|The Maldives Republic is a tropical archipeligo bisecting the equator just off the southern tip of India. It is a sovereign nation---not a part of the sub-scontinent as many would assume so from looking at a map. A long standing "Democracy," the Maldives has THE longest serving president of any republic in Asia (25 years). The islands are predominately Muslim, and upon approaching the capital atoll of Male you will see the warm, golden glow of the domed Friday Mosque. It is suprising just how little land actually exsists here in the Maldives, as most of the country is made up of barrier reef and gin-clear water, with only small patches of powdery white sand and shade providing palm trees. It was explained to me that everything in Maldives is imported save two things: fish and coconuts.
One week before coming here, I read in the international press that the Maldives had declared a "state of emergency." Massive protests broke out in the streets of Male followed by widespread arrests. It seems that the "democracy" in the Maldives was in practice more of a "autocracy." Though "free elections" exsist, no one but the current president has appeared on the voters ballet for decades. The island dwelling proletariate decided that enough was enough, and civil unrest led to organised protest.
The good news is that this is a Muslim country that knows where their bread is buttered. No one is plunking holes in the ground to pay the bills. Tourism is King here, and every worker in the streets knows it. So, life for the well-heeled vistor carries on as normal in the Maldives, and it would carry on for this author. I was met at the airport by my would-be "surf guide," and after rounding up ten other passengers, all Aussies, we headed off to our floating home.
Months ago, I had booked a "surfari" boat tour, and for the next week would be living aboard a 100-foot power boat named Haveyli. The sole purpose of this voyage was to ferret out beautiful waves. We would cruise throughout the Northern and Southern Atolls, constantly assessing the wind, swell, and tide. When the conditions looked right, we would drop anchor and gorge on the Maldives most precious resourse: waves. The revisionist lifestyle described during my stay in Sri Lanka would continue here. A typical day on the Haveyli would look something like this:
Wake up at 6:00 am.
Eat breakfast (lot's of carbs, not ideal for me).
Paddle out into empty, offshore, overhead, reef waves and surf until arms no longer functioned.
Singal to the boat for a dingy pickup and shuttle back to anchored boat.
Feed again. More carbs, which at this meal always satsified.
Deep mid-day slumber in fan-cooled cabin, or in the shade of the top deck.
Paddle out into the surf for another session until exhaustion set in.
Back to the boat for a cool shower, a beer, and dinner (often the reef-fish we were
catching off the back of the boat.)
Rig the fishing gear and cast fish for tuna, cod, and squid.
Sleep with the God's.
Wake up and repeat.
I was again reminded of the luxurious simplicity of my current situation. Multi-tasking has ceased to exsist for me, and has been duly replaced by acts of mindfullness. Such a menial task as waxing my surfboard becomes an all-encompassing endeavor. On the boat, I knew that my goal was to ride as many waves as well as possible, and that all the external activities of the day and night really only served to support this goal. That translated into refueling, replenishing, and regenerating. Period. And in that aim, I found a great solice, as if my mind was truly free.
I suppose that to speak in great detail about the surfing would render many of you readers bored. Suffice to say, I really had no reference points for what it would be like to ride such perfectly shaped waves, and the physical sensations I repeated daily can only for me be compared to skiing in really deep powder. Such incredible glide and flow I have never know whilst surfing the over-crowded, cold-water, altogether imperfect waves in California. In many ways, I for the first time in my 15-years of surfing, felt like a "surfer." It is this identity that comfortably fits right now, and I shall continue to wear it until a new horizon appears before me.
In addition to the ethereal pleasures of riding waves, I was treated to what I can only define as a true maritime experience. For seven days I was at sea. In between marathon surf sessions I spent alot of time looking into the Indian Ocean. Perhaps there were answers in this watery abyss? More likely, it was the imposibly cool hues of this reef strewn area which repeatedly captivated me. How could sea-water be so flawlessly blue?
There were many animal sightings. By day it was common to view to a myriad reef fish--striped and polka-dotted and looking very 1980's. Also there were giant manta rays flapping at the surface, flying-fish soaring broadside along our chugging vessel, and dolphins. Spinner dolphins to be exact, and I would say aptly named. These brilliant animals I watched intently. Some of the most compelling animal behavior I've ever seen looked like pods of 'spinners' exploding out of the ocean surface and spinning 720 degrees in the air before crashing down into a cloud of white sea foam. Whole pods of dolphins performing water acrobatics for our viewing pleasure. Upon discussing this peculiar behavior with one of the surfers on my boat (Todd, a dashing young Aussie guy who happened to be the head mammal trainer at Sea World in Australia's Gold Coast) I learned that spinner dolphins spin simply for enjoyment. They are not fishing, mating, or warring---just playing.
I would later see these dolphins in the surf doing nothing that cannot be described as surfing. Four dolphins at a time would take off deep on approaching set waves, swimming powerfully on the inside of wave, seemingly harnessing the wave's power for speed. On one occasion, as I was paddling up the face of an approaching wave, I was split by two pairs of dolphins who were charging down the face of the wave, headed for the shorebreak. My heart almost exploded.
In the evening, landscapes changed. Blues gave way to purples and greys. And the fish came out. We had an ultra-violet light on the back of the boat and we would use that light to attract squid. These are amazing creatures: beatifully colored and armed with space aged defense mechanisms. They camoflage like chameleons, and squirt ink like a cheap bic pen. I admired them and felt the only way to really honor their untimely deaths was to eat them. Our cook served them up sauteed in garlic, butter and cheap white wine. I had to prod him not to over-cook these calamaris (as he would instinctly do to every other object to grace his grill).
After a week of this routine, I was needing a break. My body was exhausted. A respite would come--Anneka Foushee arrived into Male International Airport--and we would spend the next seven days blissing out on one of the little resort atolls called Lohifushi. The surf conditions took a turn for the worse, and I was content to sit beneath a leafy palm reading current magazines from home, while my lovely girlfriend laid beside me. We developed yet another routine, a moveable feast really, and took pleasure in slurping down $8 blended drinks on the veranda overlooking the surf. Seven days later we were on a plane headed back to the "Island of Gems."