Mention Maldives and the first word that comes to mind is Paradise. It is perhaps the most abused travel cliché in history. Is there anything like a Paradise on earth? And if there is, what exactly is life like in Paradise?
To find out, my wife and I would have to wait longer than our 4 ½ hour flight from Singapore to Male. Next was a 35-minute flight to Kadhdhoo. Followed by a 15-minute ride in a speedboat to the island that’s home to Six Senses Laamu.
Finally, an arc of wood and thatch overwater villas appeared like a necklace of brown tourmaline gemstones set against the sapphire ocean.
Soon we were on the timber jetty sipping our exotic welcome cocktails, after which we decided to dump our travel-weary limbs at the bar next door. Pet poisons in hand, we watched the shimmering gold waves swim up to us as the sun went to sleep. We followed suit, after sitting awhile under the dancing crystal fishes in the chandelier, eager to experience a full day in Paradise.
The sun acted as a pleasant alarm clock in the morning, while the waves served as the repeat alarm. Everything about the Ocean Villa too was designed to awaken the senses. The washbasin was fashioned out of what looked like a vintage suitcase.
The infinity pool wasn’t designed by some trippy designer geek; it was God’s very own Indian Ocean. And even the morning ritual on the throne made you feel like Poseidon, thanks to a glass-bottom floor offering views of our colourful underwater neighbours.
Out of the villa, into a village. That’s how it felt as we got onto cycles and rode through rough dirt tracks to the breakfast area. The lavish spread, though, was more like something laid out for ocean royalty than a village headman. Eggs of every asking; waffles drizzled with honey, maple or a range of fruit syrups; crepés lashed with chocolate sauce and topped with sweet, small bananas; chorizo, ham and salami in more varieties than you knew existed; fruit milkshakes and fresh fruits of every imaginable ilk; plus an artery-clogging array of cheese. And those were just our favourite bits.
The bike ride to and from the villa served as our ritual penance before a new round of indulgence. This in reality was a mirage, as it would have barely burnt a smidgen of the calories we put on. Another such mirage of weight loss was the rope bridge you had to cross to get to the delightful Vietnamese lunch with melt-in-the-mouth Beef Salad.
To relax in the scorching afternoon sun, most people choose to jump into the ocean and swim or snorkel. Some others prefer to lie on the netting hammock in their villa and read a book. For complete idiots, like me, there are push-ups on the sun deck. But in Paradise even pain can be rewarding. As I finished a set and stood up, I saw a family of 3 stingrays swimming towards us. They swam to within 10 feet of our villa before mummy and daddy guided junior towards the adjacent beach villa. It was a magical experience unlike any other we have had on a beach holiday.
A little later we were on our bikes again, heading for the pier. After a short boat ride, it was on with the snorkels and off the boat. The water was crystal clear and revealed iridescent coral merrily waving out to us; bright coloured fish with enchanting names like Angelfish, Butterflyfish and Oriental Sweetlips darted past; and a Green Turtle even directed a curious glance in our direction.
On our return, we made a discovery almost as magical as the water world we’d visited: A delightful shack serving exotic ice cream, sorbets and chocolates made on the island. (Hold your breath.) Free. A mind (and tongue) numbing spread of intriguing ice cream flavours like Wasabi and Sour Cream, Banana Butterscotch and Orange Campari. Not to mention beguiling sorbets like Black Pepper Strawberry, Lime Basil and Mango Jasmine.
We tried as many as it was humanly possible to without turning ourselves into beach balls. The Lime Basil sorbet was an absolute ripper. And Black Pepper Strawberry promised to be a mystery worth delving into on another day.
After the customary bike ride back to the villa and doing good renditions of a comatose couple, we returned to the dining area for a buffet. There was a dizzying spread of international dishes including some surprisingly excellent Lebanese dips. But since we love eating local food wherever we go, we paid particular attention to Maldivian dishes. Maldivian cuisine is heavily inspired by Southern Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. So it wasn’t really surprising to find that coconut, fish, rice and spice are the bedrock of Maldivian cooking. Besides the curries and breads, which were healthier versions of their Indian cousins, there were some standout dishes. Mas huni was a revelation. It is a blend of finely chopped coconut, chilli and onion blended with either finely chopped tuna or even pumpkin. It’s dry. It’s healthy. It’s absolutely yummy.
As I lay in bed, reflecting on the day, I could clearly see what Paradise means. Paradise blends the best bits of your everyday life with your most vivid dreams.
But I wondered, is it possible for Paradise to get too repetitive? Can another day packed with special moments still feel special? What can I do tomorrow that can match what I did today? Just before my eyes closed, the answer was clear.
I must try the Black Pepper Strawberry sorbet tomorrow.