Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fihalhohi: A Piece of Paradise on Earth (Madives Diaries)

The wind whistled at 2:45 AM yet I was able to get back to a restful sleep. But by 4:45, a dissonant singing of a call to prayer woke me up again. Unlike other places, it was short and unobtrusive. Humanity after all requires sleep without religion getting in the way.

7:15AM. A Caucasian couple was finishing their breakfast when I entered Kaani’s restaurant which was homey. Log pieces were hanging down the ceiling. The buffet spread was sparse: eggplant stew, fried rice, bread, paratha, fruit choices, orange juice and eggs cooked to your preference. Not too filling but not shabby either. The waiter kept double checking for my room number. Did I look like a stray? “Yes, here, upstairs,” I emphatically replied. Don’t mess with my morning, dingbat.

There was a steady flow of Chinese guests, everyone mostly loud and moving around like they constructed the place from Creation. This populace has gradually but surely given a reason for people to discriminate against them – and that isn't pleasant.

9:00AM. With sunblock covering every inch of my body, I was ready to go. I've booked for an island excursion to Fihalhohi Resort Island, located 20 minutes southwest (by speedboat) from Maafushi. An odd interracial Polish-Filipina couple joined and we had to walk to the other Kaani (Kaani Village, which boasts of a swimming pool) to wait for other Polish party who that late in the day wasn't ready – so we proceeded to the jetty and found our seats to relax while the royalties were to be waited on.

The trip took 20 minutes, speeding through other resort islands. Upon arrival, there was chaos at the front desk counter. Reason: Chinese guests (again!) who could hardly speak the universal tongue - so everything took time because “orientation” about the facilities were made individually.

This resort needs to get their system in order. We were given arm bands with numbers (5006) that identified how many people were in each group. We need to show this at the restaurant, officially identifying us as guests. Entrance to this island was $25; $49 if with lunch at the Palm Grove Restaurant served between 11:30 AM and 1PM (Fihalhohi time). Quite affordable for a resort island.

Fihalhohi jetty

If you're staying in another island, your speed boat will meet you here.

9:45 in Maafushi and Male, 10:45 in Fihalhohi. Be aware of the time difference.
Like Rihivelli before, time at Fihalhohi moved 1 hour into the future. We arrived at 10:45AM Maafushi time, and stepped into the island an hour into the future. Fihalhohi had a mixture of local and Caucasian staff running the place.

The Aeolus Dive Center mostly had an international diving team, headed by a girl. There were a couple of bars, including Fisherman’s, Blue Lagoon/Bar/Surf Cafe, Anggerik Spa, a souvenir shop, and cottages all over the island. Some signs were translated in several languages: English, German, French, Italian, Chinese. In the last 2 decades or so, the Japanese (which used to be the universal traveler) have been shying away from the wandering scene.

The tall Polish guy, who must be in his mid-60’s, came up and hushed, “Boracay has better beach,” which I had to agree, but underwater dive all over the Maldives is something else. I'd like to believe that more underwater creatures inhabit the Laccadivian seas.

Fihalhohi’s piece de resistance lies somewhere at the other end of the entrance. Water bungalows with trademark Maldivian architecture line the shore, with ramp that leads to a cabana. From a certain vantage point, the meeting of planks form what seems like a heart And if that doesn't take your breath away, you must have croaked and gone to Heaven. And it feels like you’re in some place quite close to one.

I took a dip. The sand on my feet weren't as fine and corals occasionally hurt. The waters were clear, but Rihivelli’s was clearer. In fact boats docked in the latter looked like they floated. I took shelter by the bush alongside a family of Koreans who took 2 hours to cover every crevice of their body with sunblock, the stench grew strong, as though a factory of the substance was being manufactured nearby. Behind me was a Malaysian couple (a Malaysia Air employee and his wife). Further on was a fit Russian couple: the guy looked movie star ripped and the girl moved her cot under the searing sun as her T-back protected what was left to cover.

The planks leading towards the cottages on stilts became platforms for frolic and photography all day. Chinese tourists stayed on – and on! – monopolizing the place like the worldly photo bombers that they have become. Had they shut their loud mouths, it would have been paradise.

At 12 noon, I entered the restaurant. There were 4 table spreads worth of food, while a glass of drink was complimentary. It was like any other buffet with nothing exquisitely tasty that deserved seconds. But yeah, little pieces of food could fill you up anyhow.

Palm Groove Restaurant. There are several other restaurants and bars all over the resort island.
After lunch, I roamed the place anew. Parrots, lizards, bats live here. I’ve never been in an island resort with authentic Maldivian water cottages before: not Rihivelli, Biyadhoo or Bandos. If you googled for Maldivian cottages, you'd find multi-star resorts. Most of them probably don’t allow day-tour guests. But who doesn't want money?

Your own natural "pool" just outside your cottage.

The sun was mostly up and it was nothing short of a perfect day. Blue skies, scorching heat, noisy Chinese tourists. Perfect, didn't I say?

Our Kaani speedboat came back at 4:45 PM and we were seated thereafter. We had to wait again for the Polish group who took their sweet time like they were more special than the rest for us. Don’t you just hate inconsiderate dweebs? The ride back was breezy. It’s always been a favorite moment of mine. Coming “home” from the resort islands in time for the dramatic sunset of Maafushi. The day wasn't over for me.

After showering, I walked to the other side of the island to find a deserted beach with its shoreline teeming with kelps. In fact, even the waves broke several meters away from what looked like stagnated waters. There were speed boats dotting the boulevard. Back in the main town, I reunited with the center of town, far from the strip navigated by tourists: Maafushi school, the football field, the mosque, kilometer zero, an arch with two giant manta rays on display (the iconic symbols of Maafushi), and corner after corner of authentic Maldivean cots.

That night, I had dinner at Venturo’s which, aside from being a guesthouse and a diving center, serves buffet meals at $6, $7 if you ordered soda. The place was well lit and colorful, though outside, it didn't even look like there were guests inside. It's a new place for me so I won't complain much. Just another day in paradise.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

If you're not staying in a water bungalow, these villas are the other option.

Heron, an endemic avian species roam the island and they mostly ignore the human kind.

Just across Palm Groove Restaurant and Fisherman's Bar (just beside Palm Grove).


Souvenir Shop

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