It was a little more expensive than our original place, but by this stage we were thankful for a bed! The facilities were brand new and quite luxurious (if luxury had a slightly tighter budget) and Thol made us feel very comfortable.

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My next surprise came when we were heading out the door in just our swimwear and Thol kindly pulled us aside and explained that because we were on an inhabited island with locals, we would need to cover up a little more unless swimming in order to adhere to the strict Muslim standards. Whoops! I had researched enough to realise that the Maldives is a Muslim country (and the call to prayer which goes off multiple times a day was a friendly reminder) but the pin never dropped that I would not be able to lay on the beach in my bikini and soak up the rays without dishonouring their values. I felt a little ashamed of myself for not observing this simple guideline and hurriedly wrapped myself in a sarong and Rhys put on a t-shirt before we went off exploring. It did turn out that there was a 15 metre strip of beach near the boat moorings that tourists were ‘allowed’ to wear bikinis and board shorts. It is acceptable to freely wear togs and boardies on uninhabited islands (or in resorts) or while out on the reef in a boat. The final shock was when Rhys asked if he could purchase beer anywhere on the island and Thol smiled and explained only if he swam out to the surf charter boats that moor off the points during the day. It was like a mini detox from the Australian lifestyle and I was happy to oblige the conservative dress rule in order to be a respectful traveler. Thulusdhoo is a whole community with almost everything you need (except ATMs which are very scarce, bring plenty of cash) and the locals were friendly and curious. They are only just growing used to seeing tourists regularly appreciating the beautiful island they call home as the industry expands.

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Heading out to the reef for a day of snorkeling on the Isola boat.

 

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Spotted something good.

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Chasing a school of fish.

Our time on Thulusdhoo was mostly spent doing one of four things. Surfing, snorkeling, relaxing or eating. There are two close proximity surf spots just off Thulusdhoo. Many of the surf breaks are named after the island’s main industry. So ‘Cokes’ is a right hander with a quick take off which works best with a bigger swell. It is named after the Coke factory that still functions on the island. They encourage recycled bottles and use desalinated water in their recipe. A short boat ride away (around US$10) or a decent paddle across a channel is ‘Chickens’ a slower, but fun left-hander which has long runs and an easy paddle out. Finally, a couple of islands away is ‘Jailbreaks’ named after the old jail, which is not in use and now hosts a unique accommodation experience instead. Rhys surfed both breaks most days depending on the tide and conditions or until his arms gave up. I spent my days reading, writing, relaxing or exploring.

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Exploring ‘Chickens’.

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The bridge to ‘Cokes’.

Isola Maldives organised and ran snorkeling trips so we booked with them the two times we went. The trip cost us US$15 per person and included multiple locations and underwater GoPro footage of us. The first location was only a short distance from our island and offered a stunning underwater display.  ‘Coral Garden’ boasts an array of sea life including huge schools of colourful fish, eels and turtles.

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Can you spot ‘Terry’ the turtle?

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Observing ‘Terry’ during our manta ray hunt.

One of the other spots we tried was a little further away just off one of the resort islands and I even got to glimpse two reef sharks while snorkeling there which was pretty exciting, albeit a little terrifying. I was pretty keen to see if we could find a manta ray even though it was out of season. It is a big selling ticket of the Maldives with video footage and images everywhere. Thol and his crew tried hard to help me out by stopping in known manta spots in deeper water, but to no avail unfortunately. I guess I will just have to go back when it is season to get my manta ray fix next year.

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Working the camera.

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I’m a merMAN, not a mermaid.

 

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