A breather in my Maldivian paradise

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Fine white sands, light turquoise waters lapping up towards the edge of my hammock and peace and quiet so complete that I can hear a lizard scuttling up the coarse husks of the palm tree overhead.

This is what I call paradise and it’s one of the very few places I can really properly wind down and – unheard of for me – find myself nodding off in the middle of the day.

We came to the Maldives last year after a week trekking around Sri Lanka, for a bit of sport, sun and cocktails over the water at sunset.  We’ve never returned to the same spot for a holiday before but it fitted the bill again this year, after spending five months in Afghanistan and running around the subsequent flurry of meetings, lectures and conferences when I got back to the UK.

We chose one of the smallest islands and only a 20-minute scoot in a speedboat from the arrivals hall of Male airport.  The staff are discreet but attentive, the food delicious – mine’s a Maldivian curry every night despite not being a huge curry fan back home – and the location idyllic.  On both our visits, we’ve landed up sunburnt on the first night, not because we’ve shunned sun cream and gone for maximum exposure with baby oil ‘a l’Anglaise’ and not because we’ve been sun-worshippers spending every waking moment glued to our towels.  The problem is once we’re snorkelling on the reef with hundreds of multi-coloured fish, anemones and sea creatures, we forget the time and the fact that our pink British skin is a prime target for the relentless tropical sun.  And just as we’re about to negotiate our way back through the coral to the white sands of our island, we get lured back out by a friendly turtle on his daily outing or we land up half-way round the island in the wrong direction after finding ourselves unexpectedly nose to nose with a reef shark.  Harmless I’m told and not into taking a bite out of big lardy humans with chewy flippers, but not a rule I’m willing to test or become the exception to.

What a shame every holiday must come to an end.  After just a week this time, we’re shaking hands with our friendly waiter Nauf.  He’s spent the week making sure we’ve had everything we needed, giving us regular updates on the weather forecast (mostly scorching), and telling us about his home 400 kilometres away on the South Male atoll.  Then it’s back into the speedboat bound for our Air Sri Lanka flight via Colombo.  There is time for one more memorable moment as we arrive in the dark and pouring rain at Heathrow airport after an eleven-hour flight.  The aircraft’s cabin is jerked out of its slumber just as the wheels are about to touch down with the Terminal 4 in sight.  The engines thrust us forward and up again suddenly and we’re heading abruptly back up into the storm clouds.  As we settle into the approach pattern again, the pilot tells us he’s had to go around as there was an aircraft on the runway.  An abrupt end to the horizontal pace of life and relaxation of my hammock on Bandos Island, but then there’s nothing like a bit of excitement to get me back in the mood for the next adventure….

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