Posted George Rajna
Little Two-Star “Eriyadu Resort” vs. Heavyweight “Four Seasons Kuda Hura”
Does this Maldivian Hotel challenge seem completely unfair from the get go? Would the locally run Eriyadu have anything on the International Bellwether? To find out, I had to develop criteria with which to compare and contrast the two Maldivian resorts. However, before the battle, I need to set the stage: My wife Lisa and I spent six weeks of the Summer of 2010 in Sri Lanka and we deemed it prudent to spend ten beach days in the brilliantly beautiful Maldivian Islands to recharge our batteries before returning to Los Angeles.
Let it be known, you likely cannot go wrong in the Maldives and there are hundreds of resorts to choose from. I would recommend conducting a thorough investigation before selecting a resort but I would not necessarily simply rely on a resort brand name that you are comfortable with. That said, according to our Lonely Planet guide book, the only real way to get to know the Maldivian culture is to spend some time on the main island of Male, the only island that is dominated by the local people rather than Italians or Germans on holiday. Therefore, we spent the first two nights on Male at Candies, a local establishment that we highly recommend. This island is one of the most densely built places on Earth, and uses nearly all the available land to house the country’s predominant population of approximately 300,000, a mix of Sinhalese and Dravidian people who came from South India and Sri Lanka.
Male does not really have any “sights” to speak of but there are a variety of nice cafes and despite the dense population, the pace of general life is relaxed. We did find a tasty and authentic Thai restaurant and we window-shopped the island’s many clothing stores. Fishermen, naturally, sell the daily catch in the market; the size and variety of the fish was amazing. Still, to be truly honest with the reader, the best photo I took of Male is the one when we were on a boat heading towards the Eriyadu Resort; looking back toward the capitol, the boat’s wake seemed to separate from the city and its life.
Upon our arrival at the Eriyadu Resort, we realized immediately that we had found a special place. One could probably circle the isle on foot in 15-20 minutes if some sand erosion did not make this feat impractical. After a brief albeit friendly welcome, we were shown to our room, a nice habitation literally steps (okay maybe 40 steps) from the beach. Our accommodations were set under a group of swaying palm trees
that offered plenty of shade. The room had both an indoor shower and another outdoor one with a view of the stars at night. Our television had maybe two or three channels, all in incomprehensible languages (but who came here to watch TV). The room was spacious and fairly comfortable but nothing extraordinary. The open-air thatched roof that we ate under provided our three buffet style meals per day and was set away from the beach without a view to speak of. The food was decent to tasty, especially the fish or local curry dishes. The bar area was close to the ocean with good views but the atmosphere was ho-hum; the staff nice enough but not overly enthusiastic about our presence.
But then we stepped out on the beach. Think isolation, extreme beauty in the hues of the crystal clear waters and sheer whiteness to describe the sweet powdered and sugared sand. Looking out toward the sea, almost nothing was visible with the exception of two or three islets too far to really notice. We mostly had this area to ourselves as the beach was empty most of the day; only a few people were actually staying at the resort. This was a great place to relax, read a new novel, watch the stunning sunsets, or as we were soon to find out, drop into the warm clear waters to view the abundant coral and aquatic marine life.
Only a few feet under water, beautiful and healthy coral reefs surround the entire island. Swimming over the reef is a large variety of species and colors and shapes that traverse these waters. We saw schools of butterfly fish, multi-colored parrotfish, trumpet fish as well as rock cod. There were many angelfish, anemones with clown fish swimming in them. There were also groups of sweetlips, surgeonfish, triggerfish and unicorn fish as well as huge wrasse.
The sea bottom was only a few meters down so viewing marine life was easy and rewarding. About a five minute swim from the shore, the reef dropped away, and we floated in a blue abyss, over what appears to be a twenty-story drop. In this area larger fish such as grouper, turtles, and white-tipped reef sharks could be seen frequently. In fact, the snorkeling was so superb that we typically swam around the island three times per day as each time proved better than the last. When our heads were not underwater we spent time reading under the palms, lazing on the coastline with calm water lapping at our feet, or soaking up some sun with the pristine blue sky above us, and only a few spare, interestingly-shaped clouds to frame the scene.
