With a constant barrage of messages, notifications and social media updates, it has become increasingly hard for many of us to escape the digital world. I head to Mirihi Island in the Maldives to unplug from my screen and reconnect with the world. It’s easy when you know how.
I knew I had a problem when – at 6am in my darkened bedroom – I broke out in a cold sweat, thinking I had lost my phone. I had got so used to waking up, reaching for my little screen and checking updates, all before I had even brushed my teeth, that the thought of not be able to do this had resulted in a disproportionate level of anxiety. I knew I had to do something about it when I later found my phone hidden in my pillow case, where it had slipped the previous evening after some late-night scrolling. Being constantly connected to the digital world had taken over my real one.
I’m not alone in having a smartphone addiction. A recent survey by Ofcom revealed that the average person in the UK spends more than a day online each week, twice as long as ten years ago, with one in five adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web. While much of my screen usage isdown to work, I realised that most of my relaxation time was also spent on devices and I was finding it increasingly hard to switch off – literally. When I was offered the chance of a solo ‘digi-detox’ trip to the Maldives, I wasn’t surprised to find that the idea simultaneously appealed andappalled.
By the time I had reached Mirihi Island, in the South Ari Atoll – which was seamlessly easy to get to with a direct flight from London to Malé (complete with WiFi) and a short hop on a sea-plane – I had watched two movies, answered all my emails, was on top of the news back at home, and had checked in with family and friends. Despite the cobalt-blue skies, the impossibly azure sea and bleached sands surrounding me, I was feeling quite grumpy at the prospect of not being ‘in touch’ for the few days I was here. What would I do all day? Who would I share the experience (and the photos) with? How would my family manage without being able to reach me? With this preoccupation about lack of connectivity, I’m embarrassed to say that, at first, I hardly took in the exotic beauty around me.
Ten minutes on the tiny Mirihi Island soon changed that. It is a literal bare-foot retreat: as soon as you arrive, shoes are discarded, and not seen again until you leave, and flip-flops are left unpacked. Everyone pads around the sand-floored resort barefoot, with buckets of water to rinse off your feet before entering your villa and restaurants. While the Maldives have been in the travel news recently due to a plethora of high-end glitzy openings (think: resorts with under-water suites, rooms with slides to deliver you into the ocean and haute Michelin-starred restaurants), Mirihi is an altogether different offering.
“Our USP is to offer our guests a ‘quiet’ form of luxury,” says the gently-spoken general manager Mohamed Shareef, who has been at the resort since it opened 18 years ago. “We’re not about fuss – so you won’t find a butler service, but you will find our staff friendly and personable. Just ask and we will do our best to meet your needs, but we won’t bother you if we see you are relaxing. Yes, we have a whole range of activities on offer, but, ultimately, this is an island to come to when you want to unwind and find some headspace.”
After I said goodbye to my phone and iPad (which I locked away in my safe), I went in search of some. There’s a choice of over-water villas and beach hideaways to bed down in, and all come without TV, so there’s no chance of binge-watching any of your favourite programmes. Instead, the entertainment is the natural vista around you.
Of course, the ultimate Maldivian experience is to reside over the ‘deep blue’, but, nonetheless, the beach villas have their own kind of charm, giving a castaway feel with doors opening out right onto the sandy shores. Décor is simple and pared-back – whitewashed walls, open-air bathrooms and colourful naïve artworks depicting the tropical colours of the region (it turns out that many of the canvases have been created by the staff).
My first day I filled ticking off some of the activities on offer. There’s an early morning yoga class and end of day meditation (I was the first to arrive for both). Bending and stretching to start the day – the turquoise hues of thatocean on our horizon – was invigorating and ending the day by clearing the mind allowed me to think much clearer.
Contrary to what I expected, hours go quickly on Mirihi. It may be tiny at just 350m long and 50m wide, but it boasts one of the best house reefs in the Maldives so much time is spent snorkelling and swimming, taking in the incredible underwater life just feet from your villa. From reef sharks to manta rays, turtles to parrot fish – there’s an abundance of vivid-hued creatures to witness – each visit bringing a different encounter.
Day two was spent on the resort’s 55ft pine-wood yacht as part of the unique Whale Shark Safari – a day trip with Mirihi’s resident experts in search of pods of whale sharks and manta-rays. The Maldives’ largest sea creature, you are encouraged to jump into the water and snorkel alongside the gentle giants, which was a daunting yet moving experience. Before I knew it, the day had sped past.
Come evening time – dining proves to be another highlight of the resort, and to encourage conversation and connectivity with each other, none of the restaurants and bars have WiFi. The central, laid-back Dhonveli Restaurant offers an array of Maldivian specialities, under the watchful eye of jolly head-chef Felix Bamert. Marrying Indian flavours and Sri Lankan traditions, Maldivian cuisine is light and moderately spicy with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes – think: Tempered Jackfruit with Mustard, Banana Curry, Wax Curd Walomas Curry, Basmati Rice with Curry Leaf and Pumpkin Salad with Tamarind Dressing. Meanwhile, Muraka – the over-sea restaurant – offers a fine-dining experience, which might be too romantic a setting for some solo travellers, but after a chilli-passion-fruit daiquiri or two, you realise that having a meal here – single or not – is undoubtedly one of the most heart-lifting ways to reflect on your day.
Chef Felix also offers cooking classes – which proves to be an engaging way to spend an afternoon – and you can learn to master simple recipes, such as Red Lentil Curry, Pol Roti Coconut Bread and Banana Fritters.
By day four, I had overslept and missed yoga and, after a late breakfast of exotic fruit and freshly-baked rye toast, I headed to the deserted beach to flop on one of the bean bags. Lunch was beachside – I was in no hurry to move much – and by mid-afternoon I had nearly finished one of the books that had been gathering dust for months by my bedside back at home. That night, after a genius rum and chocolate tasting, under the palm trees, I realised it would soon be time to go home. I wondered what the news was back in the UK. I idly contemplated work. I should check in, I thought. But what’s the rush? Tomorrow will be here soon enough. Maybe I had too much rum, but nothing else seemed to matter except the moment.
Nightly rates at Mirihi Island start from $600 (£479*) per villa, on a B&B basis, based on two people sharing. Prices are subject to 10% service charge and 12% GST. For more information or to make a reservation visit www.mirihi.com or call +960 668 0500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Price in pound sterling accurate according to today’s exchange rate.
- This article was also published on 4 January 2019 in The Jewish Chronicle