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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together


MALDIVES | Monday, 7 January 2008 | Views [1519]

Thu 3rd Jan - Arrived at Malé airport aboard Srilankan airways flight UL105 later than scheduled at 2am. Silly time to arrive, but there are limited options with flights and there was a delay leaving Colombo. The Maldives are half an hour behind Sri Lanka, so GMT+5 hours. Had arranged for someone to pick me up but nobody arrived. That was minor problem number 1. Minor problem number 2 was I needed some Maldive currency, so went to the ATM just by the exit. I didn't have a clue what the exchange rate was, or the name of the currency, or how much anything would cost. So prompted by the question of how much 'Rufiyaa' I needed, I thought 500 seemed a good figure. For all I knew that could have either bought me a cup of tea or a car! Now, for those that don't know...Malé international is actually on an island called Hulhule. The capital city of the Maldives, Malé, is on another island linked by a regular boat service taking about 10 mins. Fortunately, I knew this so wasn't phased by nobody being there to pick me up. Other than the name of where I was staying I didn't have an address but figured that the island was small enough, it wouldn't be difficult to find. Finding the ferry for the crossing isn't difficult as you walk straight out of arrivals, past the resort stands and it is on your left. It doesn't actually say on the ferry where it is going. Cost 20 Rufiyaa, so that sounded OK. Armed with a single 500 rufiyaa note, care of the ATM, the money collector grimaced at me. When we landed he gave me a fistful of 10 and 20 rufiyaa notes as change, which he had to collect from the other passengers. Taxis waiting by the jetty, so picked one up for 30 Rufiyaa to get me to the Marble Guest House. I had a printout of my reservation, which was done through a 3rd party travel website, but they had no record of it, hence no pickup! Made it into bed at 3am or so, absolutely knackered. By the way I later found out that the exchange rate is pegged by the government at $1 = 12.75 Rufiyaa.

The Maldives....some info.... The Maldives is an independent muslim republic (under the presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) of 1,192 islands spread across 26 atolls. The word atoll comes from the Maldivian word atolhu, which are the broken rim tips of long submerged volcanoes. Lying in a north/south attitude across the equator and 511 miles from top to bottom.

As part of a deliberate policy of allowing the maldivian culture to remain as unaffected as possible by tourism, 198 of the islands are classed as 'inhabited' and occupied by maldivians only, whilst the 100 or so 'uninhabited' islands have been bought up by big hotel groups as private resorts offering the white sand, tropical island getaway holiday at a very high price tag. Getting to these places is either by private speedboat or sea plane, depending on the distance, and the size of your bank balance! Tourism has grown to be the Maldive's biggest employer in a little over 35 years. The first tourist location was only opened in 1972.

There are no rivers or hills, and the highest land is barely 1 metre above sea level. They are very concerned about rising sea levels and as such, sea defences are a big project. The 2004 tsunami, whilst killing 106 people and making 12,000 people homeless, has since been recovered from.

Thu 3rd Dec - Not much sleep despite being so tired as i've got a new place to explore. Breakfast was in a rooftop café overlooking the sea, so a nice start to the day watching planes coming in to the airport strip in he distance, and seaplanes coming or going, ferries zipping about and other craft such as fishing boats and Dhonis going about their business. A dhoni is a boat with a curved front like a gondola and used for either ferries or fishing boats.

Time to explore. There is a road, the 'Bodu Thakurufaanu Magu' that hugs the coast around the whole island with other roads leading off into and across the town. The road is named after the national hero who liberated the islands from the grip of the portuguese in 1573 (a day that is still celebrated each year on the 1st day of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar). A full lap of the island takes about 2 hours on foot but I spread it out over the day with stops and diversions for sightseeing. It was a warm one today at about 28 degC or so. With the sun shining, this place is stunning. The boats and buildings are colourful and set against the turquoise waters make for great photography. The waters were teaming with multicoloured fish of numerous varieties close to the edge, all foraging amongst the scraps thrown in by the fishermen. Male has a nice balance to it. It is busy, but under control. No honking of horns as in India or Sri Lanka. People drive sensibly and courteously. They drive on the left as in britain (no surprise if you know the history) and power sockets are the same as in the UK.

