A love story: ‘Mama and Papa’ finds ‘first home’ at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef

On one of their trips to the Maldives, they were told by a waiter at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef — then called Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort — that they had become so frequent visitors that their faces were more familiar to him than his own parents. The young waiter explained how he saw his parents only once a year, and asked the German couple if he could call them Mama and Papa.

They agreed right away!

Ever since that encounter in 2006, Harns Guard Richter and his wife Bärbel Richter have been fondly called “Mama and Papa” by all the staff at Vilu Reef. As the couple kept returning to what they described as their “first home” twice every year on average — now thrice a year, and 30 times in total so far — they became so close to the management and staff that they are now considered part of the “Vilu Family”.

“We always say this is our first home. Our second home is in Germany. When we leave [Vilu Reef], we never say goodbye. We always say that we’re changing the place for a while, to check on our German family,” Mama tells Maldives Insider, while enjoying a cup of coffee at the overwater deck of Vilu Reef’s Nautilus bar.

Mama and Papa’s love affair with Vilu Reef began in 2002, when they came to the island just like they have visited a few other resorts in the Maldives since 1997. Every island they had visited in the Maldives before “was nice” too, but at Vilu Reef it was love at first sight. The moment they stepped foot on the arrival jetty, they were swept away by the island’s sheer natural beauty and the magical feeling that it invoked. They knew they had discovered their home.

And they never went elsewhere!

“We’ve seen so many changes [at the resort]; now there’s a pool, new villas and so on. Every time they say they’re going to change something, we tell them that there’s no need to change. But when we come back and see the changes, we realise that they’ve done it so well that it actually makes the resort so much better than before,” Mama recalls.

Mama and Papa pose for a photo as they were greeted upon arrival in the Maldives on July 25, 2017 for their 30th visit to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef. PHOTO/ SUN ONLINE

At Vilu Reef, Mama is also reminded of a dream she had as a kid. When she was just two years old, a relative gave her very first book, which was filled with drawings and photos of palm trees. Even at such a young age, she felt a connection to nature, and dreamt of seeing palm trees in person at least once in her lifetime.

And once has now turned into 30!

“We met a couple in Mauritius. They said, ‘When you like to go snorkelling, why don’t you go to the Maldives?’ I looked at Papa and I told him that we have to go there. And when we were back in Germany, we started reading about the Maldives, and we knew we just had to come,” Mama recalls how she and her husband came to know of the Maldives before their first ever trip to the island paradise in 1997.

“When we came to the Maldives, we wanted to have a small island with palm trees, white sand and blue sea. We wanted to go for snorkelling and see varieties of fish. And here at Vilu Reef, we keep finding the best of it all.”

Vilu Reef, a palm-fringed island paradise in the Maldives. PHOTO/ MALDIVES INSIDER

Whenever they are in Vilu Reef, Mama and Papa absorb the natural beauty of the palm-fringed island located in Dhaalu atoll, a mere 35-minute seaplane flight away from the main Velana International Airport. Every morning they wake up at 6.45am to witness the sunrise as it creates a vista of orange and red on the horizon, before going for a short pre-breakfast swim. After the breakfast, which always consists of the local favourite Mashuni, Mama goes for snorkelling in time to greet the schools of fish that emerge along with the rays of sunlight beaming on the island’s house reef. After a rather active morning, the retired school teacher and supervisor spends the afternoon relaxing and lazing around with her husband, before heading out to enjoy a drink with fellow guests or chat with members of their Vilu Family.

All these experiences help Mama and Papa to answer the dozens of questions they get on travel websites such as TripAdvisor as well as from their friends and family back in Germany — some of whom have already visited the Maldives, most specifically to Vilu Reef.

“Our son has been here six times already. The first time he said, ‘I’ll try, but maybe it’s not for me’. He booked just a week. But after three days, he was so happy that he booked another week. Now he books two weeks every time,” Mama says.

Like Mama and Papa, their son and all of their friends and family that had visited Vilu Reef have fallen in love with its tranquil surroundings and its “Naturally Playful” concept of hospitality. But their love has over the years grown far beyond the island’s natural beauty and its peaceful atmosphere to encompass the friendliness of the staff and their welcoming attitude. This exceptional hospitality can be seen from the grand welcome Mama and Papa received on their 30th visit to the personalised service, including tailor-made napkin holders with ‘Mama and Papa’ written on them and replacing room number plates with ‘Mama and Papa’ name boards.

“When the aircraft door opens, and when you take a deep breath in, that feeling is just magical. You see the big smiles there to welcome you, and you feel like you’re at home. The hospitality is just magical,” Mama explains.

A team from The Sun Siyam Resorts and Sun Travels welcomes the Mama and Papa of Vilu Reef on their arrival in the Maldives on July 25, 2017 for their 30th visit to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef. PHOTO/ SUN ONLINE

This deep-rooted love and connection with locals have also enabled them to fulfil a long-held wish of understanding the culture and traditions of the Maldives. Over the years, Mama and Papa have learned about the monsoons of the Maldives, indulged in local cuisine and made Garudiya their all-time favourite dish, learned a bit of local Dhivehi language, and danced to the rhythms of traditional Bodu Beru.

“When we first came to the Maldives, we also wanted to know about the culture. But we weren’t able to connect with locals this openly anywhere else. Now we’ve our Vilu Family, and a lot of friends in Meedhoo and Male. It’s so nice to know a lot of local people. Through them, we learn a lot about the culture,” Mama says.

But it is not just the locals that Mama and Papa have connected with over their decade-long love affair with Vilu Reef. They have formed ever-lasting bonds of friendship with travellers from the around world — from Austria and Russia to India amongst many others — that have visited Vilu Reef over the past 18 years of its operation. With some of their Vilu Family members, they have even developed a tradition; making a pact to meet at Vilu Reef, be it during the festive season in December or during the summer holidays in April.

Honouring that pact, Mama and Papa will return to Vilu Reef in December for the 31st time — 38th trip to the Maldives — to meet, greet and make memories with their Vilu Family both from the Maldives and abroad. For now, they are soaking up the sun, sea and sand while enjoying the peace and quiet at their “first home” before “changing the place” again for a few months.

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