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.
This morning, we were awakened by the sound of the pitter-patter of raindrops blanketing the island. This usually is a delightful sound to wake up to, unless you’re on summer vacation…on a tropical island paradise! This has always been my nightmare, that rain will spoil a much-awaited, much-prepared for, much-saved up for holiday, the way we spent our Koh Samui vacation a couple of years ago in our resort room as the island was battered my torrential monsoon rains.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the case. The rain eased up by the time the sun came out, and soon the sun was on full blast, the way it has been the past three days, allaying any fears of being rained out.
So soon, we were swimming and sunbathing as we had the past day, and finally got to some reading. I decided to continue reading “The Life of Pi”, which I never really enjoyed, so I stopped reading after a few chapters, but now I find it a gripping read. I guess being so close to India, and the fact that we’ll be out at sea for the next three days, makes the story a little more apt, a little more gripping (although the whole boat sinking story arc doesn’t really sit well with me, given our looming boat jaunt). I devoured the book too fast, that I had to stop myself. I only brought three books and I’m almost done with two. And I don’t think the last book will last any longer.
We spent the afternoon sitting on our beach chairs, watching the sun set. It was hella romantic. Couples were drawn to the sunset like moths to a flame, walking along the shore, mostly holding hands, bathed in the warm orange light of the setting sun. If you were friend-zoned, bring him or her to this spot and I guarantee you, makakatikim siya ng malisya!
We’re spending our final night in the Bonthi area of the resort, so we found our check out letter on the bed, and our table in the Bonthi restaurant had a table cloth that said, “See you soon!” on it.
We spend the next three days on a wooden yacht, then transfer to the Sangu water villas for our final four nights. Like most dream holidays, this one is zooming past way too quickly. One can’t help but feel melancholic once hitting the halfway mark, like lamenting a delicious meal that’s been half-eaten. Trying to enjoy the present, the now, instead of dreading the looming end, but it’s a hard task. It’s like trying to enjoy a summer love, knowing you’ll eventually part at summer’s end. I’m weird like that, I usually get depressed on the first day of a nice vacation because if it starts, then it means it’s also about to end.
I don’t think I’ll have a blog entry for the next two days, because I don’t know if they have wifi on the yacht, so maybe I’ll post three days worth when we get back to land?
Pi Patel had a tiger with him on the boat. I have a Baby Whale. Talo siya.
For our 3rd day on the island, after 2 action-packed days, we decided to take it easy and have a chill day. Basically we just wanted to lounge around, swim, lounge around some more, and break the chain only for food and naps.
After breakfast, we checked out the lesser known pool, the “O” pool, and I just LOVED it. It had this whole French Riviera vibe, with a really nice dock where you can grab some drinks as you watch the sun set.
After that, we checked out the other beaches around the island, since the ENTIRE island is bordered by white beaches, some nicer than others. Some areas have powder white beaches to rival Boracay’s, while some have pebblier sand mixed in with the fine sand.
We opted to soak the whole day’s worth of sun at the resort’s trademark sand bank, where the sand is at its finest, and the water at its clearest. I don’t know why people don’t crowd in that area of the resort, since for me it’s the best part of the island. We even watched a couple get married on the beach, which is a great idea, since this place is crazy-ass romantic! (And no, I didn’t scream: “Lolokohin ka lang niyan!”)
After literally spending every single daylight hour baking under the sun, we were ready to call it day – long fresh water shower, huge dinner, breed dragons, then turn in for the day.
We’re considering spending 3 days/2 nights on a dhoni, which is like a Maldivian wooden yacht. It sounds like a marvelous once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it entails giving up 2 nights of our accommodation since we’ll be out at sea. Let’s see what we decide and for sure I’ll blog about the experience.
For now, I’m still digesting the Mexican night buffet food that I gobbled voraciously. Surprisingly they have leche flan and suha, something to remind us of home.
One last tidbit, I’m surprised how the whole resort is filled with Europeans, mostly German and French, and none of the nationalities that usually dominate the resorts we’ve been to before. We’ve only seen ONE asian couple, and that’s it. So no Koreans, no Chinese, and no Japanese in sight. But surprisingly, no Americans, no Australians, and no Russians either. We met a Filipino staff, and he said we’re only the third Pinoys he’s seen in the resort since he started working there. So wherever we go, we stick out like a sore thumb. Buti nalang mestizo ako…
Today has been crazy amazing.
