I'd Like to Be...Under the Sea

Trip Start Nov 28, 2004
Trip End Nov 23, 2005

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Flag of Maldives  ,
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When you think of the Maldives, usually everyone thinks of pure white shores and the bluest of aqua blue lagoons filled with fish so colourful you wouldn't have ever thought that so many colours could have existed. Well guess what? That's exactly what it's like.

My short Emirates flight landed me in Male, the capital of the Maldives, where I was met by the crew of the MS Sting Ray. I felt better for sticking to my original plan and flying to this diving archipelago for some serious underwater gazing. After what happened to us in Sri Lanka, and from hearing that the Maldives had been completely wiped out from the tsunami, I was expecting to fly straight to India with the others and avoid this bit of the trip altogether. The day before my flight to Male, I checked the dive company's website for any notice of what had happened there and news of the dive safari cancellation, only to find out that the Maldives were still very much there and dives were operating as normal. I was stocked; I was off to the Maldives again.

So, there were 9 divers including myself on a 100 foot cruiser, plus crew and a dohni, which is an old Maldivian fishing boat that the dive crazy locals had converted into a dive boat where all our dive gear was kept. There were five Germans with serious faces and serious dive gear, then there were two Italians, who agued with an old German lady every night over a plate of pasta that pasta is the only food to eat after a dive (lucky the cook provided pasta). Then there was a Taiwanese girl, who had brought all her dive gear new and hadn't used it before, so half of it didn't work or didn't fit her. Then there was me, an Aussie who turned up with no dive gear, absolutely nothing, and had to rent it all from a dive shop in Male that cost almost as much as the bloody dive safari itself. A lesson learnt for next time...

So, 3 times a day without fail we would all be herded onto the dohni like penguins in our wetsuits, the dohni would seek out the nearest dive site after a short briefing, and we would all jump off the boat as fast as we possibly could (most of the dives had strong currents so we had to descend quickly). On the 1st 6am dive I forgot to turn my air on, and having the self obsessed German lady as my dive buddy, she didn't do her job and check my air. So after struggling to turn the tank on, rolling around like an upturned turtle in the water well after everyone had disappeared under the water, I was left to struggle with a relentless current whilst trying to reach the o-ring valve to get my air going. It didn't happen again, because I ditched the old German lady as my dive buddy and teamed up with a Japanese dive instructor instead.

On the third day, just as we were just about to give up and turn the boat around from a whale shark watch, we spotted an enrmous female form swimming graciously just off port side 100 meters in front of the bow. A whale shark. The first one I had seen in real life, and about 25 - 30 feet long. We all grabbed our snorkels, fins and masks and jumped in after her. In the excitement I grabbed the wrong fins that were too small so had trouble keeping up as she swam further towards an outer reef in the south of Ari Atoll. 20 minutes later and she quickly descended into the depths of the Indian Ocean way beyond our diving capabilities. What an amazing feeling though it was swimming with a whale shark. I felt so lucky to have seen one and to have been close enough to dive down and say hello. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and didn't go down for a long time after the boat pulled away from where we had spotted her. They're not all that common and I think it's safe to say that it's every divers dream to swim with one of these magnificent gentle giants. Certainly it was one of my great diving moments so far.

Most of the diving was better than I expected, especially after I had heard reports that the Maldives had been devastated by the tsunami. There was a lot of sand build up on some of the reefs, but most of the dive sites were free from damage and the fish looked as abundant and happy as ever. In fact I've never seen so many massive schools of fish, huge groupers, snapper, oriental sweetlips, manta rays, eagle rays, masses of turtles, and everything in between. It reminded me of when I was a little kid and on the hottest summers day in January on the beach I would walk up to the ice cream counter and be confronted by so many amazingly coloured and flavoured ice creams I'd stand there for ages just smiling and taking in the wonderful spectrum (then start crying after when it melted over my hand).

You know those times when you have no choice but to get stuck with a group of people who you haven't chosen to be with, like a tour group, there will always be one in the group who stands out like a sore thumb, one who upsets the karma, or equilibrium of the others in the group, for whatever reason. One who is THE proverbial pain in the arse. Well, there was one person, it was the old German lady, Ursula. To be honest, she wasn't that old, probably in her sixties, but I'll call her old, not ancient. By the third day, she had definitely started to fill that role, under and above the water. Under water, she kicked everyone with her fins, including fish, coral and divers. When she approached me, I got the hell out of there as quick as possible. When she descended, I made sure that I descended above her so she couldn't stand on my head, which she had done before. She was as blind as a bat. Same happened with everyone else. Above water, she was worse. Self obsessed, loud and obtrusive. The type of person you don't want to be sat next to on a Sydney to London flight. With all her 'qualities', she was a laugh for us all when she was asleep in her cabin. On one of our last dives, one of the German guys suggested we add a few more weights to her weight belt after she jumps in...I couldn't wipe the smile off my face through the whole dive and took a lot of air...

After a week of spot on diving and visiting truly beautiful islands, as mad as it sounds, I had had enough of the boat and was looking forward to moving on and into India, where I hoped some challenging adbventures would lay. Little did I know...

I stayed on in Male for another day, and waited for my flight to Trivandrum in India where I flew in 2 1/2 weeks ago.

At the moment I'm with the other English gang again on a beach called Palolem on the south coast of Goa. I've been here for about 2 weeks and am loving it! Time to move on soon though.

There is something else that I've purchased in the past week that will take me on my travels throughout India over the next few months, and completely change the way of travelling around it. Some say I'm mad for doing it, others have applauded me. What is it?

I'll let you know in the next few days...

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