The descent into the Maldives is spectacular, even though the weather isn’t fantastic with lots of grey heavy clouds around, I feel a rush of excitement as I begin to see the turquoise rims around the tiny islands dotted underneath me which is a beautiful sight.
We land, I reclaim my luggage and as I approach the customs desks I am handed an ‘entry form’ to complete. I pass through customs, being asked which hotels I am staying in……..how long I am planning to stay………when do I leave and where am I flying onto, I know the answers to all of these questions, easy!………
As I exit the arrivals hall out into the street the heavens open and I realise that the tunic that I am wearing over leggings is not suitable attire for ‘rain’. My earlier rush of excitement reduces as I acknowledge that I hadn’t banked on this weather, it wasn’t in my plan, what if it’s like this for the full five days ‘Oh shit what have I done!’
I stand undercover and people watch, hoping that I may see something that will A. Post me in the direction of something to do for 7 hours, until the ‘Dhoni’ is due or B. Find where I can enquire about a shared speedboat to Maafushi. I realise that although I have GBP, USD and Sri Lankan LKR I have no Maldives currency, better than that I don’t even know what the currency is, or what the exchange rate to GBP is (A piece of research that I intended to complete whilst in Sri Lanka but failed to do.)
I find an ATM which doesn’t accept my card, so I head back into the airport to seek out a travel counter to exchange some currency. As I do so I see a young man holding up a board ‘Speedboat to Maafushi’…….Result!………I am happy! Not only do I negotiate a one way trip to Maafushi for 20USD with the holder of the board but also change some currency with him. Although at the time I have no idea what I should of been expecting in terms of exchange rate. (Note to self…really really important to know what the currency is of the country you’re in and have some idea of the exchange rate!)
The rain passes and I share the speedboat with another 4 people, then after a bumpy 30 minute ride, we arrive at Maafushi as the heavens open up once again. We climb onto land and I am aware that my tunic is now, to some extent, see through due to the rain, so I wrap myself in a large cotton shawl, even though the temperature is close to 30 degrees Celsius. As we wait on the harbour for our luggage to follow us from the speedboat, I am greeted by another young man asking ‘Lisa ?’ ‘Yes that’s me’ I reply he smiles, says hello and then ushers me towards a scooter.
‘Come’ he says as he climbs on, I position myself behind him wondering what will happen to my luggage? This is the second time in a week that I have been on the back of a scooter driven by a man much younger than myself……..it’s quite nice……….I am driven a short distance to The Arena Beach Hotel at the other side of the island, looking less than glamorous, wrapped in a wet shawl. The image that I had built in my head of my arrival on the Maldives is a million miles from this reality.
The Hotel is very welcoming and after checking in I am told that my room will be available shortly. I sit in the lounge and make small talk with two Spanish gentlemen who sit beside me. They tell me that they have been here for 3 days and it hasn’t stopped raining…..not what I wanted to hear….they were waiting to depart and told me that although they had enjoyed their stay on the island, other than snorkelling and taking trips to surrounding islands there was pretty much nothing else to do. I am not too concerned as the whole point of travelling all this way to the Maldives was to snorkel and that can be done in the rain.
As I sit in the reception my thoughts turn to the distance that I have travelled to be here and that I have finally arrived at my first port of call on the Maldives, ‘Maafushi.’ Soon enough I am shown to my room, which is great and as it was a very early start in Sri Lanka this morning I am shattered. I climb into bed for a ‘Nanna nap’ and when I wake the sun is shining, Yippeeee!!!
As I wait outside Colombo airport for Nisha to bring the car, I listen to the chaos that is going on around me……Car horns sounding, shouting, loud chattering, laughter and the distinctive sound of moped exhausts, all add to the character of this island at the southern most tip of India and it’s a feast for the senses.
Several people approach me whilst I stand alone waiting for Nisha, asking whether I need a car, ‘No no thank you I am waiting for my driver’ is my response and as traffic comes and goes I move myself around several times to avoid being driven into by buses cars and motorbikes. Although it is still early morning the temperature here is hot and I begin feel the impact of this as I blow the fringe out of my now clammy face, whilst trying to negotiate both myself and my luggage to a safer location.
