Seems like this was a well deserved break after having worked so hard for the past few months. I had not felt so drained physically and mentally for a long time but the worst feeling was one of disappointment. I needed a long break to rethink my next move and to deal with the current mess. 2 weeks of vast ocean should do the trick. 😉 March trip again and yes, once again, a little birthday gift from me to me. 🙂 Not too sure if this could be considered a solo trip. I was invited by Mike whom I met during my Tubbataha trip 2 years back. He was diving Maldives with some friends and had a lady friend without a room mate. So I would be the sole Singaporean among a group of Hong Kong divers. I had arranged to meet up with the group at the airport since they had to transit Singapore and I had managed to book the same airline at the same time too. Definitely great to see Mike again. My roommate was a young lady JJ who was a bit tough to describe at this point of time. Well, at last she seems normal at this juncture. :p A short flight for me but a long one for the rest. We landed in Maldives in the night and I had to make a dash to the shop to grab my local sim card. This had become my standard travel routine. A little research done beforehand so I knew I had only about 10mins before the shop closed. Told Mike I would wait for them outside. Was pretty glad I got to the shop in time. We got to the boat late and I finally got the name of the boat when we got on board, Amphibiya. A quick briefing and it was straight to the room. I was tired out. I woke up early the next morning in a daze. A bit hard to believe I was already out of Singapore and in the midst of the vast oceans of Maldives.
We had arrived in the middle of the night, so I was taking an opportunity in the morning to get a little tour of the boat. The upper deck where we could relax and have drinks from the bar. And the roof deck that’s great for sunning gears and clothes and ourselves. 🙂
On board, meals and dive times were notified by the ring of a boat bell. We had our early coffee and biscuits and it was the first dive of the trip. I found it strange to see someone all dressed up on the boat. Should I say over dressed? 🙂 Turns out he was the boss and quite surprisingly our dive guide too. And we had another diver who had board the boat in the wee hours of the morning. My seemingly ‘normal’ roomie was beginning to act a little, just a little unusual. Don’t you love her hair style?
After drowning my camera in Zanzibar, I have now learnt to be doubly careful so first dive, I had an empty housing. Always great to see my gears out of the storage bag and all rigged up. Diving time!! Let’s get wet!!
After our first dive, its back to the boat for our 2nd breakfast. I took the chance to take photos of the rest of the boat that I had missed earlier in the morning. Amphibiya is a local dive boat and its kept in pretty good shape despite her age. She basically had everything a diver can ask for. The restaurant and the lounge area. For me, my favourite corner was always the crew deck where I could hang out with the guys.
And thats the international standard of any dive itinerary. Dive, eat and sleep and the cycle repeats itself. As we had an unfortunate missing luggage, we had to stay around the Male area till the afternoon to pick that up from the airport. Our 2nd dive was a wreck dive and apparently it was sailing from Singapore. I’m not the biggest fan of wrecks but according to Aathy, our dive guide, the visibility of this wreck far surpassed many others. And that I had to agree and perhaps, that was why I actually enjoyed this dive quite a bit.
Pardon the bad photography or probably the lack of it. For years, I had resisted big camera set ups and had been consistently telling myself, photos were my pictorial diary and they needed only to be good enough to evoke memories that I had forgotten. And with this blog now, I am literally keeping an online diary with words to supplement visuals. So for years, it meant no night photography, no tiny stuff and no dark places in my photos. We had an amazing time wheezing in and through the wrecks.
Among the rusted metal parts, it was amazing how life thrives. And yes, don’t come of them look yummy? 😉
The pitch black photo was taken so I knew we did enter the wreck but like I said, that was all my little camera could capture. 🙂
The third dive was an amazing shark dive. White tip sharks were swimming past us leisurely and probably checking us out as much as we were checking them out. First day of diving and a long time since I put my camera to use, so all my sharks turned out pretty blurry. I was sure we had not seen the last of them and hopefully steady hands tomorrow and I could remember what settings I had used in the past. It had been a long and tiring day. Had a bit of sun in the afternoon, happily tanning away on the roof deck. Did I say we had fantastic food on board? I had always been fascinated by what the crew could come up with on a boat and once again, the food did not disappoint. Our crew chefs were 2 young boys and it was hard to believe they were the ones who whipped out the array of buffet food every meal. Oh, an update on my roommate…. She had changed from the quiet demure bespectacled lady to a chirpy little girl who almost couldn’t stop laughing and talking. Now I could see she was the live spark of the group. 🙂 It was almost liked my battery had run out and I fell asleep pretty early. Then again, it was Maldivian time 10pm which easily translated to 1am in Singapore time. That wasn’t so different from my daily routine. I should keep to this. 🙂
Was hoping to catch sunrise but it was a cloudy morning and I waited patiently for my ‘yoke’ to emerge first from the horizon and finally through the thick clouds. Double sunrise ?