After four days of this paradise, we were taken by boat to our upscale and final destination, the “Four Seasons Kuda Hura”. Immediately after we arrived we knew that we were in for a big change. First off, the staff was incredibly friendly, so nice that their effusiveness could have been faked, but in reality it was true friendliness. After days of tolerating the indifferent staff at the Eriyadu Resort, this change was refreshing. We had an excellent breakfast with fine views over the water while we waited for our upgraded over-the-water bungalow to be set up. The buffet breakfast was superior to Eriyadu’s fare in both quality and variety. The presentation was nicer as well, with an aura of class rather than simply that of function.
A wooden bridge led to our little stand-alone house. Arriving in a small golf cart type vehicle - and I’m not making this up - we passed a school of baby white-tipped reef sharks. Our quarters “over the sea” were luxurious. We had excellent ocean views from every room, even from the separate rooms of the shower and toilet. All of the room’s amenities were of extreme high quality, nicer than what we have at home. From the Bose sound system, to the large LCD television, with a plush bed and excellent decor, we were living in style. Even the robes and towels were ultra soft. The outdoor patio over the water was lovely and we saw a few stingrays swimming under our bungalow. So far, based on the quality of the room, the resorts amenities, and the extreme friendliness of the staff, Kuda Hura was kicking Eriyadu’s ass.
After checking in, we went to speak with the overtly kind water-sports employees who happily informed us precisely about the location for the best place to snorkel. We walked along the beach and I couldn’t help but notice that this island was not nearly as remote as where we stayed in Eriyadu. At least two other large islands surrounded the Kuda Hura, including an island with an indigenous population. In addition to not having that special remote feeling, the quality of the water and sand, despite being quite nice, did not possess the drop-dead beauty that of that we had just left behind. Somewhat disappointed, we entered the ocean to partake in yet another excellent day of snorkeling.
We swam and swam but it was difficult to find the reef. In fact, the most notable reef was growing on man-made metallic domes as part of a restore-the-reef project sponsored by the resort. I left the water feeling dejected. We approached the staff that had suggested the snorkeling area and they agreed that despite being the best available snorkeling, it was not up to par with other places, especially since we were scuba divers. They then suggested that we go on a boat tour to the “house reef” located near the island, but which was too far for swimming due to strong currents and powerful, windy weather. We agreed to go on the tour the next morning but when we arrived, the trip had been canceled due to the strong currents and a vast quantity of small sized stinging jellyfish. Because it was the Four Seasons and we insisted on going, they took us out in the boat. The house reef here was much deeper, the water far more volatile and difficult to navigate. Despite seeing maybe the largest octopus that I have ever seen, the aquatic life and reef diversity was somewhat disappointing.
At this point, I literally felt like leaving and heading to another island. I did not come to the Maldives to stay in a posh resort and I wanted to be able to enjoy the waters, take in some natural beauty, and swim in a real-to-life aquarium. Kuda Hura, despite the positives that the resort has to offer, definitely disappoints in the above qualities.
Finally, we had a tasty lunch, having given up on snorkeling. However, when we returned to the water-sports area later that day, the wind was plentiful. I watched a lady wind-surf easily back and forth, making me think back nostalgically when I was a G.O.
in Club Med years ago, and I was windsurfing daily. Both Lisa and I decided to try a board and we were immediately hooked. Our snorkel time became windsurfing time. We were out in the water at least three times per day, improving each time out. Sometimes lack of one thing leads to another surprising positive change, something we don’t necessarily expect.
So, which property wins the battle? For friendliness and quality of accommodations, amenities, water sports and food, the Kuda Hura wins hands down. For natural beauty
and great snorkeling, Eriyadu reigns victorious. Obviously, what is most important to you will dictate where you spend your holiday. For me, seeing the Maldives meant staying on a remote island with extreme beauty and excellent snorkeling. For this reason I choose the lowly two-star as victorious over the Four Seasons Resort. Still, to be fair, the Kuda Hura is a beautiful place with a great staff and excellent conditions for windsurfing.