Soon enough Nisha arrives and deposits my bag into the boot of his car as I climb into the passenger seat. The Air Con is already blowing and it feels good to be in the comfort of an air conditioned car. Nisha confirms that the first port of call is Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is roughly a 2 hour drive away. It is still just after 4am and dark with little traffic on the roads, which makes for easy driving and we make small talk along the way. I am pleased that Nisha’s English is very good, as my ability to speak any foreign language is terrible!
Nisha has a very gentle and calm demeanour and I begin to feel relaxed in his company as we make our way to Pinnawala. I make a decision not to mention my despair at Dubai airport after receiving the messenger bubble from his friend ‘the driver’ who I had originally booked my tour with. Although I am not so sure that I won’t bring it up at some point during the next 6 days when a more appropriate opportunity arises…….The drive to Pinnawala is quicker than anticipated and we arrive there much earlier that its opening time.
We pull into a deserted dusty car park opposite the entrance and as Nisha brings the car to a stop, a male approaches the driver side and he and Nisha exchange words in their mother tongue. Nisha askes me whether I would like to use the restroom ‘No thanks I’m ok’, is my response and the male ‘eyes’ me from the driver’s side of the car, before turning on his heels and walking back in the direction that he came, before disappearing around a corner.
Although I am not exactly worried, I do feel a tad ‘tetchy’ about being parked up in a dark dusty car park with a person whom I have yet to learn anything about and as Nisha explains that we probably have 1hr 30 minutes to kill before the orphanage opens, he reclines his seat and invites me to do the same………I am not sure how to react to this offer and my grip around my bag carrying my valuables tightens. It is soon obvious that I have nothing to worry about as within, what seems like seconds, Nisha is fast asleep. I later go on to find out that in his attempts to help his ‘friend’ out and collect me from Colombo airport, during the early hours, he himself had dropped off another guest only hours before and so had pretty much worked right through the night……..I am grateful for his efforts.
I smile to myself as I wonder what I would be thinking had either of my daughters telephoned me and described this scene, whilst they were travelling solo ? I take comfort in the fact that he is sleeping like a baby, arms folded across his chest and I sit quietly listening to the gentle rhythm of his snoring……I use this time to appreciate that I have arrived in Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to what the day has in store, as I reflect on the information that I had previously gathered about the elephant orphanage.
I remember reading that the primary purpose of Pinnawala was to provide a lifeline to the orphaned baby and adult elephants that have become lost in the wilderness. It is said that there are instances of adult elephants being killed by farmers to protect their paddy fields and crops resulting in baby elephants being orphaned. The Orphanage was launched to provide the best possible opportunity to the sad victims of such situations.
As I spend some time in my own thoughts, staring out onto the road, the darkness of the night diminishes and is replaced by dawn sunlight. With this I experience my first daytime images of this beautiful country and again I see similarities to Bali. Soon after the sun begins to rise a bus arrives carrying young children.
I suspect this is a school trip and as the children vacate the bus their attention in focussed on the single car in the car park with a snoring driver and a white female passenger still clutching her handbag. Some approach the car giggling and pointing towards me. I am unsure what they make of this image but find it amusing that they are so interested (Maybe they think we have been here all night!)
Not long after Nisha wakes and asks whether I was able to take a nap, my reply is ‘No such chance with your snoring………..’ this brings a smile to my face and he sees that I am amused by his ‘napping.’ He exits the car and returns with two bottles of water before we both make our way towards the Orphanage entrance.
The next two days are spent exploring the area. There is a short walk from the house down to the Vienne River, which has a lovely path running alongside. There is a magnificent bridge here which I believe stages bungee jumps in the summer months. We past cyclists and anglers along the River, who are all very welcoming, exchanging acknowledgements of ‘Bonjour’ as we pass. It doesn’t take long to feel at home here and we like it.
We are very lucky in terms of the weather as France is currently experiencing a heatwave and as the mornings turn to afternoon, the heat is tipping from the high 20’s into the low 30 degree Celsius and it is hot! The village has an open-air public swimming pool, which is much welcomed for an afternoon dip to cool down and after doing so we head to the local supermarket to get some provisions.