I was looking forward to diving. I changed and grabbed a quick coffee with biscuits. At the ring of the bell, we knew we had to be ready for our morning dive brief. The first dive was a shark dive and prior to that there were tons of familiar faces. Had been a while since my last diving trip so it was a nice reunion.
And here they are, the white tip sharks. There were a number of them but given my lousy photography skills, I settled for a sleeping shark. As usual, I scare it away eventually. 🙂
Just as we were preparing to do our safety stop, I spotted some movements under the corals. I had to tap JJ a few times before she knew what I wanted to show her. My first turtle in Maldives. Breakfast after a shark dive was a bustling one. Everyone was excited. I went to the sun deck for a bit of sun and a little nap. nice and warm sunshine to heat up my body for the next dive. It was blazing hot and I felt a little headache coming up. I decided to join the crew and who knew that would become my permanent seat with the boys. I was told to drink more water as the headache could be due to dehydration.
I realised that Aathy would hook his phone up to the speakers in between every dive and he was forever playing love songs. I always had my book with me so it was kind of nice to read with the crooning background music. See, I took a photo of him taking a photo of me. Well, time for the next dive. And we were lucky… we literally entered the waters right above a resting eagle ray. Although it was my first time seeing one, this was definitely the closest I got to one. Beautifully spotted.
And again, plenty of white tips and another eagle ray. I should really make it a point to get my camera settings right. Lazy me had to trial and error all the time and the results were not always fantastic. Most of my shark pics were either too dark or blurred. Kind of disappointed with myself. We took a longer surface time in the afternoon as we were planning a night dive. I had never been a huge fan of night diving. Plus the fact that I was developing a throbbing headache, so I had really wanted to give this a miss. Aathy had made me stay out of the sun and had fed me tons of water to re hydrate myself. Was touched and slightly embarrassed by the shower of concerns. Not only from Aathy but the rest of the crew too. By evening, I decided I was well enough to try out night diving. With no lights, I only wonder if I should even bother bringing my camera along. Aathy wanted to use it since I was going to leave it. He did a quick set up with a touch and tray. Pretty amazing.
I brought my camera down and we literally descended on top of a family of marble rays. They were huge. There was a bit of current and as I snapped away, I realised I needed an extra set of hands to stabilise myself. But I was quite please with some of the photos and these are a few of my more decent ones. When Aathy came down, I passed my camera to him but we got separated so I didn’t take any more photos. It was still fun.
One thing I didn’t enjoy about night dive was the cold when you surfaced. I was shaking terribly when I got on board. The crew were amazing and I was quite surprised when they greeted us at the deck with piping hot soup. It was almost an indescribable sensation when the soup warmed up your chest and your stomach. It probably was the best soup I had ever tasted. The time in Maldives was perfect. 10pm Maldives is about 1 am back home so I ended up sleeping following my Singapore biological clock. Looking forward to the early morning dive the next day. I woke up early the following day but decided to laze around a bit. Managed to grab my morning coffee and some biscuits before our first dive. Manta dive today. Well, at least this was what we were told. I wasn’t sure if it was really true but it was Maldives after all, I guess. We were going to dive a cleaning station so I guessed sighting was almost guaranteed? Looking forward to it.
And Aathy lived up to his words…. Manta!!!
We were given specific instructions to stay around the cleaning station and not to go on top of it but I guessed excitement took over. There were several groups of other divers too and the whole situation got a bit out of hand. I decided not to join the crowd. Found these 2 lovely octopus and no one seemed interested in them. I took my time till someone got over and a crowded started gathering.
I went back to the manta and another came along. I was staring at it in awe as it came towards me. Such a huge but elegant fellow. I recalled the story of how the manta never rest because it couldn’t stop moving. Poor guy.
By now I wasn’t really quite sure if it was the same guy circling us or there were a few of them. I was used to spotting manta on rare occasions on a diving trip but there were definitely more than one here. Totally lost count and as I was focusing on the back of one, this fellow came right up to my face and I almost freaked out. But it was a lovely sight.
