Mark & I both observed that going into our six nights in the Maldives we felt as though we were kind of “checking off a box,” as in you have to go there at some point and since Sri Lanka is the closest country might as well do it now. It’s not that we weren’t looking forward to it, it was just that it seemed unlikely we were going to be that excited by it. Six nights later and it may now rank as the most fantastic, beautiful, perfect resort we’ve ever stayed at. That’s saying something. If you’re fortunate enough to travel in tropical islands – the Caribbean, the Greek islands, whatever – you’re always looking for that beach that’s just like you see them in the travel magazines. We found it.
First, you have to acknowledge that the resorts here are ridiculously expensive. We did the whole six nights on Hyatt points earned long ago, staying at their Park Hyatt, the top property in their chain. Even with free lodging, though, we knew it was going to be an expensive stay; when you’re captive on an island like that (the Park Hyatt has the entire island; there’s literally nothing else there) you pay top dollar for food and drinks. And to make it worse the Maldives is a seriously Moslem country where alcohol is banned for those entering the country. That ban is lifted in resorts so you can drink, but only what they sell you at their prices. So yeah, expensive even if the room is free.
But wow, was it worth it. It started good enough, with a weekly manager’s Happy Hour on our first night that included free drinks for an hour or so along with local entertainment. We had an entry-level room and it was beautiful. On the second day, though, we were told that they were going to upgrade us the next day to a suite, a two-bedroom place with a veranda, private pool, and semi-private beach. Wow, wow! We’re not sure why us (it could have been random, or it might have been related to a certain staff person who seemed to really like having a gay couple staying there…) but now we were living large.
What do you do at a luxury resort on the most beautiful tropical island we’ve ever seen? Not a lot. Reading, sunbathing, swimming, napping … that’s about it. Even on the one day it rained, pretty much all day, you could sit in luxury and just drink it all in. In an unusual twist we made a bunch of friends. Our experience is that the more expensive and exclusive a resort the less likely you are to meet people; you have more space to yourself and people just stay apart. Here, though, the bar was a lively place through the afternoon and evening. Several people at least had “all you can drink” packages and some of them took good advantage of it. In our case the resort also allows you to buy an “unlimited” package on a daily basis and, as the price was less than the cost of wine with meals plus a cocktail each, we bit.
So we met James & Lidia, a fun couple from London on their slightly delayed honeymoon. Our little friendship didn’t start so well when James, an investment banker of some sort and heir of some sort, claimed to be a big fan of both Donald Trump and Brexit. Mark tactfully called him a damned idiot and then we got along great. Joe & Cassie were a fun couple from Australia who just happened to share the names of a great-great-uncle and aunt whom I remember fondly from my childhood. Probably best of all were Chas & Patty, a great semi-retired couple from St. Louis; inveterate travelers and very much on our side in the Trump flare-ups. Late in the stay we met Eran and Rhianna, a young Manhattan couple escaping the New York winter. Oh, and you can’t forget the Turkish dentist. Actually, we never talked with him and in fact I’m not sure he even spoke English (and I’m sure I don’t speak Turkish). You couldn’t miss him though, a big, bulky, heavy-set, unattractive guy who spent a week there with someone who sure seemed like a hooker. And in fact Joe said one of the staff people told him “Yeah, he comes here every so often with another one.” Colorful!
OK, though, back to the islands. Some interesting things about the Maldives. With fewer than half a million residents, it has the smallest population in all of Asia and is also the smallest in terms of land area. At the same time it is remarkably dispersed, with the northernmost island some 530 miles from the southernmost. As a result it’s not easy to get around: from Colombo we flew into Malé, the capital, caught a connecting flight about ninety minutes south, and then caught a boat for about 45 minutes to the resort.
Two other quirks. The country is the world’s lowest, with an average elevation of just five feet above sea level and it also has the lowest high point of any country in the world, just under eight feet. (Quick quiz: if the Maldives is the country with the world’s lowest high point, what country has the world’s highest low point? Give up? Lesotho, in Southern Africa, a country we went to way back in late 2000.)And then there’s the time zone weirdness. The Maldives are pretty much directly south of Mumbai (and just barely north of the equator) and when we got to Malé we were in the time zone Mumbai would be in if India didn’t do that weird half-hour thing. Easy enough. When we got to the Park Hyatt, though, the clock had moved an hour forward even though we’d gone almost directly south. What’s that all about? Turns out resorts in the Maldives get to set their own time zone and they typically like to move the clock ahead an hour so sunsets are at the more civilized time of 7:00 PM rather than 6:00. Odd to give resorts such sovereign authority but they were right; it was nice for the sun to rise and set a bit later.
OK, one more last thing about the Maldives. Bats. You wouldn’t believe it. They’re the biggest bats I’ve ever seen, maybe the size of a crow or something. But when you see them flying – and they fly all over, all the time – they are indisputably bats. Ugly, scary damned things, probably five or six times the size of the bats I used to hate back in Minnesota. One night Mark wanted to take a bath in a beautiful outdoor tub we had but the bats were so heavy right over him he had to get out lest one somehow fell on him.
As always, though, our week in paradise came to a close. Of course, other people leave the resort and go back to work; we’re off to Thailand for four weeks. Nothing to complain about there. To our surprise, though, we think we’re pretty likely to come back to the Maldives some day. Far from just checking off a country we absolutely loved it here.