The diving paradise
I’ve been to Maldives three times. An exotic country I’ve visited more than once. And there’s a reason for that–nowhere in the world did I see water that turquoise, sand that white nor a sea world that rich.
First time we went there, I think I was 15. It was my dad’s present for my winter vacation, as I successfully passed school mid-terms, and my GPA was the highest in class. My sister was only five, and my dad and his wife are both entrepreneurs, so my schedule was the only one to be adjusted to take the trip. My dad called his brother to invite his family to join us. Actually, it is his best friend, but because they grew up together and it was cool to call each other “brothers” in the 90s, they got used to the nickname and stuck around with it since then. I honestly never heard them calling each other differently.
So the seven of us boarded the plane and took off on an amazing adventure. I have to mention that my dad had just received his Open Water scuba-diving certificate, and it certainly affected our travel choice. At the time I didn’t know that this trip would end up changing my life.
The flight lasted for about 10 hours, but we all felt pretty good, as we stayed in the same timezone (as opposed to my third visit when I traveled from Maldives to Boston, and the time difference was nine hours). When the plane finally ducked out of the clouds, I saw an endless turquoise plateau scattered with hundreds of tiny green islands, and I knew I would love this place forever.
The Maldives consists of almost 2,000 coral islands that form two round shapes of 26 atolls. Every island is surrounded by a reef that acts as a natural barrier to the open sea, forming beautiful lagoons, which keep the water inside much warmer. Every Maldivian island is a separate resort designed with the same principle–all villas are located around the island and each one has its own access to the beach. Our resort was called Kurumba Village, and it was perfect in every way. It was family-friendly, but also offered isolated villas for couples and evening entertainment for teenagers. The first thing that impressed me was the quantity and variety of food. It included everything, from internationally recognized burgers (which were delicious) to the most authentic Maldivian food that was mostly represented by fish and seafood in rich curry sauces, influenced by the Indian proximity. The best part was enjoying our own barbecues on the seaside with our daily catch — courtesy of my dad and his “brother” Sergey. Once they even caught a huge blue Marlin (yes, the same fish so beautifully described by Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea). Unfortunately according to Maldivian law they had to give it away to the local fishermen for sale on the fish market.
The fish market was something incredible, despite all the smells. We went to Male, the capital of Maldives, where the biggest fish market was located (not so big taking into account the whole size of the country). But it captured the imagination with the variety of good and its bustle. It seemed like nobody paid attention to us, even though we stood out significantly from the rest of the crowd. Fishermen were yelling, throwing giant fish to the buyers and counting money with record speed. The lobsters smelled like iodine, as they were so fresh and just delivered from the boats. Some merchants cooked the fish right there, so that their clients could appreciate the goods. It was a separate life, where everyone occupied his own place, doing his business and not bothering others.
The life-changing event to which I was referring to in my first paragraph was scuba-diving. My dad was certified in a swimming pool in Moscow, so he couldn’t wait to try out a real scuba-diving experience. And there was no better place than Maldives. The Kurumba resort offered the services of the PADI diving center, whose instructors were professional and friendly, but unfortunately couldn’t speak any Russian. So my dad asked me to escort him for his first tryout and assist with translation. Once at the diving center I realized it would be ridiculous to be in this country and not try scuba-diving. So I took a quick scuba adventurer course, and little did I know that I was about to experience the most wonderful thing in my life.
My first impression underwater was that I had to get used to the fact that people could breathe there. After I made myself embrace this revelation, I looked around… and time stopped. It was a surreal world: bright, colorful and breathtaking. Schools of different species of fish were rushing around us. We saw a real hunt by fast silver tunas that didn’t swim but sliced through the water with vicious speed to chase their prey and attack it in a matter of seconds. The corals offered all possible colors that I could imagine, even though before the dive our instructors cautioned us that the year before an unusually hot current touched this part of the ocean, and many corals died. Despite the warning of the instructors I was astonished by the beauty of what I saw, and honestly didn’t know what the instructors were talking about until I returned to Maldives years later, when most of the corals had revived, (but that’s another story).
I now have more than nine years of scuba-diving experience in many different places, but this first time I’ll never forget. It showed me a world that lived on its own and didn’t care about politics, the bad economy or grades. It just went over the same circle of life for years on end, allowing curious individuals to contemplate its beauty.