We spend time deciding between the three of us what food to buy that ‘bestie’ will be happy to sample. (You guessed it, she’s a fussy eater) As we meander through the isles a realisation hits that they do not stock Pepsi Max and the disappointment on ‘Besties’ face is blatantly obvious. Myself and ‘the middle one’ manage to convince ‘Bestie’ that she will indeed survive for a full week without it. We purchase diet coke instead which, although there are complaints about she does eventually accept, acknowledging that this is better than nothing.
The outside space at the house is great and as the afternoon temperatures drop slightly it is a nice little sun trap to soak up the last of the afternoon rays whilst passing the time playing ‘pass the pig’ We are all relaxed and happy in each others company and have somehow managed, up to this point, to avoid any altercations between us.
Although I have spent lots of time in France mainly along the southern coast line, this is the first time that I have experience the ‘French village’ life and I am pleased with how this place has managed to keep it’s authentic feel although the majority of people that live here now are English, which the locals have welcomed.
It soon becomes evident that the English locals have a weekly schedule of meeting up around the square to socialise and over the next two evenings we sit amongst them chatting and enjoying their company.
We cook and eat at the house, we drink in the square, we relax in the back garden and we listen to ‘bestie’ highlighting her sting of ailment. One of which is really unpleasant hay fever. We spend more time with Chris and Wendy along with their dogs whilst enjoying the atmosphere at Café Le Paix and we are introduced to a group of English ‘Bikers’ who are touring the villages of southern France.
It isn’t long before we have been befriended by one of them ‘Spanish Dave’, who is in fact English and fancies himself as somewhat of an entrepreneur, along with five of his friends who are all happy to be in female company. As the evening creeps into the early hours of the following morning we find ourselves seated around a courtyard adjacent to the Café Le Paix where the ‘bikers’ are residing enjoying their stash of boxed French vino brought down from their rooms.
Bestie makes the decision to take on a challenge with ‘Spanish Dave’ which involved drinking a pint of Red wine in one hit and after doing so manages to fall over in the garden as the red wine takes effect on her 5ft 2 inches, size 3 feet body, resulting in a nasty sprain. I wonder whether tomorrow will find me seeking out the nearest A & E.
We say our goodbyes and head towards bed, once again admiring the beauty and brightness of the stars and spend an hour or so in the back garden of the house in silence contentedly staring into the night sky.
Limoges is the smallest of airports and there is a long wait whilst passing through passport control, I am ahead of the others and so use sign language to communicate to them that I will go and seek out the car rental office and collect the pre booked car.
Soon enough we are on the road, after some juggling of cases and dropping of back seats……and it isn’t long before my brain has accepted that we are driving on the other side of the road and everything is back to front. Although ‘Bestie’ is the designated co-pilot for the trip ‘the middle one’ has taken the front seat and there are numerous discussions around which road we should be taking that will head us in the right direction for L’sle de Jourdain. After some irritating debate between the three of us, around which highway we should take, we all agree that we are travelling in the right direction and we settle in for a straight run for a while. ‘Bestie’ highlights (from the back seat) that there is a 5th gear on the car and as I slip from 4th to 5th, thanking her for her observations.
As we leave the highway behind us, we are weaving through several French villages which are delightful. We pass through a little town that has its trees decorated in knitted items and observe that although we have passed other vehicles, since leaving the highway, we haven’t passed a single ‘human being’ on the streets of the villages that we have driven through.
We pull into a local village store for some essentials, as we are not sure that we will reach L’sle de Jourdain before the local supermarket closes and we purchase some items to get us through until tomorrow. I attempt to put my limited knowledge of French into practice and ‘the middle one’ who has a decent understanding of Spanish tells me that my attempt is poor. The shop owner appears pleased with my ‘merci’ ‘au voir’ and so I am happy.
We arrive in L’sle de Jourdain and find the house, using the owners hand written directions, really easily. It is devine……..a typical French family home split onto two levels with a good sized garden area to the back. We upack and head uphill to the village square which again oozes ‘french’ village life and we take a table at Café de la Paix.
We order drinks and its soon clear that most of the people here are English. We decide to dine here this evening and we are shown into the back courtyard which is an eating area away from the square. We sit alongside a couple who are already eating with their dogs sat (very well behaved) under their table. There is an exchange of ‘hello’s’ between us all and again we hear their accents are English.
