11 days in Maldives

After a busy Christmas break followed by numerous cold, bad air-quality days in China, family visits, and a return to the U.S. for chemo and tests that ended taking me around the world (literally) due to snowstorms in Chicago rerouting me to Newark and then across the Atlantic, I needed a Chinese New Year break that had:

1.) Clean air and very warm temperatures.
2.) Lots of relaxation and rest.
3.) Adventure for my daughters (usually scuba diving).
4.) Wouldn’t take us too far off our China time zone.
5.) Safe place for a single mom with two teenage daughters to feel comfortable traveling.

Those criteria actually leave a lot of options, but then cost becomes the defining factor. One place that had been on our bucket list since we moved to China 2.5 years ago has been the Maldives. Cost continually knocked it out of the running. But I learned that planning in advance actually opened it up. While it still doesn’t fall into the budget travel category like Vietnam, it can land in the doable category if we don’t stay at a resort island with the cool cabanas over the water.

When I planned this trip in September, I got the last room at a beachfront guest house (hotel) on Maafushi that would accommodate 3 people (I’ll write another post about traveling as a party of 3 in Asia, just know it’s often problematic). At that time, my health was such that I thought I’d at least be snorkeling, which I may try tomorrow, but as of yet I haven’t felt well enough to do. But being able to do nothing for a week, breathing in fresh, hot, humid air and wading in beautiful turquoise waters has been more healing and needed than I ever imagined back in the Fall.

The girls have gone out scuba diving every day with a very nice dive shop (Passions Maldives) that is connected to our hotel (Kaani Beach). They’ve been disappointed by the coral life (the warmer waters have caused bleaching lately), but have been excited by the abundant, large animal life! Surrounded by 30 white-tip reef sharks one dive, a dozen moral eels another, flocks of eagle rays, curious sea turtles, playful clown fish, and even an elusive frog fish. They’ve even found octopus during the day dives hiding in their little coral caves. It’s different from their other dive experiences, and so they’ve adjusted their expectations and are having fun with the dives.

As has been a theme this year, we’ve faced turmoil at most of the locations we’ve planned to visit. Maldives was looking good, or so I thought. Everyone wrote about how little crime there is in the Maldives, and how safe it is. It is a strict Muslim country so alcohol, drugs, inappropriate dress, being amorous in public is actually not allowed and could end you up in jail. Luckily, we’re on the island of the Maldives with the only jail in the country. Since none of those things are part of our vacation plans, it actually makes the Maldives a great family destination! Being that Maafushi is a local island (an island where the locals live), there are quite a few families here and not the honeymoon destination my oldest feared we’d be walking into.

Then, just days before we were to get on our plane, the country was thrown into a 15-day state of emergency due to a constitutional crisis between the President and the Maldives Supreme Court. There were a few riots in the capital island of Male, and China recommended cancelling vacations to the Maldives. Everyone questioned my daughters as to why their mom was still planning to go to the Maldives. The country is still in a state of emergency. The political prisoners at the center of the crisis are just at the other end of our small island, but we’ve seen no rioting or demonstrations. In fact, there’s been little discussion as to the situation anywhere on the island.

Even in the middle of the country’s biggest turmoil in modern-day history, this is still a relaxing, laid-back, friendly little island. My daughters and I wonder what life is like on the resort islands…they look really cool! But for now, we are happy with our budget Maldives vacation.

Life on a local island allows us to try out different restaurants each meal. The food is a lot of rice, curries, bbq of chicken and fish (tuna), but we’ve also had good pasta and pizza here. For the three of us I’m spending about $40 every lunch, $60 on every dinner and we’re eating breakfast at the hotel (included with our room). We also have ton of water sport options available to us like jet skis, parasailing, kayaks, SUPs, wake boarding, etc. Our hotel is nice, but nothing luxurious.

The people of Maafushi are extremely friendly and helpful! Another aspect we’ve enjoyed is no hawkers. Even when we go in the souvenir stores, no one is annoying us to buy something. No one is selling on the beach, so you can rest in peace and not have someone nag you to let them braid your hair or buy a necklace.

I had no idea how needed a do-nothing but relax vacation was going to be needed…but I’m glad that’s what I got! And the girls are glad there’s still a little splash of adventure.

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