Maldives, two ways
My morning view today was a pretty one of blue sea and a coral island. We were arriving in the Maldives, more specifically anchoring just off Male, the capital city.
Our first time here, and not knowing what to expect, I chatted to one of our well travelled friends for a little advice on choosing how to spend our day here.
She advised that, though the Maldives of my imagination was rather like those coral atolls, she had found Male itself to be a scruffy kind of place and further proof that just because somewhere sounds idyllic, it doesn't necessarily prove to be so. Her opinion was reinforced by the ship's newspaper last evening, which said of its "modest attractions" that the "National Museum houses untidy exhibits of the sultans' belongings" amongst other things.
Feeling the need to put see for myself and reluctant to forego any opportunity to visit a new place, I hopped on a tender this morning with a couple of friends just in case it turned out we were missing the star port of call.
First impressions weren't too bad...but it was awfully hot and the dusty, broken surface of the jetty didn't make the most secure walking path.
Walking along the Promenade we soon realised that this is not a city aimed at visitors.
Window shopping wasn't much of a distraction either. Pump, anyone?
We turned off that main drag and into a side street, choc a bloc with motorcycles parked by the kerb. Every street was lined with them and clearly, that's the general mode of transport for most people.
Moving swiftly past the National Defence Centre (no photos and quite a few armed guards patrolling the perimeter) we found ourselves in the square, outside the main mosque where the flag was flying beautifully!
We had already decided there was nothing here for us, so turned around and made our way back to the jetty, doing a little window shopping on the way.
We might also have sighed at the sight of the plastic bottles floating in the harbour.
I needed to meet someone at the jetty at 11am anyway, so the timing was perfect. As we stood and waited, we looked at that crazy boat and wondered, could it be?
Well yes, it was indeed the boat that was going to take me snorkelling! The crew looked like a rum lot, their hair long and curly (sounds like the start of a song!) The music played and off we went to a nearby island.
Clearly I couldn't take photographs when I was in the water, but once I was back on the boat, there was chance to take a few pictures of the stragglers.
The "rum lot" of a crew were kindness personified. Five of them were in the water with the group, one taking particular care of the least confident, the others simply guiding us to the best places. As we snorkelled, the boat moved along behind us, so that after our hour was up and we were tired, we had only to swim a few metres to get back on board.
We saw the most spectacular array of fish as we swam about, possibly the most memorable snorkelling since the Great Barrier Reef, never discounting the magical experience Edward and I had whilst snorkelling in Maui when there was not only plenty to see but the whales' songs to hear as well. The hour passed so quickly, only our tired limbs gave us reason to leave the water.
Once again, the kindness of the crew was apparent, for as I swam over to the boat, I saw they'd lowered steps into the water, making it easier to climb back into the boat. Approaching the steps, a strong pair of arms reached out for mine and pulled me in whilst another crew member had dived down and removed my fins for me. As I reached the top of the steps, my mask and snorkel were exchanged for a bottle of mango juice - perfect after all that salty water and so sweet and refreshing.
And so we returned to the Navigator - directly to the ship and not to the tender jetty, which was a real bonus. As we rode the waves, the crew put on their music and larked around, singing and dancing out on the open deck. I'm not sure how any of this tallied with Ramadan, but hey, in my opinion they'd earned their fun.
I didn't get their names, the name of the boat nor anything, but merely thanked them profusely for a great experience.
My hero (who had chosen not to snorkel) had been sitting on the verandah when he heard the music and looked over the rail to see what was going on. I was looking out and spotted him there and waved.
Thankfully, there on the tender platform was yet another capable pair of hands to ensure we reached home safely after our adventure.
The chatter in the bars and restaurants tonight was surely of colourful fish and corals in contrast to a somewhat disappointing capital city. I had enjoyed a lovely day and will remember one little black and white stripy fish with bright yellow fins and a flash of irridescent sapphire blue for a long time to come.