Dog-tired, I close my eyes, and let the warm water lap over me.
Deep breathes. Muscles relax, and the scent of Rose Otto fills my head.
A few seconds is all it takes, and I’m back in Marrakesh. OK, it says Armitage Shanks on the faucet. The bathroom window drips with condensation and a dank London fog, but none of that bothers me. I’m miles away, supine on the blue and white tiles of a hamman, skin soft from agran oil and a hot stone massage.
Later, I may swap the Rose Otto for something less girly. A cup of freshly ground coffee rejuvenates me, and OH.
So far, though, coffee does not form part of our shared olfactory landscape. Bittersweet, Cafezihno hits the spot for OH. Rio, tales of carnival and itineraries dissected over tiny cups of pure black coffee. For me, it’s my favourite Left Bank café, a leisurely noisette and freshly baked croissants.
Smell does more than make you reminisce. It can hotwire your senses, transporting you to another time, another place.
Little wonder then that clever marketers are in on the act. Leading tour operator, Kuoni, has commissioned an interactive map, which incorporates the scent of ten of its worldwide destinations. Press a button and you get a whiff of Australia, the West Indies or Where Ever.
Could the sense of smell become an innovative way of promoting the travel experience? The company certainly hopes so, and that their aroma map will encourage people to explore new destinations.
Kuoni are also asking for help. They want bloggers to tell them what the scent of the Maldives could be.
Enter yours truly. However, having never visited the Maldives, I feel at a distinct disadvantage. How can I define its signature scent? For me, scent is personal, and inextricably linked to memory.
However, it might be fun to try. I shut my eyes, and picture myself on a sun-kissed beach. I dip my feet in the cerulean sea. I sip ice-cold cocktails, and watch the sun set over palm trees, but something is missing. My dream island is too generic, and strangely odourless.
Wikipedia and Lonely Planet fill in the detail, and not just on the Maldives. I also discover the theory of perfume.
Like memory, our experience of scent is fluid and multi-layered. Adopting a musical metaphor, three sets of notes ebb and flow over time. More than the sum of their parts, they merge in a harmonious whole.
The top notes give us our first impression. If the Maldives were a perfume, this would be the heady aroma of its colourful flowers; orchids, bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani. They line the powder soft sand path that snakes from our villa to the beach. At night, their petals decorate our bed.
The middle notes come next, the heart of the perfume.
I look to the crystal-clear sea, where we swim and snorkel, the coral reefs and thilas where I chase butterfly fish and snappers with my camera. Ocean breeze; fresh, slightly salty, that sense of feel good that fills my lungs as I race across the sand.
Finally, the base notes. These give real depth to the fragrance. They linger. It’s the scent that I will carry home, coconut.
Hanging from towering palms, in giant clusters, coconuts are virtually odourless. However, ripened, flesh scooped out, grated by the traditional hunigondi, or squeezed into oil or milk; they release their sweet creamy aroma.
This scent pervades our day. At breakfast, it combines with the delicate aroma of salt fish in our Mashuni. Later, we find it in the coconut water and kurumba ices, which cool us on the beach. We taste it in the curries, and the honey we pour over our desserts.
Leaving OH to explore the atoll, I investigate the other uses of coconut too. A body rub with coral sand and coconut milk, a massage with warm banana leaves and Maldivian virgin coconut oil.
I try not to think about the weather at home, or the dank London fog.
One day, weary, I’ll relax in another bath. Eyes closed, I’ll breathe in the scent of coconuts, and find myself back in the Maldives.
It’s also this week’s labour of love so I am adding it to Honest Mum’s Brilliant Blog Posts Linky.