South Ari Atoll Ahoy there mate sunburnt & shattered I am back on terra firma once more after a lovely 3 day trip on our luxury 23m yacht ‘Escape’ to the South Atoll with the General Manager & his family. What a beauty our vessel is - pure luxury and a pleasure to be onboard. Nothing beats cruising at 15 knots with the sails in full glory & the elements working their magic on your soul. With binoculars in one hand searching for whale sharks in the other life can’t get much better than this…until I see the staff quarters and see that I am supposed to be sharing with 4 blokes in the space which you could not even swing a cat in…with no AC. So I sleep outside under the stars and wrapped up in a blanket which is perfect for the night wind and I only wake up to the sunrise mosque calling.
I love being at sea and often wonder why I was never a fisherman – all else in the world doesn’t seem to matter when you are in the middle of the ocean, the effects on the soul are dramatic. I was there to be marine biologist, dive guide, hostess, drinking companion and female company for the General Manger’s wife..
So we sailed from Fesdu down to the South Ari Atoll (Alifu Dhaalu). Ari Atoll is divided into North Ari (where I live) and South Ari. There are a total of 70 islands in Ari and many are sand banks which get swept away whilst others continously form. The main occupation of the islanders is fishing with a strong lean towards shark fishing, which unfortunately has seen the demise of many species in the Maldives. They use the livers to coat the timbers of their boats.
After five hours of sailing we moored for the first night opposite MandhooIsland in the Thundufushi Region of South Ari. It’s been inhabited for years and Buddhist relics have been found on the island. We visited the island which is always good fun as you get a real insight into how the islanders really live, I can imagine for them it’s another white man interfering with their existence. Populations of these islands generally doesn’t exceed 1000 people. Some things never change and at one end of the island was a tired looking football pitch complete with fencing and spot-lights. Surreal as the sun was setting on the Indian Ocean five- a -side footy is being played on the pitch with the usual shouting & tacking of a game and t-shirts being cast aside near the goal posts etc.
After a late night fishing session on the yacht and drinking Black Bush whiskey with the GM’s father (Irish and complete sea-salt) I slept on the sofa inside the dining area which was actually very comfy! Up at six thirty to a wonderful sunrise wow what a way to wake up we then continued the next morning to our first dive site Angaga Thila near AngagaIsland in the Rangali Region taking in the island housing Hilton Maldives.
It was over bbqing the GM’s steak on an island the same day that the chef casually told me that he was madly in love with me… and that he had been since the first time he saw me… Bugger me you’re clearly the mad one I thought silently as I tried to think of what my next sentence would be. ‘Aren’t these ants huge’ were the words which came out of my mouth as I tried to steer the conversation on to the annoying ones which were crawling up my legs and biting my ankles. “ Louise you stupid girl listen to what I am saying to you …and there you are talking about bloody ants. So what do you think to that?” What could I say? That he’s barking insane? I hardly know the guy and here he is asking me if I feel the same way whilst the GM sits within earshot and his steak gets cremated. ‘Errgh, hmm, ergh well I am flattered by such a strong statement but I don’t know you and well I have a boyfriend …but happy to be your friend.not…”
Long story short I have been trying to give him a wide berth but somehow he has managed to get my mobile number and now is texting me. Am now starting to get pissed off with it as it’s a lot of unnecessary grief. So now I have my own island stalker. Poor sod it’s horrible when you become infatuated with someone, we’ve all been there and it’s no fun one-sided love. BUT as funny as it is I am going to have sort it out as being stalked wasn’t on my Christmas wish list.
Moving on then to the rest of the journey we visited the local island of Dhangethi where the banyan tree in the middle can be seen from afar - some say it’s over 200 years old. Here we moored up again for the second night so we could dive Kudarah Thila a marine protected area early the next morning. Night two wasn’t so comfy as the sea was a litte more bumpy and I fell off the sofa once or twice- life at sea eh! My lack of sleep was made up by the fantastic dive site the next morning and after breakfast on our way back home we decided to give the whale sharks one more shot.
Armed with mask, fins & snorkel at the ready half hour later after intently watching the water for a large black mass one of the boat crew spotted one swimming along the reef. “Jump, Jump Now as we are going to miss him!” so over the ropes we jumped 10 metres off the side of the yacht into the water and swam towards this magnificant creature. They travel fast & something I didn’t anticipate so my little legs were pumping as fast as they could trying to keep up with it. I did manage to get some shots but the quality isn’t very good, however at least you can see the spots!
Amazing experience and a great start to 2008….which could have turned nasty yesterday as (don’t laugh) I was chased by stingrays on a dive yesterday morning…thinking Steve Irwin here guys as two appeared from nowhere and were directly below us with their tails raised ready to strike. Not a good sign and as fast as we were trying to swim away from them they were following. In all my years of diving it’s something I’ve never seen before as they just came from the blue and started harassing us – scary as it could have been very dangerous. Luckily for the young lad diving with me he had no idea what they were so as they were chasing him he remained calm but I had to push & pull him out of the way to avoid them. However the other diver’s eyes knew exactly what was happening and between us we managed to swim up and away with our cylinders facing outwards and out of harms reach. My heart has never beaten so fast! I hope that this isn’t a sign of what’s to come this year!