I read a book last year by the brilliant Shonda Rhimes called, “The Year of Yes”. In it, she described a year of life changing events she experienced due to her simply answering “yes” to everything she was asked to participate in. I was so inspired by this that I declared this year my “Year of Yassss”! I lived my yass to the fullest by going by myself across the world to travel with a bunch of virtual strangers on a freaking boat! Did I mention that I have a fear of water? Did I also mention that the boat was not a deluxe oceanliner, but a smallish catamaran? Yes, when I do things I try to go to the extreme. I’m a vacation extremist. I just made that up….
I“met” the seven other ladies in a Facebook group that focuses on single, black women who enjoy traveling and swapping dating horror stories (and some successes, I guess…this is me trying to be nice, they are mostly horror stories). It was Candy’s birthday and she wanted to celebrate it in a big, effing way and she picked a little boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the venue. I had Maldives on my bucket list or as I call it, my f**** it list. I didn’t know this lady or any of the other ladies, but Maldives ya know…
If you have never flown Emirates, I must insist that you do while still on this Earth. I knew when I saw those uniforms with the sheer scarves flowing from their chic little “fascinator” hats and their perfectly applied makeup that I had found my diva sisters in the air! Let me tell you, if you have an aversion to roomy economy seats, decent and plentiful eats, duty free shopping mid air and a ton of movies and entertainment to choose from then by all means do not fly Emirates. Basically, I’m saying I love Emirates and I wish they drove Uber!
After the twelve hour layover in Dubai I still had to board another plane for an additional four hour flight. What I learned was that you cannot fly direct to Maldives from the US. It is a series of small islands and the tiny airport cannot handle all of that international flight drama. This is not Heathrow or O’Hare! Anyway, I met my boatmates and soon to be new bestest friends at a small hotel in Hulhumale. Our Catamaran would not be arriving until the next day. Hulhumale is a artificial island that is in existence to accommodate the expansion of the Maldives capitol, Male’ region. There are apartment developments, small hotels, a couple of restaurants and food markets there. I would not plan an entire trip there. It’s more of a temporary pit stop.
Maldives is a Muslim country so I decided to present myself with another challenge. I decided that for my entire trip, excluding swimwear, that I would dress modestly. I am not known for my modesty so this would be a great feat, if accomplished. Weeks before my trip I had bought way too many fancy caftans, maxi kimonos (is that a thing?) and coverups. I still wanted to be myself so I called this look, “Modestly Fierce”. As I mentioned before, I am not known for my modesty. Essentially I wanted to prove that you could be covered from head to toe and still be the goddess you were meant to be.
We met the boat and our Skipper and Captain at the dock the next day. I knew the boat was going to be small, but ummmm, it was super duper little! I contemplated going back to the airport and blissfully flying on Emirates for the next eight days. I remembered my promise to “yass” and I got on that little boat that would be my home for the next week. I just had to pray that those three private swimming lessons I had just taken would be enough to save my life, if necessary!
Remember on Gilligan’s Island when they said, “the weather started getting rough”? That doesn’t begin to describe the waves we had to brave on the ocean that night! Our Captain had decided to travel for nineteen hours straight in order to meet one of the ladies on our trip who was arriving the next day from Nigeria on another island. Some of those waves took us, I think, airborne! Oh, did I forget to mention I suffer from motion sickness? Yeah, I will spare you the gory details but suffice it to say I was green for the next nineteen hours. After picking up our last passenger and grabbing a few essentials at the local market we got back on course. Maldives is made up of about 1,900 islands (about 200 uninhabited) some are resorts. Our plan was to visit various resorts and pay their daily resort fee to enjoy their amenities. This is a genius idea! I’m not sure who came up with this idea, so I will say it was mine (it totally wasn’t).
The first resort we visited was https://www.sunsiyam.com/resorts/vilu-reef-maldives/ . This place was gorgeous! Sun Aqua Vilu Reef is a five star resort operated by the Sun Siyam group. They own several beach resorts across Maldives and nearby Sri Lanka. The reception desk is located outdoors, because… Maldives. The beautiful white sand and clear blue water had me super excited to explore the offerings. This resort is comprised of luxury villas that are on stilts above water. We were assigned our guide Shareef who gave us a tour of the grounds and an empty villa. You can actually walk down the stairs from your villa straight into the ocean! This beautiful locale created little vain monsters. From this moment on we became Sports Illustrated models in our own minds. I challenge you not to! To experience such beauty up close is awe inspiring. We had lunch at the pool restaurant and quickly became the stars of the resort! I don’t think the employees or the guests had ever seen a group of black women in the Maldives! Maybe they thought we were Sports Illustrated models, hmmm? The resorts don’t really offer local cuisine. We ordered tropical drinks and several versions of Caesar Salad (chicken, shrimp, steak). Yes, I flew over 9,000 miles to eat a Caesar Salad!! It was pretty delicious though. This resort is beautiful to look at, but there isn’t much to do. If you want to simply relax in luxury, then this is your place! Before long it was time to board our “boat hotel” again. Bye, Sun Aqua Vil Reef! I’ll miss your infinity pool…..
