Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trip wrap-up:


Well, the diving part of the trip is at an end…we are now back in Male Harbour and dive gear is dry and packing has begun! Yinnie & Andrea had two dives this morning because they are not leaving until later on Sunday but since we have a 2:30 a.m. flight from Male to Dubai, the rest of us finished our diving on Friday. The weather has been beautiful so books are being read up on the beautiful sundeck and we had a chance to visit another island earlier today…this one is MUCH larger than the village we visited last week. There are actually streets of shops carrying the usual Maldivian wood carvings, cloth sulus, many types of jewelry and other craft items. This village didn’t give us the same “local” feel as the one earlier in the trip so we just picked up a few items from the Mango Shoppe (“largest souvenir shop in the Maldives”) and headed back to the ship!

Tonight will be our farewell dinner and group and crew photos taken. This has been a fabulous boat with a wonderful crew. Our many thanks go out to Moosa, our Cruise Director and overall very funny guy & amazing diver. He makes every guest feel like the Manthiri is their home and his crew shares his enthusiasm. Hassan also dove with us; Dhonbe captained the “big” boat, Manthiri, while Razaq captained our dhoni dive boat. Saif (Mr. Nitrox) and Mohamed helped us with our gear and cameras off and back onto the dhoni. Smiling Manju took care of all our dining needs and refilled endless cups of tea, coffee and water. I can’t say enough about our chefs, Amadey & Hemanthe…..the food that came out of that small kitchen was incredibly varied, most plentiful and delicious. Our only complaint was that they cooked SO MUCH food for every meal…it seemed a shame to waste so much but in this climate, food spoils very quickly and they just don’t have enough room for refrigeration for left-overs! Fruits and vegetables were so plentiful, it was amazing! The other Mohamed took care of our cabins…fresh bedding, fresh towels and laundry were his responsibilities. The cabins are very comfortable and have great storage as well.

This is one of the most comfortable boats we’ve ever been on. Because all diving is done from the dhoni, there’s never any compressor noises on the “big” boat. The dhoni pulls away from the big boat to recharge tanks. And since all traveling in the Maldives takes place during daylight hours, all nights are spent inside the atolls in extremely calm waters so no rocking & rolling in the beds either! The salon is spacious with couches and loveseats to curl up on with a book or space to work on photos. The large dining tables make up the other half of the salon and all meals are served family-style. Behind the salon is the very large, well-equipped camera room with lots of shelves for camera bits & pieces and plenty of charging stations. No one feels cramped in there either. The kitchen is tucked in next to the camera room….it’s amazing the food that comes out of that small space!

The upper deck consists of the bridge and a covered deck with comfortable cushioned chairs and a sundeck with padded lounges. Today our sundeck looked like a garage sale up there with all the gear strung along the rails to dry!

We can’t thank this fabulous crew enough for the best dive spots, every attempt to get us on the dive sites precisely and time the currents and patterns this unique diving destination demands. Unfortunately, even though we saw whale sharks and manta as promised, we all would have loved to have even longer and more frequent encounters, but lots of dives were logged and this is the “fishiest” place on the planet, bar none! So long, Manthiri, until next time!

Playing catch-up while we're in Dubai...really poor wireless coverage once we left S. Ari's the 2nd week:
Monday, December 28

Today’s 1st dive was along the whale shark area again but overcast skies and rolling seas made them difficult to spot from the boat. We jumped in and found a nice leopard shark lying on the sand so that was a great start to the dive! More schools of fish, eels in cleaning stations, big grouper cruising the reef and lots of bannerfish….a great early morning dive.

2nd dive was at the manta cleaning station area but again, no mantas! Conditions are just not right for them right now, we guess. We cruised along the reef until we found the giant school of blue-lined yellow snapper and immersed ourselves inside the school….this dive also featured schools of Oriental sweetlips and schools of the Maldivian bannerfish which are quite large for bannerfish.

