Category Archives: Maldives 2012

A bus, a murder and a beer

After a pleasant afternoon wandering along the promenade and sampling a couple of local beers, attention turns to the nightlife. This is one of the few evenings when – possibly – I’m not likely to be overwhelmed by all things Eurovision, since the Malta Song final is a couple of days away.

And yet, the apartment is filled with the sound of a laptop, and – wait for it – a whole radio station dedicated to Eurovision. I’m not entirely sure why I should be surprised by this.

One thing that does surprise me is Malta’s public transport system. Before this trip, friends and relatives joked and warned about the quirky old vehicles on the islands, each owned by its driver, which would precariously weave around the coast and inland. These were real classics. Unfortunately, we’re a couple of years too late.

Because a recent restructuring saw the whole of Malta’s bus system taken over by the clones from Arriva.

But although we may have missed the nostalgia, the newcomers have made the transport here efficient and cheap. €2.20 buys an easy journey to the picturesque St Julians area.

Pretty, huh?

I should point out that I nicked this shot from Google, as (a) I’d left my camera at the apartment and (b) in January St Julians and neighbouring Paceville looks nothing like this. Inland, a collection of theme bars and a shopping centre echo to the sounds of loud music and few customers. You can see this place being packed with tourists in the summer, but out of season it’s something of a ghost town. Which is just as well, as a local girl is murdering a couple of songs at an Irish karaoke bar.

The evening ends with a rather nice discovery of a cosy bar just a few doors down from the apartment. It has old British newspapers on the ceiling – a nod to Malta’s colonial past, and French posters on the walls – a nod to the fact that wherever you go in the world, you can’t avoid the French.

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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


Meedhupparu’s Got Talent

Day Seven : 30th March 2012

Mark made the first move. Someone was bound to do it sooner or later, but Mark actually took the plunge, and decided that he could do a better job at singing than the Official Entertainment. And boy, are the crowd happy. His rendition of Angels could easily pass a TV talent audition, though in my case his performance was something of a red rag to a bull.

You see, Angels is my karaoke song.

“Ya! He ist Robbie Williams!” shouts one of the Germans enthusiastically as Mark dedicates the final line to his wife. “I’m lovin’ Susie that’s all.”

“Meester Mark, everyone!” proclaims the female singer. “You think he should seeng some more?” The Germans are obviously up for it, but Mark – after some discussion – decides the band don’t have the backing track for his second favourite song?

“See, I’m a plumber – but I also book the acts for my local working men’s club in Waltham stow,” explains Mark over a drink. “So I like to sing a bit myself. What about you – are you doing a song?”

Before I know it, I’m back in my early 1990s karaoke world, before Guy Chambers had even written Angels. I do that song well, but I also rediscover my killer track : Love Is All Around – the Wet Wet Wet version.  “Blimey – that was good,” says Mark. “You must be some sort of professional.”

It’s at moments like these when my ego almost runs away with the plot. After all, I’m on holiday. Nobody knows who I am, so why shouldn’t I be a professional singer? But I’m sensible enough to remember that after a few drinks in a hot climate, everyone sounds like a professional. Of some sort.

Like a few people I’ve met this week, it’s not Mark and Susie’s first visit to the Maldives. Yet with such a vast collection of islands and resorts, there’s plenty of choice – almost all with guaranteed sunshine all year round and an increasing number offering all inclusive deals.

