The last day was a daze. We still did everything as if all was well. We ate breakfast, went to our favorite beach hut to lounge, swam for a bit in the cool early morning waters, lounged some more on the deck of our water villa, then we had to do something we dreaded and the mere thought of it sent knots tangling in our guts…pack.
It was painful. I struggled a bit with it, resisting like a spoiled child. I’ve never been on such a perfect holiday, so letting go was understandably stressful. It didn’t help that I was reading “A Dog’s Purpose”, which is heart-wrenching, so I was alternately weeping at the story, then bawling at the fact that we were leaving. We got a few hours reprieve, when our Filipino island host Charles gave us late check out, but we could only delay the inevitable so much.
We were trudging around the island as if we had leaden feet – paying our bills (which made it EXTRA painful on a different level altogether 😱) and saying goodbye to the staff – that was really rough. I hardly knew these people but I was inconsolable in our farewells. When we were finally on board the sea plane, I was watching the island shrink from view, until it became a mere tiny speck, finally disappearing into the horizon.
From Male, we took a flight to Kuala Lumpur, then back to Manila. Everything was a blur. It’s like one moment we were on the beach, and the next we were along EDSA. It’s as if we were teleported while we were in a stupor. On the bright side, we got to see the dogs again, a beacon of joy on a desolate sea of abysmal sadness (sorry for the melancholy, but that’s really how bad my post-holiday doom and gloom syndrome feels like).
So we’re back. I don’t know if we can even top this vacation, or if we should even try. Maybe we should leave it at that, the golden standard by which we measure all others. I’m sure we’ll have other incredible holidays, and who knows, maybe even unqualified better ones, but Maldives 2013 will always have a special place in our hearts, entrenched forever in our pantheon of awesome memories. But my promise to myself is this: no matter how amazing, instead of lamenting past memories, I’ll go out and make brand new ones.
I still wanted to do two morning dives since I’d still have a full 24 hours before our flight the next day, but we wanted to really soak in the island completely for our last full day in the Maldives. We vowed not to do any more activities, and just swim, lounge, eat, chill, vegetate, and be in various states of catatonia.
So we basically revisited our favorite spots, like swimming along the sand bar, which was really exposed because of a ridiculously low tide. So little islets of sand were suddenly exposed to the air, extending the sand bank an extra 200-300 meters. We also spent a lot of time on our water villa’s deck, just breathing in the steady cool breeze. And we finally saw the baby sharks! We saw a couple swimming along the shore, as in right along where the water meets the sand.
A night, after dinner, we spent it in Sai Kotari, a tea place/ bar situated at the very end of the jetty, and they put lights under the water, so you can watch all the underwater activities much better. We saw a huge stingray and a full-sized ginormous nurse shark, that glided so coolly by, like a submarine, just under the surface of the water. Amazing, even just hanging out at the jetty yields so much treasures.
Inspired, we went back to our villa, in the middle of the night, and started feeding the fish crackers and bread we had in the room. We were at the lower deck, dropping little morsels hoping some fish would come closer. Before we knew it, small fish started appearing, then larger fish the size of catfish, then larger fish, then even larger ones we couldn’t identify, then a huge giant trevally arrived scaring all the other fish away. It was at least 3 feet long. We usually see them out in the open sea, being such large fish, so we were surprised to see one right under our villa. And just as we thought we saw everything, in the middle of the fish frenzy, we jumped back and literally almost fell off the deck when from out of nowhere a full grown black tip shark came put of nowhere and passed inches from our hands! It was about 5 feet long, and it came back for a second pass before disappearing into the darkness. Spectacular. We would’ve been happy to see talakitok, so imagine how freaked out we were to see a grown black tip shark. We know babies are supposed to be near the shore precisely to avoid predators like adults of their species, so we were surprised to see one so near the shore. What was freaky though, was that we swim in front of our villa all the time, not knowing that these big mommas are also out there.
