On 23rd September, 2000, I married a Travel Agent. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
They say that opposites attract. And in our case, it’s been largely true.
One of us is an extravert. Intrepid, bold and assertive; a real go-getter, make-it-happen kind of guy- (the type that might jump out of an aeroplane!)
The other one of us is an introvert. Dreamy, head-in-the-clouds, cautious – perhaps more inclined to read about the wide and wonderful world in a book, rather than travel much beyond the garden gate to actually see it for herself.
Eighteen years later, we have four amazing kids and two tabby cats. We’ve travelled to some truly incredible places. And this is our story.
Landaa Giravaaru is a totally extraordinary resort! Travelling in by seaplane and speedboat is actually a very fitting way to arrive – It’s certainly not the norm! But then, nothing about this hotel is the norm.
I don’t think I’ve ever been shown to a room that made my jaw drop more than this one.
In fact you couldn’t really call it a room. It was more like a house. Parked outside were a pair of his and hers bicycles, with our initials monogrammed on the front! I guess, when you have an island to explore, the most scenic way to go is by bike!
The room was situated on a HUGE plot with lushly planted front and rear gardens – much bigger than our back garden at home – with the added benefit of a path that meandered down to a secluded beach! We had a large swimming pool all to ourselves. The room also came with a pavillion style ‘outhouse’. Underneath the canopy were a myriad of chairs and loungers plus a table for snacks or a game of cards. A winding staircase took you up to a mezzanine balcony, complete with large sunlounger and hammock – just the place to curl up with a good book, or be lulled to sleep by the hypnotic rythmn of the sea.
The only challenge we seemed to be faced with over those fleeting few days, was choosing exactly where to relax…there were just so many options.
Although we knew there were other guests at the hotel, somehow it felt like you had the whole island to yourself. The beach was a stretch of pristine white, powdery sand, gently caressed by the calmest of turquoise waters.
The restaurants and eateries were amazing – the highlight being an incredible Italian, called Blu, which gave you the feeling of being suspended over the ocean. I’ll never foget eating one of our meals in the middle of a tropical downpour – giggling at the frantic race of the waiters to batten down the hatches and shut up all the shutters!
For a mother of four, who spends her busy days running the kids here, there and everywhere, doing school runs, countless trips to the supermarket, cooking meal after meal and wading through endless piles of laundry – it felt as though I’d just been given the greatest gift! Four days of total relaxation. I will always be grateful that I had these moments.
Our prize-of-a-lifetime, trip for two to the Maldives was doubly sweet. Spending 3 nights in the beautiful Kuda Huura Hotel was only just the beginning. The next leg of the journey, was a four night stay in the exclusive Four Seasons resort, Landaa Giravaaru.
It was sad to say goodbye to the Kuda Huura, and we were given a wonderful send-off. Yet there was a sense of excitement for what was next in store.
Our transfer was in a tiny Maldivian Sea-Plane. This in itself was an incredible experience! I have never taken-off or landed in the sea before! It was all a bit of an adventure, to say the least. We had to wear ear plugs that looked a bit like cheesy Watsits!
Flying over the Maldives is an astonishing sight. Atol after atol like shimmering pearls amidst the irridescent jewel-like ocean.
Around 40 minutes later, our destination came into view. We had certainly arrived in style!
Two years later, I still look back and pinch myself.
One of the best things about the Maldives is the opportunity to get up close and personal with all sorts of sea creatures.
The Four Seasons, Kuda Huura Hotel, a joint participant of an initiative called Marine Savers, houses its very own Turtle Sanctuary, which offers guests of all ages a chance to help feed the turtles, as well as an enthralling glimpse into the job of a Marine Biologist.
The Turtle, is one of the National Emblems of the Maldives. These graceful creatures can live for up to 60 years.
Five types of Turtle can be found in the Indian Ocean:
Olive Ridley Turtle
Sadly, many of these turtles are on the endangered species list – the Hawksbill, hunted for the beautiful markings on its shell, is on the critically endangered list (last category before extinction).