Day Eight : 30th March 2012

A week in a place like this is perfect – but imagine five or six months? Sounds good, unless you’re working here. I’ve started to observe the staff some more, and it’s pretty obvious that most are forced to look for work a long way from their families.
It’s easy enough to ignore the facts when you’re paying good money to forget real life, but one of the bar tenders at the beach almost gives the game away about how miserable things can be.
It turns out that the resort is run by a Sri Lankan firm, which owns hotels all over the South Asia region. Advertisements in newspapers tempt staff to the company – often in Sri Lanka – and then they’re offered work on the islands. The staff village I mentioned previously is out of sight, and the bar tender is reluctant to discuss living conditions. There’s no suggestion that anything’s wrong – but I’m guessing it’s not nearly as comfortable as the guests are used to.
Not least those who can afford the Luxury Beach Villas. Set high on stilts above the ocean, these exclusive rooms offer jacuzzis with sea views, meals at your door and – a rather large fence so that nobody else can get into the compound. Regular guests are offered upgrades at reception, at over 500 US Dollars per night. I’m all for privacy but that’s pretty serious money for what doesn’t seem like a great deal more. Who needs a jacuzzi when you have miles of coral rich ocean at your feet?
Day Nine : 1st April 2012
It’s my final day in the Maldives and fortunately they don’t mark April Fool’s Day here. The only joke is the state of my nose. I don’t tan well, I never have. I guess that’s why I don’t normally do beach holidays. But no amount of sun cream and moisturiser can compensate for the red hooter.
My return flight from Male to Dona tomorrow is at 0900. Or 1000 Meedhapparu time. Which means I’ll be leaving at 0800. Or is that 0700? This is all getting too confusing. And it seems my luggage won’t be travelling with me. A letter under my door instructs me to leave my suitcase outside by 2300 tonight for “transfer by speedboat” to the airport. I feel like I’m putting my luggage in the second class post and hoping for the best.
Still, the hand baggage only rule for the air taxi – which didn’t apply on the way here – reminds me that I’ll need to reacclimatise for the UK. I’m told summer time has arrived early, but frankly even 19 degrees is likely to feel chilly.
After dinner I catch up with Mark and Susie for a farewell drink. Although tonight the local beer is in cans, as there’s a problem with the draught. Strangely, the tinned stuff tastes decidedly flat. The prospect of a dodgy stomach makes me decide that an early night is the best option.
My suitcase is still outside the room when I return, along with another note detailing the exact departure schedule. It’s this attention to detail which has impressed me the most about this resort. Perhaps the only significant improvement might be a new Entertainments Manager. Yet the nightlife is never going to be a match for the sheer beauty of these island surroundings. The days and the sunshine seem to go on forever. And it’s a peace and beauty that’s hard to match.
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


A Bizarre Birthday


29th March 2012 – evening



I blame my passport. Either that or dark forces have been operating behind the scenes. But most likely it’s my passport.



It starts in the bar, before dinner. I’m used taking a seat and waiting for one of the waiters to take my order. But this evening things are a little different, as a beer is automatically delivered to the table.



I tell Ishmail it was a good guess. “You are a journalist, it’s respect,” comes the cryptic answer. I’d already told him what I did for a living so I dismiss the quip. But then, at dinner, there’s another surprise.



“It is your birthday?” asks the waiter.



“Er, who told you?”



“So we have a cake for you. You can eat it here or we take it to your room.”



I assume that this is a delivery option, rather than a proposition, so I say I’ll have it in the restaurant. I’m expecting a cupcake with a candle, or some similar token gesture. But as soon as I finish my main course I’m surrounded by most of the waiters and the manager, chanting a Maldivian version of Happy Birthday, complete with a sizeable chocolate cake.



I don’t usually shy away from the limelight but this is deeply embarrassing.  I quickly turn attention to the neighbouring tables by cutting the cake up and forcing pieces on to my new best friends.



Back at my room, there’s another surprise. But before that, the yang to the ying. It turns out that this resort doesn’t only have three CDs. It also has Live Entertainment in the form of a terrible male/female duo. He plays recorded backing tracks topped up with keyboard accompaniment, whilst she sings – mostly in tune, but with the kind of vocalisation which suggests she’s not quite happy with the lyrics.



Each performance is concluded with stock phrases like “Thank you so much!” or “Yeah – keep on dancing!” despite the fact that nobody is. But hey, nobody else got a cake…



Nor did anybody else get the artistic room service – Happy Birthday spelt out in petals on my bed. To be honest, this isn’t the first flirty turn down I’ve experienced. But it beats Egypt hands down. The staff whip in discretely twice a day, whilst you’re at breakfast and then at dinner. And like everything on the island, done in almost complete silence.



