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SIX SENSES LAAMU

Almost a year now …great memories!
My oldest daughter Camilla dropped a not so little bombshell on a Whatsapp chat. “Dad,” she said, “you haven’t had a proper birthday present from me in 20 years… so now Claus (her husband) and I are taking you and Aurora to the Maldives.  Holy **** .” Complete silence and disbelief for a few seconds, and then came the realization that we would shortly be heading to what is for most people one of the world’s dream destinations. This trip proved to be life changing for us all, and for that reason we just have to share it in a combination of my text and Aurora’s wonderful photos. I just hope we succeed in giving you a taste of what we could only describe as 8 days in
paradise.

Camilla is a great researcher and planner. She and Claus have been to the Maldives twice before – once on their honeymoon and followed by a second trip 3 years later – choosing a different island each time! We were going in less than 3 months!

Not surprisingly, about two months went by with Camilla sending photos and snippets of her net searches – teasing us daily with photos of tropical coral reefs, sea turtles and water villas set in turquoise seas. Finally in April our tickets arrived and the reality set in. Flying Emirates Oslo to Dubai (5 hours)- onward to Malé (4hours) and a then a 40 minute local flight Malé to Kadhdhoo. Final destination Six Senses Laamu! The countdown began, and we were on the hunt for swimwear, cool shirts, snorkling masks, go pro’s, sunlotion and cameras.

 

Aurora got a great deal on a Huawei p20 pro, and most of the photos you will see here are taken with it. At the present time we are in no doubt this mobile has the best camera on the market – just read the reviews if you are still in doubt!  Camilla ordered a drone and a full face mask online –  neither of which turned up on time.  If truth be told drones can be intrusive.  On a small island like Laamu we’d probably not have been popular, buzzing about chasing fruit bats out of the palms, and ruining folks video soundtracks.

Let me say straight off – we had seen a lot of TV commercials with smiling Emirate staff claiming to be so much better.  Although we had little fault with the comfort or food on our Boeing 777 – 300er we were not witness to either a “Welcome onboard” or “Thanks” as we left. Of course out of a cabin crew of 13 there were smiles from some, but you never felt they were a happy bunch. On our outward flight to Dubai I got my lunch but was finished long before my complimentary drink arrived. When I asked if I could get it, I got a very sharp reply that it would not be before she had cleared away. I turned to my neighbour in the next isle who got the same treatment. His look said it all – she was having a bad day for sure and definitely let the side down! That said, it was great to pass the time with a good choice of films, or just lie back and follow the flight tracker on screen with the aircraft’s 2 live cams.  Great aircraft, and the premium seats look really comfy but which wannabe stylist chose that shiny plastic imitation wood finish – sooo tacky!

Ok! We finally arrived in Malé, tired but excited. We’d been underway from Norway since 6 in the morning and were nearly there after 14 hours of travel and waiting. Read all reviews and you will soon discover this final connection to Kadhdhoo is all too often a problem both for travelers and the resorts.  We had a three hour wait for a 40 minute flight, and every armchair and sofa seat in the lounge was bright purple skin – I reached for an Ibux!

A representative from Six Senses did all he could, checked on our luggage and gave us some info. There was free food and drinks which helped pass some time but we chose to wander out and watch the ferries speeding across the bay. They come full pelt into the jetty and stop on a sixpence – off go their cargo of tourists , and they rev up and rejoin the bustle of boats within seconds – very impressive! Don’t let your first view of Malé make you long for a stiff whisky.  It looks like someone took the grey and brown Lego and tried to cram as many bricks on the board as possible – not pretty, and most likely not irreversible! Back in for another wait before we finally we got the call and checked into the departure hall which we soon discovered was servicing about 5 aircraft.  It was packed with travelers and as soon as one flight was called the hall just filled again – no seating, and boy was it hot!  Our flight was delayed 40 minutes. We got irritable and close to loosing it, but we were close, so it was a case of sticking it out and moan later. A word of warning – no alcohol must be taken into the Maldives and security is tight with numerous passport controls, so don’t even think about it – respect their rules – they need our income and support!

