Torrential rains soaked your morning departure from Maafushi, and, if being soaking wet boarding the ferry wasn’t a fine enough experience, torrential rains soak you again upon your disembarkation from the delinquent government ferry now hitched at a dock on the southwestern corner of Male. Wading through tumultuously flowing streets amidst thick sheets of rain, you trudge across town with your bags, stop for a quick bite to eat at your restaurant in Male, board the airport ferry and speed-walk through the airport to make your pre-arranged appointment.
The appointment: arrive at counter #45 in Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport at 11:45. From there, you are to meet a representative who is to arrange a motorboat transfer to luxurious Lankanfushi island, home to the resort of Gili Lankanfushi.
Of course, that is the simple summary. The more detailed back story is that this simple appointment required quite a number of emails to explain that you were NOT flying into Male on that day and that you could instead meet them at any time and any location around Male that they wished, whether that be downtown or at the airport. Yet they continued to ask for your flight information, as if it was somehow relevant (i.e. you are already in the Maldives and traveling by boat, what does the flight information matter?). Once they understood (after what seemed to be several days of communication) that you weren’t flying in (for a direct transport to the resort), they then asked for hotel contact information and phone numbers—all things impossible due to a lack of phone and transient plans, and seemingly unnecessary due to the wonders and magic of email. In any case, here you are, at the airport at the pre-arranged time to jump a motorboat to Lankanfushi island, a resort island in the Maldives. Your morning adventures on the high-seas and underwater roads have you wanting relaxation more than ever.
You step up to counter 45 at 11:45 and find it empty. You look around and after a quick flurry of activity, a well-dressed Maldivian man appears.
“Hello sir. Welcome. We will have you on your way in no more than five or ten minutes,” he explains. “Follow me,” he instructs and guides you to a table in front of the airport’s Burger King.
Five minutes go by, followed by ten and then fifteen, and then the gentleman appears. “We are just waiting for a flight from Singapore to arrive. It is landing now and they should be at the gate very soon,” he communicates. You appreciate being in the communication loop. And then, fifteen more minutes elapse. You have now been sitting for a good half-hour. Realizing he might be waiting for the passengers and unable to communicate anything, you get up and wander the exterior of the airport looking for him and an update.
“Hello, I was just wondering if you can provide an update. It seems this is a much longer wait than I was told and I haven’t heard anything and I am wondering if you can provide an update,” you ramble in the haze of fatigue and unease.
“Well, I checked with the resort and they have instructed that you continue to wait until the other plane comes in. Typically guests do not wait longer than 20 minutes before being transferred but they requested you wait.”
Now an hour has elapsed and you are still waiting in front of a Burger King wondering why the representative hasn’t, at the very least, come over for another status update. You continue to sit and wait. You wonder if you were dressed in a suit if the wait would’ve been cut. What if your hair was cut neatly? What if you were holding designer luggage? Are you being treated lesser due to your disheveled appearance from this morning’s adventures? Your high expectations for Gili Lankanfushi are starting to plummet, especially given it’s niche as a high-end resort. At the very least, it is a very questionable and disheartening introduction.
Fifteen minutes later, the hour of waiting becomes an hour and fifteen minutes. And, soon thereafter, the waiting in a food court by a Burger King on hard plastic chairs, hits an hour and a half.
After a total of an hour and forty-five minutes waiting outside of that Burger King, much of which without communication, the Gili Lankanfushi representative waives you down with a handful of people following behind him. At this point you are not at all happy. If this was a walking tour of Trenton, NJ from the 1-star Best Western, maybe you’d cut them some slack, but a high-end resort?
You follow the handful of newly arrived guests out from the airport and towards a dock. You step into a sleek, white motorboat and situate yourself in one of the leather seats. The engine fires up and you watch the airport docks grow smaller. As you pass the harbour entrance, the throttle is increased but the boat barely lurches. The engine is shut down and restarted. The driver once again gives it throttle but something is certainly amiss. After several attempts to get it running smoothly, he turns the boat around and coaxes the motor to spit us back into the airport harbor. The airport docks are no longer getting smaller.
The driver and the mechanic nonchalantly walk back to the stern of the boat, as it bobs powerless in the water. The water is crystal clear and a perfect shade of blue. And, fortunately, the morning rain clouds have pushed off.
The driver’s cell phone rings with a call from someone at Gili Lankanfushi. They hand it, ringing, to an English-speaking guest to answer. “Hello?…okay, mhmm….well I think it would be quicker for me to just tell everyone rather than pass the phone to each person, no?” He looks up and moves the phone down towards his lap. “They are saying it will just be five or ten minutes.”