So far I’ve only seen one motor vehicle. A small truck which transports heavier loads around the resort. Room to room commodities like sheets and towels are delivered by staff pushing wheelbarrows, which makes perfect sense in the sandy tracks. The only other mechanical sounds are the sea plane – once or twice a day – and three tourist boats putting back and forth from the jetty. Occasionally you can hear generators in some of the communal areas but that’s about it.



By far the loudest noise comes from the wildlife. Predominantly the noisiest animals are the crows, who perch expectantly on verandahs and bar decks in the hope of a few scraps. There’s another loud bird which I’m yet to identify – to me it sounds like a parrot, certainly something exotic. And then, bizarrely, there’s a cockerel – presumably belonging to the staff. I’ve also seen a lizard hopping across the outside shower.
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


Plane Sailing


Day Five : 28th March 2012 



Before I continue with today, I should just wind back to yesterday. One of the highlights of a trip to the Maldives is how you get to your island resort. When I booked this holiday, it was compulsory to include sea plane transfers. And out of all modes of air transport, the sea plane has to be the best. Forget about turbulence, the sound and vibrations of the engine is more than enough to put the nervous flyer off. 



Personally I love it. The smaller the aircraft the better. Even better when you can see the pilot and her assistant, along with the array of instruments before them. It’s said that many modern aircraft virtually fly themselves. Not so the De Havilland Twin Otter propeller model. So temperamental are the engines that both pilot and assistant have clasp their hands together to achieve maximum power for take off.



Once airborne the views are stunning. These little birds don’t fly very high, so at cloud level or just below, the magnificent beauty of the Maldives is laid out below like a coral patchwork. The Maldivan Air Taxis brochure has a map of the main islands, although trying to follow it is near impossible. But I do discover that Meedhupparu isn’t called that at all. It’s simply the North Atoll.



The joys of the air taxi are in sharp contrast to the resort’s evening entertainment. The guests are well fed from the substantial hot and cold buffet, and are well on the way to being sufficiently oiled too. And it’s a good job, because the main attraction is a Fashion Show in the central bar area. Given the build up – featuring the Worst Love Songs of the Eighties – I give it a miss for an early night. The last few days have involved a lot of travel.



“Hello Keveen!” enthused Lydia as she came from the pool into the bar. Lydia was one of the German party who flew over on the same sea plane from Male. Her son was also called Kevin, she’d been quick to point out when my name was called at the resort check in. Ever since then she’s been greeting me with a big thumbs up each time we meet. I don’t know her husband’s name yet as he’s barely manage to get a word in edgeways. Plus, Lydia seems keener to practice her English.



“He is everything football,” says Lydia, pointing at her husband. “Bayern Munchen, yes?. Our Keveen is called after Keveen Keegan!”



Being more discretely friendly is Ishmail, the young barman. Seeing that I’m English and sitting by the pool at three in the afternoon, he guesses “One beer?” But I surprise him by ordering a non alcoholic cocktail. Clearly this is unheard of among the Westerrn tourists, regardless of the time of day. But the temperature is a constant 30 celsius and staying hydrated is a challenge in itself.



Ishmail has worked at the resort for five months and says he enjoys it, though I dread to think what kind of money the staff here earn. They all live in a “village” of their own in the centre of the island. No sea views there, and a large fence right around it so visitors can’t see the conditions. But none of the staff appear outwardly unhappy in their work. They are almost all young men, probably no more than sixteen or eighteen, and all eager to earn tips as they serve up drinks and food.



I’m never quite sure when or how to tip when on holiday. Here, the main bar has a tip jar, so that’s easy enough. But the restaurant and housekeeping staff have no such arrangements. When I visited Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, I was so impressed with the housekeeping staff decorating my bed with flower petals each day, I shaped the petals into an arrow pointing towards the desk drawer on my final day – slipping a small tip into an envelope. I hope they took the hint.



Day Six : 29th March 2012



Exactly a year ago, I was marking my 40th birthday in New York City. The contrast twelve months on couldn’t be greater. And I absolutely love it. Then, my breakfast consisted of an almighty hangover, a knock at the hotel room door at 10am, and summoning up enough of an appetite to eat it.



This morning is a far more sober and laid back affair. Breakfast is a ten minute walk away, along the sea wall to the South Jetty, and then left up the track, past the swimming pool and into the restaurant.