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April 25, 2011 | 3:34 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Before we left, it was under a million views but now it is nearing two million views. Enjoy this Passover story by current technology! The fact that I can upload these sentences from the Tainan teachers hostel in Tainan, Taiwan on the internet and you can see it instantly is truly 21st century. We spent the day at the An Ping Fort that was built in the 16th century by the Dutch and spoke with 5th graders who are learning English in their schools here.
Our first week in Taiwan has been full of adventures. We will share all the stories and videos after our return next week. I hope that your Passover celebrations are filled with family, friends and freedom from your personal enslavements.
April 16, 2011 | 9:43 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
April 22 is Earth Day. What will you do to celebrate our planet? With so many options out there, what will you choose? With snowfall last month in the San Fernando Valley for the first time in nearly fifty years, major earthquakes in Japan, Christchurch, New Zealand, Santiago, Chile and Haiti in the last year, and other environmental issues like the enormous volcanic eruption of Iceland, everyone is talking about our planet.
But you don’t even have to leave your couch to get involved. You can help “Santa Monica Bay Keepers” with our new Marine Protected Areas by “sending Governor Brown this letter to voice your support for the creation of protected areas to safeguard our underwater Yosemites for generations to come.” (from CalOceans.org)
Learn from Jewish World Watch about how our use of conflict minerals impacts the Congo. Pledge to purchase conflict free products for your computer, phone and electronic needs to help our planet and all its people.
Don’t forget to recycle your trash, especially cans and bottles. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth; turn off the lights when you leave a room. Fix any leaky faucets right away! These simple actions can make a big difference to our planet.
Find more photos like this on EveryJew.com
Some of my favorite links that I use in my science classroom are also great for adults or kids. Use these links to act like a secret agent and learn to save our planet! Help Green Power Girl and the Green Power Heroes sent from Mother Nature to empower humans with clean green power. Join GPG, Jah Wind Power, Marina Del Ray, Mercury Man and Buddy Biomass as they battle the Fossil fools! You can also help our Earth by learning more about plants in the Great Plant Escape!
When I think about teaching science and what is important I focus on major issues and connecting the subject to something in the lives of children. To quote Educational Quality Concepts:
“The whole point [of teaching science] is to teach problem-solving, to teach critical thinking. These are not things peculiar to science; they are things peculiar to life. And if a child becomes both literate and has a high ability to solve problems in an everyday situation…then there’s no limitation on what the child will be able to do in later life.”
When we studied rocks and minerals in the Fourth Grade, we learned about the Conflict Mineral Trade Act and Pledge to help the people of the Congo. We also wrote to President Obama and he even wrote back!
I hope that you make a connection to Earth Day and to help our planet. We can help our Earth and we each can make a difference.
Heal The Bay Events:
*April 16, Beach Cleanups (10am to noon) Will Rogers State Beach and Torrance Beach
*April 16-17, Santa Monica Pier Aquarium Earth Weekend
*April 30, L.A. River Cleanup
Santa Monica Bay Keepers Events:
*April 23rd, Cabrillo Earth Day Festival, All Day Tabling With Other Non-Profits And Causes.
*April 30th, LA River Cleanup
Lisa Niver Rajna, M.A. Ed. has over 12 years of classroom teaching experience and an additional 11 years working in camps and on cruise ships. Please join us this summer for Simply Science Camp!
April 13, 2011 | 9:29 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
George often says, “You don’t know until you go,” which has led us not only to travel overland in Sumbawa, Indonesia (because he wanted to know why there was not much about it in the guidebook), but also to the incredible group of islands where we got engaged!
Are you ready to realize your travel dreams?
• MEET inspirational speakers and like-minded travelers in their area.
• Find the motivation, contacts and resources necessary to PLAN the trip of a lifetime.
