THE MALDIVES: Dharavandoo – Baa Atoll

Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Well people, the moment I have waited for has finally arrived. May 22nd. is now and will forever be the day that I celebrate visiting my 100th. country!

It also just happens to be the birthday of my awesome son in law, so Happy Birthday Steve while we celebrate on opposite sides of the planet.

Back in San Diego, Steve blows out his candles as my adorable granddaughter Mia watches. Take note, my talented daughter Dina baked the cake, took the picture, and gave birth to that little angel.


The Maldives is a tropical nation comprised of 26 atolls made up of more than 1,000 coral islands. It’s known for it’s beaches, blue lagoons, extensive reefs, and incredible scuba diving. Home to many large species of fish the Maldives play host to manta rays, whale sharks, and the Napoleon wrasse to name a few.

NAPOLEON WRASSE – This is one of my favorite fish if not my very favorite. These gentle giants can weigh up to 400 pounds and reach a length of 6 feet. They love crunching on mollusks, crabs, and other shellfish and males live up to 45 years. Females are smaller and live 50 years. I just adore their prehistoric look, intricate markings, and scales that have the visual texture of feathers. Gotta love the hump as well. You can literally touch these fish since they are not intimidated by people. It is not advisable since they have a viscous coating on their their body, and it protects them from infection and parasites. Too much touching could leave them vulnerable to health problems.

I hope to run into one of these during my visit here as well as Fiji. When I was in the Red Sea about twenty years ago, I fed one some hard boiled eggs. They love them since the shell reminds them of shellfish, and they get the protein goodness within.


My first flight was with Korean Air out of Sri Lanka which had the most beautiful flight attendants who lined up in both aisles and bowed before take off. It was a most appreciated touch before embarking on the voyage that would land me in my hundredth country.

Here I am about to board a small jet for Dharavandhoo in the Baa Atoll. There were only a handful of people at the Avelya Manta Resort, but there are plenty of fish to keep me company over the next eight days. Having reached my goal, I am now free to take a dirt nap, should my body decide to give out all of a sudden.

AVEYLA MANTA RESORT – Here I am confronted with yet another in a series of painfully comfortable accommodations complete with king size bed, oceanfront view, and balcony. How I am going to be able to handle hostels with snoring roommates after this litany of luxury is anybody’s guess?!

Paradise in the Maldives for $60 a night.

Room with a View


Pretty much the only drawback here is the fact that this multi-island nation is 100% muslim. Non-muslims are not granted citizenship. Women’s rights are curtailed. Homosexuality is forbidden. Tourists also need to watch out about showing too much skin which is pretty damn silly in a tropical paradise where all of the activities revolve around the ocean. Consumption of pork, alcohol, and porn are also forbidden. These oppressive constraints can be avoided at many insular private resorts, but I wish the Maldivians would drag themselves out of the Bronze Age, and worry more about stocking their local markets properly.

I am relieved to say that I have heard no annoying calls to prayer five times a day. Thank Allah for that. I’m fine with people practicing their religion of choice. It just chaps my hide when I am forced to be further inconvenienced by their silly superstitious directives. We spend a fortune to get here, support their families and economy, only to end up being repressed by yet another ridiculous religion. Though known for being a tropical paradise its radicalised youths are enlisting in significant numbers to fight for ISIL militants in the Middle East. Thank goodness the fish cause a lot less trouble, and don’t foist their piety upon you.

The only other drawback has been that my first three days here have been fraught with high winds which made diving and snorkeling trips all but impossible. Of course rain and winds are good excuses for napping, blogging, and binge watching “The Expanse” on Netflix. And then on the fourth day the winds abated…

MANTA HO!!! – After flying his drone out from the resort out over Hanifaru bay our dive master, Sidey, determined there were mantas in the area. Upon arriving he located one and they worked on positioning the boat so we could offload and have a look. Unfortunately, the manta was moving fast and exited the bay so we came up empty-handed.

At this point we feared another disappointing day, but our dive master picked up a few more blips on the radar, that group of six you see in the picture above. He would position the drone above the mantas so you could locate them with ease. What a thrill it was to have five or six mantas coming straight for you, and then passing two feet below while occasionally brushing you with a wingtip. These graceful leviathans filtering plankton as they cruise the bay, leave you with a sense of awe that few sea creatures can match. They swam to and fro scooping up plankton as they swept by us with each pass.

