It does not often happen that way, but occasionally experiences happen when you’re lying around doing absolutely bugger all. This one involved lobsters and a canoe, on the Maldivian island of Dhiffushi.

That day I was tucked under a massive beach umbrella on a sun lounger during a most enviable layover on the Maldivian island of Dhiffushi. I had decided to take the guest house dive master’s recommendation to relax on the quieter (formerly local) beach, rather than the more established tourist beach near the jetty.

Aside from baby reef sharks skimming the shore, and a pair of eagle rays who did not seem to have a sense of personal space, I was completely alone with my Kindle before a bright blue lagoon.

The day was extremely hot. Several times I contemplated going back to the guest house. The Maldivian sun was punishing at midday, and the unwieldy umbrella constantly needed adjusting. I propped it against a weedy-looking shrub.

But the prospect of hauling the umbrella all the way back in the heat was less palatable than simply acquiescing to the situation.

That was when the children found me. Two thirsty boys at first, in a canoe they were manning like a raft, drawn to my water bottle. Then a group of them, playing ball on the beach. 

Before long I was absorbed into their posse by the eldest girl, a teenager called N–a. (I promptly discovered that swimming after whale sharks day after day did not mean I had the cardio for running after a ball on the beach on a hot day.)

Canoeing in Dhiffushi to see lobsters

lobster sump Maldives | slow travel | travel stories
Here be lobsters!

It all began because of rays. As soon as it was sighted, the children quickly scampered out of the water (by this time the ball game had transitioned to an aquatic sport).

The rays soon went on their way. But by then, the play momentum faded.

However, leadership thrives in moments like these. The intrepid N–a gazed upon an unassuming concrete sump out on the water and announced, “We shall look at the lobsters.”

I pointed out that we would need a vessel of some kind, to which she replied a canoe would be commandeered momentarily. She promptly conscripted her siblings R–a and N–u, dismissed the remaining children, and in short order returned with a serviceable fibreglass canoe.

Without paddles.

Unfazed, the teenagers began rummaging in the flotsam and undergrowth and produced, for our seafaring needs, push poles in the form of sturdy branches and the spine of a palm frond.

I paused for only half a breath. Obviously there was only one thing to do: defy the odds and attempt that sump using nothing but branches!

An hour later.

We made a final push and tried to drift to the sump, when the water column grew too deep for the branches. I lost count of the attempts.

The current kept trying to push us back to shore. We were constantly either running aground, or losing contact with the bottom. Seamanship is definitely a thing. Which we did not have, save for possibly R–a, who could at least use a push pole with any kind of predictable outcome.

But the canoe finally drifted the right way and collided against the lobster sump. We held her steady.

As the visitor, I had dibs on rising up gingerly to observe the prize. There the lobster was, lurking in the corner, doubtless confused over the sudden clamour.

And then we slowly drifted back to shore well-pleased. Well-pleased.

lobster sump on Dhiffushi in the Maldives
The lobster in question. Can you make him out?

I thought then, of a friend who is far from me now, who once told me of how he ended up hauling the day’s catch from the sea with local fishermen, just by happening to be there. He was right about slow travel. I wished very much then to tell him this story. But not all wishes can come true.

The second Dhiffushi lobster expedition

In a past life N–a must have been a conquering empress. For upon that shore, fresh from victory, the indomitable girl cast her eyes on the other end of the beach where there was not one, but two sumps. And she said, “We will now go there.”

And so the second lobster canoeing expedition, even more questionable, began.

The younger siblings were despatched to replenish pole supplies, the palm spine and one of the branches having broken in the previous voyage. She stood contemplating her target.

I mentioned a matter of some importance: unlike the first expedition, the current was flowing away from these, and so we would need to push off from much further along the beach.

But between her English and my (lack of) Dhivehi, the implications of this were set aside in the more convenient spirit of the moment.

And so once more we pushed and pulled the canoe, from a position deeply unlikely to be predictive of success. The indefatigable R–a often disembarked to drag it bodily, otherwise seemingly determined to move it forward by force of will alone. N–a and N–u alternately bickered and poled in the background, the boy cheerily chanting “Yes we can do it!” and as for me, I resigned myself to my quixotic fate and put in all I could.

canoe lobster expedition Dhiffushi | Maldives holiday
The indefatigable R–a

“Yes, we … can’t”

However, the sun continued on downwards. The sumps were no nearer than when we began. N–u, in the water and pushing from behind, was still grinning cheekily, but now his chants were “No… we cannot do it..”

N–a proved herself a gracious commander. Noting her exhausted crew, she acknowledged that the current prevailed over her that day. But another day?

Who knows. For that day, ice cream salved the sting of retreat.

Sometimes the attempt means more than the outcome.

lobster sump Dhiffushi | Maldives vacation
The forbidden lobster-land

*Addendum: I had meant to ask the guest house owner what these sumps were actually for, but never did. To this day I am left wondering as to its purpose.

Carbon offset information to the Maldives

A return flight between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Malé, Maldives, produces carbon emissions of approximately 2,515 lbs CO2e. It costs about $12 to offset this. 

Charmed? Pin to re-read! 

What happens when a Maldivian girl mounts a naval expedition after a game of beach soccer? | The Highly Questionable Dhiffushi Lobster Expedition: a solo travel adventure story

34 Responses

  1. Claire says:

    How fun! I am dying to go to the Maldives, it looks absolutely amazing!

  2. Barry says:

    I had a great time reading through your story. Sounds like you had such an enchanting experience. I grew up canoeing so would love this type of trip.

  3. Ann says:

    Looks like a fun trip .. I’m going to put it on my bucket list .. thanks for sharing!

    • Teja says:

      The Maldives certainly deserves to be on anyone’s bucket list :) But I certainly recommend to do it the slow, local travel way.

  4. Fairuz says:

    Such a beautiful place and a unique experience you had. I love canoeing! I should as this on my bucket list!

  5. What a great adventure to see all the sea life of the Maldives. Darcee is dying to explore the islands of the Maldive and I would love to take an expedition for the lobster. How amazing that you saw reef sharks, stingrays, and lobsters…what a blast that must have been!

    • Teja says:

      :) This story is pretty special for me, precisely because it’s the kind of thing that only happens with slow travel. You can’t book an ‘expedition’ like this – and even if you could, it’s totally a different dynamic. It has to happen on its own – and different stories happen for different people. This is why I recommend people to take time and travel slow whenever you can.

  6. you.theworld.wandering says:

    I absolutely love this and the way you have told your story. I live in the Maldives part time on the closest inhabited island to Dhiffushi, Thulusdhoo. I was right with you reading your adventure, just imagining the canoe in the current! What a memorable travel experience. Connecting with Maldivian locals is just the best. Ps. Thank god for ice-cream!
    Kristie – you.theworld.wandering

    • Teja says:

      It is – I came back within 3 months (to Dhigurah, though, not Dhiffushi). I don’t think I’ve ever done that for any other destination! It was embarrassing how winded I was playing beach football, so quickly, and the kids were still going strong!

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