Embudhu, Maldives to Atlanta, USA
21.08.2010 - 28.08.2010
Embudhu Village, Maldives
Today Svenja and I rented masks, snorkels and fins, and dipped below the water - amazing colorful coral, plenty of different kinds of fish (parrot, napoleon, moorish idols), turtles - even reef sharks!
There was a shipwreck we also saw - actually, in my experience, the snorkeling here was about as good as any dive I've been on.
This morning Svenja and I got up before dawn - with the help of unrequested wake-up calls and physical knocking on our hotel room door by staff - to head down for breakfast at 06:15 so that we could check out of the Embudhu Village early. We boarded the speedboat back to Hulhule, arrived at the airport and were told our seaplane to Velidhu Island would be checking in at 09:00. We boarded the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal (basically floating in water, like the planes) on the other side of the island,
and waited for our flight. Relaxed atmosphere continued even on the seaplane, with barefoot pilots lifting us off the water and flying over the atolls,
here to Velidhu island, a 4-star resort, and definitely feels like it.
Much posher bungalows, and much less crowded, than Embudhu. We walked the entire white-powder sand island (about 1/2 hour, also a bit bigger than Embudhu), collecting some seashells and playing with hermit crabs.
Stopped at the soccer field for a quick match (I won),
met the parrot who hangs out at the bar - I was given a cheese sandwich for him to nibble on (he also seemed to like my ear).
We also got to wade in the water and say 'hello' to small rays and reef sharks.
Now, after missing lunch for the first time in 4 days (only could afford the 1/2 board here in Velidhu!), we're famished and heading to dinner.
Not too much excitement today. Well, with more laying on the beach reading books, swimming, collecting seashells, playing with the rays - not too much to complain about, either!
Unfortunately, the front desk staff never posted a signup sheet for the 1/2 day "island hopping" tours, normally held on Tuesdays, so Svenja and I weren't able to visit any inhabited islands ("traditional" Maldivians in their native settings, not dressed up in a chef outfit standing behind a buffet grill serving Europeans). Fortunately, having an awesome breakfast then spending time reading on the beach and going swimming is still time well spent. But, the all-you-can-eat buffets are beginning to taking their toll!
Today Svenja and I signed up for a manta ray snorkeling trip - we rented the masks, fins and snorkels (the cheap, leftover crap) and headed out on the boat with some other passengers. The tour guide/boat captain was overly-intense, calling out (or rather, yelling) for passengers to come to the side of the boat when it would pull up next to a manta, only to hold people up once it swam away, having the boat take off in another direction. But, eventually getting in the water snorkeling around - and then with - the mantas, was awesome. Some of them would just let you follow side-by-side for several minutes...
until you looked up and realized how far away from the boat the darn thing led you! One time I snorkeled on the surface while an enormous ray - its wingspan easy 2m wide - was swimming below, and then noticed a medium-sized shark following along, swimming under him - yikes! When I looked around and noticed no one else - nor the boat - close by, I decided to abandon the giant ray and find others to snorkel with for a while.
We headed back to the island, and after a couple exchanges of snorkel equipment for Svenni (who unfortunately was handed a faulty one for the boat trip), went back out and snorkeled around the island for a couple hours, spotting more fish and corals, plus our ray "buddy" - great day.
Back in Male, and just completed some souvenir shopping - unfortunately, no time to do any real sightseeing, as our seaplane was about 2 hours late picking us up from Velidhu and now its already dark. I guess I should feel fortunate we made it at all, as the pilot was forcing the plane up bouncing on the waves during liftoff after a stop over in one resort, with some alarm going off. During the flight, couldn't help but notice a "Flight Operating Manual" sitting on the cockpit floor - hopefully today was not the first time it was cracked open...
Well anyway, today Svenja and I were able to enjoy our last morning in Velidhu strolling on the beach, collecting shells.
Here in Dubai at the airport, and have a long wait for my connecting flight tonight as I'm growing a bit antsy on the prospect of heading home to the States. The layover is about 8 hours, but it feels much longer than that after having just said goodbye to Svenja; just boarded her connecting flight back to Frankfurt. After spending nearly every minute with each other the past 5 weeks, the past 5 minutes after watching her plane depart have felt very lonely. At least I have some guy sitting next to me chewing his lunch with his mouth open smacking to distract me.... 7.5 hours of layover to go....
I'll be landing in about an hour, back in the USA for the first time in exactly 18 months - departed to Guatemala on 28.Feb.09, with a 1-way ticket from Newark.
It is difficult to believe I've just spent 1.5 years of my life living out of my backpack.
