Go­ing slow at Coco

Set your clock to Mal­di­vian is­land time at Coco Bodu Hithi, where an in­dul­gently slower pace of life is de rigeur

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Slow­ing down in the Mal­dives is de ri geur at Coco Bodu Hithi, writes Michelle Wranik-Hicks, who em­braces soli­tude, de­creases her pace to is­land time and de­vel­ops a new­found love of sun­rises

With their blaz­ing tan­ger­ine shades and Matisse-style show­man­ship, sun­sets seem to steal all the at­ten­tion in the Mal­dives. They are the un­miss­able main event on the day’s itin­er­ary, draw­ing hon­ey­moon­ers like moths to a prover­bial flame to snap pho­tos of them­selves chink­ing glasses filled with trop­i­cal cock­tails. By con­trast, sun­rises – stolen mo­ments just be­fore dawn, where hints of pas­tel mauve and pink van­ish as rapidly as they ap­pear – are much more mod­est. And de­spite the fact I’ve al­ways been more of a sun­rise lover, these quiet times be­fore day­break turn out to be my favourite time of day at Coco Bodu Hithi. No mat­ter how late I go to bed, I be­come a crea­ture of the dawn, ris­ing early to do yoga on the deck of my Coco Res­i­dence, the si­lence bro­ken only by the wa­ter slap­ping be­neath the villa or the oc­ca­sional tra­jec­tory of fish skat­ing across the sur­face. Later, I sit in still­ness, cradling a cup of chamomile tea in quiet re­flec­tion. Whether you pre­fer sun­rise or sun­set, both times of day are stu­pen­dously beau­ti­ful in the Mal­dives, though guests who want to stay in these over­wa­ter vil­las at Coco Bodu Hithi will have to choose a side, for half of these 24 vil­las, with their high ceil­ings and large win­dows, a pil­low menu and a pri­vate wine cel­lar, face east and half face west. Dot­ted around two tim­ber walk­ways that stretch out to form an oval shape over the la­goon be­fore meet­ing again, they are not only the top-tier villa cat­e­gory, they are the big­gest ac­com­mo­da­tions on the is­land, with each liv­ing space – be it the gen­er­ous lounge room with an L-shaped sofa; the am­ply-sized bed­room and dress­ing room, or a bath­room com­plete with an enor­mous stone tub and both indoor and out­door shower lined with Ac­qua di Parma prod­ucts – open­ing out to the ex­pan­sive ter­race, with sun­loungers, a four-poster day bed and an in­fin­ity pool that juts out over the In­dian Ocean. It’s out­side, on this in­cred­i­ble ter­race, where I end up spend­ing most of my time at Coco Bodu Hithi – de­scend­ing the lad­der to dip in and out of the mint-blue ocean for a lazy snorkel, loaf­ing about in the pool, soak­ing in the tub – and when hunger strikes, head­ing out for leisurely meals taken at the is­land’s restau­rants. There are no villa bi­cy­cles at Coco Bodu Hithi, which in truth, dis­ap­points me ini­tially – though af­ter just one day, it dawns on me that ped­alling around at other is­land re­sorts meant I prob­a­bly missed out on a more slower-paced ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Mal­dives. At Coco, I’m forced to go slow – and it pays div­i­dends. Am­bling back from break­fast one morn­ing, I see a tur­tle nib­bling at the sea grass in the wa­ter right un­der­neath my villa. Later that af­ter­noon on my way to the spa, I hap­pen to glance down­ward to see a stingray flit past in placid an­kle-deep shal­lows – some­thing that even on the most un­hur­ried pedal, I prob­a­bly would have missed. Of course it goes without say­ing that should walk­ing be­come too tire­some, there’s a fleet of bug­gies on hand to whisk you where you want to go, but walk­ing turns out to be one of the sim­plest plea­sures at Coco Bodu Hithi. As if to re­mind me once again to slow down and ob­serve na­ture at play, the In­dian Ocean woos me with a fan­tas­tic snorkelling ses­sion with the is­land’s res­i­dent ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, So­nia Val­ladares. No mat­ter where you dunk your head on the is­land, the ma­rine life is im­pres­sive, but So­nia wants to show me a par­tic­u­larly splen­did spot. We board a large, con­verted a tra­di­tional Mal­di­vian fish­ing ves­sel cap­tained by bare­foot young Mal­di­vian men,