Chris and Wendy are staying at a nearby village and they tell us that they have eaten here often whilst staying at a friends house. They speak very highly of the Roquefort Cheese Salad and state that the Steak is delicious. Roquefort Cheese Salad and Steak it is then. ‘Bestie’ is not he most adventurous eater that I have ever come across and I am mindful that she may well just eat chips for breakfast/lunch/dinner whilst we are away, all washed down with vast quantities of Pepsi max. I am pleased when she orders Steak, which she says she likes, her Mother would be proud.
The food is, as described by Chris and Wendy, very good and we spend the evening chatting to the couple and enjoying some decent French red wine. As it’s our first night we also order a bottle of Prosecco which goes does a treat. We chat to other couples in the courtyard who are dining, all of whom are English, then as we walk back to the house we notice how clear the night sky is and the stars are the brightest that I have seen.
oThe trip begins with mass confusion!! Firstly we have agreed to purchase one ‘hold bag’ between us and there is a period of negotiation as to what is going in this bag and an attempt is made to section the bag into three……….As you can imagine this is great fun and there are numerous accusations made that ‘someone has more room in the bag that the others’. Finally everyone is happy with their designated third, although there are now concerns about the bag being over weight and if it is, how will this be managed once we arrive at the airport ?
I can feel myself getting dragged into the bags ‘drama’ and although this kind of issue isn’t something that I would normally get upset about, I can feel myself beginning to get a little ‘tetchy’ as my efforts to dampen the ‘drama’ fall upon deaf ears……
We arrive at the airport and make our way to Ryanair ‘bag drop’. As we do so, Bestie (who at this point is beginning to get increasingly more agitated) is way in front, weaving her way through the mass of passengers all working out which check in desk to head to. Myself and the ‘middle child’ watch as she manages to fall over her own case causing mass confusion followed by a string of obscenities as she talks to herself thinking that we are hot on her heels…. which we are not….
We catch her up as we arrive at the Ryanair section of ‘self-check in’ I take the ‘hold’ bag and begin to manage the ‘self-check in’ machine which wants to check the weight of the bag……As anticipated we are overweight and so pull the case to one side and begin to rummage through, taking out what we can and manipulating the items into our already full hand luggage.
We manage to reach the allocated weight of the case, check it in and make our way through security before finally arriving in the departure lounge seeking out somewhere for a bite to eat. Bestie is now relaxed and all previous anxieties have left her, which is pleasing. We find an eatery which isn’t too full and sit observing the delights of numerous ‘Stag Do’s’ all beginning their trip consuming vast amounts of alcohol.
I find myself trying to identify any other airport that I have spent time in, that has these images and I struggle to identify any!! The ‘British Style Stag/Hen’ party is most definitely out there on its own and I wonder what is the perception that foreign travellers, passing through Manchester airport, have of our wonder City. Similar to the perception that is portrayed of ‘Mancunian life’ depicted in Coronation Street no doubt.
We board the flight and sit separately….offering some quiet time during the journey and we arrive in Limoges relaxed and looking forward to our following weeks holiday.
Once you have enjoyed the experience of travelling solo then you become conscious of the impact of travelling with others and the demands that this can have, I am able to remind myself that I have had many experiences of travelling with others and have thoroughly enjoyed those trips.
With this in mind I have the opportunity to visit a colleagues house in Lisle Jourdain, France, which has been bought as a holiday home and sounds wonderful………The flights are ridiculously cheap with Ryanair and before I know it, after discussing this with the ‘middle child’ I have arranged a booking and bought flights for June 2017. The ‘middle child’ appears to have inherited my love of travel and in true ‘like mother like daughter’ style she doesn’t need any encouragement to get herself out of the country and is happy to book flights to any destination on a whim.
I have taken several ‘mother/daughter’ trip with her over the last few years and we appear to be able to manage each others company well with no concerns. Whilst we are planning the trip there is a suggestion made that her ‘bestie’ comes along too. Bestie is one of my unofficially adopted daughters (of which I have many) and I am confident that this will work, especially as this will offer me the opportunity to seek some ‘me, myself and I time’ easier.
Bestie is booked onto the trip and we begin to plan. After a recommendation to visit La Rochelle, from another colleague at work we consider the possibility to visit another area of France whilst there. This is a common theme of mine in terms of when I have the opportunity to visit somewhere new I like to try to fit in a ‘trip within a trip’ and both of my travel companions are happy with the suggestion.