Three more joined the group bringing the total to nine, and engaged in an underwater feeding ballet. Those graceful giants were doing backflips, and weaving in and out of each others’ paths. It was quite a finale to a grand show. I am eager to see a whale shark one day, but I doubt they engage in the kind of theatrics and dramatic spectacle as my manta friends. Granted they are large, but I suspect they lack the style, grace and personality of a manta.

The Travel Zealot swimming with a new friend.

Mucking about with the mantas.


Graceful and gentle, these beauties don’t have the stingers that most rays possess.

Although the mantas were the stars of the show. The sharks, eels and turtles managed to put in a showing during my dives. There were also many swarms of schooling fish, as well as a cornucopia of colorful tropical fish which would do any salt water fish tank proud.

After leaving this tiny island paradise and arriving at the International Airport in Male, I treated myself to a sterling silver manta pendant to commemorate my 100th. country and my momentous manta encounter.



  1. Karen Devers
    May 24, 2018

    Hey, John –

    It has been an age since I’ve posted on your blog. Taking my contractor’s break has meant working on my yard and house instead of KP. It has been intense and exhausting but I’m getting lots done and working through my list. I have five weeks left of freedom and then it’s back in the saddle for me.

    Congrats on your 100th country and I hope you have written this feat into your tiny book as well. It’s quite a journey you’ve been engaged in and it’s fun to be “carried along with you” via your blog.

    I’ve been watching a show on Amazon called The Durrell’s. The single widow moves herself and her four children to Corfu, a Greek island and it is based on the books written as a memoir by the youngest child, Geoffrey. It is a wonderful show and I did some research on the real life family. Gerry became an internationally respected naturalist/conservationist and wrote many books. He and his wife created a wildlife sanctuary and zoo. The eldest son, Lawrence became a well known novelist and travel writer. I’m getting some of their books out of the library and it will be fun to read their writing after seeing the show.

    This propelled me to return to your country #88, Greece, and read about your experiences. I would love to go to Greece but not to see the cities, I’m more interested in the natural beauty of the place. Maybe some day . . .

    Take care,


  2. The Travel Zealot
    May 25, 2018

    That’s quite a project you have going on back at the ranch! I can’t wait to see it. Windy weather has curtailed the diving here in the Maldives, but hopefully that will change soon. I highly recommend Greece, and have plans of returning in the future. I’ll be revisiting many of the countries I’ve encountered like Sri Lanka, Croatia, Bulgaria, and of course my yearly pit stops in England and France. Enjoy feathering your nest.

  3. Sarah Drover
    May 26, 2018

    Hello John!

    We are still with you via your blog and want to Congratulate you on you 100th country!! What an amazing achievement it is. We are so pleased to have bumped into you along the way and have been inspired by you to travel more and see more ourselves. Paris next Spring is still on right?
    Hopefully the wind will pass and you can enjoy some of your much loved diving soon.
    Enjoy that paradise,
    All our best wishes,
    Sarah & Corey ?

  4. The Travel Zealot
    May 26, 2018

    Hi Sarah & Corey,
    Thanks for the congrats, and I have good news from the Maldives. The wind broke last night, and a handful of us headed out to the bay in a speed boat to see if we could see some manta rays. And see them we did. There was a group of five that were cruising around, and they were eventually joined by another four. So in the end we had nine mantas cavorting about in the plankton swells, and this bunch was just going to town. They were all doing back flips and were engaged in a feeding ballet. It was a great experience I had not seen them so close up. On a few occasions, five of them would come straight at me and file past. Such a thrill that it made the whole trip to the Maldives worthwhile. We also went diving right afterward, and saw my beloved Napoleon wrasse! So mission accomplished Maldives.

    Paris next Spring? Oh, hell yeah! I’ll probably swing by Amesbury to see family, and then head up to Liverpool again when it’s not snowing.
    All the Best,

  5. Jason
    May 27, 2018

    Those Mantas were there to say” hello John, good job on the 100 countries. From one traveller to another”.
    And your favorite fish! Can totally see why. That thing is awesome. It has got to be a great feeling to have reached that milestone, Great job on the blog and congratulations!

