Cocooned – two nights at Lhaviyani atoll’s designer resort.
We’re sunk into rattan chairs on the small deck outside our room. It’s mid-afternoon, the light is turning yolky, and everything is very still. So silent that the slightest noise comes to your attention. Like the minute rustling in the undergrowth of our garden, which turns out to be the passage of crabs. Not the kind you see scuttling on the beach but their bigger terrestrial cousins. Crabs out for a stroll on a lazy, searing Saturday afternoon in Cocoon, and that’s about the only sound. Even the sea is too languid to muster anything more than an occasional murmur. It really is like being cocooned from the rest of the world.
I remember Lulu’s delight when we were ushered into our room a few hours back. The ‘floating’ bed, courtesy of Italian designer Lago, the sloping whitewashed wood of the roof, the spacious bathroom where glass washbasins make the water disappear. Neat touches befitting a resort that lays claim to being a designer property.
Earlier that afternoon, we went for a dip in the sea to cool off. The lagoon was vast and shallow, among the largest I’d seen. Lulu was pleased, the seabed was soft, no sharp corals to prick her dainty feet, and the depth made her comfortable; she’s not a strong swimmer. There were alternating currents of warm and cool water coursing through the lagoon and it made for a very relaxing experience.
“I’m hungry,” says Lulu, nudging me out of my thoughts. As there’s time before dinner, we head for a snack at the Loabi Loabi bar by the pool.
We walk through green-fringed lanes towards the bar. It’s not a large island so walking isn’t unpleasant, even in the heat, though you can always get a buggy if it proves too much. On the way Lulu snaps photos of the Palm Square, a striking area with clear sand and a group of tall coconut palms. There’s seating there, near the beach where you can have drinks and watch the sunset.
We pass by the halfmoon shaped pool, past guests in daybeds with cocoon-like retractable covers for shade.
“They remind me of caterpillars pupating,” says Lulu and I chuckle.
At the bar, an elegant white structure with a busy counter, sofas and armchairs with touches of turquoise, we order a pizza and drinks. They arrive quickly, the pizza has lots of gooey mozzarella, tangy homemade tomato paste, and a thick but crunchy crust.
Around sunset, we take a walk along the beach. It’s a long, white stretch, the sand is soft and moist and the water is motionless, like glass. Two speedboats glide silently across it in the distance. A wall of purple cloud obscures the horizon, parts of which flare up in crimson. It’s reflected in the water, creating a dramatic, spellbinding scene. Some children still frolic in the water, their parents observing them in quiet contentment. The call to prayer sounds in the distance from neighbouring Olhuvelifushi, where guests visit on their local island excursion. We walk by Palm Square, where couples sit under the palms with drinks, drinking in the scenery.
“Look, over there,” Lulu points.
Near the edge of the water is a small, long legged bird, brown, white chested. A sand plover. It observes us, then trots along the edge of the water, its gait bringing to mind the clipped and determined walk of people exercising. The bird stops, pecks at something in the sand and moves away.
That night, we dine at Octopus, the main restaurant. Eight winding pathways emanate from the main building towards dining huts, much like the arms of the mollusc from which it gets its name. There’s a lot to enjoy, fresh vegetables, salads, grilled meats and seafood, a live pasta station. I make my own salad with broccoli, lettuce and carrot shavings and have a couple of small beef steaks. The meat is cooked medium, and there’s a delicious amount of juice while the broccoli is firm and meaty. I finish off with a beautiful slice of pavlova that tastes as great as it looks.
We head off to the Loabi Loabi bar for drinks. In that balmy night, we chill out with a couple of mocktails, serenaded by the resort’s in-house band who do some decent covers of Abba and the Spice Girls. We stay and chat for a while enjoying the music.
“Really takes you back doesn’t it?” says Lulu.
“I can’t remember when I last heard Viva Forever,” I say. “Must’ve been 20 years.”
In our room we curl up in bed and watch an animated film from the resort’s collection, not extensive but not impoverished. The flat-screen TV is sufficient for our nightly entertainment, and all features are in high definition. By the end of it we’re ready to call it a night.
It’s bright and sunny the next day. The light’s still golden when I walk out to the deck, the resort is hushed. Lulu is already up and at her computer, putting the resort’s great Wi-Fi to good use. I have a coffee from the complimentary Nespresso machine and we head off to Octopus. After breakfast, we visit the bar again and meet Falil, a spirited, ponytailed young man who’s with the resort’s water sports centre, managed by Extreme Maldives.