“That’s what they told me two hours ago,” you quietly moan. In the background, the two employees on the boat are in the middle removing a propeller with a combination of wrenches being hammered about. It doesn’t help to realize that you should have been at Gili Lankanfushi 90 minutes ago and instead, you are bobbing in the water hearing more promises. You accept things can go wrong, but they have primed you to wonder – what kind of resort is this? Surely they will make it up to you when you arrive.
The motorboat pulls into the arrival dock and you are greeted by a group of employees and the resort’s general manager. “Happy to have you here at Gili Lankanfushi,” he bellows with a jovial tone in his voice. You step out of the boat and shake his hand. At no point does he apologize or make any mention of your unacceptably long wait or the trouble of the motorboat malfunctions.
And if any of that isn’t enough, an announcement is made that Gili Lankanfushi time is one hour ahead, and thus, magically, you have lost yet another hour. “What is the point of that,” you ask. You are told it is so guests have more sunlight, can experience sunset and a host of other logically-pallid responses. They note that it is very common for the various resorts to set their own times, some even more than an hour. Regardless, it makes little sense to you. The sun, your hunger and your body clock doesn’t seem to care so much about what time it is on your Gili clock display unless you are going to be on the resort for quite an extended period. Upon checkout, once you leave, you get your hour back. The only thing really accomplished, it seems, is you lose an hour of time on the resort.
The golf cart clacks away from the Welcome dock and shuttles you around the island, pointing out in machine-gun succession the Japanese restaurant, the pool table, the bar, the beach restaurant, the vegetable garden, the waste site, the yoga spot and so forth. The weather has improved drastically since the morning, and the feeling of serenity is increasing. You are driven out to your over-water villa, located off a long dock. A pair of bikes rest outside the door. You hop off the cart and enter inside.
The feeling is quite simply mind-altering as you survey the scene. Directly ahead of you is an open-air living room with a perfect breeze sweeping about. Compliments of the chef sit on the table; a bottle of champagne, some iced tea and a snack from the kitchen. Several wood stairs descend to a large wooden deck complete with a pair of built-in over-water hammocks, chaise lounge chairs and umbrellas. Directly off your deck you can swim through the crystal clear water into the sheltered coral reef. Facing the water, to the left of the living room is a large bathroom with a full-size soaking tub underneath a giant picture window (overlooking the water of course). Through the bathroom and over an outdoor walkway leads you to an open-air, completely private, multiple-head shower area.
Back in the living room, you head up a set of wooden stairs which deposit you onto a second-floor outdoor deck with a wide view of the horizons, both east and west. Tucked away are chairs and table. Straight ahead of you is an open-air lounging area under the shade of a naturally-made roof.
The bedroom is off to the right side of the living room, just past the small refrigerator and fresh, filtered complimentary waters, and comes with a sound system (which works through the villa depending on which speakers you want to turn on and off), mosquito net, windows that open wide for the ocean air or shut tight to keep in the air-conditioning, a TV (although I don’t know who would use it), an assortment of rough-fibred rich-feeling stationary and a checklist. The checklist asks what kind of scents you would like your villa to have, if you want a comforter or not and a host of other questions to customize and better your stay.
Lastly, you meet up with your personal host (called Mr. Friday). Each guest has a Mr. Friday to whom you request items (complimentary snorkeling equipment, etc.), schedule reservations (restaurant, yoga, excursions, etc.) and so forth. They also can answer any questions you may have. Do you need a cleaning? Do you need a refresh of water? Do you need a recommendation? Do you need help finding the controls for the air-conditioning unit?
You call your Mr. Friday and ask for some complimentary snorkeling gear rental. Soon thereafter, you hear the clattering approach of the golf cart, followed by a knock at the door and finished with you holding a snorkeling kit.
You walk down the several steps into the water. A flurry of activity explodes from the water. You lower your snorkel mask into the water and start gently kicking your fins. Nearly before you start (and each second thereafter) you are treated to a remarkable array of sea life; spotted boxfish, damselfish, sweetlips, colourful parrotfish and many others swimming amidst the brightly-coloured coral.
Your fins are a bit tight, so upon exiting the perfectly clear water, you call your Mr. Friday to let her know. She seems to hedge at the request for some reason, and so you assure her that you will not need them right away, it can wait until tomorrow. Envisioning an open air sleep, you also ask that the upstairs “lounge” area be made into a bed. She gladly notes such and you place the phone back in the cradle.
As evening sets approaches, the skies flare up as you watch from the second-floor deck. The breeze is a perfect velocity and temperature—cooling without chilling. As the skies darken, the lights along the jetties alight, along with the well-placed and coloured exterior and interior lighting from nearby villas. It reflects off the water and adds a soft golden glow to the air.