So even on our last full day, the island just kept on outdoing itself. It just wouldn’t stop dishing out pleasure after pleasure. It is going to be VERY rough leaving this place. It’s like finding the love of your life, your soulmate, then having to break up with them after 11 day
Today was to be our diving day. It’s the highlight of the day, and a highlight of the trip in many ways. We left early,around 8:30am, and proceeded to do two dives. We saw many things, usual stuff we’ve seen before, but I just need to jump to the HIGHLIGHT of the dive (highlight of ALL my dives put together in fact), the shark. In the middle of the dive, with the reef that slopes down deep into the open ocean on our right, and the deep blue on our left, we were instructed to keep an eye on both sides, the right for reef activity, and the left for pelagics, or open water big fish. Our dive instructor suddenly stopped finning, then gestured for us to stop. He made the unmistakeable hand signal for “shark”, which is basically putting your hand on your forehead, like a shark’s dorsal fin. A cold chill mixed with electric excitement ran through my veins. Although I’ve yearned to see a shark all my life, I’m still deathly afraid of them, a deep-seated fear, seeded my multiple viewings of “Jaws” as a kid and “Shark Week” on Discovery. From the distance, we saw the characteristic shark shape, a menacing torpedo armed with sharp fins and even sharper teeth. But it was too far away to be any more than a blurry silhouette, and it slowly disappeared into the open blue. Just when we thought that that was that, we were startled to see it suddenly appear on our right, by the reef, and so close to us! It was a large gray reef shark, about two meters long, way larger than the usual black tip and white tip reef sharks we’re accustomed to seeing. It was the first “real” shark I ever saw. It was swimming so close that I could see its cold steely eyes gazing at me, probably figuring out if I were edible or not, and its mechanical unfeelingness was fascinating and fearsome to behold. It was the first sea creature that wasn’t afraid of us. I told myself if it started circling any closer, I’d ready my camera to go between me and its mouth. Thankfully, after circling a couple of times, each circle closer to us than the previous, it lost interest and swam away. My heart felt like it was going to leap out of its cavity! So excited and so scared at the same time!
Our second dive was the “turtle airport”, the Kuredu caves, and we encountered so many turtles, but I guess anything after the shark seemed diluted in comparison.
On a side note, I was so happy to have taken a video of most of the highlights of the dives, yes including the shark, and now I can’t wait to start editing it and finally posting it on YouTube!
This place just keeps on giving, like a giant artichoke, and each layer you peel off gives a wonderful surprise. I don’t know how we can top this holiday, this one already exceeding by miles, all others put together.
We overslept and woke up with just a few minutes before we were off to our orientation dive. We rushed breakfast, then rushed to the dive center. Apparently, even if you’re an instructor from wherever you’re from, you’d still have to do an orientation dive for them to assess your skill level. Since we were doing the house reef, we had to bring all our gear to the jetty, which is a long walk to carry all your stuff. I also realized how spoiled we are back in Anilao, where we have everything done for us. Here, it’s all do it yourself. Once we assembled all our gear, we had to walk, with tank and all, to the edge of the jetty to enter the water via giant stride. I thought to myself: “Are you kidding me?!?” The jetty was a good 10-15 feet off the water! The usual giant stride I’ve done is like one foot off the water! So against all better judgement, I jumped, vetoing all survival instincts, making a giant stride of faith, much like blindly falling in love and trusting the recipient of your affections to not tear your heart into tiny shards of worthless scrap (whoa, where did that come from?). So once we entered the water, we had to do regulator retrieval, mask flooding, and buddy breathing. Once we passed that, we proceeded to the rest of the dive along the house reef.
Fine time not to bring any cameras. We saw napoleon wrasse, a 6-foot long giant moray swimming along a sunken wreck, huge groupers, a cleaning station with fish mouths agape as cleaner wrasse dart in and out accomplishing their tasks, a turtle, among other things. The one time I don’t bring any cameras, and the circus comes to town. Sigh.