“Bayern Munchen are WINNING!” beams Lydia. She’s happy. Everyone’s happy. And here’s the thing. In three days I don’t think I’ve heard a single complaint from anyone. I’ve never been on a package holiday where that’s happened. Although it’s only a matter of time, I guess.



Time is something else which nobody pays much attention to, except on departure day. Here, it’s either light or dark. The sun rises at about 6am, any cloud cover is gone by about 9am – then it’s unbroken sunshine until about 6pm, barring the occasional thunderstorm.



A walk around the entire island takes a little over half an hour and demonstrates just how well the resort is designed. Everyone has a little bit of private beach space in front of their villas. This means the communal areas like the pool and beach bar don’t get nearly as crowded as they do at other resorts. Perhaps this place is better because of the lack of Brits?



Actually, it’s better because of the lack of brats. Few families can afford to bring their kids to a place like this, and in my view it’s all the better for it. That might sound unkind, but if you want to relax you don’t want the constant sound of screaming children.



Even so, I’m eternally grateful for the soundtrack of my MP3 player, which is infinitely preferable to the dreadful mix of what seems to be the resort’s in house collection of three CDs. The first has possibly the worst selection of Eighties songs ever released, including Samantha Fox’s rendition of I Only Want To Be With You. Then there’s the Tiresome Pan Pipe Collection. Who in their right mind wants to listen to THAT at the bar? And finally, Love Songs That Even Honeymoon Couples Would Barf Too. I’m not sure whether that’s the actual title.
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


A Hangar With A View


Day Four : 27th March 2012 – Doha To Male

Like many airports which have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, Doha is undergoing a makeover. And being in an Arab state, it’s of palatial    proportions. Unfortunately, it’s not quite ready, so when we land at around midnight it’s the second fastest transfer I’ve ever done out of the second smallest airport.

The fastest is when we arrive around five ours later in Male. At last, the Maldives – and even at 7am it’s 24 celsius. That’ll do nicely. In the arrival hall, various representatives from holiday companies hold up calling cards for passengers, waiting to take them to their transfers. I have no meeter and greeter, but I do find a very helpful smiling man at the Maldivan Air Taxis desk, who has my name and resort on his list. Before I know it I’m on a minibus which drives around the entire airport perimeter to an aircraft hangar decorated in raffia. I kid you not. A second smiling man helpfully informs me that my seaplane won’t be leaving for another two hours.

But what’s not to like? The sun’s burning off the cloud, the makeshift air conditioning is working – and reminding me that you’re still allowed to smoke indoors here – and the water is a mere 4 US dollars a bottle. Ahem. Good job the resort is all inclusive.

One of the worst things you can do before visiting a resort is read the online reviews of the place. Actually, the worst thing you can do is believe them. By far the most common gripe of my resort, Meedhuppuru, was the presence of a sea wall. That’s a sea wall which is about one metre high.

“It just ruined the view for us – and they always put the Brits right next to it!” typifies the kind of comments you get. Yet this Brit is more than grateful for it. Without the sea wall my bunglaow would be in very real danger of flooding at around 5pm every afternoon. As I write this, the water is lapping the villa next door.

In any case, I’m not quite sure where all these moaning Brits come from. They’re certainly not here at the moment. Lots of Germans, a few French and even some Russians – but on the seaplane over there was just one British couple.

Which is good thing. Because say what you like about the Germans, but they at least show a modicum of restraint when it comes to all inclusive holiday packages. Actually, that’s a lie. Most of the men around the pool make me feel positively anorexic. Lunch isn’t so much a bun fight as an excuse to eat all of the buns, plus the soup and another four courses on top of that. Perhaps I’m being unkind. Doesn’t everyone like to get value for money?

Annoyingly, the all inclusive restaurant staff insist on allocating me a specific table. As a lone traveller I feel like I’m sitting on the naughty step. At least all inclusive more or less means that here, unless you want to drink after midnight, in which case you’ll be charged “full hotel prices” a though the brochure doesn’t say what these are. And watch out, because everything extra comes with an additional ten per cent sales tax and a further six per cent tourist tax. Bearing in mind everything in the Maldives has to be imported, the basic prices aren’t cheap either.

