An architect once told me that you can measure how developed a location is by its pavements. If the paving slabs line the road like a baby’s milk teeth, regular and gleaming, then you know you’re in a rich country. If they crumble to nothing, are fractured by a shatter of cracks or fail to exist at all then chances are the government has bigger issues to focus on.
The same, I think, can be said of paradise but in relation to the portliness of its lizards. The plumper the reptile, the more beautiful the place and, let me tell you, the lizards in the Maldives are chubby; all bulging stomach sacs balanced atop spindly femurs. Like those men you see at the gym desperately trying to pump up their chicken legs to match their hulking torsos. Even the lizards tongues are well-padded as they lazily unfurl to tickle unsuspecting insects.
Or perhaps the key to civilisation lies at the airport. Yes, that’s it. The more aesthetically-pleasing and relaxed the experience going through these portals to the underworld are, then the closer you are to the Gates of Heaven. Again, the Maldives doesn’t disappoint.
We stepped out of the aircraft inhaling gulps of warm air infused with the sweet tang of kerosene. The obligatory landing card was completed and, by the time I had remembered how to string the letters of my name together, the queues at passport control had melted away and our lone suitcases were waiting for us.
I always take a deep breath before the clouded-glass of the electric doors part and vomit you into the tumultuous arrivals hall of a new country but here…stillness. Just a clutch of hotel desks where you register your arrival before being led to a speedboat or other method of transportation to your resort. And beyond? That azure-stained sea that appears on the screensaver of a million office-bound workers tapping rhythmically away in small boxes under charcoal-tinged skies.
Our plane-stink receded with the short speedboat ride (On a side note, I think there should be powerful fans at every exit on an aircraft to waft away that stench of ‘Eau de Flatulence’ that everyone douses themselves with) and we were disgorged onto the resort’s pier. “The fish!” I squeaked. “The warmth!” “The sunlight!” It appeared I could only utter two words at a time I was so overcome.
And so began three and a half days of deciding whether to sink our swollen feet into the coral-flecked sand of the beach or brave the swimming pool which had been so heated by the sun that it was like swimming in a pot of tea.
I’ve never been to place where there is literally nothing to do (and I mean that in the best possible sense). Even if I’m in a remote hotel, they’ll always be that fishing village we should probably visit or that museum displaying locally made sanitary products which we really should check out. But here…nothing. Our days revolved around a quick snorkel whilst no one else was about, THE buffet breakfast (capitalised because it involved the most extraordinary array of food. Where does it all come from? We never saw any boats unloading masses of pickled cabbage, mini croissants, rice porridge, tuna curry and slices of sweet watermelon to name but a few of the foodstuffs), the beach, a 20-minute stroll around the island, the pool, the buffet dinner and then bed.
We kept saying in whispered tones, “I’m not cold. I can just hang my shoulders down where they should be and not have them huddled around my forehead” and “the light! The quality of light!” Indeed it was as though some celestial being had found a high-wattage bulb in a drawer tucked under their heavenly staircase and had screwed it into the sun. I’m sure it’s an equatorial/tropics kind of thing…we just never get that brightness in the northern hemisphere.
I’m not going to harp on about the snorkeling except to say that, usually, when you see sharks on, you know, a nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough or some such, they are streaked with scars and come with a thousand-yard stare that says, “I’ve seen some shit, mate…as in what’s at the bottom of the Mariana Trench”. In the Maldives, however, the most perfect, supermodel-esque and, let’s face it, Instagrammable tiny black-tipped reef sharks flit about the shallows showing off their dip-dyed fins. They know they’re hot and I suspect they would give you a flirty wink if you get close enough.
Speaking of Instagram, there are a lot of stunning people constantly forcing their other halves to push them on the big swings that can be found on some beaches whilst snapping pics on their phone which are then uploaded to various social media platforms. There’s even a carefully positioned bench underneath a large hashtagged sign displaying the resort’s name in an eminently photographic spot near reception.
The Maldives aren’t stupid and are most definitely channeling the latest marketing trends. After all, in this day and age where a picture generates a thousands likes and, by extension, a thousand extra tourist dollars, why wouldn’t you exploit this when you, your marine life and your weather is about as catwalk ready as it gets?