Monday, February 25, 2013

Maldives - Day 1: Here we come

Since the change of government in Egypt, Israelis are not safe in Sinai. This closed the local destination for dive vacation. A consequence of that is that to go diving we need to look further out. After some hesitation, I decided to try diving in the Maldives.

The Maldives are considered one of the heavens of diving. We will discuss them more when we get there. They are also reasonably priced and not as far away as the Far East destinations (Philipines, Palau, etc).

On this trip we are going as a group that was assembled in Israel and will travel throughout together. Our leader is Sigala, a dive instructor with her own independent operation in Eilat. We often stay at Sigala's house when diving in Eilat, and know her as super professional and nice. So when she asked if I want to join a safari with her, I joined happily. Ayelet heard about this, and decided to join as well.

We are 17 divers + Sigala. Fourteen of us are flying together through Amman. The rest joined later and so got different flight schedules with Turkish. In there group there are 4 father-son pairs, and the rest are, as far as I could tell individuals (no family relations). Some know each other from before from a previous safari with Sigala.

The flight from Tel Aviv to Amman was very short, we took off and then started our descent. The connection in Amman was rather short, and so we rushed through security into the gate area. The next flight was longer, lasting six hours. Although the plane was a modern one, the seats were uncomfortable and I didn't get much sleep.

We landed in Colombo before dawn. When we embarked on the last plane for the day there was light outside. During the hour in between we sat and had coffee and got to know each other - Saar, Shai, and Gideon, and the father son pairs - Alex and Gal, Dov and Adi, Matti and Dror, and Doron and Omer.

The flight from Colombo to Male (the main city of the Maldives) was on a Sri-Lankian Airline. Their stewardess were dressed in impressive sari's and looked like dolls. The flight itself was very short. It was disappointing that we didn't get to see the Maldives from above, as shown in many popular pictures.

The Male airport is very small, and we got out of the terminal relatively fast. We were met by our local contact, and learned that we will need to wait for an hour before the previous guests will be unloaded. 

The view outside the Male terminal

Outside was hot and humid, and we all felt an immediate desire to change to shorts and sandals. We spent the hour sitting at the water line where different boats came to collect tourists to dive resorts. On the water there was some breeze and it was cooler. The color of the water inside the harbor was impressive shade of turquoise, and looked very clear although the area had busy motor boat traffic.

The boat that came to collect us is a Donhi. Thats the local name for a broad flat boat of traditional design. Ours was not very traditional, but still got the name. The system here is that the Dhoni serves as a mobile dive club with all the dive equipment, air compressors and such. It also brings the divers from the boat to the dive sites, and serves as a shuttle. 

Leaving the terminal on the Dhoni

The ride was 20min or so and took us past various boats of all shapes and sizes. We could see Male itself (the airport is a separate island) during the ride.

Male skyline

Halfway through the ride, we saw a large pod of dolphins passing by. I didn't count, but for several minutes we saw their backs as they passed us going in the opposite direction.


Boat parking lot

Our boat, the Sting Ray, is a three floor + roof boat. The lower level hosts the guest cabins. The middle level is the kitchen, dinning, and living room. The top level hosts the crew cabins and the bridge. It also has a large deck area in the back and front that provides a nice place to hang around. There is also a flat, rather featureless, roof that is mainly a viewing platform.

First view of the Sting Ray

We were received with a tropical fruit cocktails. We then sat down to fill forms, record our passports and dive licenses, and sort the diving equipment from the other personal stuff. 

We had to wait about two hours for the next group of four people that arrived through a different itenrary - Gidi, Mor, and Anat & David, a middle age couple with a rich diving history. We were also joined by Roni who arrived the night before.

By the time we were all assembled, it was time to eat lunch. The cuisine was a mix of asian stirfry with indian resembling food, both served with rice. All by all rather tasty. 

After lunch Sigala gave us a briefing. We learned that there is a problem with the Dhoni's compressor, and so we will not dive today. Instead we went to a close by lagoon to snorkel.

The snorkeling was rather disappointing, but still we saw some fish and corals. It was nice to get into the water and move the body.

The Sting Ray (from the water)

The Sting Ray from the back. Note the two big banana clusters.

It seems everyone here is tired from the flights and it will be an early night. I decided to sleep on the roof. There was a full moon above, and I was not sure if there will be too much light to sleep. However, I fell asleep very fast.

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