I know, I’ve been gone for a while. I’ve been trapped in that holiday bubble, and known that as soon as I start writing about it, the visions will fall out of my mind and onto the page. In a supernatural way, I won’t exist in the Maldives anymore. My holiday will be here, on my blog page, and in my photographs. The concrete evidence will replace my lackadaisical memories, and from that moment, I will only see it as an article, an album, something that I used to be.
It’s depressing. The holiday bubble is a fragile thing – it doesn’t take much to break it, but its skin varies in strength, I find, in relation to the surreality of the vacation. The Maldives are so surreal, a holiday there is not just a vacation – it’s more (and in some ways, less) than that. It’s a trip to another world, particularly when you stay at a place of such obscene luxury as the Four Seasons on Kuda Huraa.
It’s a little like Thomas Moore’s Utopia. It’s an island like no other. There is no money. One walks through life on Kuda Huraa, simply asking, and receiving. Smiling faces accompany orange polo shirts and the product of demands, whether they be fresh towels, a cocktail, or gluten free hotdogs. There are only two uniforms – the previously mentioned orange shirts, or a swimsuit. There is nothing to distinguish people except the colour of their tan – no watches, handbags, shoes or cars, glitz or glamour. One must ditch ones own trappings to wander in the provided robes and slippers, and carry hemp bags with not-so-subliminal messages to remind all to stay at peace, “Laugh Often” and “Love Much”. Even children discard toys in preference of nature, and are more likely to be found playing with a hermit crab than a $400 set of Lego. Everyone is happy. Everyone is healthy, Everyone is safe.
It’s a little like Eden. The gardens impossibly green, the water iridescently aqua, the sand blindingly white. Humans and all other forms of nature co-exist in a magical way. Geckos are honoured guests in rooms. Natural oils supplied mean insects don’t bite. Step into the water only four metres from the shore, and float above a coral reef full of butterflies and angels, and stingrays that do not sting.
As the sun makes its decent, it’s time to watch the baby black-tipped reef sharks come in for dinner. Feed them chunks of tuna tartare and they will pose for photographs. After, as dinner continues on a weathered deck, a thousand crabs patrol the dusky shore in playful turf-war fashion, fighting over morsels of bread or the coziest sand-hole. Go fishing, and snapper will jump onto the line as if willingly sacrificing themselves to the greater good – the human belly. Coconuts fall safely away from the pathways, and yet always roll onto them, complete with a tiny slit – just large enough to turn it over and drip its milk out over a thirsty mouth.
It’s a little like a fantasy. A world where kids actually want to go to kids club. The weather always resting in at the perfect, skin-temperature level, the water just cool enough to take the heat off. A world where it is perfectly acceptable not to have a real shower for several days, because you never really get out of the ocean, the main pool, your own freshwater plunge pool or outdoor shower for long enough to bother. A glass of champagne finds its way to the swim-up bar, just as one decides it’s drinking time. Beds make themselves during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fruit bowls appear in the room, unbidden. Each night, a magical elf steals into the garden to set candles around the pool so you will be enticed into a night swim. Faeries slip notes under the door to remind one what is scheduled to tomorrow.
I never knew what day it was, what time it was. I never needed to. If there was an activity that I had meant to join, I could simply wait for an orange shirt to come and get me, call me by my name, and lead me to the departure point. The kids would tumble out of the breakfast pavilion into the kids club without even a word of goodbye. One afternoon when I went to pick them up for some family time, they were having ‘spa day’ – Goldilocks had every fingernail and toenail painted a different colour, and Lion was getting a foot massage. On our final day, we celebrated the birthday of Pickles, a one year old green turtle, with green cake, green jelly, sack races and giggles. It’s about as far away (in the right direction) from our real life as it can get.
It was unreal, in both meanings of the word. Colloquially, it was awesome. Literally, it was not true, fake. There was no culture on the island but that which the Four Seasons had made for it. Even much of the reef has been fashioned over the years by the marine biologists in residence (see the work here). It was Utopia – Hospitality Utopia, where comfort can be found at every turn, and guests are both fawned upon and sheltered from real life in every way possible. Food was delicious, service impeccable, facilities supremely luxurious. Staff and guests came from every corner of the globe, except, it seemed, the Maldives. I met only one Maldivian on my trip – and that was while I was away from the resort.
It was a different holiday for me, one, that I had in fact, not looked forward to. My husband had booked the trip, desiring a good surf far from the glassy waters of Dubai. After being to the Maldives once before, I had thought that the lack of local culture would bore and disappoint me, that I wouldn’t be interested in just lying around in a beautiful place all over again. What I discovered is that I am far more shallow than I have allowed myself to admit. I loved it, every minute. Except when I got the final bill – not so much bubble-popping, but earth-shattering. But just this once, I’m happy we got carried away.
Rooms at the Four Seasons Maldives Kuda Huraa start at about $750 per night in the shoulder season, including transfers and breakfast ($1096 per night for the four of us on a surf package). No, it’s not cheap. Kids Club is free, as are welcome baskets and basic snorkeling equipment, and some activities such as a beginners’ pool dive by licensed PADI instructor.
The reasons to stay at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa (apart from the luxury of course) include the access to great snorkeling straight off the beach, proximity to airport (only 25 minutes by speedboat, and out of the flight path), and to one of the most highly populated spinner dolphin areas, just out of the lagoon. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa also have a Tropic Surf outlet at their water sports centre, which gives lessons in the lagoon, and takes more experienced surfers to nearby breaks three times a day. (Sultans is the closest break)
The Maldives is notoriously expensive. There are a couple of options for those who baulk at the $1000 per day price tag (I don’t blame you, I usually do too).
- Families should look at Holiday inn Kandooma which often has prices at less than $300 per night. It is beautifully appointed and has passable surfing and diving straight offshore. They have the best pool chairs in the world and a gorgeous rooftop bar, and a kids club. (And an onsite doctor, who stitched my son’s head after a little too much excitement.)
- Surfers will also enjoy Dhonveli, a short swim from the Four Seasons, but a long swim from the price, starting at about $350 per night. It has the Pasta Point break accessible offshore, and is a fairly large resort with plenty of activities and facilities.
- Quite famous for Europeans is Embudu – an island just south of Male, with some luxuries like day spa and PADI instructors, and newly refurbished rooms starting at $200, and probably some of the cheapest nice water bungalows around (starting $320)
- Budget and a little more ‘real’ is Happylife Safari Lodge – a tiny beach-side lodge just south of Male, with rates at $119 per person (including all meals and taxes).
- And my only Maldivian friend recommended the Baa atoll – not so good for surfing, but wonderful for diving. For Luxury, try the Six Senses from $500 per night, or budget the Adaaran from about $250