2014 Maldives & Dubai – Maldives

So on the 30th of November, far to many hours for our liking after departure we finally arrived in the Maldives. Not that we had anything to complain about, emergency exit seats at both flights and the pampering which is so typical for Emirates, but still we were tired, very tired.

Getting out of the plane a blanket of warm and tropical air hit us in the face, it must have been 30 degrees or so and I felt extremely overdressed with my pullover and leather jacket still on. Fortunately there was still space in the suitcase so those two items were the first to disappear, not to be used for another two weeks.

After we picked up our luggage we took a shuttle bus to terminal C at the other side of the only runway from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport where we checked in for our flight of Maldivian Air-taxi. During a 30 minute spectacular flight we spotted the most beautiful atolls and islands below, a small glimpse of what we were in for during the next 9 days. A cacophony of blues, greens and emeralds everywhere and small stretches of tropical beach with each of us we could easily fall in love with.

And there it was… Gangehi island, smaller than a football field and definitely much more attractive, surrounded by the most gorgeous beaches one can imagine with at one side a tongue of land that stretches long into the surrounding shades of emerald, turquoise and blue. Heaven on earth, paradise within paradise. Gangehi island, just one dot in a collection of thousands shattered around at random in a pool of colors that make you dribble when only thinking of it.

We arrived at what must be the smallest airport in the world, a small pontoon at about a hundred meters or so from our small island. A dhongi, a traditional Maldivian boat, brought us from there to the pier where we were warmly welcomed by Laura, our hostess. A cold wet refreshing towel, a welcome drink, a smile and a short explanation of what was available at the island. A diving club, a sports school, a spa, two restaurants, a library and a sport school. Yoga in the evening, two restaurants and ehh. That’s it… Yes there are excursions to be booked to local islands inhabited by fishermen or we could even go to a uninhabited island for the day but for now our little paradise appeared to be perfect as it was.

As our luggage, due to weight restrictions on the water plane, was scheduled to arrive on the next plane we set out for a walk. When going at a slow pace it’ll take about 7 minutes to wander around the island. When even going even slower it takes a bit longer. There was so much to be seen, so much oohs and aahs we lost count at the end. We could see the fish swimming in the crystal clear water, water of 27 degrees so a relaxing swim would never be interrupted by getting cold. The beach bungalows hidden away under the palm trees, the beaches, whiter than paper and then those colors, those colors…

We were not happy not being able to swim yet as we were still waiting for our luggage so we opted for a walk. Not far away was one of the two restaurants but we were blinded by that tongue of beach that stretched far into the water. Speechless we set our feet on it and the only thing we could do for minutes was smile. I think it must stretch 300 meters or more away from the island and is something which comes straight out of a picture book. Close your eyes and think of the Maldives, what comes up in your mind? Now open them and there we are, straight in the middle of hat picture book perfect paradise.

Since we passed the restaurant anyway it would be rude not to test it out. Looking at the buffet we knew that loosing weight would not be an option during this trip. Italian, international and local specialities were tastefully displayed on a long stretch of table. so much to choose from one could not even try out a quarter of it even if we tried. And oh, there was the desert table, we even didn’t make it there on our first lunch. Yes, this was only lunch so we are dreading the dinner….

A nice bottle of crispy Italian white completed our beach front table, how perfect can it get? By now we could really feel how we started to relax, and how the weight of pressure of daily life was slowly slipping away. And this was only the beginning.

Of course we could not miss out on a visit to the dive school. Yes we were shocked on the prices they charge but then everything in paradise seems to come at a very hefty price. We decided to limit our dives to get a just a taster and skip on the daily diving that was initially our plan. Not that we felt sad as it just forces us even more to go into relax mode, something that will be really good for the two of us.

Our luggage arrived not much later so we could slip into our diving shorts and decent into the warm crystal clear water. We were surrounded by fish as we swam a bit further away from the island taking in the wonderful views surrounding us.

In the evening the dinner buffet was smiling to us once more. Yes I was completely satisfied after one delicious plate of samples of what was offered that night but then I had not even made it to the fish specialities, octopus in tomato sauce, monk fish coated in potato puree, sashimi of tuna, a salad of some other fish with pineapple, well, that was as far as I managed… And yes, not having had desert for lunch I could not resist this time but I limited myself to a selection of fresh tropical fruits and, to be totally honest, one lovely homemade vanilla cream with chocolate flakes and caramel…  

By now it was 8.30 and both of us knew it was time for bed. A quick shower, a cuddle and that was it. We were exhausted by now but knowing we had arrived in paradise and we would be staying there for a while we fell into a deep and satisfying sleep, not to wake up until 13 hours later…

The next 8 days were days of relaxing, pampering, a dive or so and yoga in the evening. We could feel daily stress bing removed from our shoulders and slowly we turned into a state of ultimate relaxation and happiness, that’s the effect Gangehi had on us already after only being there for a day.