“It’s not all about doing nothing here,” he says. “People can get tired of that after a while. All this sun and sand. That’s where we come in. We’ll take you out to sea, explore uninhabited islands, there are so many sandbanks nearby to picnic on. We’ve got a reef worth checking out, it’s some ways off though so you can’t really swim to it. You guys should totally go snorkelling. It’s complimentary.”
He tells us the reception arranges two snorkelling safaris in the morning, one at nine and the other at eleven.
“I’ve got some people waiting for a jet ski excursion,” he says getting up. “They’re going to picnic on a sandbank. So many of those here, we’re very lucky.” He joins some young women who’re geared up for the outing.
So, we sign up for the eleven o’clock safari.
That afternoon I catch up with Davide Steffenini, a young Italian chef who’s here for the Gourmet Week, where Cocoon brings in international chefs to display their prowess. The resort’s held the event every month since last February, part of Cocoon’s attempt to ramp up its culinary offerings. Davide’s specialty is pastry and he’s already done a couple of events here. “It’s an entirely different sort of culture,” he says. “Where I work, in Varese, [Italy], people aren’t on holiday, and my customers are mostly Italian so the mood is completely different.”
I ask him what he thinks of the Maldives so far and he laughs. “This?” he says finally, gesturing with his arm at the beach and the sea. “I have no words for this. No words.”
The next day is warm, blue skied, columns of cloud over the horizon. Lulu is up as usual, though it’s only half past seven resort time. She’s having a go on the swing out on the deck, all by herself.
“What’re you up to?” I ask.
“Thinking,” she says then gets off the swing, gives me a peck and goes to her computer.
“We’re going snorkelling today,” I say. “Remember?”
“I’ll be done by then,” she says.
I have a cup of coffee and a cigarette, enjoying the quiet while Lulu taps responds to some emails.
We choose our gear from the water sports centre and end up on the snorkelling dhoni five minutes before eleven. There’s quite a crowd, several Italians, a young British couple, two Chinese and two Indians. Ahmed, our guide reminds everyone not to touch anything in the water. Then we’re off. The scenery is picturesque, a vivid sky with flecks of fluffy cloud, blue and aquamarine water so brilliant it seems incandescent, patches of dark coral adding variety to an already exciting palette. The guests are busy snapping selfies, some with Go-Pros that you can rent from the water sports hub.
The lagoon stretches as far as the eye can see and out here you can really appreciate its scale. It takes a while for the boat to get to the closest reef slope.
“I think you should wear a life jacket,” I tell Lulu.
“I’m doing no such thing,” she says.
We gear up and dive in one after the other.
“Stay behind me, all of you,” instructs Ahmed. “Don’t wander off by yourselves, stick with the group.”
Lulu has trouble the moment she jumps overboard.
“I’ve got water in my mask,” she gasps, holding on to me as if for dear life.
Ahmed comes to the rescue. “Once the water’s out, breathe in through your nose and the mask will hug your face,” he says.
Lulu gives a thumbs up and we’re off.
Snorkelling in a Maldivian reef is a thrilling experience, and despite the coral bleaching event a couple of years back, there’s a fair bit of marine life. Several blue surgeonfish wander among the corals, and I spot a triggerfish chasing off a colourful parrotfish. A snapper appears only to disappear swiftly into the blue beyond the slope. Later, Lulu tugs my arm; the guide is pointing at something. He makes the turtle sign and points at a grey expanse of brush coral. I can hardly make it out but then it moves ever so slightly. A green turtle, appearing greyish like the surrounding corals. Lulu gives a thumbs-up again. She’s loving it. As are other members of our group who train their cameras on this lovely reptile.
By the time we board the dhoni, we’re both famished.
“Let’s have lunch first thing,” says Lulu. I agree.
Back on shore, we drop off our snorkelling gear and head to the restaurant. I make a salad with sundried tomatoes, lotus root, asparagus and rocket. Lulu has some pasta. We savour our meals and sip on cool watermelon drinks that our friendly waiter recommended. The staff at Cocoon are particularly genial.
“I’m so glad we went snorkelling,” says Lulu. “I can’t believe we’ll be back in Male’ in two hours.”
“Cocoon has been very kind to us,” I tell her.
“It really has,” she says. “Doing nothing’s great, but it’s good to know you can always call up Falil and get something going.”
“Yeah, I feel almost ready to dive back into the thick of things.”
“Come out of your chrysalis, have you?”
“Almost. I could stay cocooned forever though.”