A remarkable thing you have noticed is that while you have villas on both sides, you have complete privacy. The angles of the building design, the usage of certain visually-impairing materials (including shades) and the layout of the rooms all appear to have been masterfully planned with such in mind. You can shower in the open-air and walk back into the villa without any possibility of being sighted. You can lie in the tub with a full view of the reef and feel you are there all alone. You can wake up with the main window fully open without any worry. The only exception to this is when you are sunning yourself on the deck or snorkeling into the reef, but even with that, everyone seems immersed in their various heavens.
You grasp the handlebars of your villas bike and make for the center of the island as rain softly taps your umbrella. The rhythmic thumping of the tires against the wooden jetty is followed by the sound of the tires working their way along the dirt path. You pull up towards the over-water bar, place your bikes in the bike rack and walk across the entranceway.
As with all places here, shoes get kicked off outside and, eventually, realize there is no need for them at all. Your bike pedals have been covered with a cushion to allow for barefoot pedaling, twigs and natural debris are consistently cleaned from paths to allow for carefree walking and restaurants are designed (and the rules equally so) to be just as conducive; a perfectly designed world of care-free freedom. The feeling which is strongly making it’s presence felt is one of luxury without pretension.
The over-water bar is accessed by a wooden walkway. As you enter, you notice the relaxing sound of a water fountain emanating from a cutout circle which is so designed so that the rain, which is currently falling, sheds off the roof and into the illuminated ocean below. The materials, as is the case everywhere, are environmentally and naturally-themed. The head bartender, who hails from Sri Lanka, is a genial fellow seemingly well versed in his setup. It seems he has been there quite a long time, a good sign in general. You ask some questions about the various infusions he is crafting and, sensing your curiosity, he goes above and beyond and gives you a taste—one with cardamom and another with rosemary. Both are coming along nicely.
The cocktail menu (~$15/ea.) is unwieldy and could use focus. Upon the head bartender’s recommendation, you order a “Gili Goes Spicy“, a daiquiri with chili. It lacks cohesion and purpose. You are a bit unsettled that this is Gili’s “signature drink” and “most popular cocktail”. However, the bartender is extremely affable, and between that and the relaxing ambience, it makes up for that particular shortfall. The sampler of nuts and other nice bar snacks is appreciated.
After a fair amount of relaxation and interesting conversation, the rain has ceased. You pull out your stool, put on your flip-flips and pedal your bike just around the corner for a game of outdoor billiards. The table sits in the open air but is perfectly sheltered from the elements; the ground, cleanly swept of debris. As you play, you see no one else and you hear only serene sounds like the gentle breeze lightly twisting the leaves.
You return to your villa ready for bed. The heated outdoor shower, with its several heads, at the end of the over-water walkway is of perfect pressure. The supplied soaps, shampoos and creams exude scents of lemongrass and seem to be of excellent quality. The towels, of which there is an ample supply, have a great balance of absorption and softness.
You head up the stairs to find a perfectly made bed, as requested. Surrounded by the starlit sky and sounds of waves crashing on distant breakers, you tuck yourself in, shielding yourself from the gentle breeze. The next thing you fully realize is opening your eyes to the glowing skies emanating from the eastern horizon.
This wasn’t some approved or recommended Gili Lankanfushi setup, rather, you went off-playbook with a made-bed up there, and, while it was certainly a very unique experience falling asleep and waking up to the extraordinary natural influences like the sea and the sunrise, it isn’t a complete utopian fantasy land. While the makeup ofa bed with comforter and sheets was perfectly executed, the comfortability of the lumpy mattress (or cushion) was not optimal for sleeping. Additionally, despite the breeze, some mosquitoes made their presence felt overnight. It was worth the shot.
At 06:55 you call your Mr. Friday to reserve a space for the complimentary 08:00 yoga class. She notes that you should be all set to join. Having a good 45-minutes before you must leave, you slip off the deck for a quick morning swim in your too-tight fins (the larger fins you requested yesterday never arrived, and eventually you are told that you have to pick them up at the dive house yourself). At 7:30 you climb out of the reef and back into the villa and then “it” suddenly hits you—Gili time means it is 8:30 here, and thus, you have missed the class.
The tables are set up along the beach with gentle lapping waves. You sit down and are presented the breakfast menu. You can choose as many things as you please off the menu. You start with a poached egg and one fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice to start. The poached egg is perfectly executed; and it grants you the utmost confidence in the kitchen staff. As for the pomegranate juice—there is pomegranate juice (think bottled POM juice you get at the supermarket) and there is something else called pomegranate juice which rests on a completely different echelon. It is the latter which you are imbibing with glee—remarkably well-balanced and fresh tasting; the refreshing flavor of the fruit shining strongly with every sip.