• And start taking concrete steps forward to get ready to GO!
On October 18, 2011, in 17 cities across North America, you can learn more about career breaks and extended travel. Despite being common in many countries such as Australia and the UK, career breaks, life sabbaticals, “gap years” and time-spans used to facilitate extended travel, don’t seem to be an American or Canadian birthright…but the Founders of Meet, Plan, Go! are now on a mission to change that!
Every event will feature individuals whom have fulfilled their own dreams of traveling around the world and who appreciate the unbelievable triumphs of realizing one’s dreams through long-term international adventure. Their real-life stories include an understanding of the challenges that long-term travelers must overcome in order to claim their freedom on the road.
Read the New York Times article about last year’s event to learn more!
The incredible resources of Meet Plan Go are available to you right now!
• Follow MeetPlanGo! on Facebook
• Sign up for the helpful Career Break Newsletter which will keep you up to date on the latest Meet Plan Go! news, events, and announcements.
• Meet all of the hosts - some of the best career break and extended travel veterans around the country!
Quotes about last year’s event:
“This was a fantastic event! It made me realize that long-term travel is a completely realistic goal and that I have much amazing company also doing the same.” – Seattle Attendee
“Your event convinced me that my pipe dream of traveling was actually possible… and then gave me tips and tricks on how to accomplish it.” – NYC Attendee
“After this event the excitement for traveling was high for everyone. The panelists were helpful, gave excellent examples of things to do and not do, plus lots of encouragement. Everyone with this dream should go to see how it is possible.” – Chicago Attendee
“I liked the breadth of experience. Some panelists were younger twenty-somethings, some were older with families. They made it clear there was no one right way to do it.” – Boston Attendee
“I loved this event! It helped reassure me that I wasn’t crazy about thinking about quitting my job to hit the road, and it connected me with many other like-minded travelers.” – Orlando Attendee
“I loved the presenters. I was so impressed with their generosity to share their experiences. It was such a good evening for me and my partner.” – Toronto Attendee
“A life-inspiring event - covering an amazing amount of relevant material. I would definitely attend another and another until I “go!”” – San Francisco Attendee
April 10, 2011 | 12:01 pm
Posted George Rajna
My wife Lisa and I had already had already spent a few days in Cartagena and a couple of weeks in Colombia, all the while awaiting New Year’s Eve. Since we’d had a very disappointing New Years celebration a few years back in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, we were ready for a true party but were skeptical. Old San Juan is lovely as is the setting but if you have visions of Ricky Martin and thousands of others filling the streets to dance the night away, let it be known that New Year’s parties either occur in the high- rise hotels (with a stiff admission price) or the Puertoriquenos simply stay home to dine with their families. We heard rumors that gunshots and/or aspects of their culture led to a dull scene.
For whatever the reason, the city was dead. I mean, we had an 8:00 p.m. dinner reservation at a moderately posh restaurant. We showed up a few minutes late and the staff looked at their watches like, “Okay buddy, we’ll try and squeeze you in before we close.” After a quick albeit tasty dinner, we hit the streets seeking a happening location. Hours later we were disappointed and somewhat shocked that we could not find one. Even the salsa clubs that are normally a good time were bolted shut.
Hence our skepticism as we tried to determine what would transpire in “old town” Cartagena. We queried many people to find out how things might pan out and we received as many answers as the questions we asked—all varied, lacking enough consistency to draw a firm conclusion. What ever would happen would eventually transpire but we had no method to figure it out.
Find more photos like this on EveryJew.com
Four of us, including a Belgium couple, Yves and Mika, headed into Cartagena after spending an entire day hiking and swimming in the gorgeous Parque Nacional Tayrona. We finally arrived at Hotel Santa Cruz in central Cartagena around 2:30 a.m. the night before New Year’s, planning to sleep in and take it easy the next day as we approached the Eve.
