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.