I have visited France many times over the years, always choosing to stay along the South coastline and on the odd occassion travel through into Italy. I have always enjoyed France, it’s cuisine, it’s climate, it’s character, although I am aware that I have only visited very touristy areas of France I am hopeful that the traditional French village life will be equally as enjoyable. I am also hopeful that the trip will possibly offer me the opportunity to experience a more pleasant example of the French female, who during my trip to the Maldives unfortunately left me with a somewhat negative impression.
So after a couple of ‘planning Fridays’ we all agree on the following:
I will research and hire a car to be collected at the airport in Limoges and I will be the designated driver for the duration of the holiday.
The middle one, will book the accommodation in La Rochelle, that has been recommended by my colleague at work.
Bestie will conduct research of the areas that we will visit and will be navigator when driving between destinations during the trip.
We will all be mindful that we each have individual travel needs and we will be respectful of these throughout the holiday.
Easy, the week is organised and we are all looking forward to our French holiday, which is only 6 weeks away. I am confident that there will be no issues in terms of how we will all ‘get along’ and that the trip will be a success and everyone will enjoy each other’s company………….
It has been 3 weeks now since I returned from my first international Solo trip to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and I have experienced a real difference in terms of getting back to my ‘normal routine’ in comparison to holidays that I have taken with family/friends.
The most challenging part has been my re-interaction with others. After spending so much time in my own company and choosing how and when to engage with others, finding myself placed back into society where I have a variety of roles including Mother, Friend, Colleague and Worker, I have felt the demands that all of these roles have on my attention and I have struggled!
As in other challenging times in my past I resort to my ‘survival guide’ which has proved to work marvellously on previous occasions. I avoid alcohol, I drink lots of water, I eat more fruit, I remind myself to be appreciative of the people that I have around me that make my existence a positive experience. I make efforts to spend more time with those whose company I enjoy. I ride my bike, I walk, I climb a mountain. I also spend a ridiculously large amount of time ‘reframing’ daily situations and eventually normality resumes.
Unfortunately, before this happens I reach ‘breaking point’ after an incident at home involving sausage pasta (or should I say the lack of it)! I return from a bike ride sweaty, dressed in lycra donning a riding helmet and within minutes of being home, I find myself screaming like a ‘woman possessed.’ I am following ‘the youngest’ around the house demanding where has all the sausage pasta gone!! This is not my finest moment and unfortunately ‘the youngest’s’ girlfriend is exposed to the incident, I am not proud…………….
Once I have recovered and come to terms with the fact that in order for me to travel, I need to spend time in my normality (as this funds my travel). I settle back into my western routine, often reflecting on the wonderful experience that I have had. During this time, I am unable to accept that my time in Sri Lanka is done and so in true ‘mid-life crisis’ style, within two months of my return to the UK, I have booked flights back to Sri Lanka for August 2017, where I will visit for just under three weeks to take in its delights at a much slower pace.
Lots of people have asked me whether my first solo trip was what I thought it would be and the answer is…….no not at all. My biggest concerns before I went were, what would I do with my time? Would I be safe? Would I be ok going out and dining on my own in the evening and the answers to all of these questions is……..If you can do these things at home then you can do them anywhere.
The same rules apply in terms of keeping safe, I follow my instincts, the same as I would when choosing somewhere to camp or heading off on a trek on my own. I have never been concerned about going into Manchester and dining solo, or to sit in the sunshine with a glass of wine ‘people watching’ on a Saturday afternoon and I certainly don’t struggle to ‘fill my time’ when I am in my own company. I am able to enter a Zen like state which is wonderful.
The ability to be able to focus on nothing and nobody apart from yourself is a skill that is mastered, especially if you have raised a family where some days you don’t even know your name never mind what your needs are !
What I do find interesting is how differently I see myself when placed in environments where nobody knows anything about me. Most of the time whilst I was away, nobody knew where I was or what my plans were for the day which made for a refreshing change and is a millions miles away from my western existence where pretty much every minute of every day my movements are known by somebody.
There is an expectation as to, where I am going, what time will I be home, what will I be making for tea, which I appreciate are all part of normal family dynamics but given the opportunity to escape this for a while, it has highlighted just how restricting I can find this at times.
