The Maldives: Thulusdhoo I (Aug 2015)

It wasn’t until the The Great Indian Visa Debacle (read about that shmozzle here) that we seriously considered the Maldives as a possible destination of our around the world trip. Sri Lanka and the Maldives are practically neighbours and after some intense researching, Rhys and I decided it was going to be worth our while booking a new adventure after the stress of missing our flight to India and connecting flight to England.

Funnily enough, we had entertained this idea only a week before while feeling a little silly after a couple of cocktails. The weather forecast began to look bleak for our remaining time in Sri Lanka, so we began daydreaming about alternative plans. As the rain remained (mainly on the plane of Spain?), we fantasised about spending a couple of days on a scenic Maldivian island basking in the warm sun, but after our alcoholic haze wore off, we realised it would be an expensive venture for only a couple of days and not really the best use of our time or money. We hadn’t given Sri Lanka the chance it deserved to impress us. Fortunately, the weather cleared and we enjoyed the rest of our Sri Lankan escapade. Little did we know, the Mystical Fate God’s of Destiny (depending on what your beliefs are) worked their magic and we ended up there anyway. Theose celestial beings do work in mysterious ways.

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This was my  imagined ‘happy place’ while on hold. Turns out it does actually exist.

During The Great Indian Visa Debacle, it became clear that we couldn’t simply change or cancel our flight to England (that would just be TOO easy), so we attempted to forget about the money we were rapidly losing and instead booked a flight to the Male airport on Hulhule with Korean Air for less than AU$200 (Score!). We then secured a connecting flight for seven days later with Qatar Air to England so we could land on our original date and enter the United Kingdom on our working visa as we had hoped. We arrived at the Sri Lankan airport (again) after spending six days hanging around Negombo. We had wasted our week calling customer service representatives, sitting on hold to multiple airlines (while freaking out about our credit running out before we got through with every passing moment) and our travel insurance company trying to get answers and information. After all the stress, I’d say I was truly ready to depart for my impromptu island paradise escape.

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Our future island home.

When people mention the Maldives I tend to conjure images of underwater playgrounds teeming with amazing, aquatic wildlife. The Maldives are an array of stunning islands surrounded by bountiful reefs and recently the government permitted locals to open their own guesthouses removing the elitist resorts-only mantra of previous decades and instead providing a plethora of affordable options for those of us with a more ‘sustainable’ budget. With hundreds of islands to choose from, there are a numerous possibilities for every traveller’s style. Islands inhabited by locals contain schools, mosques and corner stores, whereas others are man-made for the sole purpose of hosting fancy pants 5 star resorts with multiple restaurants, cocktail bars and seaplane airstrips.

There are a variety of ways to plan your Maldivian trip too from surf camps, surf charters, luxury live-aboard boats, to long term stays in local guesthouses or resort hopping by speedboat and seaplane. Due to the misconception about affordability, the Maldives had never really made it onto my possible travel list (which gets longer every day). A flight from Australia is particularly expensive and arduous and I was under the presumption that it was well outside my monetary limit, but if you have an opportunity to visit the Maldives as a stop over or final destination, you won’t regret it. It is truly as stunning as any scene you can imagine.

– rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble

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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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-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble #rocketandramble