We began the festivities by having dinner at a nondescript Indian restaurant in the Getsanami area, a soon-to-be-trendy location between the old town and Castillo de San Felipe. Our meal was authentic and tasty. After dinner we hopped into a taxi and headed toward El Laguito to the Cristobol Colon edifício, a location where couch surfers—a volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice—would meet prior to heading out for the night.
At first I thought we were out of luck. We entered the building, walked toward the rear swimming pool deck and found absolutely no one. We reentered the building and the concierge took one look and stated that we should take the elevator to the 11th floor.
There we found about 60 people crowded into a large one-bedroom apartment drinking and socializing. All were friendly. We immediately were taken in by these strangers, these couch surfers, who were from a variety of countries including Colombia. I was surprised to learn that roughly one-tenth of these couch surfers were from the United States. After all, Colombia still has the tarnished reputation as a chaotic country ruled by drug lords running amok, with personal safety ensured only by luck or a high kidnapping insurance premium. Nothing could be further from the truth; Colombians are a proud, friendly people and several joined this international crowd of Americans, Canadians, Italians, Russians, Brazilians, Spanish, French, Chileans, Argentineans, and Germans. There was also a Bolivian couple, the woman was very pregnant and said, “We are parents who party!” while drinking sprite! Everyone was multinational; the Bolivian couple was working in Colombia for a German company, the Italian woman lived in Brussels and was on a long-term adventure in South America.
After socializing we were all told to pay $27 per person for the night’s entertainment and to then head downstairs where La Chiva, an open-air bus with long padded benches, would be this special New Year’s Eve transport.
Toward the rear of the bus, a four-piece band played local salsa music, blaring out favorites written by musicians such as Joe Arroyo. We all festively boarded and within minutes made our first stop of the night, the all-important stop to get rum, coke, ice and buckets. Every row of seats on La Chiva had at least one bottle of rum.
As we drove around the city, our emcee on the mic kept us all active. He would yell in a request, “Who is from Brazil?” After the Brazilians cheered he went on like this, country by country, until everyone had a chance to respond. Then he asked, “All the men in the first bench, stand up and shake your asses like this,” as he swiveled his hips in demonstration. He went on row-by-row and requested – to the approbation of the crowd - that the women do the same thing. He also pointed out sights of interest as we passed through the city.
The band was also active, adding to the amazing atmosphere. After some drinking we stopped outside the Castillo de San Felipe for drinks and dancing. The night was warm and the fortress was very prettily bathed in lights. Lisa and I danced; her blue eyes alight, her long brown hair hanging to her waist. We swayed to the rhythm of the band; performing salsa moves we had learned back in Los Angeles for our wedding.
We once again boarded La Chiva and went to a salsa dance club that was ironically named “Long Beach” (Having traveled to another continent it was funny to go to a club named after a city close to home). The club permitted us to bring in our drinks and we danced while strobes and dotted flashes of light fluttered through the crowd. After a while, about half of the couch surfers wanted to leave. The others remained at the club, at least for a while, but Lisa and I chose to depart and walk toward the old town. I had heard that it would be crowded but I could not believe the masses of people that were everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
Three elevated bandstands with live bands pumped out fine salsa while patrons enjoyed great outdoor dining and drinking. People occupied every free space and in certain sections we experienced difficultly in navigating the crowd. Winding through the throngs felt like a rebirth, akin to entering the world on a completely different level. Lisa and I loved the grand party atmosphere but Mika was nearly in tears. She had left the previous dance bar without Yves and had lost him.
Another fun American of Indian descent, Kirthi, had also misplaced his friends and popped a bottle of champagne for us to enjoy as the countdown to the New Year began. We also drank mojitos, poured by vendors who lined the crowded streets, while we watched fuegos artificiales shoot and explode over the beautiful colonial architecture of the old town. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six….A great new year was about to commence, if our opening celebration was any indication.