This experience has been wonderful, the destinations were fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed my own company, and on the odd occasion the company of others, and absolutely yes I cannot wait to do it again 😊
I have arranged my transfer back to Male for 11.30am and I am keen to make the most of what time I have left here. My snorkel and I are already experiencing the delights of the underwater world of Biyadhoo by 6am. I snorkel, I lay on the beach, I snorkel some more before heading back to my room to shower and pack before feasting on more fish curry for my last Maldivian breakfast.
I then spend my last hour gently swaying in a hammock, staring blissfully out over the turquoise ocean watching a couple of reef sharks hunt for smaller fish in the shallows. I await the arrival of the speedboat transfer back to Male, which is late. I realise that during my 5 minute speedboat transfer from Maafushi to Biyadhoo I have gained another 30 minutes on my day…………..So………… 30 minutes late the transfer arrives and I am waved off the jetty by two of the reception staff, my feelings on my trip back to Male are mixed.
I am in love, I am contented, I am relaxed, I am appreciative of the beauty of our planet, I am sad, I am confident that I will someday return. My flight back to Colombo is non-descript I board the plane, I depart the flight, I collect my bag, I wonder through to arrivals with no real plan on how I will get to my last nights accommodation in Sri Lanka. I remember my arrangement with Nisha who has booked my last nights stay in Sri Lanka at Villa 7 in Negombo. It is the same hotel that I stayed before my departure to the Maldives and is located close to the airport as well as being in close proximity to the beach where I can spend my remaining hours of my Solo trip tomorrow before I depart back to the UK. I ring Nisha before I begin to seek out a taxi outside and he answers with ‘Hello Madam, yes I am on my way.’
I spend my last night of my first solo voyage in a state of wonder. I dine at Villa 7 on the most delicious king prawns whilst reminiscing over the last 13 days of bliss. I feel rejuvenated, I am in awe of the wonderful planet that we inhibit and I am not ready to head back to the UK and the demands of reality there. As I have been able to place myself into ‘in-time’ for the majority of my trip, in some ways I feel that I have been away from home for a much longer period of time and in others I feel like I have only just left the UK.
I drift off to sleep with home life and work filling my thoughts and I wake the following day feeling sad to be leaving. I reframe this emotion and remind myself that I have three children that I love dearly waiting for me to return as well as highlighting that this is my midlife crisis and its not supposed to last forever. I have breakfast and wonder down to the sea where I take a very long slow walk along the beach soaking up every last minute that I can of this beautiful country.
I check in at Colombo airport and update my facebook status as follows…..
All good things must come to an end……..I will no doubt be found crying on several occasions over the next few days and due to spending large amounts of time in my own company and soaking up the silence over the last two weeks, I suggest that unless I am urgently needed to respond to something, I’m best left alone until Sunday/Monday whilst I absorb the delights of Sri Lanka and The Maldives xx Note to offspring : please don’t ask ‘what’s for tea’ ‘what time is….’ or ‘can you just’ I need time to readjust to normality Xx
The whole of the day is spent snorkelling, laying in hammocks, drinking coffee and water, pinching myself, being in love, people watching and more snorkelling. Today I encounter my first swim with a turtle!!…She is graceful, elegant and silent and I am moved by her presence. I am in awe of the beauty that Mother Nature has created.
The late afternoon sun is sweltering and I head to my room for the relief of the air conditioning. I shower, I dance, I sing into a hairbrush (yes I know you wouldn’t believe it would you….) I am tempted to dip into the minibar but I restrain myself. I dress and head to the bar for a G&T before watching the sunset again.
I feel as though days have passed since I last watched the same sun set in the same spot at the same time and again I am happy with my ability to remain ‘in time’. Before heading to dinner I realise that I have not checked in with the offspring since arriving on Biyadhoo so I walk around the reception area with my phone stretched out above my head trying to tap into Wi-Fi, no luck…I feel no ‘Mum guilt’ at the thought that they may be worried, there is nothing that I an do about that (its getting easier).
I type a message and attach it to several social media accounts, Facebook, Twitter, WhattsApp and Instagram and I am confident at some point my phone will find a signal of some kind and a message will be sent… It does and they are happy 😊
Dinner is another feast of Maldivian curry and fresh salad along with a diet coke. The food here is fabulous and I have to try really hard not to overindulge. There are several singletons dotted around the restaurant who I don’t remember seeing throughout the day and wonder where they have been ? (There is nowhere to hide on this island, it is too small!)