and come to a stop at Tur­tle Point, si­t­u­ated just a hun­dred me­tres or so in front of the spa. The is­land is renowned for its sea tur­tles, in­clud­ing a fa­mous res­i­dent called Chloe, and as if to wel­come us, there’s even a hawks­bill lazily float­ing on the sur­face. Af­ter plung­ing into the clear wa­ter, I set my­self a chal­lenge to spot ma­rine life be­fore my guide, though it proves im­pos­si­ble with So­nia’s 20-20 vi­sion. No more than min­utes go by be­fore her arm is once again stretched out, her finger point­ing at some­thing in the dis­tance. In un­der an hour, we see five hawks­bill tur­tles, with So­nia div­ing down as close as she can to photograph each crea­ture in order to add its de­tails to a mon­i­tor pro­gramme. Coco Col­lec­tion has part­nered with the Olive Ri­d­ley Project, which is tack­ling the is­sue of “ghost nets” – dis­carded fish­ing nets that float around in the In­dian Ocean, en­dan­ger­ing wildlife. Along with ac­tively re­mov­ing these dis­carded fish­ing nets, the project res­cues and nurses en­tan­gled tur­tles back to health. The re­sorts’ act of mon­i­tor­ing the tur­tles through photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, not­ing the unique scale pat­tern in a sea tur­tle’s face, plays an­other vi­tal role. Along with tur­tles, we spy sev­eral black tip reef sharks flit­ting through the bom­mies, and a stingray the size of a smart car lay­ing in still­ness on the ocean floor. Then, to my de­light, a tawny nurse shark darts di­rectly be­low us, bur­row­ing its nose into co­ral with its squar­ish snout, fos­sick­ing earnestly to find a lunchtime meal of crabs, lob­sters or reef fish. I feel priv­i­leged to see the crea­ture hunt­ing, for mostly, these sharks are noc­tur­nal feed­ers. It’s clear So­nia feels the same way, break­ing the sur­face to meet my gaze with a grin and a thumbs up. With these daily rit­u­als of yoga, snorkelling and walk­ing comes a nat­u­ral hunger, and there’s am­ple va­ri­ety on the is­land. I stuff my­self over break­fast at Air, the all-day din­ing restau­rant that over­looks the re­sort’s in­fin­ity pool. In the evening I sam­ple Aqua – a ro­man­tic restau­rant where din­ers are seated on plat­forms sus­pended above the wa­ter, the jack fish – a lo­cal, Mal­di­vian fish – is cooked In­done­sian style, and the tuna tartare, served with crisp crack­ers, is as fresh as you could hope. The is­land also has Tsuki, a cosy Ja­panese restau­rant, and Stars, an­other over­the-wa­ter restau­rant perched at the end of the jetty near the Res­i­dences. My favourite meal, how­ever, turns out to be a sim­ple beach bar­be­cue, where the morn­ing’s catch is on dis­play along­side plat­ters of lob­ster claws and prawns, with a cheer­ful chef on standby ready to grill and driz­zle my se­lec­tion in a lemon but­ter sauce. With my toes in the sand, seated at a ta­ble set up along the shore­line, fire lanterns ablaze and the stars twin­kling above, it’s as au­then­tic an is­land din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as I could dream up, though at Coco, there are in­nu­mer­able ways to fall in love with the In­dian Ocean. There are spoil­ing (and pos­si­bly not-so-de­served) spa treat­ments at Coco Spa, which I will­ingly submit to – snooz­ing be­neath the ex­pert strokes of the ther­a­pist’s hands de­liv­er­ing a restora­tive mas­sage that takes place in a pri­vate room with a ter­race fea­tur­ing a sunken bath. There are cham­pagne break­fasts, bodu beru drum­ming per­for­mances and cinema nights set up on the beach, or ex­cur­sions to scuba dive or swim with manta rays; guests can

even book in a joy flight aboard a pri­vately char­tered sea­plane – skim­ming low over the atoll’s is­lands, sim­ply to ad­mire the view. And though most of the guests – like me – seem per­fectly happy camped out in their vil­las for hours on end, some like to go a lit­tle fur­ther in their quest for to­tal es­capism. One af­ter­noon, I’m gaz­ing out to sea from my villa when I see what looks to be an ob­ject on a sand­bank in the mid­dle of nowhere. It’s so far away, I’m un­able to make out ex­actly what it is even when squint­ing, so I ask Gowthram – my charm­ing and at­ten­tive Mal­di­vian but­ler who ap­pears and dis­ap­pears quite as rapidly as sun­rise it­self – to which he smiles and replies: “It’s a sand­bank pic­nic.” Just one cou­ple, en­joy­ing their own pri­vate sand­bank is­land in bliss­ful iso­la­tion. I don’t need to go that far to ex­pe­ri­ence my own bliss­ful soli­tude. I sim­ply slide open my ter­race doors once again the fol­low­ing morn­ing – my last one in the Mal­dives – ris­ing be­fore dawn to un­roll a yoga mat on the ter­race out­side. Af­ter a gen­tle prac­tice, I lay on my back in savasana, lis­ten­ing to the wa­ter and the dis­tant put­ter of a sea­plane, and even­tu­ally feel­ing those first rays of sun­shine ca­ress my face. Bliss­ful soli­tude at sun­rise never felt so good.

Chill­ing out by the pool at a Coco Res­i­dence is sweet­ened by but­ler-brought treats, with each guest stay­ing in these 184-square-me­tre sanc­tu­ar­ies as­signed a per­sonal but­ler and a life­style host (above); an aerial view of the oval-shaped ring of Coco Res­i­dences en­cir­cling the mint-blue la­goon (op­po­site page). Pre­vi­ous spread: Snorkelling past the Coco Res­i­dences in the translu­cent la­goon

Above: Aqua restau­rant is perched di­rectly over the wa­ter serv­ing up idyl­lic views and equally mag­ni­fi­cient seafood along with In­done­sian and Thai-in­spired dishes

A cou­ple en­joy a pri­vate sand­bank pic­nic for two (above); the nat­u­rally hued in­te­ri­ors of the is­land’s 16 Wa­ter Vil­las in­clude lux­u­ri­ous beds, thatched roofs and deep de­signer bath­tubs (far left); yoga can be prac­ticed in the pri­vacy of a villa or daily at Coco Spa (left)

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