The last leg of our RTW journey took us to the place farthest from Los Angeles without leaving the planet, the fabled Maldives.
From Phuket, we continued on to Singapore and Male', the capital of the Maldives. Unfortunately, we arrived after dark and didn't get to see the beautiful atolls and islands that make up this water world. The airport is on its own island. After you get through immigration and customs (no alcohol, no pigs, no dogs?) you are met by the representative of your tour and taken to your water taxi to be taken to your resort or boat. We were staying at Bandos Island for two nights before boarding the Manthiri.
Bandos Island resort is a five star resort and very nice. We didn't do any diving with them.
The transfer to the Manthiri from Bandos took place at 9:30 PM. We were picked up at by a speed boat and driven for an hour to the harbor near Male'. At one point, the deck hand was up on the bow of the boat with a flashlight trying to find the way into the lagoon where the boat was docked! A real adventure.
Our trip included Southern Male' Atoll and Ari Atoll. We didn't encounter many of the big animals. We did see seven hammerheads, a few big rays, several eagle rays, including one "squadron" of eleven, several gray reef sharks, many white tips, many big Napoleon wrasse, and many big tuna! Noteable are the number and size of the moray eels in the Maldives.
The coral is in bad shape but coming back. I can't imagine how wonderful it was before the big el nino in '95. Maybe it will recover before I do my last dive. The fish are still there though, it great abundance. The Maldivians traditionally ate only skipjack tuna. With strict fishing laws in place, the many fish are protected and will be there for both fishermen and divers in the future.
What we did have was warm water (82-84 degrees F) and fantastic visbility (100+ feet). The schools of fish and tropicals were fantastic.
Guradu Channel. 90' for 48 minutes. Water temp = 84 degrees F, vis = 100 feet plus. We did our giant strides off the dhoni and followed the DM down to the wall. There was an incoming current and it was moderate. The plan was to swim against the current to the corner of the kandu and watch for big action in the blue. When we got to the corner, the DM continued to swim out across the channel at about 90 feet. We could see tuna, jacks and barracuda schooling on the incoming tide. A couple of whitetip sharks breezed by and two eagle rays came close before being spooked by our bubbles. After about ten minutes we made our way back to the corner and drifted into the channel along the wall. The bottom here is coral with many tubastrea coral trees. I kept hearing what sounded like a squeaky bearing on a propeller shaft. I looked up and saw the DM going crazy pointing behind us. I looked around and there they were, at least a dozen dolphins less than thirty feet away swimming parallel to our course! What a great sight. The squeaking that I was hearing was the dolphins talking to one another! They continued on by and didn't stop to play with us. Darn!
Kasimo Giri. 80' for 57 minutes. Water temp = 85 degrees F, vis = 100 ++ feet. This dive site is a pinnacle rising from the floor of the atoll. Small enough to swim around in one dive, we spent the majority of the dive moving slowly along the wall and looking for small stuff. There is a recent wreck of a fishing trawler that was placed here on purpose for diving. Although not much growth has accumulated on the wreck yet, there are big oysters and schools of small fish. Off the wall were two big Napoleon wrasse. We saw several kinds of moray eels, a mantis shrimp, pipefish, shrimp, a tiger cowry, etc. The DM was attacked by a nesting titan triggerfish and fended him off with his strobe! We worked our way up the giri to the top of the reef in about 20 feet of water off-gassing before kicking off into the blue for the pick-up by the dhoni.
It was a wonderful two months on the road. I just wish we could have done more diving and less traveling. Of our adventures, I would have to rank them in the following order:
1. Papua New Guinea 2. Maldives 3. Thailand/Myanmar
4. Sipadan (not really comparable to the first three).
I want to go back!