After dinner, I am back at the island bar. Yes another G&T. I chat to a Portuguese couple who I spoke to earlier in the day, they are interested in the Shisha pipe that I had last night but not enough to try one. A band are playing over towards the beach, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. As we chat my feet are tapping to the sound of the music and then I am dancing on the beach with strangers. I enjoy one last G & T followed by a Baileys and I drift off to sleep happy.
In between snorkelling, drinking coffee, and occasionally lying in the sun (albeit only for very short periods of time) I finally pick up the book that I have brought with me, it is now day 11 of my holiday and I have only just found time to pick up my book.
My body and mind are so relaxed that it has felt almost offensive to fill it with the words from a book, sounds stupid I know but that is exactly how I feel. I don’t ever remember feeling this relaxed….Ever!!….I wonder what it will be like on my ‘re-entry’ into my day to day routine back in the UK. I pull my train of thought back to the here and now and spend the whole day in a Zen like state. I shower and dine, wondering how on earth does a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean manage to produce such wonderful food, when every ingredient that it uses is imported……….Tonight I drink only two gin cocktails and I sleep contentedly.
Biyadhoo is a dated island with a three star rating, making it accessible to people on a budget who want to experience the fabulous snorkelling of its house reef, fitting my needs perfectly. It has the most beautiful beach and as I walked out onto the stretch of white sand for the first time, I am moved by how stunning it is, an image and feeling that has stayed with me.
I spend the first afternoon snorkelling, which was amazing and soon became aware that Biyadhoo opens its doors to day trippers, as speedboats arrive from neighbouring islands and snorkelers slip into the ocean to witness the underwater delights that this island has to offer. Unfortunately this has had a negative impact on some parts of the reef which now shows signs of damage.
Sea planes fly overhead transferring holidaymakers from Male to their destination island and I find myself wondering what kind of lifestyles people live, who holiday in this perfect location year in year out ? Is this way of life something that I would want to swop for my single life back in the UK, working a full time demanding job, attempting to create calm in a house now full of ‘adult children’ completing the mundane daily tasks of washing/ironing/cooking/cleaning…….and I surprise myself in answering no, I am content with my life and I feel blessed to be able to experience this trip.
An afternoon stroll confirmed that Biyadhoo is also tiny, with me being able to walk the circumference in under 15 minutes. There are lots of little alcoves with hammocks for you to relax, a relaxation centre to enjoy a massage, a central restaurant and bar where you can eat/drink and lots of shaded beach areas which are perfect for when the afternoon sun reaches it’s hottest. I snorkel then float on top of the Indian ocean whilst I watch the sun setting with nobody else around and I am blissfully contented.
As I exit the beach and make my way back to my room I realise I have no idea what time it is, I am not even sure what day it is but I do know that I have spotted a Shisha pipe in the bar and I can almost smell the Gin and Tonic…..I shower, I eat, I smoke a Shisha, I drink several Gin Cocktails, passing the time chatting to strangers, looking through the underwater pics that I have taken since I arrived on the Maldives, then I go back onto the beach and just sit in the darkness listening to nothing, before heading to bed.
The four or five (quite possibly six) Gin cocktails contribute to a ‘coma sleep’ and when I wake I know that I have slept way past my usual 6.30am natural wake up call. The restaurant still has a handful of breakfast diners and as I peruse the offerings, which is a selection of continental breakfast items, fruit bowls and a variety of breads and cereals, I see fish curry……as I feel a little tender from the effects of the gin cocktails I am drawn towards something hearty and tasty…….fish curry it is then, it is delicious 😊
Again I wake early and I am snorkelling by 6.30am. I have been able to place myself into ‘in time’ (another technique used to slow things down and give yourself time to soak up the here and now instead of thinking about what’s coming up next) so every hour feels like 4 and I like it a lot ! After breakfast I am chatting to an Italian couple who tell me that I can arrange a transfer to Biyadhoo at the iCom office down the road for 15 USD
I pack and check out leaving my luggage with reception and take a walk around the island. Maafushi is tiny, it takes me literally less than 15 minutes to walk around and as I reach the far side of the island I see the walls of a prison……….Yes of all the islands that I could of chosen to visit in the Maldives I choose the one that has a prison!……..My mind wonders to my colleagues at work and our interactions with the Youth Justice Service and I banish these thoughts of home life immediately!