After a two-hour cruise we arrived at our night time anchorage at West Ari Atoll. This dive was everyone’s favorite of the trip (so far)! It’s called Table Top and is a coral pinnacle with slopes down to the sea floor at varying depths with caverns covered in soft corals all along the way around the pinnacle. The schools of fish were immense and we were able to see a huge school of chevron barracuda that swirled into a ball out in the blue…then as we proceeded up along the reef, Moosa was waving madly at me….needless to say, I swam up to him quickly and he was pointing out a very large Crown jellyfish floating above the reef with beautiful colors and dangling tentacles. I filled my viewfinder & dome port with it and shot away…it was absolutely gorgeous! Then our attention was drawn to the top of the reef….and we learned why the site is called Table Top…the whole reef top is fabulous table colors of varying colors and textures with colorful reef fish floating just above the reef….what a spectacular dive it was!

Tuesday, December 29
We did Table Top again the 1st dive today and loved it just as much. Then we changed to our macro lenses and did it again and it didn’t disappoint. There were also small white tip reef sharks cruising the top of the pinnacle, an eagle ray out in the blue and more Napoleon wrasse, the school of chevron barracuda as well as all the small stuff we were looking for.

After leaving Table Top we headed to another manta aggregation area. 2nd and 3rd dives were there and we saw 6-7 manta underwater on each dive but visibility was hampered by the plankton in the water so it was not rewarding photographically. The highlight of the day was the 50-75 manta swimming in three different groups at the surface all around the boat during our surface interval between the 2nd and 3rd dives! There was quite a surface current so the food was being funneled directly into the manta masses…their wing tips kept breaking the surface and we all enjoyed the show! Andrea grabbed her snorkel gear from the dhoni and hopped in to swim with them…it was a LONG swim because the surface current was pushing her away from them. Several times the crew got into the small skiff and ferried her back to where the manta were feeding. Marsha, we knew that you would have been right out there with Andrea as well!

Wednesday December 30 & Thursday December 31
We spent all our dives these two days looking for manta at cleaning stations as well as manta feeding stations. The currents have been such that our SCUBA bubbles are pushing the plankton away from us and towards the manta so they don’t have to even come near us to feed…we saw lots of sharks, marble rays, Napoleon wrasse, schools of snapper and sweetlips….all the “usual Maldivian subjects” but no manta on the dive sites. Oh well, Mother Nature has her own agenda and it’s not meshing with ours this week! We’ve had great dives with more schools of fish than we’ve seen anywhere else in the world…more sharks on every dive than is usually common to us and other interesting things to watch and enjoy!

The crew put on another fabulous buffet for dinner tonight. We all toasted one another with cocktails at sunset and watched the full moon rise over the resort just a short distance away from the Manthiri. Beautiful sunset photos were captured and we enjoyed hearing the music from the Resort’s bar while we were out on deck. It was a lovely way to end 2009 and we’re all looking forward to more great diving in 2010!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Everyone! Friday, January 1, 2010
Dives 1 and 2 again today were in the same general area as yesterday’s dives. Moosa and Hasson are trying their darndest to get us some more underwater manta sightings but to no avail. We did, however, see the most beautiful giant anenomes on these sites. Their base is a pumpkin orange color and with the orange Maldivian anemonefish in them, they are quite stunning to behold, especially when the anemones ball up to feed. On the 2nd dive Bob & I were paced by three batfish…one of whom was absolutely in LOVE with Bob’s yellow fins! He followed us along the reef for at least ten minute…circling Bob and trying to get close to his fins! I wonder what type of animal he thought Bob was????

We’re just about ready to embark on our 3rd dive of the day and last dive of the trip….37 dives in all for those who chose to make all of them. I think Bob & Mike are the only two to do every single one of them….after the last dive the crew will wash all our gear and bring it on to the main boat so we can dry it out before packing it tomorrow afternoon. Where in the world have the past two weeks flown to? Lots of good dives, great meals, a beautifully appointed Liveaboard and a magnificent crew…who could ask for anything more?

Tomorrow, another village visit before we head back to Male and then home!