The grilled reef fish is on special, and you quickly go onto auto-repeat mode. It is perfectly cooked. Some other items that pique your interest: Tasmanian smoked salmon scrambled eggs; Maldivian spicy omelet with fried tuna, red onion, curry leaf and chili; and French Brioche Toast. Juices include orange, banana, pineapple, melon, apple, kiwi, watermelon, mango, papaya, grapefruit, carrot, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, celery, amongst others.
The breakfast buffet, also included, is replete with fresh fruit (and fresh juices) as part of the fruit station, an assortment of sushi (which, surprisingly, is very disappointing in quality and flavour—an exception to the rule), fresh pastries (almond croissants excellent), a wide selection of different honey, granolas, yogurts, various (traditional Western) breakfast items and a pleasing, well-paired champagne.
While your attentive and friendly waiter attends a service matter at your table, he discloses the presence of an underground wine cellar, noting that you are welcome to select from the assortment of chocolates and cheeses found there. He leads you through a door and down a stairway. The cool air feels soft on your skin and smells crisp. Round, smooth rocks line the floor. A modern curved table with glassware fills the main space with bottles of wine augmenting the walls.
You follow the waiter into the cheese room. His mastery of the cheese (not helped by the lack of signage) is quite lacking but he assures you that he will find out what is what. You put a plate together and return to your table. Your plate follows soon thereafter. He later returns to describe the cheeses but still mixes them up.
There are many activities you can partake of, some complimentary, some not. You choose mostly to relax at the villa, swimming off into the reef every so often to find new types of fish. It is remarkably relaxing. In the afternoon, you set off for the dive center to outfit with better sized equipment. You note that you are going to explore the house reef and they recommend you take the boat shuttle as going by kayak will put a tight time limitation on (due to the dive center closing hours). You ask where the house reef is exactly and they vaguely point.
On the shuttle, you ask the driver where the house reef is. His English is hard to understand and his directions are not at all clear. He does note that there is a safety ship in case you get into trouble. The current is strong and without knowing where to go, you do not see much. You head back to the drop-off point and wait for the shuttle to return.
Once aboard, you ask that he shows you where the house reef is and he heads out in that direction and points that you must head from where you are bobbing out in the direction that way. You thank him for the explanation, granted it came too late. You wish that someone somewhere along the line had been a little more clear, but take this as your own error.
At nightfall, you ensure all the window shades are up in the master bedroom so that the sunrise will wake you up (and due to the position and design of the villas, you still have ample privacy). Taking yesterday’s lesson to heart, you drop the mosquito net down over the bed before opening all the windows and shutting off the air-conditioning. The breeze blows in, but the mosquito net, unfortunately, seems to block most of it. It is a trade-off. In any case, it is a more comfortable sleep than the night before, with the same ocean sounds making it inside just fine.
And, just as before, you wake up to a stunning sunrise bathing golden light all about.
Simply put, Gili Lankanfushi is a dream world. While there were several instances where the illusion was broken—with the very disappointing arrival process (and shocking lack of any apology) being the most flagrant—the resort is truly a special place. The whole team comes across very intelligently and seems inherently happy. And, while other guests are (of course) at the resort too, you feel a perfect amount of solitude. It is hard to explain but other guests don’t seem to exist, and it seems they can’t see you either, although everyone is pleasant and respectful. Meanwhile, the staff is constantly ensuring you are well cared for and have everything you need while ensuring you feel free. It is a well-balanced mixture between personalized service and anonymous privacy. The General Manager possesses a confident swagger and clearly is executing at a high level. Everything comes together in a very seamless fashion.
Another remarkable use of intuition is that they ask for feedback and note that good ideas will be rewarded. In a place frequented by some of the world’s craftiest thinkers, this allows for crowd-sourcing from the highest echelon which is ingenious itself.
You go for one last swim before the golf cart is scheduled to bring you through the departure proceedings. You step back onto the deck after another miraculous underwater display and there on the bathroom shelf is a high-grade sealable plastic bag for you to stash your bathing suit before your flight out. This is just one of the many things well thought out and executed so that your needs are met before you knew you had one.
After a seamless and well done checkout process (if you can even call it that), you make the 15 minute trip via speedboat back to the airport. Your entire demeanor is clearly changed from your stay at this Maldivian resort island; you are in a truly unique state of relaxation. Upon entering the airport, the original representative you dealt with greets you and points you the way before bidding farewell. As you step back into the real world, it truly hits you how well cared for you were and how carefree you have become during your stay at Gili Lankanfushi. Flight numbers, boarding times, gate numbers and money exchanges all seem unimportant for you to think about. It seems as if someone will pop up at just the right time to solve all these real world issues, but, you realize that world is 15 minutes behind you at this point. You have left Gili Lankanfushi but Gili will never escape you.
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