  6. Jason
    May 27, 2018

    Those mantas were you “Big100″greeting party, Fellows world travelers. It must feel great to have reached that milestone. You have done an amazing job sharing it with the rest of us. I have enjoyed it every step of the way. Funny and inspirational. Its been great to be a part of your amazing journey. Congratulations!

  7. The Travel Zealot
    May 27, 2018

    Thanks Jason,
    And thank you for being here every step of the way. Through my moments of glory, silly misadventures, and cranky rants.

    I’ve got to tell you, it was so gratifying to encounter those Goliaths of the deep. It was great to reach the milestone, but it will be better to celebrate when I return. Also, I must admit that the journey was more rewarding arriving at the 100th. destination so there’s something to be said for that stereotypical construct, “It’s not the destination, it’s all about the journey.” We’ll see how it affects my motivation for the rest of the year.

  8. The Travel Zealot
    May 27, 2018

    Yeah Jason,
    I swam around with those guys for over a half an hour. At one point nine of them gathered and engaged in an underwater feeding ballet. Those graceful giants were doing backflips, and weaving in and out of each others’ paths. ***Just got called for manta duty again*** Returned a couple of hours later. We saw three more today, and one of them was pregnant. They stuck around for a half hour when all of a sudden the current changed, the buffet ran out of plankton, and they moved on.

  9. Karen Devers
    May 28, 2018

    Our St. Johns Coffee Roasters shop gets fresh pastries delivered each morning from St. Honore, one of Portlands beloved French bakeries. I just ate one of my favorites, an almond croissant. A nice way to start Memorial Day here in the US. I found another gem written by Peter Mayle called Confessions of a French Baker. He’s written it with the famous Provençal baker, Gerard Auzet the fourth generation of bakers in his family. His bakery is called Chez Auzet in Cavaillon. Recipes, tips, and secrets are going to be revealed!

    I’m going to try my hand at painting fabric, along with fabric dying I’ve done before. I think this will allow me to be more creative and achieve effects that are more like watercolor on clothing. I’ve also got 25 t-shirts and tunics to tie dye for family members who will be at our August gathering at Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. I thought it would be a nice way to remember the event and fun to do.

    Has your family made the move to Texas yet? It will be quite a culture shock, no doubt. When I moved from Irvine to Houston I was told that it was obvious I was from California because I moved quickly. It was suggested that I would soon learn to slow down. Sure enough, like a lizard groggy with heat and humidity, my brisk walks turned into laconic shuffles. I became shade-seeking, and any outdoor activities were carefully timed to avoid the afternoon solar blast. Otherwise, it’s a cheap place to live and there are plenty of jobs so it has its benefits.

    Have fun with the fishes!


  10. The Travel Zealot
    May 28, 2018

    Actually, Steve got another job in San Diego thus sparing them the horror of moving, culture shock, and heat stroke. He also managed to find Dina a small SUV for the kiddies, fully loaded at a fantastic price so everything is coming up roses back in San Diego, and they are all enjoying Memorial Day weekend. Just two more days here in the Maldives. I go diving Tuesday morning, and fly to Sri Lanka on Thursday. Then it’s on to China, South Korea, and Japan.

  11. Karen Devers
    June 8, 2018

    I am so glad to hear that they are staying in CA with a new job and vehicle. Moving is one of my least favorite activities and I’m sure they weren’t looking forward to it. Good news indeed!

  12. The Travel Zealot
    June 9, 2018

    Yes, Steve and Dina are glad to be able to stay in San Diego where they have so much family support. The mini SUV she got is the same model and color the Chinese police are using. As much as San Diego bores me, the weather is agreeable and it’s a good place to cleanse the palate before the next year of adventure. It’s a good pit stop, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  13. BigD
    June 17, 2018

    Congratulations on 100!

    Those aerial photos are fantastic. Definitely worthy of being framed in commemorating your milestone.

    Travel on you crazy zealot!

  14. The Travel Zealot
    June 17, 2018

    Thanks D, I look forward to celebrating with all of you when I return! Those mantas were so incredibly cool. Thank goodness for Sidey’s Mavic drone! There are not many pictures on that post, but his aerial manta shots made up it in quality. I bought myself a really nice, silver, manta pendant to commemorate the “Big 100” in the international airport in the main island of the Maldives.

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