So what does a typical day on the Maldives look like? It starts with a deep and long sleep, we tend to go to bed early and sleep for 10-12 hours. Somehow it feels that all the accumulated tiredness from the last months is coming out and we catch up on sleep that was so hardly needed. A quick brushing of the teeth, some water in the face and we are ready for breakfast. A breakfast that is so rich of choice it is difficult to make a choice. Cereals in whatever variety with either yoghurt or milk, a big selection of fresh fruits, coffee tea and fresh juices. For the sweet tooth there’s a rich selection of cakes, different types of croissants and fillings and anything else one can think of. Of course there’s normal bread as well, cheese, meats, sweet spreads and eggs made to order in whatever variety one wishes. I think we could create a different breakfast every morning without repeating ourselves… After breakfast it is time to shave and shower and then we are ready for one of the beaches of the island but I think by now we have found our favorite spot.

On a couple of times we made a walk over the sandbar that stretches a couple of hundred meter away from the island. We made the mistake once to forget our sunglasses and as a result of that we could hardly see anything as the sun reflected in the bright white sand. When we did bring our sunglasses a world of wonders opened itself for us. It is a magical experience to wander over a sandbank surrounded by a cacophony of wonderful colors. Turquoise, green, emerald and blue… Coral clearly visible just under the waterline, and quite frequently we were greeted by juvenile black tip sharks and rays swimming close to the shore. Oh, did I mention the sand? So fine structured, so white and so surprisingly cool.

Looking back we could see the island, a splash of green In the middle of the ocean with what seemed at random placed some overwater bungalows, the beach bungalows and one of the two restaurants where we had our delicious meals. The island almost looked like a Fata Morgana that escaped from stories of 1001 nights, a small isolated paradise, a place to relax and be happy, something that we certainly are.

Lunch was, once again the most sumptuous buffet one can imagine! After the first day I skipped the salads, the curries and the pastas and went straight to the selection of fish. The most exotic types of fish unavailable at home in a variety of preparations. My favorite one so far is grilled tuna with coconut, almonds and honey, a recipe I for sure will inspire me to try at home. Also the sashimi of different types of raw fish was to die for, or the grilled snapper, which after grilling was marinated in orange juice, white wine and fresh herbs. Each of them mouth watering by itself but as a selection of those delicacies beautifully ordered on my plate I certainly was in haven. Lunch without desert would not be a good lunch and again there was a wide selection of fresh tropical fruits, several puddings (the pina colada was terrific), a selection of home made pies and ice creams. Somehow I am under the impression a serious diet and sports regime is on order once coming home.

Snorkeling at the house reef is a magical experience as well. There is a lot of hard coral to be admired and the quantity and variety of fish is what one normally sees during a good dive. It is easy to loose oneself in this magical underwater world and it’s good we did not forget to put on our T-shirts before we went snorkeling otherwise our backs would be as red as some of the lobsters we spotted during our snorkeling trips. At one point when I put my head underwater I spotted a not so juvenile black tip reef shark gently swimming closely by. It must have been somewhere between a meter and a meter and a half big, and once I recovered from the initial shock I  could only keep my head underwater and follow this beautiful species in order to see as much as possible of it. On more than one occasion we saw a turtle who were not shy at all, on the contrary, it allowed us to come quite close and undisturbed continue nibbling from the coral.

Of course we could not skip on diving… We feel we can admire the underwater world from a closer and deeper perspective than with snorkeling. Yes, on more than one occasion we saw sharks passing by, something we did expect to happen during our dives, and no we were not that lucky we saw a manta on our dives but then the ocean is not a zoo. Mantas or not, the diving was amazing. In spite of the coral not being the best we have already seen schools of fish making up for it. We even spotted a stone fish, in spite of its very good camouflage. Some lobsters, some nudibranchs. Paul was so much more relaxed than last year as his mask fitted well and was not leaking, this made diving at the Maldives a very enjoyable experience. I even was given the opportunity to get a introduction training on nitrox (Enriched Air) and did my first two dives on it. Something I certainly need to qualify for next time I go diving.

