The sight of the Yasawa Princess moored near the island of Villingily does not take long.
The dhoni leans against him gently. It allows us to go to the access staircase and then to the deck, where we are installed. As expected, the communal dinner at sunset serves as an icebreaker and table conversation goes on autopilot.
Some of the passengers were already repeating the dose of Yasawa.
In between, these and others had tried alternative boats and cruises. They quickly realized that none of them granted them the ease and well-being of the Yasawa Princess.
From Sri Lanka to the Nautical Comfort of Yasawa Princess Cruise
They returned and now served as advisers for the doubts that newcomers expressed. Around nine at night, the jet lag and weariness begins to take hold of several of them, coming from Great Britain, northern Italy or Cyprus.
We, had arrived from there, from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. Even so, the over-effort in which we had lived the weeks of exploration of the Sri Lanka, made us feel the same or worse. Okay, by ten o'clock at night, the gentle swell of Kaafu Atoll was already lulling us all.
We wake up well after sunrise but in time for a breakfast shared among sleepy passengers. Yasawa was supposed to be sailing since dawn. An engine problem will delay the start and force us to change the first scale.
Instead of the island of Kuda Bandos, they lead us to a spit of sand lost between atolls that seems to float in a turquoise sea.
Yasawa Princess and the First of Countless Indian Dives
Divers are the first to explore a farther reef area.
We are taken by boat to the edge of the reef that surrounded the sandbank, a wonderful underwater world that we discover for almost an hour in adventurous snorkeling mode.
Every time we find attractive coral formations, schools of gaudy fish or more fascinating specimens, we make another incursion deeper until the pressure hits our eardrums and we are forced to emerge.
There, among large parrotfish and trumpet, surrounded by shoals of countless gaudy and tiny specimens, watched askance by moray eels, turtles and reef sharks, we delight in the incredible exuberance of the Indian Ocean.
At the same time that exhaustion began to set in, so did the coral wall. Thus, we retire to the shallow land of the sandbank, we hydrate ourselves.
We reheated under the blazing sun of that equatorial latitude.
Problems in Cruise Navigation, Malé Semper à Vista
In the early days, the engine problem kept part of the crew confused and keeping an eye on Male, from where, if everything goes well, the solution would arrive. But the boat had another engine.
In the smooth sea of the atolls or between Maldivian atolls, it was enough for us to continue sailing and visiting other equally attractive sandbanks.
On these occasions, the PR guided us
By that time, despite the differences in age and the British predominance, practically all passengers were already getting along with each other and getting to know the multinational crew. There was Issey (Ismail Faysal), the Maldivian owner of the boat, who had a boyish laugh that delighted us.
His right arm supported him, Faya, who was also Maldivian who dealt with us permanently, always with a smile on his lips, whether he had good news or bad news, these usually related to the troubled engine.
Faya had a large spider web tattooed on her back. He wore a diving lycra inspired by Spider-Man. "Faya, where does this passion for spiders come from?" we asked him when he was returning from a dip in the delicious sea.
To which the Maldivian responds and surprises us: “I've admired them for a long time. However, I went to see "Spider-Man". I liked it even more.”
The always serene Commander Ahmed Mohamed barely shied away from explanations. He was equally from the Maldives, as was the bartender and DJ Diggy Digs.
The helpful cook, on the other hand, came from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Meal after meal, he used a guru's patience to endure the question with which all Western guests massacred him: “Is this spicy chef? And this here?”.
Several other crew members came from the Sri Lanka, India or Bangladesh. Those who had previously worked in the Maldives already spoke good Maldivian, a language that combines Sri Lankan and Arabic elements.
In other cases, the crew resorted to convenient English.
Maafushi Atoll, on the Path of Other Atolls
Navigation evolves. We move to Maafushi Atoll and stop for new baths on the private island of Rannalhi.
Donald Trump had just won the presidential election of the USA and dominated much of the conversation on board. On that and other days, passengers participated in night fishing aboard the Dolphin, one of the support boats, or from the stern of the Yasawa Princess.
In addition to causing exuberant celebrations, the fish specimens were offered to the cook, who was able to diversify the buffet offer.
We advanced from Maafushi Atoll to Felidhoo, two of the twenty-six from Maldives. Between new doses of diving and snorkeling, we were arrested by the solid ground of a barbecue island surrounded by coconut trees.
And for a new reef as or more exuberant than the previous ones.
