From the start something was brewing in the air, literally in the air: the original flight date was changed from 30th to 31st June by Sri Lanka Airways, with no apparent reason.

Slightly disappointed with the news but when the Scuba Trust family had finally met at Heathrow airport, the spirits were high as the prospect of going to the paradise for the fourteen of us: Frank, Jackie, Liam, Dee, Sue, Mike, Ron, Big Al, Ian, Amanda, Howard, Neil, Frank D., and I (plus two more Eric and Annie to join at the Maldives) was finally getting closer.

The journey, which lasted almost two days, with the interchange and stayover in Colombo, went quite uneventful, and rather fast.  The wheelchair users were transferred on a plane without bigger issues. No equipment broken or missing afterwards! The meals, entertainment, and comfort were fine.  The interchange hotel, located within the airport in Colombo was quite good.  We had meals included at the local restaurant, so we relaxed and tried local beverages. Just a shame we could not explore the Sri Lankan capital as with 12 hours between the flights we could have the possibility for that extra experience but after the Easter terrorist attacks, we were not allowed.

My roomy, Amanda and I treated ourselves to a foot massage at the airport.  Best thing ever!  Every airport should have foot massage parlour, it’s all you need during or after your journey!

The flight from Colombo to Gan was a breeze.

We arrived at Gan our final destination on the 2nd June, Sunday, at 2:50am in the morning.

Gan, is a lovely island at the bottom of the southernmost atoll, called Addu atoll or Sennu Atoll,  in the Maldives.  There are 26 Atolls in total. Gan, has the second biggest international airport in the republic, which was an ex RAF base. It’s a charming little place within a string of islands linked by bridges, and the inhabited within the parts of the islands are called Addu City.  The view from the flights, around Gan, are spectacular, which we could not see on our way down as it was too dark, but on the return, I appreciated them so much.  It’s like flying over emerald and sapphire jewellery.  Pure beauty!

On our arrival, we were greeted and whisked to the hotel by bus and taxis.  It’s always a bit of a commotion with the amount of luggage, equipment, wheelchairs when transferring to and from local transport, but it did not take long to be comfortably arranged in the bus and taxis, and the luggage and wheelchairs went on a truck.  A few minutes later we were at the hotel, which was conveniently placed near the airport.

The staff and the manager of the hotel were waiting for us, and we all were issued with a certificate of crossing the Equator safely!  We were happy but too tired to celebrate as it was still middle of the night, so we all quickly dispersed into our lovely bungalows.

What could possibly…

…not so fast with a peaceful slumber for Amanda and I!  Two beds had become one!  We were not up for that, so a quick call and a moment wait sorted the problem.  The staff almost tangled himself during the process of separating and making the beds, but finally, each of us had our own bed.  Or shall I say, skate beds?  They were comfortable but cruising around the rooms on their little wheels

each time any of us moved.  Nevermind, we were longing for some sleep and soon after putting our heads down we were dreaming sweetly of a paradise, we actually were to wake up to soon.

Within the next twelve days we did the following:

– Chilling out days:

Sunday 2nd, Tuesday 4th&Thursday 6th relaxing within the hotel grounds, biking around the islands, swimming, kayaking, paddling, pool games, Monday 10thIsland hopping trip.

A few days within the first week were rainy, but it was not an issue at all.  Air temperature 38C plus, ocean 30C, the rain was warm, refreshing and clouds were needed at times.  Otherwise, we would burn to a frazzle.

The hotel had a few things to offer.  The rooms were quite big, clean and comfortable, and the most important thing: all air conditioned and fans ready to be used at any point of the day or night.  However, not 100% adjusted to the wheelchair needs but everyone seemed to manage slight discomforts well.  Some of the rooms were amazingly decorated for special occasions: birthday and other events (see picture). All rooms located within a few minutes walk to the beachside and the allinclusive package with the restaurant and bar were as close as the beach, which made it all quite easy for us.

The food was always fresh and tasty.  No tummy bugs! There was a good selection of freshly prepared food such as fish: fresh tuna or reef fish, salads, curries, and puddings.  There was always a huge table prepared for our large ‘family’ where we were always meeting for tasty and refreshing breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  That’s also where the stories of Pedro, the fly, (there is a demand from the public to the author of the original story and his collaborate to finally write a book about that famous fly), other creatures and different stories were told to the amusement and continuous giggles of us all.

Great Chefs and waiting staff!  They were friendly and very helpful, especially with assisting the wheelies to get their food, and to settle by their table.

The bar was open for drinks, which offered reasonable and quite good quality drinks: G&T, beer, cocktails, and soft drinks.

Teatime snacks went down well too.  Homemade cakes and cookies with teas and coffees were always ready around 5pm.

There was live music some of the evenings, we often gathered by the bar enjoying the warm nights, cool drinks, chats, review of photos and videos, and arguing about the size of various creatures.

During the dive free days, some of us did kayaking between the hotel and the airport, and admired the blue and emerald ocean, colourful fish, also little baby sharks just by the beach.

Paddleboarding, was particularly fun when some of us were trying to be cool and stand gracefully on the board trying to paddle, none but one of us managed to do.  Ann was the queen of elegance and stability on the board.  Pool games, in a large L shaped pool with some islands in the middle, were great.  I could not believe how inventive and relaxed people could get.  The pool play between the two Scuba trust gentlemen had everyone in stitches.