One of the most extraordinary beautiful experiences for me on Gangehi was yoga at the end of a pier overlooking a pool of emptiness, the Arabian sea. Whilst the sun was setting and I could still sense its warmth in my back yoga class was given in an almost unearthly beautiful setting. The first class it was difficult to switch of because of the excitement of the location and needless to say I returned every single evening for my yoga class. The only down point was the fact that it was over so quickly and not as well streamlined and focussed as my regular yoga workouts, I could have done with a full blown yoga class but was extremely grateful for the opportunity given.

We had been looking for paradise but found heaven on earth. A wonderful place to relax and enjoy the good things in life. Whilst we saw the reports from the first snow at home December seems to be far far away whilst “suffering” from 31 degrees Celsius conditions. Once again another day came to a close, another -pre dinner drink at the terrace at the end of the pier where yoga classes had been given earlier. Life was good and so were we!

It is amazing how quickly one gets used to live in an environment like this, not that we got oblivious for the beauty around us as we were thoroughly enjoying the beautiful nature around us. It was the slow pace of life that really did us good, cannot remember a time we were as relaxed as this. Paul just loved reading his books (really starts to enjoy his e-reader now that we bought especially for this trip), and I enjoyed the slightly (but not much more) active lifestyle of diving, snorkeling and yoga. A perfect match for the both of us.

And that more or less summarizes our days on the island. We got so lazy we even did not manage to make a kayak tour around the island, something that we seriously planned on arrival.Neither did we manage to do a photo session in the hammock that was halfway on the sandbank with one side in the turquoise crystal clear water,  and on the last day, once the sun had set I realized I had just missed my last opportunity to make a photo series of what must have been some of the most spectacular sunsets we have seen for a while. Oh well, it all did not seem to matter now as the both of us were in total peace with the environment and the slow lifestyle that comes with it.

Gangehi Island has been an absolute dream. A picture perfect and small island (one of the smallest resorts on the Maldives) in the middle of the Indian ocean. A green oasis surrounded by a white border in a pool of delightful colors. Juvenile sharks gently swimming along the waterfront, colorful reef fish, the odd ray and then I even haven’t mentioned that spectacular sandbank that, depending on the tide, reached a couple of hundred meters into the ocean. The only sound to be heard was the gentle surf of the waves and some birds singing somewhere on the island. A couple of times a day a water plane landed or took off and then there was the noise of the Donghi, a traditional Maldivian boat, that went out on a snorkeling or diving trip. Perfect harmony, perfect peace.

But Gangehi island would not have been the paradise it was to us if not for the wonderful staff that made every effort to make our stay the most memorable one. From the moment of arrival till departure we have been pampered with a lot of attention for detail. During our stay we had a personal waiter, a very special and personal touch. The room was cleaned and provided with fresh towels and beach towels twice a day. There was a beach boy who passed by regularly so every time we returned from a snorkeling trip our towel was but straight and the sand was wiped from our sun-beds. The waiters in the bar who made the strongest gin and tonics we can remember for a long time, the chefs at the restaurant with who we were constantly joking and who even especially prepared my favorite dish on the last evening. The dive team, and oh I should not forget the yoga teacher with who I had more than one private yoga session, after the second session she adapted her classes which were catering more for my needs instead of the inexperienced resort guest who wanted to give it a try. The animation team who fortunately kept the animation to an absolute minimal not to disrupt the tranquil atmosphere. It was there for those who wanted but was not disturbing at all. Pampered for nine days? Spoiled rotten is a more accurate description I would say.

But all things come to and end and so does our stay in paradise. Yesterday evening we settled the bill which brought us straight back to earth and we enjoyed our final evening with two guests from Germany who we befriended during our stay.

Our last morning meant an early rise, breakfast served by our personal waiter at the terrace and then it was time to say our final farewells. Sun was just rising when we were brought to the “landing” platform again and after the pilots removed the excess water from the plane floats we took of. 7 O’clock in the morning, the sun did not had the chance yet to burn away the layer of fog that was hovering above the water and this gave our departure an almost mythical atmosphere. The flight to Male, including two stop overs at other islands (including Maayafushi that I visited in 1996) took almost an hour in total and below us was the spectacular Maldivian seascape it is so famous for.

Our time at Gangehi had been the most wonderful 9 days we could have hoped for… We had been looking for paradise but found heaven on earth, this trip will for sure bring a smile on our faces every time we think about it and who knows one day…

Continue our journey in Dubai