For me, the Maldives was always associated as a destination for honeymoons and couples. Somewhere for them to spend some quality time together, to dream about their future, on a tiny island with palm trees, white sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise waters. There would nothing else to do, than lie on the beach, swim and snorkel in the clear sea.
However, Jerome has always had a passion for swimming, since he was very little, it was hard to get him out of the sea or swimming pool. He was able to hold his breath and swim under water, before he could actually swim properly, and could swim at five thanks to his Dad’s coaching and encouragement. I have always admired his fearlessness when swimming and diving, often I wish I was a bit more like him. He has shown a keen interest in marine life since our first trip to Bermuda, when he was just seven years old. There we saw barracudas, octopus, squid and many other fish whilst snorkelling. One of his big dreams since then has been to snorkel with whale sharks. Fulfilling this dream was not an easy task as depending on the time of year and where you dive you might be lucky or unlucky to see these the largest fish on the planet, without being able to dive properly.
I had conducted some research and found that the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives is a place where one can swim and snorkel with whale sharks most of the year. However, a holiday in the Maldives is not like any destination we could just go and visit, it is one of the more expensive destinations and requires a careful choice of place to stay and transport to get there. If we were going there I wanted it to be perfect, so I started to save the money and we gave the trip to ourselves a big Christmas present, and chose a stay at Lux South Ari, as I felt this was the right place for an overindulgent holiday.
February came so quickly and we were off on our plane to paradise. Even before we came into land at Male airport I was able to spot some reefs from the plane window. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, no photo could do it justice when I finally saw the beauty of the atolls for real. I got really excited and Chris had to calm me down, he had seen the atolls years ago on on a trip to Sri Lanka.
After we landed and had gone through immigration, we were greeted by one of the hotel staff from Lux South Ari. He helped us with our luggage and guided us to the seaplane check-in desks where we had to check our luggage in and collect our tickets for the air taxi transfer to the hotel island. We had known that we would be limited to one piece of luggage per person without incurring additional fees and so had managed to get away with hand luggage only. We collected our plane tickets and waited for some other guests to share the bus ride to the seaplane airport.
One of the great perks about staying at Lux South Ari was that we got a separate lounge, reserved just for hotel guests at the seaplane harbour. After our arrival there received a very warm welcome with cooling scented towels (I will never forget the smell) and plenty of drinks and snacks to pass our time before boarding. We quickly changed into some lighter clothes, as the difference of about 25C in temperature from London to the Maldives, was rather overwhelming at first. We sat outside the lounge and watched seaplanes take off and land. Jerome has always been fascinated by any kind of vehicle, and this was a completely new experience for him. Actually it was a new experience for all of us, as we had never been on a seaplane before.
When it was time for us to board we first had to watch a safety video beforehand and then walked along a pier to our seaplane. Our luggage was stored in the back and we climbed into the tiny plane. I chose to sit next to the window to one side on my own, Jerome on the other side of the aisle with Chris. We were also right behind the cockpit and there was a surprise, no door between us and the pilots. We had a great view of all the instruments in the cockpit from our seats. There was also another surprise, as the pilots flew barefoot! I had heard about this before but I could not believe it until that moment that I saw it with my own eyes. Once the steward had finished loading all the luggage and everybody was on board the propellers started rotating. It felt weird at first to be floating on water in a plane, heading for the “runway”.
Take off was very smooth and soon we very up, flew over Male, which looked very crowded, and headed towards the island which we were to call home for the next ten days. Jerome after all the excitement was beginning to flag and fell asleep soon after, I do not know how as it was pretty loud in the plane. He had happily played games and watched videos on the main flight rather than sleep. I enjoyed the view too much and was probably too high on adrenaline to think about a nap. We passed many islands and atolls, on some I could see luxury hotels and resorts, a few were built up with local villages and others still uninhabited and wild. The shades of blue and turquoise were ever changing and sometimes the atolls looked like a pattern of polka dots in the dark blue sea. After 25 minutes we left our flying altitude and came into land at Lux South Ari, but not before we got a tour of the island from the sky.
There was already a group of employees awaiting our arrival, typical of the service were to receive the entire stay. We received another warm welcome and were led into the lobby of the hotel where one of the girls explained a few things about our stay on the island. We had already done all the check-in formalities at the hotel’s lounge at Male airport. Jerome got a list of the children’s activities in the kids club, which he could join anytime he wanted to even though he never did in the end. We were then driven on a golf cart to our water villa at the far end of the island, the island was about a couple of kilometre long and a few hundred metres wide at the widest point. You could walk the length of the island in perhaps twenty minutes.
I had decided that if we were going to visit the Maldives we had to stay in a villa perched over the sea. Where else do you have the chance to step out onto your terrace, with direct access into the sea and not have to walk across the beach first. I had also imagined that it would be incredible to lie in bed and look out over nothing else but the sea. Our villa was very spacious. Jerome had his own bed in an alcove in the bedroom and the bathroom was the same size as our bedroom. The shower and toilet were open and we could see the sea right underneath the room and the fish swimming by. The terrace had a sofa, table and chairs and a hammock, which was hung over the sea. It was just how I had imagined it and more, we were speechless.
We had asked to have some bikes, as it took quite some time to get from one end of the island to the other. We also like cycling wherever we are on holiday. The staff had already parked them outside our door, a smaller bike for Jerome as well. For those who do not want to cycle, Lux also a golf cart shuttle that goes back and forth between the two ends of the island and you get on and off at any point. Not all the Maldivian islands are as big as Lux, some are just a few rooms and a restaurant, however, we preferred to have a destination with a bit more space and choice and Lux proved an excellent choice.
We had booked a table for dinner that evening at Senses, one of the hotel restaurants. We got a table on the beach in front – what a great way to end our first day here at Lux South Ari eating by the water with feet in the sand. The food was delicious, a mixture of local dishes with Indian and Sri Lankan influence. The Senses staff was impeccable, friendly and helpful. From the time we arrived to when we left, it was going to become our favourite of the restaurants here at LUX.
Back in our villa, we left the door open to our terrace (there are no mosquitos in the Maldives), the sea breeze gently cooled us down (we hate air-conditioning) and we could hear the water slapping against the pillars which sent us straight to sleep.