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Marion wrote: I am a sea lover. Seems to be an interesting cruise. david martin Abrahams would love to travel on it.
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ROBERT MOORE wrote: see - Enenkio Gold Bonds !


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Off the Beaten Path
Cruising Isolated Indian Ocean Atolls

Diving, or playing on a beach, can be achieved in many places on this planet, but it is the especially arranged shore excursions that make this adventurous voyage a cut above the rest. Because this ship calls on islands seldom visited by tourists, special arrangements have been made with the island chiefs to enable passengers to go ashore and visit these fishing communities. It is a very great privilege to be especially and uniquely entertained by local dance and music groups on islands where these ceremonies are still routinely practiced for their own enjoyment rather than performed as tourist shows. The islanders are very friendly, clearly as fascinated by us as we are by them. Taking portrait shots with a digital camera that can immediately show the subject the picture has been taken was an endless source of delight to people who have probably never even seen a photograph of themselves before.

These trips ashore provided a wonderful insight into the lives of these islanders where coir rope is still hand woven by women sitting on the beach tugging at tufts of coconut husk and hand spinning it first into yarn and then into string to become rope. We watched the employment of age-old skills as the menfolk built, by hand, dhonis, which are local fishing boats from local woods using almost Iron Age implements. The true skill of this is brought home to the observer as you watch copper nails made from scratch and wooden dowels whittled away by hand by young men who clearly learned their skills when they were very small. The ability to walk around these islands without feeling you are intruding is delightful. We watched in awe as the daily meal was prepared in an outside-style kitchen that all of the homes seem to feature. Spices were ground using pestle and mortar hewn from stone clearly passed down through generations of daughters. We watched and were encouraged to take part in an exercise where housewives strip down coconut palm leaves to extract the single wiry centre strand and discard the remainder of the leaf. With a couple of hundred of these cores you have the makings of a brush with which the locals sweep their homes and the pathway outside it clean each day. The brush is of course bound together with coir string freshly woven from the product of the very same tree that produced the leaves.

The Dive Center on board is managed by an international staff of dive instructors and it is well equipped with Nitrox air as well as a comprehensive selection of dive gear, including electrically driven sea scooters. Sunrise, wreck, night dives, as well as PADI specialist and educational dive courses are offered to those who want them. Diving is well organized with a specially fitted local dhoni acting as a large dive boat and following the ship around, which was therefore able to take divers off to their sites while Island Explorer stayed at anchor or travelled on to another stunning location. One particular dive site will forever be etched upon my memory. Because I am an avid ship fan, I enjoy diving on wrecks. Sometimes locating a sunken ship site can be difficult, but finding this wreck is easy because six meters of the bow protrude above the surface! Lying on its keel at 45 degrees to the reef wall, the ship Skipjack belonged to the nearby Felivaru Tuna Fish Factory. In 1985, having served her usefulness, she was towed seawards to be scuttled. During the passage sparks from a cutting torch set the ship ablaze. Fearing an explosion, Skipjack was cut free and she drifted onto the reef where she sank stern first onto the seabed 30 meters below. Her bow continued to burn for almost three weeks. Below the surface this site is alive with fish; the wheelhouse is filled with sweepers, bigeye, and sizable groupers. Outside small schools of surgeonfish, batfish, and emperor hang in the lee whilst an ever-moving school of silver jacks occupies the open water. An old container near the stern is filled with life, including stingrays and small sharks. This can be a tricky site when the current is running hard, so check the tides if you wish to avoid the washing machine effect.

Akin to the mother resort, Island Explorer also carries a resident marine biologist and a highlight of any voyage has to be a fish talk followed by a guided snorkel trip for those wishing to learn and understand more about this fascinating aquatic environment. Checking in books after you have seen a fish on a dive can be so difficult – having an expert point them out and name each one is marvellous.

Food on board is good, but one evening meal stood out amongst the crowd when we were told to expect a beach barbecue. We had expected more than plastic tables and chairs on the beach but reality far exceeded our imaginations and we were truly impressed when we were taken ashore by tender as darkness fell to be greeted by a wonderful site. The beach had been transformed; nightlights had been dug into the sand, the excavations decorated with palm fronds to create a bizarre yet beautiful up-lighter effect. Coir matting had been used to create a welcome table on which stood yet more candles. The bar and the barbecue kitchen area were all decorated with palm fronds, but the piece de resistance was our dining table and seating area dug trench-like out of the soft coral sand and decorated with Indian fabrics of such myriad colors and laid out for dining with such meticulous care. The whole area was illuminated by flares, their flames giving an airy, glowing, glimmering light by which we ate supper. Dinner was truly excellent, with crab and fish cakes, our own freshly caught job fish captured during an earlier fishing trip, salads, and seafood appetizers. Truly delicious grilled local lobster and rib eye steak with portobello mushrooms, fresh sweet corn on the cob, and campfire-baked potatoes were served as our main course. Just as the dessert course of fresh fruit salad arrived, we heard the sound of distant drumming and then from out of the darkness our multitalented crew from aboard Island Explorer appeared with drums and dance troop to serenade us at our table on the beach.

With just a handful or two of like minded souls as passengers, this cruise experience is for people who enjoy privacy and seek a holiday that takes them cruising through isolated Indian Ocean atolls that other Ocean Voyagers will seldom encounter. This is well beyond the normal beach escape.

Credits
Frances & Michael Howorth were accommodated at Kuda Huraa and aboard Island Explorer by Four Seasons. They travelled to the Maldives from India courtesy of Indian Airlines. Rates for Island Explorer are: for a stateroom rates start at US$340 (Shoulder Season – May 12 to July 14), US$380 (High Season – July 15 to December 21, December 2 to May 11) and US$470 (Festive Season – December 22 to January 4). The Explorer Suite is available for US$700 (Shoulder Season), US$880 (High Season), and US$950 (Festive Season). All rates are priced per person per night and based on twin share basis, including full board, all excursions, plus diving and equipment. Alcoholic beverages are excluded. These rates are subject to a US$20 service charge and a Government Bed tax of US$16 per person per night. A single supplement of US$200 is applicable. Children over the age of 10 years old are welcome.

About Michael and Frances Howorth
Frances & Michael Howorth have been travelling together for the last 25 years, initially working aboard cruise liners and then as crew aboard luxury private and charter yachts. Latterly their trips have been confined to joint photojournalistic assignments aboard ships and yachts. Their voyages of discovery have taken them to Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, India, and a plethora of islands in between with such diversity as to include Tristan de Cunha, St Helena, and the Maldive Islands.

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