As the Kerala monsoon season threatens, I decide to jet south to the much talked about Maldives. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of these beautiful islands, located in the Indian Ocean, draped like a string of pearls, white sand glistening and water as pale blue as a martini with a splash of Curaçao.
I schedule a flight on SriLankan Airlines that includes a stop-over in Colombo, but very nearly don’t make it out of India. As I present my passport and a copy of my official certificate of residency, I’m asked for the original. “Well, I don’t have the original with me,” I blink, “as I was told you sometimes like to keep a copy.” This apparently meant that I should have a copy in addition to the original. I really need to pay more attention!
After I talk my way through customs and immigration, making sure they will let me back into the country upon my return, I board the flight and leave the stress of work behind.
The flight is short and the service fairly remarkable. I say that because the flight time is literally an hour and five minutes, and yet, they serve a complete meal, along with coffee or tea. I hang out in Colombo for a few hours and board the connecting flight to Male. After going through customs, I’m greeted by a representative from the W Resort – Maldives (really, did you think I’d stay anywhere else) and it immediately begins to pour down rain.
My welcome host begins to tell me how great the weather has been all day, when I thank him and tell him it’s no problem, I’m sure it’s just a passing shower! I’m taken to the other side of the airport where a W ‘way station’ is set up with food and beverages to await the departure to the island resort via Maldavian Air Taxi.
A short flight later, we land at the island dock where the W Welcome contingent awaits our arrival. My tour guide grabs my backpack and escorts me to his ‘golf cart’ and off we go on a tour of the island (to get the lay of the land) before stopping at my ‘retreat.’
My oasis on this small island – I can walk around the entire resort in less than 15 minutes – is a very private, single dwelling on the beach with my own pool, complete with Jacuzzi, and a second floor under a thatched roof with a barbeque, bar and ‘swing.’ It has a lovely view of the ocean and ends up being a quiet place to sit during lazy afternoons with a good book.
While the WC is inside, the bathroom is actually ‘outside’ double doors with walls of slate, a lovely shower, a huge soaking tub, sink and vanity. The room goes up two stories, but the second story walls are wooden slats that let in the sun, and a ‘ceiling’ open to the blue sky, the moon and stars; a perfect place for a relaxing afternoon soak, with a glass of wine and a perfect view of swaying palm trees. Ahhhh!
That evening, I walk down to Sip, a wonderful bar built on pilings and surrounded by blue waters. It’s also conveniently located next door to Fish, where I make a reservation before slipping into the bar for a glass of wine and some conversation with Muthu, the bartender on duty. We have a great discussion about the changing role of the bartender and he tells me he has won the Best of Maldives: Cocktail compendium when he was tending bar at the Gili Lankanfushi resort.
I tell him about the Plate Shop, in Sausalito, California, one of my hangouts when I lived there last winter. The first time I went, I met the chef, Peter, and we had a lively discussion about the new world of bartending. The Plate Shop is organic and sustainable and the mixologists create drinks from whatever happens to be growing in their garden. Peter had created his own drink that he called Pedro No Mas (Peter no more), because it’s rather strong (Patron Tequila and cilantro being two key ingredients), and it reminds him to drink only one before getting on his motorcycle and heading across the Golden Gate Bridge to his home. Peter had decided that creating a new drink was no different than creating a new dish. And, apparently, that’s what the mixologists are doing. It’s the combination of flavors that set the drink apart.
And so folks … it’s a brave new world! As for me, I choose a great glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Sip is situated for a perfect view of the sunset, and after drinks and a little nosh, the hostess from Fish comes to take me away for an enjoyable dinner. It begins with an amuse bouche of white snapper sashimi with balsamic reduction and a wasabi sauce. Draped on top were shaved carrots, onion and water cress; amazingly fresh and really delicious. Bread is served; three varieties with rolls and a baguette, served with fresh sweet butter and pureed English peas … delightful!
I listen to a recommendation from my waiter and end up with an enjoyable mouth-watering dinner of Grilled Filet of White Snapper (local harvest, line caught), with pureed yams and lemongrass sauce. The sauce is perfect and adds to rather than takes away from the light flavor of the snapper; flavorful without being overpowering. On the side they serve grilled vegetables. Crisp and delicious, the dish consists of zucchini, baby carrots, sweet yellow peppers cooked to perfection with a mild soy sauce.