But hidden extras are the curse of every all inclusive holiday. Apart from that, this island is as close to paradise as it gets. The villas are in small groups, effectively meaning a private stretch of beach for you and a handful of neighbours. And at my end of the island they’re quiet too. I can immediately feel life’s stresses draining away.
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


Let’s Get The Hell Outta Here!



Day Three : 26th March 2012

I’m not sure whether Classic FM is the idea radio station to be playing in the breakfast room of a hotel largely catering for German visitors. Who needs Basil Fawlty when the playlist consists of a military piece which, I think, celebrates the Battle of Britain. That bodes well for the Olympics.

But there is something very British about a hotel playing classical music first thing in the morning. For the Brits, it means speaking in hushed tones about their plans for the day. For everyone else though, it means a bunfight – literally – to see who can get the best value out of a continental breakfast. There seems to be a fear that the remaining two Danish pastries on the tray might, in fact, be the last two on earth. Guests jostle around the self service toaster, fiercely marking their territory. (Surely there’s a joke somewhere here involving the phrase “Hans off my bread!”)

The Heathrow Express has got to be one of the best additions to London’s public transport network in recent years. The only alternatives previously were an expensive cab or a long tube ride. There’s a certain charm to having your ankles bashed by the growing multitude of suitcases on the Tube as you rattle towards Heathrow. I tell myself that such luxuries are for another day.
The Qatar Airways check in has the air of classlessness, regardless of which class you’re flying in. Tucked away in a discrete area of Terminal 4 with Saudi Airlines, it shares an environment of good manners and service which would put most European airlines to shame. Of course, once you’ve checked in you share the same queues and checks at security as the next guy – but even that seems laid back and efficient this morning.
First class on Qatar Airways is magnificent. A folding table reveals a storage box containing complimentary drinks and snacks, topped up during the flight by a team of staff. Not that I’m in first class – I just saw it as I walked on board. Nevertheless, economy isn’t so bad either. The Captain apologises for having to queue at the south end of Heathrow’s runway. Even when they’re late, this airline exudes efficiency.
One in the air, though, a plane’s a plane. There’s only so much you can do to make inflight food seem palatable. Still, the staff are attentive and helpful – even to the Very Angry Man who they manage to smash the edge of the service trolley into. And no, it wasn’t me.



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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff


A Hyde-ing To Nothing

Day Two : 25th March 2012 – London

The more I get to explore London the more I like it. Up until a few years ago I always said that I loved visiting friends here but couldn’t stand to live and work here. Yet after a day travelling across the distinctively posh end of town, I’m growing to appreciate its beauty.

First, a walk across Hyde Park. On a sunny day, the world and his dog are out for a stroll. Actually, it’s more like the world and his entire pack of hounds. More specifically, dozens of yappie little mutts are dragged across the vastness of the park by overdressed owners, who almost certainly live in Kensington and simply LOVE catching up with the girls of. Sunday lunchtime.

The sunshine certainly helps, though the clear skies and brisk breeze firmly remind me that it’s still only March. By the time I walk across Putney Bridge to meet some friend for lunch I’m feeling the chill – and even contemplate an emergency sweater purchase. Fortunately, my friend’s girlfriend feels the same, and persuades him we’d be better off INSIDE the pub watching the river go by.

A lazy afternoon turns into a lazy evening, and the discovery of yet another part of Posh London. Little Venice, clinging to the Regent’s Canal just north of Paddington is a picture postcard in the evening dusk.

I’m here to see another friend performing an improvised musical. And it’s rather good. A bunch of strangers meet on a Friday evening and by Sunday they have the rough workings of a show. But the script, the songs and the plot are driven entirely by suggestions from the audience – most of whom are friends with the cast. As each performer has their own moment there are claps and cheers from the crowd. And it’s all done in a small theatre above a pub. It’s anything but a lazy Sunday for these guys, but the perfect weekend wind down for the audience.

Although for me, the real adventure hasn’t even started yet. Next stop, Heathrow Terminal 4.

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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Maldives 2012, Travel Stuff