So, a short flight in a prop. plane – one Maldivian stewardess and juice and coffee served – not more to tell here.

About 40 minutes later we slip though the exit and are immediately greeted by Six Senses staff. Our bags are loaded onto a trolley and we follow them to our boat – just a short walk, and it’s now the rush suddenly kicks in – palms, turquoise water, a fast and spotlessly clean boat, and a very friendly crew. We’re all smiling as we click on the lifebelts.

The next 25 minutes is one big adrenalin kick! Fastest boat I’ve been in – powered by two huge outboard motors. It speeds us on our way to a distant atoll and we and the other guests are enjoying every second – suddenly all previous travel is forgotten!

As we slow on the approach 15 minutes later things begin to look like the photos we’ve been sent and those we googled – the palms, white sands and thatched water villas, only this is real!  The sun is shining and the temperature is hot but bearable. It just looks amazing, and what’s more, there’s a whole welcoming party waving us in – welcome to paradise!

The General Manager herself takes charge and gives us a warm hello and a short briefing.  We meet our Gem or guide Carmel and there’s no hanging about in paradise. We get a cloth bag for our shoes, and from here on in it’s barefoot, bikinis and swim shorts for everyone. We check in at reception , get some more info, and it’s into the buggy together with our bags. We take the short trip to our respective villas – we’re all wide eyed and excited!

Later, Aurora has a video link of the jungle path from the main administration area to our jetty which happened to be the furthest away of the 3 and was not surprisingly called Jetty C. It was a short ride, but you are left gaping in disbelief at how green, diverse and tropical the route is. It’s a journey you will never tire of, and even better when you will soon be able to do it on your personalized bike.

We dropped Camilla and Claus off at their villa Nr. 58 which was close to the jetty but had a pretty beach in front made of glistening white coral sand. We continued onto the wooden jetty to our villa Nr. 65 which was about 3/4 of the way out. Now we were feeling like kids who just got a blank cheque in a sweet shop.

What can you say about the villas. If the standard, privacy and decor doesn’t grab you immediately then you have always had too much cash in your bank account.

 

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Raised above the water on telegraph pole size supports, the villas are clad in slats of greying timber and roofed in palm leaf held in place with an invisible wire mesh to tackle the wind should it decide to get stormy. An outer frame gives privacy in the open shower and bath area so you can prance about as naked as the day you were born without causing  offence.

The interior is just wonderful – timber ceilings – solid rustic wood floors that incredibly don’t make a sound – not so our laminate floors back home I might add! Amazing bed that is sadly missed – so comfortable we hit the R.E.M. the minute our head touched our chosen pillow. A choice of sleep inducing pillow scents are available each day – personally Ying Yang did the trick for me but Aurora turned out to be a lavender girl! The outside showers were brilliant – choice of two shower heads with soap, conditioners, creams and lotions that left us smelling of fragrant lemongrass. In 65 we got a large body formed glass bath fixed on a glass panel. if you spread your legs you looked directly into the sea lapping below – did we see fish – you bet, but I hope they kept what they saw to themselves 😉 Same fun in the toilet.  It has a glass panel in the floor too, so remember to grab your mobile, take your time, and get google on the phone so you can find out what is was you just saw swim past.

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The twin wash basins at the rear of the bed are a smart touch – each fitted into a vintage style leather suitcase – fun, and as it turned out –  very practical too!

There’s a safe, mini bar, coffee machine, hair dryer and TV you can see in the bath or main room, good Bose sound system and of course overhead fans and air conditioning. Outside there’s hammock style beds if you want a cool breeze from below. You have two loungers and an eating area also with comfy mattresses, pillows and see through glass again. Wooden steps take you straight into the water – and believe me you’ll never want to get out! There is an upper level staircase to balcony with a double mattress that is recessed in the  shade of the roof. I personally loved going up there and using it as a turtle lookout. Most mornings they fed on a belt of seagrass that ran across the jetties. I could see their round brown shadows beneath the surface and when patient enough I’d be rewarded as they popped their head up to suck in a breath of air.  One memorable day however Aurora was snorkeling around her favorite rock and I yelled that a Black Tip Reef Shark heading straight for her! I wasn’t sure how she would react as in the Oslo fjord what swims below is rarely noticed.

