Conrad Maldives Rangali Island by Colleen MacMahon
The sea, like the past, is another country; I feel things differently there.
At night the Indian Ocean has a particular magic, its moon drenched surface glistening and shifting seductively as I walk across the deck of the water villa to the wooden steps. It is some time after midnight and the island is quiet, apart from the rustle of fruit bats as they settle in the trees, and the gentle slap of the water against the shore. The other villas have been folded into the darkness, their occupants apparently already asleep or just not tempted, as I am, to swim naked with the sharks.
In January the air temperature here is as warm in the wee small hours as human breath and the water is like silk. Public nudity is forbidden in the Maldives, a rule necessarily to be respected and observed during daylight hours; but the seclusion of a private villa on this, the smaller and arguably more exclusive of the two islands which make up this resort, allows total privacy and freedom at night. It is both exhilarating and unnerving. I slip into the water, seduced by its sensuous caress and thrilled by my aloneness. There really are sharks (some of them at least two feet long) swimming within inches of me, illuminated by the contained light from a small lamp on the deck. Unfazed by my presence they glide around my legs, accompanied by a corps de ballet of curious fish. Whatever the black tipped reef sharks are hunting in these shallow waters it is not me, or even their immediate companions; there is a calm and enchanting beauty about this scene, and the fish nibbling at my toes and fingers are amusing as they dart in and away again for each quick kiss. But further out in the darkness, where the waters are deep and enthrallingly mysterious, I know there is real danger.
Beyond the natural perils of the oceans there are other threats. Somewhere, perhaps not very far from here as the fruit bat flies, there is another island. It is higher above sea level than the lush, talcum sanded resorts where we tourists stay and therefore – ironically - may survive the rising tides around it for longer. It was made by us, out of our rubbish, and is a silent reminder of the cost of privilege and pleasure.
I may never again be able to afford to come here, or perhaps by the time I can there will be no sands left in which to leave a footprint – carbon or otherwise. I don’t know how to reconcile my love of travel with the damage I may do in the process, or how to balance my assumed right to discover and explore with my responsibility to preserve and protect. If we push Nature too far she will need to push back, or perhaps we will engineer our own downfall before it is entirely too late…
For this magical moment though, whilst I swim in the spangled darkness with my sharks, I am in paradise and entirely content.