When dreams come true

Sometimes I have to explain to people that I have grown up in a extraordinarily beautiful island, so I’m very spoiled when comes to natural beauty. I’m also very attached to water. So one of my lifelong dreams was to someday stay in a overwater bungalow. And since that’s such a romantic scenario, would also be fitted to a very special occasion, like honeymoon. So it came the day that I could afford the extravaganza and also have a perfect occasion for it. There are only two places in the world where that’s available and you can actually swim away from your room: Tahiti and Maldives. After some research, the wilderness of – and distance to – the Maldives won. With the help of TripAdvisor, we selected our destination: Gili Lankanfushi, a resort well rated in many areas like environmentally conscious, food, service and all. So there we went, for 10 days. I was aware of the No News, No Shoes motto, which was also introduced to us in the boat going from Male Airport to Gili, where our shoes were packed in a little recycled bag. We decided to take it a bit further: no computers, no phones, no heart rate monitor, no watches, no books, no kindle. Nothing that could mean controlling, scheduling, expectations. Even if I took a book, I would feel like I should read it. I decided that I would do what I was feeling at the moment, and if that meant to read a book, I was also aware there is a copy of Robinson Crusoe book at every villa. And if I was going to exercise, I would do it for enjoyment, not for counting burned calories.

The arrival was incredible. The day was perfect, a few clouds but with the sun shinning over those amazing shades of blue, my reaction was to exclaim: “It’s true!” We all know those places that look perfect in pictures, but then when you get there you find they have enhanced the colors or used angles to appear to have more space. Not Gili. All the beautiful pictures were an exact replica of this calm paradise. We were received by Brad – who said my reaction was one of the best he ever heard, Ibrahin and Aboo, which was our Mr Friday. Aboo took us on a little golf car to tour around the island – which has about 600x200m size, but packed with spa, 2 restaurants, 1 bar, 44 villas, pool, organic herbs and vegetable garden. But I was eager to see our villa. I have looked at the map and disposition of the villas previously, and I wanted to be facing the ocean. I was informed that would conflict with my wish to swim around the villa because that area is shallow, but I decided the sound of the waves would make up for it. And I could have seen it all in pictures, but seeing it live when the door was open and Aboo announced “Welcome to your new home” was amazing.
Our villa deck

We received a welcome set of refreshments with iced tea and champagne, but I just couldn’t wait to change and just take a dip. There is no reception, it’s all done in your villa, checking documents, cards and all, and we were left to enjoy and explore. And of course, the first thing to do is to try the water!
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It was hard to believe. The first night, awaken by jet leg, I went outside and laid down in the hammock, watching the moon, the stars, listening the waves. I was so profoundly happy. Next day I woke up early and took a yoga session, a great way to start the day by the gentle sun and breeze. Then, off to breakfast! Unlimited combinations of any fruit juices you can imagine – Hector became quite found of mixing fruits and ginger – or eggs, sushi, english breakfast, pastries and all.
Breakfast

The food is just amazing. It was one of the items most cited by reviewers at TripAdvisor, but most people just say it’s great. Looking at the website, I saw they had their own herb garden, and I thought that anyone who had that must know the great difference it makes to a dish to add just a few fresh spices. After several days, I was a fan of the chef John Bakker. There is a different theme for every lunch and dinner: Lebanese, Mexican, European, Asian, Maldivian. The Asia Street Market night was amazing. Everything was well presented, and cooked perfectly, so his staff must be great as well. But the creativity which each plate had captivated me. Playing with so many things: herbs, coconut, chillies, ginger, fruits. I was in heaven. So much I decided if there was a creation menu worth trying, it must be here. And I was right, we had the Chef’s Degustation Dinner at the Wine Cellar and it was one of the most amazing meals of my life. I had to meet the chef and express my admiration, and ask for his Pomegranate & Pineapple salad recipe – which he sent me later, thank you Chef!

Another reason to select Gili Lankanfushi was the mention to being ecologically conscious. We were up for even more surprises. All the water is produced in the island via desalinisation, which is an expensive process. But you have plenty of water available, still or sparkling! All the water bottles are glass and refilled, and later struck me I didn’t see any plastic at all during my time there. We move around in bikes, as most of the guests and hots. The marine biologist gives talks twice a week about the reefs and the best practices around – he probably would be happy to know we didn’t buy any coral souvenirs, just gorgeous wooden vases. The results were the amazing fauna around us. Our villa were particularly eventful. We had what I called it our coral garden, small sets of corals right by our deck. When you look underwater with the snorkel, you see each one is actually effervescent with more than a hundred of little fishes munching around.
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And that’s the best part of being so ecologically conscious. We felt like we were truly integrated to the environment, causing minimum disturbance to their lives. The reward was seeing not just the tiny fishes, but big puffer fishes, baby sharks (yes, baby sharks! harmless), stingrays, plus so many other fishes I can’t name all. Blue, yellow, black and white, grey, with dots or stripes. It was a sad comparison with the place were I went snorkelling for the first time (Retiro dos Frades, Bombinhas) and felt in love with it, to return to the same place less than 7 years later to find plastic bags have replaced the colourful fishes in there. But at Gili, it was all there. We found out that our privacy water garden, below the shower, was also the fishes’ spa: the 3 big puffer fishes were there all day long while little blue fishes would clean then, and frequently joined by others “clients”. We had one fish that was farming algae in our deck stairs. He didn’t like no one passing by it, being that fishes or us, and would always leave a little nudge in our feet to let us know. We had the visit of a heron a couple of days. I’ve also seen what I assumed was an eel living in one of the corals. One morning I sat down in front of the coral to watch the fishes, which was simple due the low tide. Then I notice that the eel was coming out of the coral and seemed very interested in me, but it had a little mouth and some teeth. As she was getting closer, and we have been informed that animals usually are not that curious, I prefer to give her more space. Later visiting the Dive Center and looking at pictures, I found out it was actually a baby moray! To be more specific, a Pepper Moray Eel. So I made a good guess leaving her alone. I have probably sat down too close from where she was, and in the low tide she could not easily move away. And that’s also part of a experience of being a good guest into their habitat – don’t disturb the animals, just observe.