Stopover on a Small Island of Felidhoo Atoll
Inhabited this small island some Bangladeshis who stayed on it for long periods, with the sole purpose of welcoming visitors from resorts, inns or cruise passengers. They even had their own mini-mosque identified with a crescent scrawled on the wall.
During the time we spent on this island, they went to their religious haven twice, chanting Muslim songs and praying.
By that time, doing nothing at all and seeing our hands shrivel up little by little from the hours we spent chatting in the sea were already the official activities of the cruise.
We dedicated a good part of one afternoon to him, in the company of Georgio and Juliana, an Italian-Romanian couple who lived in London.
The two discovered a submerged rock that we were quick to classify as extraterrestrial. With the water just above our knees, we devoted ourselves to studying the strange behavior of the fish that had settled around us and conjecturing nonsensical explanations.
We only put an end to the fun when Juliana confesses to us that she loved being photographed and we dedicated an improvised photographic production to her and Georgio.
The Long Conversation with Commander Ahmed Mohamed
In the afternoon, after lunch, we joined Giorgio for a long conversation with the captain, lying on the chalky sandy beach in the forgiving shade of the coconut trees.
Ahmed Mohamed describes us some of his browsing experiences. He goes back to the ease with which islands and atolls are bought in the Maldives: “Georgio, it's just as I told you. With 100 euros I'll get you a fabulous island!”.
We also discussed the experience of the 2004 tsunami in that Indian archipelago and the mystery of the MH-370 flight that several inhabitants of its islands claimed to have observed at low altitude.
Meanwhile, Georgio leaves us. Soft and volatile, the conversation turned to the Koran and the Bible and how, at least in their historical genesis, both works had so much in common: Abraham, Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ and Mary, to mention only the most popular protagonists. .
Felidhoo's Surprise Dinner Party
We return to the island for dinner. The crew had recreated a large whale shark in the sand which delighted the passengers and introduced the activities of the following days.
The night was one of absolute delirium. DJ Diggy Digs resorted to a playlist in which hits from the 70s to 90s predominated. Lights installed with care, recreated a disco on the sand.
The resistance was short-lived. In an instant, we invaded the track. We danced theme after theme to exhaustion, not even making an exception for the Bollywood hits that none of us had ever heard but that DJ Diggs foisted on us.
Dawn regenerates excitement on board.
Discovering Alifu Dhaluu Atoll
During the night, we had crossed from Felidhoo Atoll to Alifu Dhaluu. we were off Maamingli, one of the largest towns in the Maldives, surrounded by imposing and daring resorts and around which small schools of whale sharks have become accustomed to wandering.
We went out to sea under the challenge of helping the crew to look for them and the truth is that we saw them several times. However, every time we jumped into the water to approach them, the animals disappeared.
Only on a fourth opportunity, when no one expected any more, we glimpsed, a few meters below us, an elusive specimen that never dared to surface.
On the last afternoon aboard the Yasawa, we have a rewarding foray into the Maldivian way of life.
At sunset, the crew takes us to Maamingli. We climbed from the small boat to the top of the wall that formed the boundary between the village and the sea and, in the company of Georgio and Juliana, we entered the city's unpaved streets.
Maamingli: The Maldives As They Really Are
We pass a group of young teenagers who are hanging out in the shadows created by a large tree to analyze us like the outsiders we were. We continue along the main street.
Little by little, we overcame the reluctance that the Maldives' fame generated in us to promote tourism in countless resorts spread across its island territory, but to avoid the intrusion of foreigners into its traditionalist Muslim way of life.
We got into conversation with four or five women from abayas e hijabs who conferred at the entrance of a store. In five minutes, inspired by one of the more resourceful ladies, they evolved from total discomfort and fear to a group pose and shared laughter in front of our cameras.
We walk towards the sun setting at the end of the street. A group of girls have fun playing netball. until one muezzin he inaugurates his singing call and announces the time for them to come to the house or to the mosques.
Darkens before our eyes. We return through narrower streets parallel to the main one formed by walls of houses and walls composed of coral stone.
Almost reaching the dock, Juliana stops at a shop operated by two Bangladeshi tailors. She chooses fabrics that appeal to her and orders a dress that she would pick up the following afternoon.
Yasawa's boys have been waiting for us for too long. We didn't want to abuse it.
We resumed the discovery of genuine Maldivian life a few days later, in Malé, the capital.