The rest of the group were happily admiring the mantas but I was getting bored staying at one area. I spotted Aathy waiting patiently at a corner, ok , maybe not that patient. :p He must be bored stiff and wondering what was wrong with all these divers. I tapped him on the shoulder and he looked around and gestured if I was ok. I had wanted to tell him I would go over to the other side of the cleaning station but he decided that we would leave the group with Ali, the other dive guide and we could go somewhere else. Definitely sounded good to me.
And there it was, lying on the sand bed, minding his own business until I crept right up to it and stuck out my camera in his face. Managed a few shots before he waved me goodbye.
The little ‘runaway’ trip was definitely worth it and as we made our way back to the group, a huge manta swam right upfront. Pretty amazing sight up close. The group had pretty much stayed at the same spot throughout and they were still mesmerised by the huge gentle creature. Well, I had my own fun. The next dive was another manta dive and we had a laugh when the crew mentioned that today was a manta day. No complaints here definitely.
Other than the huge elegant mantas, there were plenty of other highlights too. My favourite sweetlips and lots of yellow fishes. I momentarily thought of a diver friend who was actually scared of fish. Wondering if she would survive in this. 🙂
At first I had thought it was yawning but it remained wide mouth open and I crept up closer and closer. That was when another fish joined him and I realised they were having their mouth cleaned. And they remained totally oblivious to my presence. Cleanliness is indeed most important.
And right at the sand bed ahead lies 3 sleeping sharks. I had spotted the one who finned away because the movement caught my attention. But when I got closer, it seemed that we had a whole family all sleeping soundly.
I targeted the one at the corner and I tried to creep up very slowly. Such a lovely creature.
And more yellow fishes. They were literally everywhere. I was having fun swimming in and out of the school when I spotted an oncoming manta. It was like a huge UFO flying in. And it just ‘flew’ by right in front of me. Though it wasn’t my first time seeing a manta, it was still a breathtaking sight.
Well, there were the huge creatures and sometimes, they looked so majestic, you forgot about the little beauties right underneath you. And these were the the lovely ones that were secretly hiding away. Love the illusive little yellow shrimp. I literally froze in the same spot for a few minutes just waiting patiently for it to creep out.
I was a little distracted with the passing traffic while waiting for the little shrimp and when I looked back, there they were, the 2 little ones.
And the usuals that used to be the highlights of my dives. I wondered when it was that they had become the more ‘common’ stuff. Was I getting jaded? Maybe time to take a diving break? :p And like any dive lob in the Maldives, we were all looking forward to our beach bbq dinner. I had seen many photos of sand whalesharks, dolphins and manta rays. I wondered who would be making ours. Some photo time on board the speedboat to the quaint little island.
Yes, that’s how clear the waters are around the island.
It had been days since we last stepped on land so I guessed we were all happy to set our feet in fine soft sands.
It was a tiny island and there was a small village with some local inhabitants. We were told not to venture in as respect for the people there. I walked round the island soaking in the peace and calmness of the sea. There were many other divers from other boats, so I was trying to avoid the crowd. Finding my spot to wait for the setting sun.
And I was getting hungry. The boys were setting up the table and chairs and getting the fire ready. Not forgetting our own sand whaleshark. They had painstakingly built this and taken time to add in the spots. A good luck charm for us to spot the real thing tomorrow. 🙂
Dinner was fantastic and of course a little booze along with it. The group was not the partying kind and by around 10 pm, all were tired and ready to head to bed. I stayed on with Aathy, enjoying the star lit sky. it had been a long time since I got to see so many stars and the darkness of the island made that possible. The early morning dive was another manta dive and this time, she was huge. The visibility was not as fantastic but I was still in awe as she came up.
After the previous night’s whale shark on the sand, we were all pressing Aathy for the real deal. Of course, we all knew there was no absolute guaranteed sighting when it comes to nature, but we were still anxious to see one. We were told to get our snorkel gears ready as we would jump into the waters immediately if the crew happened to spot one. As usual no snorkel gear and I had to borrow one from the boat. Another boat seemed to have spotted one and they probably radioed the other boats. We got onto the little speedboat and headed towards the site. I was shocked to see the number of boats surrounding the area. Apparently some were speedboats from the nearby resort and they had brought in guests to go snorkelling with the whale shark. What happened next was complete chaos as we jumped into the waters. I was with Aathy and the next thing I knew we were all finning hard to get to the whaleshark. I must have been slow as he suddenly grabbed my hand and pulled me along. The number of people in the sea were unimaginable and I kind of pitied the poor baby whaleshark. I finally saw it and I snapped away. Aathy took my camera and went after it underwater, so I got some side views of the whaleshark.
