After 3 hours in Colombo airport, and a 1,5 hour flight I arrived in the Maldives in the late evening on Christmas day. I got some cash and a local SIM card, before meeting up with the Emperor crew who would take med to MV Leo. I was picked up together with one guy from Bangladesh and a big group of Chinese divers, which worried me a bit, but it turned out that we were just sharing a dhoni (traditional Maldivian boat) out to our liveaboard boats. The Chinese were going on a separate boat. When we arrived there, most of the other guests had gone to bed, and we had a boat briefing, set up our equipment at the diving dhoni, got our cabins (I got one all to myself) and finally got to sleep around 1 am.
In the next 6 days we had a total of 17 dives, normally 3 dives per day (an additional night dive one day, and only one dive on the last day). We were woken up around 6 am and jumped in the water less than an hour later. Breakfast was served after the first dive, lunch after the second and dinner after the third. Sometimes we moved to a new location between dives, sometimes we stayed in one place and went to the different dive sites in the area using the diving dhoni. The itinerary was called “Best of the Maldives”, and was concentrated around South Male and Ari atolls, but also included North Male and Vaavu atolls. I was teamed up with a Danish dive buddy, and also had an American couple in my group. We were a great group that looked after each other, pointed out things we saw, and when the guys were low on air, Anne and I teamed up and continued a bit longer, so most of our dives were around 60 minutes.
We saw lots of moray eels, turtles, various rays, barracudas, tunas, trivallies etc. We visited a wreck, saw mantis shrimps, stone fish, leaf fish, several different nudibranchs and sea slugs, scorpion fish, large schools of small fish, anemone fish everywhere, beautiful corals and a few octopuses. In some dives we had quite strong currents, and used reef hooks to stay put in the location we wanted. This was mainly to watch sharks or manta rays searching for food or being cleaned by other fish at the cleaning stations. One of my favorite dives was Alimatha Circus on Vaavu Atoll. As soon as we got down a few meters we saw several large nurse sharks, curious to check us out. The biggest ones were 3 meters long, and they got really close, even bumped into some of us. They have really small mouths though, and are not scary at all. We also had two dives at Moofushi in South Ari, enjoying the magnificent manta rays at their cleaning station. Absolutely amazing!
We spent a bit of time searching for whale sharks, hoping to snorkel and dive with them, but the sea was a bit choppy and the visibility was not at it’s best in this area, so we would have been very lucky to spot one. A few evenings we put a big light on the back of the boat shining into the water to attract plankton and small fish. 2 nights we were lucky and got visits from several nurse sharks and manta rays. Especially the manta rays doing loops at the back of the boat was impressive.
We were a very international group on the boat with people from Germany, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, USA, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Spain, Bangladesh and China. Also the bar manager was from Sri Lanka, so I got to use the few words I learned when I was there (mainly “Thank you” and “Cheers”). We didn’t have fixed seats during the meals, so we moved around and got to talk to a lot of different people. There were also several social areas on the boat, and a big sundeck with bean bags and sunbeds on the roof. Great places to relax, talk and have a few beers in the evenings, even though we were a bit unlucky with the weather, with a lot of clouds and some rain.
Our first full day on the boat (December 26th) we had a Christmas dinner. We dressed up the best we could (sarongs, beach dresses and curly shirts), enjoyed a great meal with Turkey and other Christmas food, had free wine, and finished with Christmas cakes, Santa strawberries and other nice desserts. Our last full day on the boat was New Year’s Eve. We anchored a bit away from Male city, but could still see the firework from the city and the surrounding resort islands. We played music, drank prosecco and had a great time on the upper deck.
We also visited a local island, Guraidhoo, with a population of about 2700. Most of them work in the tourist industry, health sector or boat building. The closest resort island was just a short swim away, and the contrasts were significant. We also had a couple of hours in Male city, one of the most densely populated cities in the world (over 130000 in 5,8 square kilometers). The highlight was probably the Italian ice cream we had. Other than that is was noisy, hot and chaotic. On January first we all packed our bags and got ready to leave. Most of the people on the boat were only on a 1-2 weeks trip, and were flying back home, so I got a lot of sunscreen and things they did not need. I also gave away my Sri Lankan SIM card to a couple going there. We shared e-mail addresses, said goodbye to the great crew and went to the airport in the diving dhoni.
After a few hours waiting, I took a 5 hour flight to Singapore, where I planned to spend the night in one of the transit hotels located inside the airport. I had some food and a couple of European beers before I went to get a room. Fully booked! All of them! I checked the nap areas in the lounge, but they were full too. After checking the airport map, I found a quiet snooze lounge at the end of one of the piers, and lay down to try to get some sleep. After a few minutes a nice airport employee covered me in a blanket and gave me water and cookies for free. Wow! With a lot less sleep than planned, I continued my travel to the Philippines early next morning and arrived in Cebu after another 5,5 hours. I did not get any forms to fill out on the plane, so I was almost the last one through the airport. Also my suitcase was missing a wheel when I picked it up, so I had to fill out a damage report. After getting some money from the ATM and buying a local SIM card, I sat down outside waiting for Fredrik to arrive.