There are a couple of shops, cafe’s and a delightful bakers ‘Fine Bake by Suzy’ where I buy some lunch. It is busy here and after I look this place up on Trip Advisor I can see it generates a lot of interest. Most definitely worth a visit if you’re ever on Maafushi.
I negotiate a transfer to Biyadhoo for 20 USD (as I am the only one travelling) and I arrange a return trip from Biyadhoo on day 6 back to Male for a further 20 USD. The distance travelled here in the Maldives appears to have no bearing what so ever on how much you pay……….but I have no alternative so I take it ! A grand total of 50 USD for the roundtrip as opposed to 180 USD which is what Biyadhoo charges for a round trip to and from the island….. I am happy and looking forward to a Gin and Tonic.
The Speedboat to Biyadhoo takes 5 minutes and the weather is beautiful, a much nicer experience than my arrival at Maafushi. There is only me in the speedboat and two young men from the iCom office, who are chatty and interested as to why I am travelling alone, I tell them that I like my own company and they frown. It dawns on me that I now refer to males in the 30’s as ‘young men’ and wonder when I started to see 30 something as young ?
As we approach Biyadhoo I see dolphins swimming alongside and I find myself in awe of the wonder of Mother nature and how wonderful it is to see dolphins in their environment swimming alongside because they choose to, I also spot flying fish which are fantastic, if a little odd looking.
The hotel is positioned right on the beach and I remember what I have read about local island custom and only being able to wear bikinis/swimming consumes on certain parts of the islands which are sectioned off, this particular part being one of them. I notice there is a real mix of nationalities on Maafushi and I do not hear another UK accent at all during my first day here.
I am keen to get into the water and my first snorkelling experience on the Maldives does not disappoint, with me seeing a reef shark within 5 minutes of my first snorkel. A sighting which excites me as this is the moment that I have been so looking forward to since that rainy Saturday evening in the UK back in January. After a couple of hours ‘fish watching’ my hands have turned to prunes and before my ‘middle aged body’ follows suit, I remove my snorkel, I lay on the white sand and pinch myself ‘I am actually in the Maldives…..’
A sense of achievement washes over me in planning this trip, and wonder if I hadn’t fired up the laptop (chardonnay in hand) whether the impulse to move my thoughts of travel towards reality would of come to fruition? Sometime later I shower and head to the restaurant for Dinner.
Dining Solo in the Maldives is no different than dining solo anywhere else. I make small talk with a couple of diners and take a table on the beach. A dinner of seafood is good served with a Diet Coke, followed by some time, I have no idea how long (as time has now left me and I only know that the sun rises and sets) on the beach in a tree swing people watching.
I observe everybody’s interactions with each other in this environment where alcohol is prohibited. I cannot remember another time when I have holidayed where alcohol has not been a factor and find myself thinking about what vices people have, that are alcohol free whilst on holiday ? I go to bed happy.
I wake early and I am snorkelling by 6.30am. I eat, I snorkel, I eat, I snorkel, I eat, I am totally relaxed, now in a ZEN like state. I lie on the beach and people watch, I am aware that some people acknowledge that I am a solo traveller and make efforts to engage in conversation (which is nice) and I also acknowledge that there are couples here holidaying where the female of the two shows caution towards me…………An interesting observation which leads me to thoughts of how people see me and more importantly what their thoughts are towards solo female travellers ?
I snorkel some more, I watch the sun setting, I take a stroll over to the other side of the island and see families sat out on the streets chatting. There is rubble and household rubbish on some of the street corners here on Maafushi and I don’t remember seeing any such images whilst completing my research back in the UK.
There are also unkempt parts of the island’s coastline which resemble run down parts of the West coast of the UK, sights that I hadn’t expected to be met with. I walk back to the Arena Beach Hotel then spend time on the beach with a blank mind and enjoy having no thoughts almost in a state of meditation. I am not hungry so I stay where I am for some time longer before showering and going to bed happy, looking forward to being on Biyadhoo tomorrow. I still need to work out how to get there……