Doin’ time and the livin’s easy
There’s been trouble in paradise. The swell has dropped and competition has been on hold for the past two days. Not that anyone’s complaining; there are certainly worse places to wait for waves. Indeed, going by Conde Nast magazine, who’ve just named Kuda Huraa the ‘Best Resort’ in their Reader Poll, there are a lot of worse places to do just about anything. That the Royal family of Dubai arrived yesterday and the King of Jordan kills time here now and then probably supports that claim. Yep, doing time in the world’s most luxurious resort is quite a sublime chore.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though. From the breakfast deck, event photographer Sean Scott surveys the menacing, charcoal cloud-bank across the lagoon as small sharks circle in the sandy shallows at his feet. The light is fantastic, apparently. But as resort staff roll down blinds and batten down the hatches, it’s apparent there’s more than a great photo opportunity brewing. Five minutes later chairs are skimming across the deck and guests are running for cover as the storm hits. It’s been a similar story the last two days, and the weather seems to have settled into uneasy pattern of stormy, onshore mornings and cleaner, overcast afternoons.
The Billabong team arrive twenty minutes later. Out at Sultans for an early morning film shoot, the girls have been caught by the storm. As sleeting rain reduced visibility to meters, their tender boat was unable to locate the hundred-metre long Explorer, and has brought them ashore to the resort to sit it out. Dripping wet, the girls wait in bikinis as the crew discusses how to retrieve the video crew still marooned on the island. The staff continue serving. “If that was me standing there shivering,” laughs Sean’s wife Fiona, “someone would have definitely brought me a towel by now”. Everyone cracks up laughing.
The small surf is not bothering the surfers. “Bah!” says Nat Young, “I gave up worrying about that stuff thirty years ago. It just makes you get old faster”.
Occy takes a break from his training regime to check out the reefs around the hotel with his wife Mae. The Four Seasons Marine Discovery Centre has opened this week. Their work regenerating coral lost in the 2009 El Nino induced bleaching event that destroyed much of North Male Atoll’s reef system is on display several metres from shore in the resort’s lagoon, where dazzlingly colourful fish flit in an out of frames supporting the transplanted coral.
The world beneath the Maldives’ azure waters is surprisingly rich, and diving and snorkeling are both great ways to spend a flat day. Swimming amongst schools of Jacks and Trevally, huge Turtles hang beneath shelves in the reef and an Eagle Ray soars past before winging off into the depths. It’s quite amazing.
Manta Rays are also frequent visitors to the Maldives too, though they’ve been conspicuously absent this season, according to the resort staff. The Four Seasons other resort, a half-hour seaplane ride north in the Baa Atoll is famous for Mantas, luring tourists from around the world to swim with them where they aggregate to feed at Hanifaru Bay.
Back down south, groups of guests snorkel along the reef wall at Bandos Island, forty five minutes across the atoll from the comp site. A friendly turtle offers some distraction, but it’s the sharks they’ve come to see. Finally a lone Blacktip cruises up from the deep blue onto the reef shelf eyeing off the swirling kaleidoscope of fish feeding on the algae-covered coral before cruising off over the reef.
The crew staying out on the Explorer have been eyeing off the fish too, putting in the hours each night fishing for breakfast. So far they’ve been back at the buffet each morning, though a sunset fishing trip promises a change of fortune.
“We’ve never come back with out a fish,” promises our guide, Adam. From a fishing family in the Southern Atolls, he moved to Male under the Four Season’s apprenticeship program. While his father still poles for yellowfin tuna back home. Here in North Male Atoll only hook-and-line bottom fishing is permitted, Adam tells me. No spearing, or netting. Last year shark finning was also banned. However half a century of intensive fishing effort has taken it’s toll.
“There are much less fish now,” says another guide tells us. He’s been fishing this atoll since he was 15, and recounts the declining catches over the past decades. Having dived a few hundred metres from our mooring the day before, there are certainly still plenty around; perhaps they are getting smarter. A lady across the boat hauls in a small Clown Trigger Fish, while a few other small Barracuda take a shine to the Tuna belly baits. Adam’s promise might have held up, but it’s been slow going down our end of the boat.
As the sun slowly sets over the palm-studded Atolls, a group of screaming girls zoom past aboard an inflatable banana boat. Our lines hang loosely off the stern. The man next to me tells me about fishing back home. I tell him about the surf competition. His wife sits across from us draped in a comfortable black dress and holding the thick nylon line in ornately tattooed hands. Turns out they arrived yesterday, from Dubai.
It’s a sublime chore, doin’ time in the Maldives.
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