The staff is also another great area where many commenters of TripAdvisor take note. They are always helpful, always cheerful. It’s of course their job, but reading the behind the scenes notes you see how many people are actually involved into making paradise function. Gili reports to employ 300 hosts, investing in local communities and schools to employ mainly Maldivians. They seem particularly attached to football, specially during the first days where they were preparing for a match against the team of Male, which they won by 11×2 (if I remember correctly). The manager mention to us they have invested a few millions to renovate the hosts village, with a state of the art football pitch. Later I found that in case of tsunami, everybody would run to the hosts village, which has higher buildings (and here I’m thinking we would be put into boats and sail away into ocean…). And the staff there seems happy. So it also felt good spending money in a place where treats their staff well.

After a few days resting and engaging in one of my favourite activities – doing nothing – we started to move around. We’ve been to a few yoga sessions. We snorkelled around, we went kayaking. But best of all, we went scuba diving. Then you have even more appreciation for the resort’s environmental care. We saw turtles! Peacefully napping and observing us, until getting tired of us and swimming away. Underwater is truly a parallel universe, so much life, so colorful, so eventful! We went swimming around hundreds of Blue Fin Triggerfish, and I’ve met my favourites, the Red Big Eye fish. They look amazing underwater. Oh, and an unlikely sight of a shark :) usually they stay in the lagoon, not in the reefs. But I was lucky! And hooked. I would have taken a lot more dives if I haven’t committed the newbies sin: underestimate the air conditioning. With a cold, no diving :( at least I had snorkelling!

Then enter one of my holiday heroes, Dr Rajesh. I first met him on my third day when my food indulgence and my sensible stomach weren’t getting along. A couple of pills and I was new. The second time was when my coughing was really annoying, and again he was there to my rescue.

When I got the cold, coughing and a bit miserable because I couldn’t go scuba diving, I realized the answer to a question I’ve had in my mind for a few days. Even in paradise, with such nice and helpful staff, with amazing food and nature, it was clear some people were not happy. And I kept wondering, how can you be stressed in a place like this? Well, let me tell you, that day when I was coughing, banned from scuba and realizing there were only a few days left, I was so grumpy I think I had a little cloud over my head. And everything seemed to annoy me or be wrong. Too hot, too windy, not wind enough, food doesn’t taste so good anymore. It’s hard to control it, specially in the fast pacing life we live today. But then I decided to reach to the holistic specialist in residence, Sommai, and an acupuncture session put me back on track. Meditation is also such a wonderful tool. It was a big lesson for me that I hope to continue to exercise – if you carry that little black cloud over your head, it will rain everywhere…

Breakfast

Gladily, I was in this little paradise called Gili Lankanfushi. There was also a never ending surprising amenities. Like special after sun shampoo and conditioner, or aloe vera gel, wonderfully soothing the skin after a day under the sun and water. Upon learning about my cold, Aboo and the spa manager sent me the ginger tea I was becoming addicted, along with nice fruits and honey. The resort also has a local timezone, one hour ahead of Male, so sunrise is at 7am, not 6am, and you enjoy more the sun! Being honeymooners, we got a little chocolate wedding cake that didn’t survive long enough for pictures – I swear it was the best chocolate cake ever! We also got a Dolphin cruise, to see little dolphins come by the lagoon by sunset. We only spend one morning by the pool, where we were pampered with nice sorbet tastings. There were the Information and the Nature guides, with infos about everything on the resort and the most likely fishes to see. Everyday we were checking the activities available, the food themes, the time for the high tide to enjoy. There was also TV and Wifi, of course, but those were never used. We rather took on using the iPod and the sound system, sometimes to wake up, sometimes to dance around getting ready for dinner.

And that’s the best part, the memories. The jet lag recovery under the star. The majestic effect the full moon have over the high tide, making the water almost roar around our deck. The little crab that stole one of the lights from the full moon dinner decoration and went running around with it. Our farmer fish, our puffer fish spa clients. Our little dances by the evening. Our tea or napping sessions, enjoying the breeze. The after yoga feeling of being a bit taller. Feeling so incredibly light floating underwater, and swimming with the fishes. Learning the underwater signs to say “everything is good” or “shark” or “turtle”, and using them! Counting stars.

Feeling renewed. Thank you to all the Gili staff. Special thanks to Dr Rajesh for saving my holiday twice. To Aboo for organizing everything for us, for the red apples and the rose petals, and for the moray story! And to Shifau, for always having something new to bring for us to try, always with a smile. And to Andrea from Stopover Reisen, for helping us to make it happen. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

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