Finally we were given the go-signal to join any of the many dives and so we signed up for the afternoon dive. It was a game changer for me. I decided, for the first time, to take videos instead of photos. I’ve always been a photo kind of guy, but given all the pelagics, and little of the macro stuff, taking snapshots are practically useless given my gear. So I started taking videos and decided right there and then, that at least when it comes to diving, I’ll take videos from here on. We went diving on the Kuredu express, a corner dive, where we basically dive around the drop-off, near the channel, where all the big fish porn can be experienced. I was clumsy with the camera, so most of my footage was shakey, like the home videos that your dad took. So video fail for my first time as videographer.
The big news was on the boat ride back home. DOLPHINS!!! As we rode the boat home, we were joined by pods and pods of dolphins! You could see their fins all over the boat. It was crazy, as if the ocean was boiling over with dolphins, with many of them swimming with the boat, jumping out of the water and spinning as they land! I was able to video some of them and it was exhilarating! I can’t wait to edit the footage and post it on youtube!
Exhausted, we went back to our room, ate a quick dinner, then collapsed into deep slumber. We needed to get all the rest we can get because we signed up for a two-tank dive for the following morning. Why did we wait this long to dive?
The last day on Britt, was a somber one. I was melancholic just knowing that the whole sea adventure was about to end. We set off early, at around 5am, as we were all awakened by the engine running and zooming off even before the sun rose. As always, breakfast was a cornucopia of carbs, but I didn’t care, I was on vacation. So we did just one snorkeling site, and we were back at Kuredu, at the Lhaviyani atoll, before lunch. I wanted to hug our four new Brit friends (okay, three Brits, one Irish), already missing them just minutes off the boat, and our Maldivian crew Ibrahim, Kamil, Ahmed, Madheeh, and Kumar, who treated us like royalty.
On the upside, we finally get to move into our Sangu water villa, on the more posh side of the resort. We spent only half our stay here because the price is quite steep. But the moment we stepped into our villa, I was speechless. I just loved how from the room, it steps out into two decks overlooking the ocean, with the bottom deck going right into the water. I’ve been to two other water villas in Palawan resorts, but this is the first one I’ve been to that actually gives you access to the water. I guess this is the reason why kids below 12 years old are not allowed to check into these villas. It’s very easy to fall into the water if you lose your footing. And we were told many cellphones have met their untimely watery doom that way as well. But danger to cellphones aside, it’s hands down my favorite part of the resort. Just reading my book and drinking hot coffee on one of the lounge chairs on the deck, as the sun sets, the cool breeze slowly going from cool to almost nippy, me dozing off every now and then, a perfect way to end any day (not to mention the best lighting for taking selfies, hehehe).
We also met the Pinoys on the island, Arthur, Charles, Candice, and Ging, very refreshing to see fellow Filipinos on an island bereft of Asians. Some of them have been here for years, missing our country to bits, but enjoying the island life nevertheless.
We finally got around to scheduling our diving, so late into our stay. We were hoping we’d get to squeeze in as much diving as we could, but we were busy doing nothing and traipsing on a boat to do any diving. So that means no staying up late in our new luxury digs, because we need to be up early for the orientation dive. Finally we get to do some maldiving!
This was our full day on board The Britt. Waking up on board was something else. When I opened my eyes, I saw a sky dappled with specks of clouds, with the dawn splashing the canvas with pastel pinks and oranges, with the morning breeze whispering cool breaths on our deck. I can’t stress enough how many “moments” I’ve had on this trip. I can’t believe that something as mundane as waking up could feel so profound, almost flirting with divinity. Nature does that to me.
As for the activities, it was basically snorkeling all day, at different points, and all were going around the edges of reefs, where the reef slopes down to the open blue. This is where you see all the pelagics, as they ride the currents at the outreefs.