The next day we visited http://www.kandima.com/index.php/en/ This was my favorite resort. It is also a five star resort. They greeted our group with welcome cocktails. Although alcohol is not allowed for the most part in Maldives, it is permitted on all private islands and resorts. Kandima was beautiful, however, it was a bit less stuffy than Sun Aqua Vil Reef. There was more of a fun, party vibe there. They had a swing suspended above the ocean. You know what that means, SI photoshoot! We ordered more cocktails and some food. One thing I started to notice is that they are not big on ice in the Maldives. Seriously, I urge you to always ask for a glass of ice on the side. Otherwise, you will always have a lukewarm tropical drink. The choice is yours. We had fun playing volleyball in the pool. A bit later a couple of us ventured to the spa. This resort is massive! We actually had to take a resort bus to the spa. I had a seaweed wrap that was expensive and not better than what I could get in Chicago. I enjoyed the tea and nuts though while I rested afterwards. I ate alone in the restaurant, because I’m a Chef and I have to try everyone’s food. Again, there was no local cuisine, however, there were an array of Asian infused choices. Later, I joined the group in the bar singing karaoke. I ended my song lying on the floor and that’s all I’m going to say about that. All I know is there were people filming my performance on their phones and I hope it doesn’t end up on YouTube (sorry Mom). Well, it’s time to catch our boat again! See ya later Kandima Resort, I’ll always love you!
By this time I’m finally getting my sea legs. One thing I learned about not being tied down to one resort is that you can create your own excursions. In between our time of traveling to different islands and resorts we were able to occasionally anchor the boat in the middle of the ocean. Some of the ladies skinny dipped and we all did some snorkeling. The water is surprisingly shallow in some parts of the middle of the ocean. We also visited some uninhabited islands and made sand angels! Since there is no room service on the boat, you have to cook for yourself. As a group we all took turns cooking and cleaning. We ate everything from Melissa’s Homemade Biscuits to Shauna’s Jamaican Curried Mutton. Now you know they weren’t going to let me get away with not cooking anything, right? I made a yummy Congee (Asian Rice Porridge) for breakfast one day, a Mediterranean Fish Stew another day, a Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding and lastly Fresh Tuna Poke Bowls.
One of my goals on this trip was to cook and authentic Maldivian meal. I was able to do that when we visited our Skipper and Captain’s hometown of K. Guraidhoo. He was sweet enough to arrange a cooking session with me and his Mom in his private home. How amazing is that? Together we made a simple and delicious “typical” Maldivian breakfast. You will never guess what the main ingredient was… times up, it was canned tuna! They totally love canned tuna packed in oil in the Maldives. You can find an infinite amount in every store. The dish consists of: Canned Tuna, Fresh Lime, Fresh Shaved Coconut, Curry Leaves and Spicy Peppers. It was easy to make and very tasty! We did a little souvenir shopping and Candy got a private motorcycle tour from the President of K. Guraidhoo! Yes, the freaking President!!!!
We had time for one final resort before we had to make our way back to our original port. We spent the day at https://www.niyama.com/en/ . This is yet another, say it with me, five star resort in the Maldives! I’m thinking that by the time you purchase an entire island for your resort you pretty much gotta bring it. This resort is actually owned by the same group as Kandima. It is like a super grown up, “Mama I made it” type of resort. Once again we were greeted with delicious, lukewarm tropical drinks. We asked for the ice up front because, by now, we were on to them. We took a bus tour around the resort, had another SI photoshoot and checked out a $20,000/week room #goals… After the tour we ate an expensive Western Style dinner at the pool while a Zumba class went on nearby. We changed our clothes in the bathroom like a bunch of heathens and then took a boat taxi to their underwater nightclub for a Glow Party. When you think about underwater nightclubs and restaurant you think of the ones you see on tv that surround the walls of the room and transport you to another place. Yeah, this was not that. I think I saw about two fish, but I made the best of it because…Maldives! We were celebrating Candy’s birthday and that was the point. Now let me just say, if you haven’t danced to the Pussycat Dolls around an underwater bar in the middle of the ocean whilst wearing a pink and gold wedding caftan and glow in the dark kitten ears you haven’t lived! Sorry about it. It was time to head back to our “boat hotel” after yet another enjoyable day. This is where we part ways Niyama! You are the real heart of the ocean!
By this time, if you can believe it I actually slept on top of the catamaran! I mean like the top, top, tippity top of the boat! I’m honestly feeling like a big girl. I have never seen so many stars in my life! Is that the Big Dipper? It is… We were awakened by the most calming, spiritual sound. It was the sound of the Men in the town gathering at the water for Morning Prayer. Tears stream down my face as I realize in this moment how grateful I am to be alive, blessed to have experienced this journey and happy to have met my new friends.
We ended our trip with a day in the capitol City of Male’. After a short ferry ride from Hulhumale’ we showed ourselves around this time. Male’ is a bustling city full of activity and more motorcycles than at a Hell’s Angel’s National Convention! If you like pushy people yelling at you to shop in their store versus the store next door with the exact same stuff then this is your jam. We found a lovely park and played on the swings and then we were fortunate enough to experience the Mosque. After a quick lunch it was time to head back on the ferry to Hulhumale’. There we made our separate pilgrimages to the airport, leaving as we came. As I waved goodbye to my friends I knew I was forever changed. I had traveled across the world all alone, spent a week on a small boat, snorkeled in the middle of the most crystal blue sea and said yes to yass. All there was left to do now was to head home. Silver lining, Emirates…..