We roamed and meandered around the cobble-stoned streets with our couchsurfing friends for over an hour. Eventually Kirthi found his group of friends and the next day we discovered that Yves and Mika each returned to their hotel independently where they found each other. As for us, Lisa and I completed the evening by consuming excellent mojitos and danced at Café Bazurto, a small bar-club located just outside the city walls. Cartagena was simply stunning. We completed our stay the next day with Mika and Yves. After having lunch at Luna Nueva in Getsemani , we wandered to El Laguito Beach Club to relax, watch windsurfers and view a wonderful sunset. Since our return to the United States, Lisa has already asked, “When are we heading back to Cartagena? Then she stated, “I could live there!” and maybe we will.
April 7, 2011 | 12:56 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
March 31, 2011 | 9:53 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
In my article, Mask of Purim, I talked about why I usually do not wear a costume. After all that discussion, I did wear one and I was Wonder Esther this year. One of my favorite things this year was the song, Raise Your Glass as done by the Maccabeats. I wanted to share it with all of you! Take off your mask and celebrate early and often! Maccabeats: Raise Your Glass!
March 27, 2011 | 12:03 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
My travel talk last week could have been a total bust. That was essentially what one Rabbi told me on December 2, 2010,
What is the worst-case scenario? Can you live with doing this talk if you have a small group size? Of course, the best case is your talk is to lots of people.
I felt at the time that he was trying to discourage me from giving a talk without the sponsorship of a specific group, but I think he was being realistic. What would make people leave their home on a rainy night when they could watch news about bombing Libya, the “American Idol” results show or the new “Gray’s Anatomy” on television? I wondered last week, would any of the people show up?
During the process of getting a room, creating publicity and writing my talk, one or two of my friends called me relentless, but I prefer the label tenacious. A different rabbi told me that I am “relentlessly tenacious.” Maybe that is what is required in our society to do something really different. When my husband and I were away for a year in Asia on an eleven-day trip, camping in tents, called Gers to the Gobi Desert, a few of our companions said, “We just don’t want to go back home and watch television every night. While we are traveling we do such interesting things. We want to find a way to do that at home also.”
Now that we are home from our travels, I want to share my experiences and reluctant foibles of traveling. My Uncovering Jewish Morocco travel talk had 37 guests and well over 75 on the list of yes and maybe RSVPs. I spoke to so many travelers on the phone. It was really incredible!
One email about my talk (which was sent to my parents who were out of town):
Lisa did a fantastic job…she was charming, very enthusiastic, well prepared, delivery excellent, truly created a desire to see HER Morocco…..we loved our trip but must say she did it in depth with a purpose…we were tourists…and she introduced me to a taste I cannot believe I never enjoyed…CINNAMON sprinkled on orange…anyway, she was awesome…the photos George took were quite good too! So puff out your chest and take pride in knowing you have a very dynamic daughter.
I had great responses on the written survey we handed out at the end of the presentation. Many people said they would even come to another talk! How exciting!
Another email reminded me how so many cannot even imagine speaking to a group:
Just thought I’d let you know we thought you made a very good presentation and spoke confidently and warmly. I guess speaking to a classroom every day gives you the background to speak to a room of adults, too. They say that speaking before an audience is the thing that frightens people most.
I often have to remember everything starts by taking the first step, and even though I seem relentless at times, I am frequently reluctant. “Taking a risk and a deep breathe, I said yes.” That is the line I wrote in our book about choosing to go with George on a yearlong career break in Asia. He asked me to quit my job, leave my condo and travel for a year in South East Asia. I said yes, but I had so many objections. It took a lot of negotiating for me to actually go.
Then last year he wanted to go to Morocco, where I said adamantly at first, I am not going there to mingle with those people. As a place I did not want to visit at first, I did my research and realized the trip could be great. Usually when George wants to go somewhere and I don’t want to go, I end up having the time of my life. Poor expectations are good for something, I realize! An open mind is even better.
One survey respondent at the end of the talk said:
You were so confident and had a lot of interesting information. So glad I got off my couch to come.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and think about your dreams and get ready because, We said GO travel! I hope that you will rise from your couch and take a first step today. I am soon going to book a flight for my next adventure. How about you?