You’re probably thinking the mask came off and I’d hear a scream for help, but no! Aurora had the Gopro on her wrist and she turned just in time to get alongside and follow it briefly.

As a footnote the resident biologist said no one had ever been shark bitten there and she’d give us free ice cream if it ever happened.  Nice try, the ice cream is free anyway!  It’s true though, they feed at night, and are really not so interested in us – they are not the biggest of sharks either.  When they think this sunburnt seal in trunks is getting too close they will apparently go into an S shape body form and roll side to side. They are on the watch list of many conservation organizations. We need to do all we can to stop finning and the slaughter of these top predators – they are vital to maintaining a balance in the ocean!

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Aurora’s first encounter with a Black Tip Reef shark!

I never thought I’d enjoy biking so much, but we loved peddling back and forth and down the path, especially at night when it’s lit. Each bike has an personalized oval wooden plaque on it.  Your initials are stamped in black so you’ll never have trouble finding it. When you park it at the main cycle area you may find it’s mysteriously moved when you get back. That’s because while you’ve been away eating or snorkeling an employee has checked your air and brakes etc. so it’s always tip top. They all have a large basket, great for swim gear and towels, and all have cloth-covered pedals so cycling barefoot is a doddle. While we were there the compressed sandy paths were  covered in fallen pink hibiscus flowers – romantic blossom!  We’d often stop so Aurora could take a close up of the lizards who had decided to appear from beneath the safety of the mangroves and coconut palms.  There were two species, a crested tree lizard that was more colourful and sported  a reddish tinge down it’s otherwise green body. It takes it’s name from the crest that runs along it’s back. Then there was the common wall gecko. They are a rather dull brown colour and usually appeared around the lighting at night. We had a couple of nights with heavy rainfall but come morning they are repairing bumps and holes in the path and we saw a couple of women taking a brush to them every day. Each bike had a solar light on it but they weren’t working.  Aurora asked for help and they gave her a new one straight away. Nothing is far away on Laamu so biking is an option –  but do it – it’s part of the fun!

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Always fun to see on the bike rides!

Each evening when we returned from our meal the bed was once again immaculate with the mosquito net magically in place. The rooms were spotless, coffee capsules replaced, as was drinking water, fruit and other complimentary items. How could you possibly not think – “Hell, this is the life” – then check your bank balance to see how long before you can get back!

If you love free home made ice cream (on second thoughts that’s probably the stupid sentence of the day) you’ll love Laamu and Six Senses mixed selection of sorbet or ice cream in 42 flavours. If that’s not temptation enough, it’s served right beside their Chocolate Studio! Talk about paradise! Wasn’t long before I got hooked on Burnt Milk – an unusual flavour but it hit my DA2 receptors every time and triggered a minor addiction.  Both Claus and I had no trouble recommending to others.  The Ice Studio as they call it is dead center in the main admin. area, and it takes superhuman willpower to pass by – even after a 3 course meal!

Can you blog about toilets?  Sure you can…and I will, because those at Laamu are definitely worth a mention. For the first they are all spotless, even those on the beach.  Fragrant lemongrass again, and tightly rolled hand towels. The men’s urinals are made from beaten steel – like an angled drum on a pedestal, very sculptural. I got a fascination with them – after all I visited at least once a day! In fact I wouldn’t mind one here at home – a kind of man-cave visitor attraction perhaps.  Anyway besides that, and talking purely from a male point of view, where else can you do your business, peer down, and see an Eagle Ray wing it’s way beneath you?  At the Leaf Restaurant the toilets were formed like small courtyards with white walls and lush green plants. At night the geckos visit in the hope a flying snack will be attracted to the lights. They are cute – in a macho way of course 🙂 Like everything else at Six Senses it’s the attention to detail that makes Laamu worth every one of it’s 5 stars.

Despite the fact we were on half-board the choice given us was little less than amazing.  We chose to eat breakfast after 9am leaving us less time to our evening meal.  We could have easily taken a light snack had we got hungry during the day, but this only happened on one occasion. We usually spent our money on a beer or two instead which was always a welcome treat after a mornings snorkeling.

