Day 1, Thai Night
After arrival at the Malé airport, we hung around waiting for our seaplane. Our lounge seats faced the sea and the blue-so-blue water was an exciting glimpse of what was to come.
The Maldivian Air Taxi is a flying bus. It drops off guests one by one at their respective villas. Ours was the Diamonds Athuruga on the South Ari Atoll, which in my opinion is one of the best out there. The Hubby chose Athuruga for one thing and one thing only: the house reef, which was a mere swim away from shore. But more on that later.
On arrival at Athuruga we were met by a nice Singaporean guest officer, Constance. She was currently studying in Switzerland and was working in the Maldives on an internship (!!). She helped us check in, gave us our welcome juice, and led us to our beach bungalow. The Hubby, who had planned the trip through Kuoni, made it such that we spent the majority of the week in the bungalow and the remainder in an over-water villa.
The beach bungalow alone was enough to wow me.
The sun was difficult to resist so we took a short walk around the island. We went for a sunset swim afterwards. Three stubborn little fish kept following us around and nibbling on our feet.
All bungalows had an assigned table, with the same guy waiting on you for the length of your stay. We had Saleem. I remember he remarked that they hardly had Filipino guests (we were only the second he’d seen in years).
Every night, dinner had a different theme. The first night was Thai. I noticed they served Indian-style snacks all the time though, what looked like deep-fried balls with potatoes and vegetables and samosas. In addition to the locals, a lot of the staff were from Sri Lanka.
We woke up early for a walkabout and saw a board with island activities.
We planned to attend Beginner Snorkeling at 10:30am but no one showed up. We went for the guided snorkeling tour instead. We swam out onto the house reef. There were a lot of black sea cucumbers on the beach floor. I finally mustered up enough courage to poke one of them a few days later, and was surprised to find they were soft and squishy.
It was magical underneath the water. We spotted two small reef sharks, a turtle, and a small octopus.
The house reef had colorful coral and plenty of fish but there was a steep drop into black just past it. It was exactly like the reef in that Finding Nemo scene, but darker and more menacing.
We sunned ourselves in the afternoon and went for another snorkeling trip, just the two of us. I insisted on us holding hands while we snorkeled (maybe I thought one of us would drift away with the current if the other let go?). I finally finished World War Z and kept imagining underwater undead walking beneath me on the ocean floor.
I started on Still Life With Woodpecker, which is the perfect sun-and-sand book.
We got to know a middle-aged German couple who stayed in the bungalow next to ours. They wanted recommendations for undiscovered beaches in the Philippines. I suggested Palawan, though I had never been.
Day 2 was also the night of our scheduled “romantic beach dinner.” We still had to get up and serve ourselves from the buffet though. (And we still had Saleem.)
We got drinks from the bar after dinner and listened to a talk from Mario, the resident nutritionist/biologist, on marine life. It was a bilingual lecture given in Italian and English (the English bit was mainly for our benefit). I felt sad not being able to follow the jokes in Italian. But the lecture was timely for our ‘Intro to Diving’ session the next day.
Day 3, Oriental Night/Sunset Cocktail Night
We snorkeled after breakfast. Water was entering my snorkel so we made our way back to shore to get it changed… and then spotted a sea turtle!
I remember feeling ecstatic because we just missed signing up for a turtle trip the day before. There were only a few house reef turtles so the divers had given them names. I’m not sure who we saw.
Two highlights that day:
The first was our scuba diving intro. We had to watch a required video (which made me sleepy). It covered basic skills like recovering your regulator, emptying water out of the mask (which I SUCKED at, I kept getting salt water in my nose). Then off we went for our dive! Our instructor, Luca is Italian, based on the island as a house diving instructor. He had worked in other beach resorts in Bali etc before (again, !!! I seriously need a career shift).
We saw a huge manta ray near the house reef. It was heart-stopping… it had already passed us but turned around and swam back, pausing and looking at our little group as if checking out what kind of fish we were. I swear we made eye contact for what felt like a minute.