We started the day with a full-day snorkeling expedition. We visited about 4 or 5 snorkeling spots and we saw a manta ray, 6 eagle rays swimming in formation, gray reef sharks, and tuna! But best of all, we saw pods of dolphins, with lots of babies, just following our boat and interacting with us! We even snorkeled a sunken ship, with only the bow sticking out of the water. Breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much on one boat trip. It’s bad-ass hardcore snorkeling, if there ever was one.
And the whole time we were treated like royalty – snacks, food, a sumptuous lunch, coffee, etc., overflowing the whole time. We wowed everyone when we brought out a bag of dried mangoes. They kept closing their eyes and exclaiming how orgasmically delicious it was! The whole crew just spoiled us rotten. The whole experience was just magical.
We also had nice company, we had German, French, South African, and Peruvian people as groupmates. When we were introducing ourselves, as they proudly stated their home countries: “Germany!”, “France!”, “South Africa!”, “Peru!”, I was tempted to say, “The proud land of the Pinoy Republic of Jejemon!”
The water was incredibly clear and warm. Even in between snorkeling spots, we would jump in the middle of the ocean just to soak in the soothing turquoise brine of the Indian Ocean. It’s like we get separation anxiety from the ocean.
We were actually sad to see it end, our little seafaring jaunt, one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
And to our surprise, our day was far from over. Apparently, it’s Earth Hour, and to celebrate, all four “resorts” within the resort (our resort is divided further into four sub-resorts) are dining by candlelight, under the stars, serenaded by Maldivian performers, singing and dancing as we feast. Okay fine, it was crazy romantic, so I was imagining it’s our wedding and it was our reception (hahaha, I can’t believe I admitted that!). But it was perfect: overflowing scrumptious food, romantic setting, the sound of the surf crashing into the shore, Maldivian chanting and music wafting into the air, under the clearest skies imaginable, with the one person I’d want to be experiencing this with, how could I not swoon? What a perfect way to end an already perfect day.
Did I mention that this is now my most favorite place in the whole wide world? No? This in now my most favorite place in the whole wide world.
The road to Maldives was long and eventful. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 1am and our connecting flight wasn’t until 8pm, so we checked in a hotel only to find out we’re checked in not until 2pm later that day. Good thing there was a nearby inn that was available. So we checked in, then checked out at 12nn, checked in again at the second hotel (the booking could no longer be cancelled), then checked out at 6pm. We flew to Male, landed at 10pm, stayed overnight at a creepy inn in the middle of nowhere, then finally took a sea plane to Kuredu island a few hours later the next morning at 6am. It was my first time ever to ride sea plane, so it was quite a thrill. A bit scary, especially when we hit the clouds, but way cool, especially with the water landing. After almost 36 hours since we left Manila, we have arrived in Maldives, one of my ultimate bucket list destinations.
But once we landed, almost programmed to be disappointed with such unreasonably high expectations of Maldives, to further abuse a cliche, we were greeted with paradise. The staff was so welcoming (not as festive as when you arrive in the big Palawan resorts where you’re greeted with a throng of singing staff members), and very professional.
We’re spending the first half of our stay in a garden villa, then the other half in the more expensive, but more stunning water villa.
And once we swam near the resort’s trademark sand bar, it turned out to be one of my most memorable beach experiences ever. The sun radiated steadily, the water was luminous turquoise, the temperature was warm and inviting, the cool breeze blew steadily, and big fish swam past you in the crystal clear, shallow water, free of stones or corals. It was, to put it simply, magical. It was one of those moments that you keep safe in your memory bank, pull it out when your feeling low, then put it back in for future use. It was so good I didn’t want it to end.
We booked a manta ray snorkeling expedition for tomorrow (another bucket list entry, if ever), so hopefully all goes well with that. It’s been just a day on the island, and already it’s been worth the money and effort to be here. In my humble opinion, you can’t put a price tag on the memories and insights you gain when traveling.
And I haven’t felt stronger about that opinion as I do now, nestled in this paradise island, a gem in the middle of the Indian ocean.