We loved the island hopping boat trip to Meedhoo, where we had a stroll around the village.  It was a hot and nice day, but what could possibly go wrong when searching for some cool shade under the coconut tree… Oh, yes!  Only one step divided that person between being still with us and departing to paradise!  During that trip, we also went to a small uninhabited island called Bushy for some BBQ and snorkelling.  The food tasted amazing!  Water crystal clear and plenty to see underwater!  It was a great day, very, very hot though!

We also did some biking around the Addu City and cycled through a few towns connected by the bridges.  It was great to cycle around through small towns, villages, look at the local neat houses, beach roads and meet the locals.  What could possibly go… puncture, not one but two!  The tyres did not manage heat too well and apparently, we were too big for Maldivian bikes!

Sadly, wheelchair users were unable to join in some of the local trips but there were always chilled areas on the beach by the ocean or the pool with plenty of seats and beds, perfect for reading, painting, chatting, meditating or relaxation.  There was also a gym, tennis court and spa for grabs if anyone wanted to use them.

The local fauna and flora were pleasing to the eyes and soul.  Beautifully kept gardens with lovely flowers, palm trees, white local birds, small, singing at night geckos, shore crabs, mosies (unavailable), then cats, chicken, and flying foxes!   The latter, huge fruit bats of a size of a large

seagull! They petrified me at first, looking like Nosferatu, but then they started fascinating us, as harmless and flying by in the afternoons. As for the cats, you know they rule human! There was no exception in the Maldives.  The creatures quickly figured out a couple of us whom they enslaved to smuggle food for them, the chicken happily joined to the mischief.  A little farm of animals was formed and always waiting, making a lot of noise by that particular door at specific times,until the food was delivered to them.

– Diving:

Monday 3rd(dive sites: Gan Inside, Banana Thila), Wednesday 5th(British Loyalty, Bushy West Channel), Friday 7th(Horda Faru, Maakandu Corner), Saturday 8th(Molikolhu Inside, Bushy West Channel) Sunday 9th(Kuda Koholha, Fihali Fara), Tuesday 11th(Demon Point, Maakandu Corner).  Plus extra days diving at special request.

What could possibly have gone wrong, you might ask!  Where to start… a disappointing disaster to begin with.  The boat was not suitable for people with disabilities, particularly for those without the use of their legs.  For them, it would not be possible to climb the long ladder from the surface of water to the boat. It was quite shocking to us how unwilling to help and look into solutions the manager of the boat was. His attitude was impossible, uncompromising and we were on a verge of leaving.

While everyone was waving clenched fists with furrowed brows, and making social media threats and firing off emails, one ingenious member of the Scuba Trust, Ian, had a little chat with the hotel manager. Although, the diving centre was nothing to do with him he arranged for his maintenance team to meet us on the boat after lunch. Ian, whose name is going to be remembered on that island for a long time, liaised with them and they hatched a plan to build a lift, created from a chair, with sunbed cushions to protect from a rough deck to move divers with disabilities from the water, using ropes attached to the chair, along the ladder onto the boat. The boat crew fully engaged with this unique solution and even the centre manager listened to the suggestions.  The maintenance team were absolute stars!!

After usual issues: forgotten kit, leaking kit, overweight, underweight,  a few adjustments to be made both to the ‘lift’ and the crew was still getting used to our needs, everyone did two dives each

by the second day. The ocean was also quite rough to start with as there were stormy days. Some visibility not good, some currents including downward, some poor coral, 30C degrees at 30 metres but coped with by all. And with some minor injuries: jellyfish sting, ear problems, sunburnt, coral scrapes none of us or the crew gave up!

Afterwards, divers were diving, crew was sailing, beautiful fish were swimming, some smaller and giant turtles, sharks, Mantas, humphead, napoleons, barracuda, leaf fish, nudibranchs, crayfish, octopus, triggerfish, yellow tip tuna  were appearing, however, not as often as we would wish but seen and provided a lot of joy and satisfaction.  One of the highlights of diving was to see a fever of eagle rays, cruising in the ocean.  What a treat!  Also, over 100 spinner dolphins gave us an amazing show right next to our boat for a good quarter of an hour.

No major diving incidents, however, some rules bent a little, amongst, there was a little air sharing going on underwater, and on the very last dive unexpected current.

The last day diving approached fast, and we could not be more grateful to the boat crew for all they did for us.  We thanked them and handed a ‘thank you’ envelope for all their help. The captain of the boat was incredible.  He was understanding and tried to dive with diving gloves, which were then gifted to him.  He did not mind them in pink as well.

– Last day:

Wednesday 12th.

It was a particularly hot day and instead of the planned trip to Addu City, most of us decided to relax by the pool!  Later, during the day we had some certificates printed for the maintenance crew with thanks from the Scuba Trust for the work and commitment they gave to us.  There was a big presentation, certificates and some collection given to them.  Wonderful people.

In the evening, we gathered by the dining table to our last meal.  We had a great time and pleased that we could help some of the service staff to see beyond what they used to do, learn and develop with us!  That was backed up with the hotel manager giving a speech of how much they have learnt from us!

Where there’s a will there’s a way!  If anything goes wrong it can be fixed with the right minded people, positive attitudes and good sense of humour!

Special thanks to Frank Buchanan for organising the trip!

Thank you all for a fabulous holiday!

To the next happy get away with the Scuba Trust diving family!