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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gordon Ramsay reported to be considering new Maldives restaurant

According to tourism blog Maldives Finest, Gordon Ramsay proposes to open a restaurant on the experimental multiple-hotel island development of Thumburi. 
I'm yet to hear this from another source but the same post quotes Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation as the source (The MMPRC company is basically the tourist board and operator of Visit Maldives). 

If verified from the celebrity chef's team (and if it actually comes into fruition) this is fantastic news and could encourage some exciting competition amongst Maldives' top resorts.

In my opinion it is a brave choice to pick Thumburi as it's a new concept in the Maldives. Thumburi will be the country's first island to offer more than one resort in one place. Until now there has been just one resort per island with no local communities sharing the island (only staff and guests).

By contrast guesthouses and 'city hotels' are located within island communities where different laws apply with regards to alcohol and pork consumption and the wearing of bikinis (they are banned in inhabited islands, except for resorts, only with the small exception of some islands offering small private tourist beaches where you can flash the flesh).

Thumburi will integrate several resorts, hotels and guesthouses and since no communities live there the special legislation which permits liquor, pork and yes, skimpy swimwear has been applied to this island just like it has on every resort island in the Maldives. Alongside the tourist accommodation there will also be shops, restaurants and scuba diving centres.

While this concept is new to the Maldives it is of course a very popular concept to have a variety of accommodation and services combined together on other tropical islands (albeit larger ones) across the world such as Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Langkawi and Mauritius (although they also have communities living there too).  It'll be really interesting to see how Thumburi develops.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Beyond the beaches: Historical finds in the Maldives

There's a lot more to Loama Resort Maldives than meets the eye! (Although it's pretty easy on the eye, isn't it?)

The Maldives is better known for its beaches than its historical sights (and let's be honest, rightfully so) however it brought a ray of sunshine into my day today to read some ancient baths had been uncovered during construction of a new resort at Maamagili in Raa Atoll. Thankfully the resort, Loama Resort Maldives, recognises not just the historical significance of this discovery but also the appeal it will hold for its visitors and hence has decided to preserve the 'vevu' as it's known in the local language (Dhivehi).

It's too easy to write-off travellers in the Maldives as only being interested in getting a good suntan (or more recently perhaps taking as many trophy photos as possible) but in fact there's a significant percentage of tourists I've come across who are eager to learn more about the country's culture and history. This isn't just limited to the guesthouse patrons (who shouldn't be pigeonholed either). Just chat to any Maldivian resort butler or F&B attendant about how many questions they get asked about their home country by curious guests. Look at the number of cultural excursions that get booked up at resorts motivated enough to put them on their programmes. And think about the number of guests who eagerly gobble up Maldivian cuisine on 'Maldivian night' and are enthralled by 'bodu beru' (traditional drumming) performances.

As it turns out, the 'vevu' at Loama dates back to the Maldives' pre-Islamic era, so that's pre-1153AD (when the Maldives converted to Islam). Before 1153 The people of the Maldives were largely Buddhist (with some Hindus also). There are several Buddhist stupas (an estimated 59 according to historian Hassan Ahmed Maniku), ruins of temples and other archeological remains lying under mounds of sand and vegetation on other islands in the Maldives.

Returning to the recent find at Loama, announcing the news on the Facebook page the resort said;

"Vevu were used as public baths and later for ablution. Sandstone used in the construction of Vevu points to the pre-Islamic period, and the symmetry of the two wells suggest it may have been part of a temple. 

"Vevu are constructed by layering sandstone blocks approximately a metre below the water line till about half a meter above ground. There is an octagonal ledge cantilevered at low tide level for people to access the well."

It's appropriate the resort's slogan is 'Yesterday's heritage, today's culture'. According to their website they seek to promote Maldivian history and culture, promosing guests: 

"A nation’s culture is best reflected in its people’s way of life, and this is what the resort seeks to capture in all its natural glory. Watch the artisans of today bring age-old craft to life, experience ancient rituals and customs first-hand, and immerse yourself in the old world of Maldivians going about their daily routine, untouched by the passage of time."

It genuinely sounds intriguing to me. I've noticed an increasing number of resorts in the Maldives cottoning on to the demand for cultural activities just over the past five years; Dusit Thani's 'artisan village' and the mini-museum at Velaa Private Island to name just two recent examples. As a history-lover I say hooray for that. The Maldives has a fascinating (albeit fragmented) cultural heritage to discover if you dig a bit deeper.     