The breakfast offered was beyond any criticism. There is a huge choice of hot and cold to suit all tastes. Fresh fruits sliced as you wait. Cereals and yoghurts, fresh bakes of all kinds, crepes made on the spot and healthy freshly made juices.  We had a favourite table in the smoking area which offered a great view to the nearby atolls. I only once saw someone light up and I wanted to send him a Snap so he could see how comical he looked trying to considerately blow the smoke out sideways.  It just doesn’t seem smart I guess when health is obviously one of Six Senses main objectives, but each to his own of course!

You order coffee and juices of your choice and a hot dish if you wish. Eggs Benedict was a hit with us.  After that we were able to help ourselves from the buffet.  It was usually some fresh fruit, yoghurt, and in my case a sweet bake of some kind – cause I’m worth it 😉

 

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After a couple of days Camilla discovered the deli section in the building housing the resorts wine cellar. Here you could take a plate and choose from all manner of sliced meats, sushi and cheeses then take it to your table. Few seemed to take advantage of it and it was in a way a best kept secret discovered only by the inquisitive – we made a point of visiting every morning and loved it.

The staff are very attentive everywhere, and a lot of people were involved in making breakfast a highlight. Even though service charges are included (no one is carrying cash), whenever possible the waiters, cooks, juice pressers and management always got a “thank you” on our way out. It took very little on our part but we connected with a few of them and it was enjoyable to find them there again each morning. For us it was luxurious, but for them it was a job, and without their input the whole experience would have been far less memorable. Wherever you go you get a hello from staff. I read one review where a pissed off traveler complained and reckoned they secretly hated our guts and having to greet as you cycle or walk by. I have to say this was not our impression. Many were happy to get into a short conversation and were eager to offer advice.  I really  hope others felt that when we said “Hi” it was an acknowledgment of their presence and the work they were doing on our behalf.

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Never in doubt about where you are in Laamu!

We decided to take the Nemo reef trip – Camilla had booked us all on the Dolphin trip so she and Claus decided to drop this one – big mistake! We left on the newer and faster of their two boats and headed off to the first reef. We got up a fair speed and somehow I got to thinking of Malta and flying fish and kept my eyes peeled towards the bow. About 15 minutes out I was able to shout “Dolphins,” and of course there was a mad dash for mobiles and cameras. I guess about 5 of them appeared leaping half out the water to catch the bow waves. I’ve seen them several times elsewhere but these seemed big and so sleek in their shiny grey and cream bodies. It was great to see them and unexpected in a way as this was a reef trip to see corals and the tropical fish that lived amongst them. After some minutes they dropped back to the stern and left us with another fine memory.

We got an introduction from the crew as we approached the first reef. They hoped to be able to show us turtles, plenty live coral that was making a comeback after the disastrous bleaching of 2014, together with rays, sharks and the other reef dwellers.

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For us both it was the first time we had jumped into an almost bottomless ocean of meters of clear water that eventually disappears into a haze beneath you. It was quite a moment and took a “Holy Shit” and some minutes to adjust as we swam towards the reef itself.

We were not disappointed since neither of us had experienced such a richness of sea life before and we found ourselves kicking out beyond the others as we followed shoals through the coral. The fish are spectacular, as are many of the coral formations, but it is clear they have suffered from bleaching and are making a slow recovery.  It was not long before the group spotted the first turtle. They must think humans are mad, all yelling “turtle,” frantically sticking Gopros on selfie-sticks and free diving like penguins on tequila.

These are about an arms length in size and how shy they are varies depending on how good the present feed is for them I imagine. Some make a pretty fast getaway, others carry on crunching on the coral. In all cases give them space and don’t stress them out by giving chase and they will give you plenty of enjoyment and great photos.

The sides of the reef dive sharply to a sandy bottom – on our day it was clear all the way down and I saw a couple of reef sharks gliding gracefully over the sand – wonderful!