Although fishing with nets is not permitted in the Maldives, sometimes discarded nets, known as “ghost nets” can drift on ocean currents from neighbouring countries. These ghost nets attract turtles, (and other marine creatures) who end up entangled in them.
Most of the turtles that are housed at the Kuda Huura Sanctuary have been found by locals or visitors, caught up in ghost nets, which do irrepairable damage to their flippers.
The rescue centre work hard to carefully remove the netting, often having to amputate one or more flippers. The turtles are weighed, fed and cared for on a daily basis until, hopefully, they are strong enough to be re-released back into the wild.
WHAT is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?
After twenty-four hours of being stuck in our room, we awoke early and left before sunrise, anxious not to miss another moment of our short stay on this extraordinary island. There were no signs of life, apart from some rather noisy birds, chirping endlessly in the lush greenery around us. Flowers bloomed in all their brilliance, bidding us good morning. My senses were on overdrive. Everything looked so fresh, so perfect.
Our grumbling empty tummies soon led us to Café Huura, the impressive pool-side restaurant where breakfast would soon be served.
An inviting entrance, adorned with large urns, welcomed us into a Maldivian style Pavilion. Ornate pillars and archways fashioned from wooden lattice-work added depth and character. This place was stunning. But there was more to come. Beyond all of this, we were met with quite a sight…
Too early for breakfast, we wandered onto the empty beach. We sat there for a moment, drinking everything in. The powdery white sand, the ever changing hue of the sky and sea in the silvery morning light, the constant drawing in and out of the ocean – like breathing.
Golden moments like these are all too rare. They are a gift.
Time to gaze at the horizon. To notice how the sand feels on the soles of your feet. To watch a funny little crab, that you thought was just a pebble, suddenly sprout legs and skuttle off across the beach.
The chance to step outside of your life and really see it. To take stock of your priorities and gain fresh perspective.
Moments like these can strike any place, any time – So be on the lookout today! A beautiful sunrise. An unexpected rainbow. A cup of coffee with a friend. A spontaneous walk in the woods.
And when they come (often, once they have been and gone), you know that they have done you good.
After unpacking our things, we couldn’t wait to explore the island. We hadn’t eaten much on the plane, and I was feeling a little peckish. We came across a relaxed looking Italian restaurant, where we were shown to a table-for-two, situated on a sweeping deck beside a lagoon. To our left was a large open pizza oven, to our right, the irridescent Indian Ocean.
When Nathan suggested that we share a pizza, I realised immediately that something was up. Since when had my husband been into sharing pizzas? Admitedly, he had looked a bit off-colour since we’d got off the aeroplane, but in my mind, it was down to tiredness – after all we’d missed almost an entire night’s sleep.
“You ok babe?” I asked. “You don’t seem yourself.”
“I dunno. I don’t feel great,” came the reply.
By now, Nathan was looking positively clammy and distinctly green around the gills. Nevertheless, he managed to eat some pizza, and even down a beer or two, and we spent the rest of the afternoon investigating all the hotel’s ameneties, hoping that this sicky spell would soon pass.
But it wasn’t to be.
All through that night, Nathan was up and down like a yo-yo, tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Then finally, the throwing-up commenced.
Now I must confess, I wasn’t much help. Apart from a few words of comfort, I pretty much slept through his whole ordeal. I was exhausted.
Suddenly, at around 6am, I sat bolt upright in bed, flung back the duvet, and with no prior warning, had to make a dash to the bathroom. Now it was my turn.
We thought back to our daughter, Emily, being sick the night before we flew out. There was no doubt about it – we had arrived with some kind of sickness bug. It was our first full day in Paradise, and there was absolutely no way we could leave the room.
We both slept fitfully for a few hours, before deciding that our best option was to spend our ‘sick-day’ lolloping on the cushioned sun-loungers in the shade of the garden. We spent the day chatting, reading books and trying to work out whether puking in paradise was a bum deal or a blessing! Well, I suppose if you’re going to be sick, then you may as well do it in style.
