It was with a very heavy heart that I left the crazy concrete island of Naifaru last week. This curious little atoll had welcomed me warmly and made me feel a part of island life for 3 weeks. The diverse team team at Atoll Marine Centre became my best mates, and it was a good job we did gel, as there was absolutely nothing to do there, apart from swimming and sunset watching. On our weekly days off we were taken by speedboat to nearby uninhabited islands which were really Paradise. We ate coconuts, sunbathed and swam, then lit fires at sunset and toasted marshmallows and bananas. These were the only days that us girls could actually wear a bikini rather than a burkini so these times were special. We left making fires and cracking coconuts to the boys, who pretended to be Bear Grylls and Robinson Crusoe combined. We concentrated on tanning!
My island home was full of random shops which sold a variety of miscellaneous goods. You might find the coffee amongst the flip flops, or soap and Mars Bars side by side. I got friendly with one shop keeper who could get anything from the capital, Male. One day I ordered hairspray, and marshmallows and alcohol -free beer for our camp fire, and they all turned up. Sadly I could not get any hair styling products, so I had to resort to using coconut oil. I soon got used to smelling like a Bounty Bar, and it was actually quite nice, although I found that I permanently craved chocolate.
On my last evening I returned to my room to find a massive hornet-like superbug zooming around. I hurriedly shut the door and waited half an hour. When I returned the beast was still in residence, so I went out again and waited and waited. No joy, the bug-ger had move in, complete with luggage, so I watched bravely until he landed on my headboard, where I attacked him with a towel and the air conditioning remote control. It took 5 minutes of towel wacking before he finally expired. The next morning I proudly recounted my tale to Team Vegan who were horrified that I had killed the critter, and made me feel like drowning myself in my crap coffee. Sod the Plant Eaters! There was no way I was sleeping in the corridor and giving my bedroom up for an insect!
I actually wept when I got on the boat to leave Naifaru. I had forged such special friendships and, of course, I had to leave my beloved turtle, Noel, behind. Soon my tears of sorrow changed to another kind… The high speed boat ride was very choppy, and sadly I looked down to see that a sea of vomit was washing over my feet from the occupant of the seat in front. Thank God for Flip Flops. I have worn them daily for so many months now, that I doubt I could get a pair of boots on my newly splayed trotters.
Two hours later we arrived in the polluted, noisy and sky-scrapered capital which felt a million miles away from my local island. Here it soon became clear that being a white woman with a blonde mop was not going to go in my favour. There were salacious undertones to the looks I received and the place had a very sinister tenor. Men on motorbikes slowed down and jeered, and lorries full of workers gawped, as I made my way to my hotel. There is one thing I have learnt as a White Female Solo Traveller, and that is, always walk fast and with purpose, and never look at Google Maps on the street. Lost implies vulnerable. I was pleased, momentarily, to arrive at the Park House Hotel, for my overnight stay. That was until I realised it must have just been awarded ‘Worst Hotel in the World’ by TripAdvisor, and they had forgotten to put up the plaque. Four months ago I would have thrown a fit in reception and hailed a taxi to The Ritz, but my datum has somewhat changed. If it has hot water, air con and a bed with legs, I am cool these days.
Even so, after a night in the mosquito-ridden, smoke-flavoured dump of a place I was pleased to jump on a plane to Sri Lanka the next morning, and to the final destination of my Midlife Crisis Tour. And what a wonderful finale it is…