There seemed to be some unhappiness after the whaleshark incident and much as I knew it wasn’t the best arrangement to see a whaleshark but the crew had done their best. As for the other divers or snorkelers, I guessed they were beyond our control. There were some suggestions to dive nearby to try our luck in finding the whaleshark. But I guessed the chances were slim and we headed elsewhere.
After the earlier excitement and diving in the blues, I was getting a bit disappointed, or maybe anti-climax. Then this whole school of mobular rays came straight at us. Pardon my bad photography but this was the first time I had seen so many of them. Amazing sight.
We either passed the group twice or they were circling us and checking us out. We moved on and before long, I spotted a lone ray. He must have lost the group.
We headed back towards the reef. Another school of yellow fishes. Well, there were always the groupies and the loner.
And now to fin with my head down and eyes glued to the reef. there were never lack of surprises among the reef.
I saw it but it hid the moment I pulled out my camera. I waited patiently but still, it refused to come out. A shy octopus. And of course, some my personal favourites.
We ended the dive with a turtle and for some strange reason, he actually swam towards me. That was a nice moment and I was imagining a little hug from him. 🙂
It had been an exciting day thus far and we all had a little workout finning after the whaleshark. Aathy suggested a more relaxed last dive for the day.
I fell in love with the dive site. It was beautiful and we swam through beautiful coral reefs. Calm seas and no current which seemed a bit rare around here, so it was a refreshing change.
While it was calm and currentness throughout the dive, when we reached the top of the thila, the current picked up again. All the soft corals were ‘windswept’ and it certainly felt like a bad hair day situation.
There were plenty of fishes swarming round the bottom of the boat as we did our safety stop. Huge batfishes that seemed to follow us everywhere. And they had totally zero fear of us divers. When we were back on the boat, we could still the batfishes near the water surface. Pretty amazing sight. It had been a long tiring day and I was tired. I had wanted to star gaze but I guessed I was tired. The next morning, we were back to current dives. The current was strong and we had to fin hard to get to the site but most of the group could not keep up and when I looked at Mike, he decided not to follow Aathy all the way down. I made the same decision to turn back.
The next dive was a shark dive and there were lots of white tips. Pretty hard work again with the current but it was still really fun.
Not sure if its the photographer or the camera or the lack of proper equipments. :p It was an all blue dive. I gave the last dive of the day a miss as I was really having a bad headache. Was a bit undecided if I should continue diving the following day so I left my equipments on the dive boat. It was nice to be alone on the main boat and I had time to go through most of my photos. Caught up with a bit of work by going through my emails. A little reality check since I would be back on land the very next day. When the group came back from their last dive, I was told we were going fishing in the late evening. Not a big fan but decided to join in for the fun of it. Captain was helping me with my string and bait but I guessed Lady luck wasn’t with me. Some of the guys caught small fishes but I had absolutely no luck. That night I went to bed early. Still having a pretty bad headache. I was feeling a little down and perhaps a little sad that we were leaving soon. It was my second last sunrise on board Amphibiya so I made it a point to wake up early. It had rained the night before and the deck was wet. It seemed like I might not get to see much of a sunrise after all. I set alone for a while staring at the sky and savouring that moment of melancholy. Captain woke up and probably saw me. He sat besides me quietly. He didn’t say a word. For that short moment, a smile was all that was necessary.
We sat there throughout the sunrise without exchanging a word. Captain could tell I was feeling bothered and sad. I smiled at him and suddenly he gave me a big hug and tap me on my back. In that moment, the hug felt so comforting. I decided that I should not be pushing myself too hard and I retrieved my gears from the dive boat to give it a good wash. I should have ample time to dry them out and pack them up. I had another week of diving ahead and for the day, I just wanted to relax and take a good break. And of course, the usuals, a good photo shoot time with the rest of the crew. Love them and I know I would definitely miss each and every one of them.
We ended our last night on board with a sumptuous local dinner feast. The guys made extra effort to decorate the place and i decided to help out.
Dinner was great and tomorrow we would be leaving the boat. Aathy had arranged for a city tour for us. The rest of the divers would be heading to the airport and home while I would be staying a night in Male city before heading to my next LOB up in the north of Maldives. Yes, I’ll definitely be back one day. 🙂