We also visited a Maldivian island, not a resort, but where your typical Maldivian lives. It wasn’t like anything I was expecting. It didn’t look like the stereotypical fishing village, but not quite a typical concrete town either. Hard to describe, it’s meant to be experienced. What I found noteworthy though, was the fact that they mostly painted their walls bright colors – we’re talking pinks and yellows and oranges and purples! It almost looks like those kiddieland places where you leave your children. It was very enriching to see the real Maldives, as opposed to the usual manicured resorts (not that I’m complaining).
After the visit, we got back on board and did some night fishing. The only one who caught a fish, was the guy who was married to a vegetarian, so he was obliged to throw the lucky fish back into the water. Then we had a huge dinner, as usual, and we fraternized with each other, guests and crew alike, British, Irish, Filipino, and Maldivian cultures swirling into a rich soup that we all partook of. Chris is from the military, his wife Karen teaches special kids, Tony is licensed to fly a plane and drive a boat, Brona has had U2 in their house, Kamil has a 6-month old baby, they discovered that I work in radio, and Captain Ibrahim likes to walk around the boat in his lavender undies.
By the second night, we felt like we had our own floating village, our own seabound culture club. I was starting to feel a little separation anxiety, at the thought that that was to be our final night together. But at the same time, we were all anxious to use a proper loo, having to deal with those bloody toilets (naks, feeling british ang jeje!)
The second night wasn’t as breezy as the first one, but pretty soon our lights were dimmed, one by one, as we dreamt of the dry toilets and sandy shores awaiting us.
When they offered us to go on a 3 day/2 night trip on a wooden yacht, we jumped at the chance, since it’s something we’ve never really experienced before. Of course that meant 3 days/2 nights away from the island that we’ve grown to love as our own.
The moment we signed on, we find out from our weather app that it’ll be fair weather the entire 11 days that we’re here, EXCEPT for three days – yes, the three days that we’re supposed to be out in the open ocean on a wooden boat. There was supposed to be thunderstorms, which seems like an exciting prospect, if I weren’t reading Life of Pi, which basically is about a kid whose ship sunk during a storm. Life imitating art? Please, bitch.
So despite the warning, we still went ahead, the promise of adventure pulsing through our veins. After lunch, we finally boarded the yacht, and from the get go, I think it would be accurate to say that it was a string of indelible moments, that I think, save for bouts of dementia, will forever be etched in my memory.
The moment we got on board, I was already enthralled by how the whole boat looked. Every nook was something new to explore and enjoy. Except maybe the toilet, where you had to pump after you use, pump down to get water in, and pump up to flush water out. The idea of using it, was not anticipated.
Our favorite spot on the boat was at the bow, with our feet hanging from the ledge. I could sit there for hours doing nothing, and I’d say I was having the BEST time of my life. The salty brine lapping at my feet, the cold sea breeze caressing my face, just sky and surf crashing blues into each other for as far as my eyes could see…perfect couldn’t even fit into what I felt.
We were with two other couples, four Brits, although Brona was quick to qualify that she was Irish, not British, thank you very much. We six jumped from one snorkel site to another, and we saw eagle rays, and one big shark (some say a black tip, I say it was a gray reef), that swam so close to us, that it looked huge. Thrilling, pee-in-your-shorts moment.
After each dive, the staff would serve your choice of cold drinks, and right before dinner, afternoon tea was served (I felt British already!) And having barely digested the goodies, we were soon served dinner as well. The food was ridiculous, in amount, and in deliciousnessicity. Our chef, we would soon discover, was aiming to outdo himself with each meal. Every batch could feed twenty people!
It was nice getting to know the british folks, even the Maldivian boat crew, the exchange of culture very refreshing, and before long, we were one big happy family. And by bedtime, the boat crew had prepared our beds on deck, basically mattresses laid out on the deck, as we were to sleep under the stars, during a full moon. I was nearly brought to tears. It couldn’t have been more perfect.