Sleeping in different hotels, hostels and guesthouses, people's couches, people's roofs, and of course lots of times my "bed" were busses & trains, less occasionally, airplanes. The past 1.5 years, I've had to calculate currency conversion over and over. And over again. I've miraculously stretched the limits of getting by essentially knowing only English. I've bumped my head more times than I can remember. I've now become more accustomed estimating distances in meters/kilometers, than feet/miles. I've gotten in the habit of, the first thing I will do when checking into a cheap hotel/hostel (after smelling if the sheets/towel are clean, of course), would be to check and see if there was a bucket I'd be able to do my laundry with. Not to mention, never - and I mean never - leaving my backpack/daypack unlocked whenever it was out of eyesight (or while traveling on the bus overnight).
Starting out in Latin American countries, I became accustomed to expecting a bout of sickness after eating the local food, even though I'll always remember the delicious fresh fruit sold for pennies on the streets. I relearned a bit of my broken Spanish, which I've since forgotten again. I saw incredible landscapes, beautiful people, and very poor countries - something that would become a common theme in most places.
In the Far East Asia, fish and noodles/rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I never got used to. I became accustomed to sleeping in shoebox-size rooms in hotels, but never quite getting used to taking my shoes off before entering a hotel lobby. There certainly is beautiful architecture and history, that I'll always remember.
Mongolia and Russia were both unique and memorable places - Moscow became one of my favorite cities in the world.
It was wonderful spending the summer last year traveling through Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe - I know there's no chance I'll remember all of the castles & museums I visited, but will easily remember the weather changing suddenly and realizing I wasn't carrying enough clothes for winter!
There's no place like the Middle East, with its ancient cities and foundations of history. In Muslim countries, I've become conscious of people watching me eat with my left hand (despite having hygiene habits that allow me to use toilet paper and soap washing my hands). Also in these countries I became accustomed to being woken up at 05:00 for prayer calls - most unpleasant thing about that, usually the muezzin sounds more like he's screaming, than singing. I'm still mesmerized when I see women in full burqas, with only their eyes showing, wondering whether they're feeling repressed or thankful for being covered. And if there is no place like the Middle East, then Israel is truly unique - such a tiny country with all the history, different cultures in a melting pot.
Africa is complicated - sometimes it is such a heartbreaking place, witnessing how little consideration some people have for others. Western and Eastern Africa are by far the most difficult places in the world to travel by public transportation. There were days when the heat and boredom were outdone only by aggravation - unbelievably poor roads, stopping for flat tires/dropping passengers off/waiting for busses to fill up with new passengers, or any combination thereof. I've had cookies ("biscuits") for breakfast, lunch and dinner countless times on these all-day bus rides, usually having traveled only a couple hundred km and ended being covered in dust/dirt. The fact that I ALWAYS had to be on guard to ensure I wasn't being overcharged for everything because of my skin color, became exhausting. Of course, I did meet people across Africa that were also friendly and helpful, without looking at me as dollar signs, but I sadly can't say it was the majority. There is such a diverse landscape across the continent: sands to tropical rainforest to mountains and back to sands. Nowhere else is there such amazing wildlife, anywhere in the world.
Sri Lanka is a country that is emerging from a tragic natural disaster and decades-long civil war - I'm sure it will see more and more visitors every year. The Maldives are exactly what I expected - everything pricey and resorts on tiny islands with too-good-to-be-true beaches & ocean, and exactly what I was looking for a "vacation" to wrap up my vacation. I'm glad that I had met Svenja to share some of my travel experiences with, and look forward to seeing her soon.
On one hand it seems that the 1.5 years flew by - it doesn't seem so long ago at all I was sitting at a desk for my job in New York, doing my very routine lifestyle of work, working out, eat, occasionally going out, sleep, get up and do it again. To think about going back to that routine, and listening to the loud Americans around me now on this flight, is causing anxiety & panic a bit. But then I also think about my friends & family - and get so excited to see them again. With my travels, I am beginning to feel a bit disappointed with myself, like I haven't appreciated the experience of traveling to its fullest; that too often I was thinking about the comforts of home - running water, reliable electricity, riding busses where only enough people as there are seats are on board, being able to eat something and not wonder if I'll get sick. But I supposed that these "luxuries", I will no longer take for granted (along with books to read, on long bus rides with no radio). Some of the details of this trip I'm sure I'll soon forget, but I hope that I'll remember as much as I can about the experiences I've had, for many years to come. And thankful I kept this journal to help remind me. I'm weighing my options on what I'll do for the the next phase of my life, but whatever that will be, will begin with another single step.