The second highlight of the day was seeing two eagle rays close to shore. We were sunning ourselves when a old, fat, extremely tan Italian whistled in our direction and gestured excitedly for us to come over. (We up and ran!) The rays were so close.
Day 4, Italian Night/Casino Night
We made great strides in our snorkeling progress that day. We covered almost half of the house reef. We wanted to go on the Discovery Island walk around the resort but the group was all Italians. I didn’t want to miss out on more jokes so the Hubby and I ate pizza instead. We went for our own walk.
We snorkeled again before breakfast and in the afternoon. We were running out of things to do, so we’d taken to shooting crazy jump shots…
I was delighted to discover that one of my favorite movie lines (spoken by Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express: “Couscous, the food’s so nice they named it twice”) was paraphrased from Still Life (“Mahi-mahi. The fish’s so nice they named it twice.”).
We went for an Adam and Eve Serenity Massage at the spa and emerged smelling of spice, with bindis on our foreheads. At the end of the massage the masseuses linked our hands together.
Day 6, Barbeque Night/Beach Party
We packed for our move to the over-water villas (No 13, at the very end). It was far from the island proper, but we could see both the sunrise and sunset unobstructed.
The villa has steps leading directly out onto the water, but there was nothing to see except for squishy sea cucumbers, shattered coral, and the occasional fish. The villa was also quite far from the house reef, so our customary morning snorkel wasn’t as convenient. My view: if you want privacy splurge for the over-water villa, but the beach bungalow makes for a better overall experience.
I finished Still Life and it was beautiful. I felt compelled to buy a pack of Camels. All I had was a US$1 bill and true enough there was a pyramid!
The lunch experience was different–we had it at the Water Villa Restaurant and we were served by Farooq. There was a set menu, most people had dark sunnies on, and there wasn’t much chatting across tables.
We skipped dessert for a dhoni ride to the Fisherman Island.
On the island we were greeted by curly, dark-haired locals. They played a catchy song on drums and served us coconut juice.
I was sitting on a plastic chair feeling the drumbeats and lo and behold…! There was an empty pack of Camels underneath my seat! The fact that I’ve never seen a discarded pack of Camels before ever made the sight even more remarkable to me. It was a sign… of something.
We walked around the island. There was hardly anyone outside. We saw segregated mosques (one for women, the other for men), fences made from stacked coral, and quiet, empty schools (“+ is the symbol for addition”).
The island has a small souvenir shop (coincidentally–or not–owned by our tour guide) and I bought the manta ray and a small turtle figurine for my mom.
Back at the dhoni they served us coconut slices and fruit. I received a lot of compliments on my brown batik skirt, which I have owned since I was 10. I chatted with a man from Milan about his fear of the water. He fell in when he was small and had to be hospitalized for 20 days. He told me about how he missed London and his old house in Sussex Gardens.
After our chat I climbed to the top of the dhoni and continued reading On the Road. The book seemed appropriate.
The Hubby and I snorkeled a bit, then hung out at the deck with a bottle of wine. We talked about childhood memories (mine: a memory of my preschool being gunned down–100% vivid in my head but impossible; his: escaping from a preschool teacher).
We dropped by the beach party on the main island. I got pulled in by Veronica, one of the diving instructors, to dance ‘kama-kama-kama-kama-kama-kameleonnn’ and I tried to pull the Hubby in too but he drifted slowly away. I was left dancing by myself. There was a lady in a maxi dress which had sagged near her boobs… but there weren’t any boobs where the boobs should’ve been! (If that makes sense.) It disturbed me a little and I proceeded to shimmy my way out of the dancing circle.
We rode a golf cart back to the villa.
Day 7, French Cuisine/Movie Night over at the main island, but it was our last day…
We had sumptuous breakfast on the deck, which was lovely.
After checking out we bumped into one of the waiters from the main restaurant (not Saleem). He asked us where we were and when we were coming back to the restaurant. We made our way to our German couple-friends to say goodbye, and they also asked us where we’d been. At that point I was already seriously considering a career shift to hospitality and possibly making my way back to Athuruga to work (the Hubby could offer to man the bar).