After 40 minutes we board the boat again and head back towards the atoll and the second reef. We talk about what we have seen and what we still hope will turn up – We have octopus and lobster on our wish list but that was not to be on this occasion. The second reef was even more interesting and had turtles and eagle rays visiting. The guides free dive to try and find things of interest and to help us tick off our list but for the most part we remain as a group and snap as much as possible with the GoPro. We had a great crew on this trip – we never felt hurried, and they did all they could to keep us informed and guide us to the best spots. For us, it was definitely a success, but do take care to use a really strong sun blocker – without it, 2 hours face down under the Maldevian sunshine will burn you up.

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Eagle ray’s – easy to spot and plentiful!

Having seen dolphins on our Nemo trip Camilla cancelled the planned dolphin trip all four of us were to take – she and Claus had seen them before on a previous trip to the Maldives. We all booked another Reef trip instead They took us out on a slower boat that was obviously no fun for playful dolphins so they didn’t join us this time. The crew wanted us to see a stingray – something I asked for but the first reef was a little disappointing and we pressured them to head for the next. Here we found a rich variation of life with eagle rays, Turtles and large shoals.  One of the crew waved me over and I was able to witness an incredible feeding frenzy with 100’s of reef fish. Time up was called but lo and behold a large Stingray was spotted on the sandy bottom where the reef shelved off – wish granted!

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Looking at trip advisor reviews there is no doubt the Leaf Restaurant is most popular in Laamu. We left it too late on one of the days and couldn’t get in. The charm is not only in the building, an even larger rustic space on stilts, but also the open kitchen set bang in the middle allowing you to follow every small detail on the plate.  There is a stair access or a very springy rope bridge if you fancy going in that way – can’t imagine that after a bottle of wine mind you.

All four of us met up at The Leaf Restaurant for our evening meal.

The menu there is excellent – it’s world class cooking with presentation to match and it’s done with precision and cool. I had a seafood plate followed by rack of lamb and a for dessert. The lamb alone would have cost my arm and leg here in Norway. It goes without saying that whenever possible the chefs are using only the freshest produce from the island’s organic garden which lies below the restaurant. If your jetty B and C you’ll cycle past every day.

My starter was a seafood platter beautifully presented with small fillets of whitefish, prawns, scallops, octopus arm, and squid. Oh my! It was delicious with perfectly cooked asparagus artistically placed  over swirls of colourful vegetable puree’s topped with tiny floral decoration. Especially notable was a delicate pink orchid like flower which I discovered was edible. It had a bit of a crunch to it for want of a better word, and since Aurora passed hers over, I was happy to eat them too!

Back to that Octopus…

I harpooned one once when I was 16 and living in Malta. It was a simple three-pronged spike with a length of springy rubber attached I have come to regret many times over having seen that amazing video of one opening the screw lid of a jar it was captive in. They are intelligent, and it would probably choke the life out of me with all 8 arms if it got the chance of reincarnation (fact: Octopus have arms not tentacles.)

I must tell too, of a trip to Leros in Greece where we got friendly with a fisherman/restaurant owner who spoke Spanish.  I was sat with Aurora fishing greek style from our table at the waters edge.  I had a good glass of wine, and a wide reel of nylon with a weight and a hook that you baited. You took a half meter out, and whirled it around your head a couple of times, then let go so the rest would shoot out in front of you and the hook would hopefully plop into the sea some meters ahead of you. I was doing ok. when the grandma  came down, sat close by, and began to fish too. After some minutes she suddenly jumped out of her chair and splashed into the sea. She thrust both arms into the water and seconds later brought her left arm up with an octopus desperately writhing around her elbow. With a great grin of satisfaction she did that horrible turn it inside out thing and began beating it on a rock to tenderize it. I decided not to eat my ink squirting friends again, but here I was in Laamu with a couple of arms on my plate. I can only excuse myself with the fact that had my  deceased friend here been hidden beneath a rock and hungry he would, have devoured his prey alive!

It was fascinating to watch the team at work. After dessert I couldn’t help leaning over and thanking the head chef for a great meal. I said jokingly he was a real Daddy Cool in the kitchen and he seemed to like that because a plate of exquisitely made chocolates arrived on our table – what a fine fella, and what a memorable evening.