Mads comes to my table to suggest dessert and I proceed to tell him how I never really have room for it and the menu looks like the servings are really large … delicious, but too much, I exclaim. Mads is from Denmark and he tells me he can prepare something, custom-made … very tiny portions, to appropriately end the meal with something sweet. I agree, thinking that it will be just two little bites, perhaps just wafer thin. What appears is a plate with five small delectable samples. In order of my favorites, there was the Mango: a thin pastry on the bottom with fresh mango and topped with a buttery smooth mango cream; Coconut: tasty, yet crunchy shredded coconut sandwiched between dark chocolate; Chocolate Grenache: a slice of dark chocolate as a base, served with strawberry sauce; Banana tart: in a perfectly flaky pastry, topped with chocolate; Green Tea Ice Cream: very creamy and only slightly bitter.
Dinner was exquisite and the conversation with the wait staff and chef was enjoyable. They may feel sorry for me because I’m alone amongst this room of couples, they may think I’m a restaurant reviewer because I’m taking photos and writing everything down, or they may just be friendly and find me interesting and a little amusing. I’m hoping it’s the latter.
I awake early the next morning and question why I can’t seem to sleep past 7:00 a.m. these days, but get up anyway and take my time getting ready for breakfast. Kitchen is where breakfast is served and it’s a wonderful assortment of fresh fruit (and fresh squeezed juices), cheese, egg dishes of your choosing, breads, pastries, breakfast cereals and yogurts, and a quantity of other items. The air is fresh and clean and I choose to sit outside at a table that’s sitting in about a foot of water. I take off my sandals and step into the coolness that awakens my senses and refreshes my spirit. It’s an unusual concept, but with the sun on your face and the cool water lapping around your legs, it’s amazingly calming and very enjoyable.
After a peaceful afternoon, I head to the SPA for a facial (I have a massage scheduled for tomorrow!) and find it out on the water, the sea breezes blowing through the open doors and clear views of the colorful fish swimming around the reefs that are just beneath the decks. After a cup of ginger tea, I go into a room, all white and welcoming, with soft music playing, but not so loud that it drowns out the sounds of the sea.
Vera provides me with a refreshing facial that leaves my skin clean and glowing and I look forward to tomorrow’s massage.
Fire beckons me for dinner tonight and I have another amazing fish dish cooked over an open fire and drizzled with a superb spicy sauce. After dinner I head down to 15 Below. Located just 15 steps below Fire, the blue glow of the club and the beat of the music are intoxicating. Shirry, the DJ I met last night at Sip, is doing her thing. She sees me and waves. I wave back and soon she joins me at the bar for a drink. The place is not crowded, so she’s able to head to her ‘station’ in time to put on another song. We have a great time talking, laughing and trading stories. Around midnight I say goodnight and we set a time to meet for dinner at Kitchen the next evening.
Sunday … my last full day; if I were younger, I’d try to get a job here! This place is so beautiful and peaceful. I’ve met some really great people from all parts of Europe and Asia who are working here and I’m feeling very relaxed.
I’ve been told to go snorkeling and follow the underwater ‘trail’ from the SPA around to Fire. I pick up my snorkeling gear, grab my life vest and head out to the beach. The water is warm and the fish plentiful. It’s like swimming on top of a very large salt water aquarium. The colors are astounding and I see a medium sized fish that looks black, but as it glides along, it turns to the side and I see flashes of green, yellow and blue as the light catches its scales. There are black fish with bright white rings around their ‘necks,’ yellow fish with bright blue tails, ones with spots and some with stripes. I see some turtles and even a small octopus. It’s a fantastic swim.
Afterwards, I head to the SPA for my massage. Vera greets me and I have a cool drink of Tamarind; very refreshing. The massage is amazing and I leave very limber and mellow.
My last night I meet Shirry at Kitchen and we have a wonderful, light dinner. The wine is the New Zealand Pinot Noir and the scallops are cooked to perfection. I have a Caprese salad that includes Buffalo mozzarella that is clearly made in-house as it’s amazingly fresh. Living in India, I realize how much I’ve missed salads and specifically balsamic vinegar. Everything was wonderful!
Marcos, the Welcome manager, tells me to let him know when I’m coming back and he’ll give me a really great ‘room.’ And here I thought I had a really great room! I thank him and tell him I’ll be sure to give him advance notice.
I invite Shirry to meet me in India, or to visit me in the US, and leave her with a promise to stay in touch. Shirry says she’ll come and see me off the next morning. I remind her I’m taking the sea plane at 6:30 a.m., so while it would be nice, I won’t really expect her.
Monsoon has begun in earnest in Kerala, the rain coming strong and harsh, with occasional bursts of blue and streaks of sunlight. The sky is mostly heavy with dark clouds moving slowly and great waves of rain followed by steamy, hot and humid breaks. I was fortunate to have chosen my short escape to the beautiful and exotic island of the Maldives when I did! But my long weekend is now just a memory and while I returned to India refreshed and relaxed, the change of seasons reminds me that I’ll soon be heading away from this amazing part of the world.