Later that evening, when the sicky feeling at last subsided, Nathan gingerly trudged towards Reception to inform the hotel staff that we wouldn’t be eating dinner. He returned laden with various forms of medication, bottles of water and fluid replacement sachets. He also came back with the best surprise – A copy of Roman Holiday for us to watch on DVD! There’s nothing like a bit of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck whizzing around the streets of Rome on a Vespa to lift the spirits and restore a bit of romance to the occasion. The hotel staff were incredible – later that evening, there was a knock at the door. In came the hotel chef who insisted on preparing us a deliciously light, restorative broth – it was just what the doctor ordered. Before too long, we began to feel like our normal selves again.
With any luck, our holiday would start afresh in the morning.
You know you’re on a special kind of trip when you walk out of the airport and jump straight into a speedboat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sea that colour. Not really blue…turquoise. Startling. I couldn’t stop smiling, despite all the worry of leaving the kids, despite it being six o’clock in the morning.
The Maldives is made up of a long, narrow chain of 26 natural Atolls, which are a bit like islands of Coral. The Four Seasons Kuda Huura Hotel is all that can be found on the North Male Atoll. No cars. No roads. No neon lights. No hustle or bustle. Just staggering beauty and serenity all aound. As the speed boat approached the jetty where we would disembark, a group of people stood and serenaded us – a traditional Maldivian welcome. We climbed up onto the jetty and a beautiful smiling lady, with a flower in her hair greeted us:
“Welcome Mr and Mrs Jelf.”
We had no name tags on and we weren’t the only guests to arrive. How on earth did she know who was who? It seemed every single member of staff, from the Manager, who mingled with guests practically incognito, to the omlette chef, knew us by name, and everywhere we went, we were always greeted hospitably whenever we walked past.
Our suitcases were whisked away while we were greeted by our smartly dressed Concierge, who gave us a refreshing spiced drink. She told us about the various restaurants we could eat in and informed us that we’d been given two complimentary excursions of our choice, plus a massage! Nathan and I kept looking at one another in disbelief. This was crazy!
When we were shown to our room I was overwhelmed. Surely this was not just random chance. This was a blessing from heaven! The rooms were not so much rooms… Each one based on a traditional Maldivian style house, complete with garden and private pool.
At the end of the garden, a winding path, hedged on either side with lush greenery, led out to a secluded beach.
Emotions began to surface as I drank in the beauty of the room, the garden, the views. This place was completely out of this world! Paradise. I had been so reluctant to leave the children. But it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, this was meant to be! I knew in that moment, a choice lay before me. I could spend the week worrying about the kids. Or I could let go and entrust them into the hands of the One who made the turquoise sea that lay before me…
I’d finally got my head around leaving the children. The four of them would be spending the week with various family members. Everything was neatly arranged. All that remained was to try and get a good night’s rest before a day of gruelling travel.
And that’s when the puking began. It was about 3:30 am. All of a sudden, our four-year-old, Emily, appeared at our bedside and announced that she was going to be sick.
She was absolutely right about that. Poor little angel.
What on earth were we supposed to do now? Perhaps this was a sign…that we shouldn’t be going? I’d never felt so torn. What if she had a bug? How could I leave her with my parents like this? “Hi mum and dad – Thank you so much for looking after our child – Here’s her suitcase….Oh and here’s a sick bucket…”
At about 7am, I nervously called my parents to explain the situation, half expecting that we would have to cancel the trip.
Of course, they insisted that we still go…Let it be said, right here, right now, my parents are absolute heroes.
And so, choking back the tears, we said our goodbyes. My heart was in knots as I watched little Emily wave us off, tightly clutching hold of her beloved Winnie The Pooh Bear. Saying goodbye, even if just for a week, is the hardest thing to do. But nevertheless, we were off to the Maldives.