So what can I say to sum up Laamu. I have never imagined I would visit the Maldives but we were all so lucky we did and I have little doubt Camilla chose very wisely in Six Senses. Not only have we lasting memories, but it has changed us all. We gained a new affinity with the planet and the creatures around us especially those in our great oceans. They are in danger from over fishing, greed, mismanagement and pollution of every kind. We humans are taking far too long to act and ensure their future survival. Even whilst snorkeling there I saw used paper towelling  drifting in the current. It almost certainly looked like a jellyfish meal to a turtle. I have enjoyed fishing but now think twice – Tuna has been off my list for many years but after seeing so many species in their natural habitat I feel less compulsion to catch and eat them however dull our native fish seem in comparison.  I don’t want to romanticize, after all nature is extremely cruel, but we are surely intelligent enough to find ways to prevent extinction through education and control of our own population and eating habits.  WWF say we have lost half the earth’s wildlife in the last 40 years and our hunger for destroying their habitat seems never ending. When you see the extent of the coral bleaching in the Maldives alone it’s like taking a punch on the jaw – it really hurts.

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Evening cinema on the beach – often showing films and documentaries about the wildlife in the Maldives. Weather permitting of course! We were looking forward to a film on sharks but got rained off that evening. That was our only wet evening during our stay and it soon blew over!

Travel then is not only about getting a well-earned break from a working year. It’s a chance to take stock and meet different cultures. Take the very best of them all, and if like us, you feel a change coming on, take action and help make a difference by giving something back.

Happy Traveling

Later in the evenings there is a cinema set up on the beach showing a film or an educational documentary like Blue Planet. That day it was  about sharks and we were all set to take a seat when with 10 mins to go the heavens opened. We had to make a mad dash for cover in reception. They handed out umbrellas and ordered a buggy to take us back to the villa but we cancelled when the rain suddenly eased off and took to the bikes anyway – then had fun dodging the puddles.

One evening show I loved seeing was when the fruit bats appeared out of the palms. With the moon as a backdrop, they would wing gracefully off to the nearby atolls. Aurora wanted to get a shot of them sleeping during the day, but despite being told where they usually hung out, we never saw a single one.

Our last day was spent at the Chill Bar with an ice followed by a swim and a Heineken. I had this obsession now to find another curious shark but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have asked for the farewell I got from this huge creamy stingray that suddenly came rippling past me. I’d seen my first out on the reef but it was many meters below and this one past by just inches away – fantastic – tick that box!

You may well ask who in their right mind would be hoping a shark would appear while you are snorkeling. Right mind or not, I had this on my wish list. On my second day I was able to snap a juvenile reef shark that was circling around the villa – seemingly oblivious to the still white body with big glass eyes that was trying to get alongside.

Of course it wasn’t oblivious since it’s born with the ability to pick up faint electric signals from prey – I probably hit it like a kid sucking on a lemon!

2 days later we were at the Chill Bar and I was out on my own at the time – why is that the case when you want to come in bragging about that pretty big shark that came up and swam alongside you for the whole length of the deck. It’s true of course, and from that day I was hooked and wanted to be shark bait – Great Whites excluded – for now anyway!

You’d think what’s good for us is great for other predators – there has been the seldom sighting of a Salt Water Crocodile hanging around a Maldevian reef but they don’t seem to appeal to Great Whites due to the high water temperature. The only one swimming on our trip was me – pasty white until 2 days later when strawberry would be a good description.

I’m happy to say despite peeling for a few days back here in Norway, we’ve had the best May in over 100 years and we are all as brown as an organic egg now!

Finally then – if you love warm, crystal clear water and reef snorkeling, great food and service, not to mention fantastic water villas, then you are already half-way to the Maldives. If you can relax for 9 days without wanting to get into a busy town or night club – are happy not to have to rush to get a pool chair – think biking in bare feet is cool – you’d better start saving. Six Senses Laamu comes at a price, but anyone will tell you – cheap things don’t last, and we had an unforgettable stay!

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Thanks to all at Six Senses – sheer relaxation!