Sunday, September 21, 2014

From the archives: Interview with world champion freediver Sara Campbell

Today I read a superb article by journalist James Nestor about what happens to your body when you dive into the sea. James described very eloquently the physical and psychological effects of triggering the Master Switch of Life (mammalian dive reflex). As someone who tries to spend as much time as possible either on or in the water it was of particular interest; spending much of the year in the Maldives I have daily access to some of the best diving in the world. 

I'm currently an Advanced Open Water Diver and without a doubt will continue to work my way through the PADI system, although I'm not about to ditch travel journalism for a new career as a Diving Instructor! However, free-diving is something pretty different. As James explains in his article, when you dive without compressed air your body's natural instinct kicks in with an incredible ability we've had lurking inside ourselves as part of our physical constitution for millions of years. This allows professional free-divers to dive to depths of 300 feet.

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to interview women's world champion free-diver Sara Campbell about her career. She was in the Maldives to take part in LUX* resort's Underwater Festival; a showcase of diving, free-diving and underwater photography.

This is the interview, published in Fah Thai magazine (Ink Media) also with a scan of the original version below.

Meet Sara Campbell, a record-breaking world champion in the extreme sport of freediving.

Imagine holding your breath for
three minutes. Now imagine doing that at
an ocean depth of 104m. Record-breaking
world freediving champion Sara Campbell
did just that two years ago, earning instant
international acclaim. In April, Campbell
will detail the techniques behind the feat at
the spectacular Underwater Festival at LUX*
Maldives, where she’ll share the spotlight with
the makers of the acclaimed BBC documentary
series The Blue Planet. We spoke to her ahead
of this maritime extravaganza...

Why are you taking part in this festival?

I was excited by the opportunity to develop
a programme for budding underwater
cameramen that includes relaxation, breathing
and breath control. And of course, the fact that
it’s in the Maldives was a bonus – a part of me
still thinks those images of turquoise waters
must be Photoshopped!

How critical is marine conservation in Asia?
It’s a tragedy that such little care and
consideration is given to the health and
sustainability of our oceans. They’re treated as
playgrounds and dumping grounds. Unless we
stop our destructive behaviour there’ll be no
beauty left in our oceans in a very short time.

The Maldives hangs in the balance, doesn’t it?
There’s a lot of conservation work going in
the Maldives and this is partly because of its
enviable position as a place with a rich and
diverse ecosystem. From turtles and corals
to whale sharks and mantas, there’s a lot
going on and this is positive for the islands.
Ecotourism is growing, but there’s also the
ethical question surrounding bringing tourists
into these areas.

So how are you planning to spend your free time
in the Maldives?

I’d love to dive with mantas and whale sharks.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we get
lucky during the festival!

Is freediving something anyone can try?
Yes, freediving is for everyone. If you can
breathe and have a reasonable ability to swim,
you can dive. It helps if people are naturally
calm in the water, but there really are no
prerequisites to getting under the water.

How did you first get under the water?
I started freediving when one of my yoga
students needed a buddy to “safety her”. I fell
in love with the peace and with the happiness I
got from diving. It’s the perfect combination of
meditation and physical challenge.

And you became a record-breaker...
I set all three deep world records in under
48 hours in 2007 and it was a very surreal
experience. It came as a complete surprise to
everyone, and I was no less in shock. I was a
bit overwhelmed by the attention and didn’t
really feel comfortable with it. I had just
been doing what I loved to do, so was a bit
bewildered by all the fuss.

Have you ever panicked in the deep?
Not really. I felt a bit stressed on a dive to
around 55m once, and when I tried to figure
out why, I realised it was simply my mind
playing tricks on me. I also realised that this
happens to us all the time in life, and from that
moment on I vowed never to allow that to
happen to me in the water again.

Finally, Sara, what motivates you?
My motivation is the pleasure I gain from
diving and teaching. I don’t have any goals at
the moment, just to keep on sharing what I
love. What comes after that? Who knows?
The Underwater Festival runs from 15-21

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Making a video documentary about seaplanes

Think Associates asked me to team up with them this year to write the script for a documentary about seaplane operations in the Maldives. I was really excited about the project because I love to learn about new things and expand my skillset as part of my work as a travel journalist.
The Maldives has the largest seaplane operations in the world with a vast fleet of Twin Otters and crew from around the world. The video covers all aspects of TMA's operations in collaboration with the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority.

I'm thrilled to have had a wonderful response from Trans Maldivian Airways staff about the video, which has already had more than 3,000 views.