Spent some time watching the activities of the fishermen as well as the fascinating fish market (there is also a separate smoked fish market that whiffs a bit), and the many chandlers along the front, then carried along to the ferry jetties that I didn't see much of when I arrived due to being dark. So many boats that it was a bit confusing as to who is going where, but not hard to work out. Found a dive centre, so booked myself on to a couple of dives for tomoro. Also checked out the 'Whale Submarine' which goes from the other side of the island a few times a day, but at $75 is expensive for the 45 min trip.

There are some really nice sights to see here. Started from the 'Jumhooree Maiden' garden on the waterfront, which has an enormous flag pole parading the national flag and a chilled feel with is surrounding palm trees and lawns. A short walk to the 'Medhu Ziyaarath' which is a tomb to Abul Barakaath Yoosuf (who's he you ask - not telling you). Opposite is the 'Hukuru Miskiiy' mosque, which also known as the 'Friday' mosque. Further along the same road is the prominent islamic center with its gold domed roof and gold topped minaret, which was built in 1984 and is used to call all muslems to prayer each day.

Needed a break from the heat, so went into the Sultan's park opposite the islamic centre and watched the antics of the geckos scurrying around. The national museum is also in the same grounds, but will leave that to another day to go in.

After refuelling in the nice terraced Raaveriya restaurant overlooking the sea, completd the loop of the island, checking out the 'Vilingili' ferry terminal for day after tomoro, as I want to explore a couple of other islands. In the north east of the island there is a small lagoon with white sand beach which was fairly busy mainly with families, as it is shallow enough to be very safe. There is also a rectangular 'floating' swimming pool in the same area. They have created a heavy interlocked rectagular platform arrangement that calms the swell of the water down, so that people can swim comfortably inside it. People were being taught to swim here as there are no other pools on the island for public use.

Back to watch the afternoon fishing catch being brought in and sold in the market. Further along the same area is the fruit and veg market, with many types you probably won't see anywhere else.

Time to sit on the sea wall and watch the sun set. It's been a long day, but nice. Dinner at the good quality but dark 'Watergate' restaurant without alcohol as it is prohibited in Malé. then time to catch up with world events at the open-air projection TV screen around the corner, which was broadcasting CNN. More doom and gloom following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, the explosions and killings in Colombo in Sri Lanka, that I was close to, and major troubles in Nairobi in Kenya. The world has gone mad and is so unsable at the moment.

Fri 4th Jan - Diving this morning, so an early start. Did two dives. The first was off Paradise island at 'Manta reef'. The dive leader was saying that we were past the normal end of the season for seeing rays, so we all got accustomed to the idea that we weren't to see any. Wow...were we wrong. Saw a couple of groups of them and some single ones! These are awesome creatures and so graceful. With a wingspan of upto 4 metres, these were enormous. Swimming up close and shadowing their flying motion through the waters is a wonderful experience. Having a couple fly directly at you and then swoop over your head is just beyond plain excitement. They are accompanied by a shoal of fish that shadow their underside.

On the first dive we went to 23.5 metres amidst walls of brightly coloured fish, with a visability of nearing 20 metres. This is one of the world's best  aquariums and the reason why diving can get like a drug. Multi-coloured corals, stunning fish, manta rays....Doesn't get much better. Oh yes I does....

After a surface interval of an hour or so, the second dive was at 'Maargari rock'. Diving to 32 metres, there was a great drift wall, where you just neutralise your bouyancy and hang there weightless while the gentle current moves you effortlesly past a seascape wall of incredible colour. Bright pink anemones with clown fish, flourescent green coral, electric blue, purple, you name it, it's here and vast shoals of multi-coloured fish. Some of the larges boxfish i've seen to date. Leopard spotted moray eels, emperor fish, sweetlips, picasso fish. Almost the whole book of tropical fish can be spottted here. And then the dolphins. Yep, a few groups of dolphins too! I wish I had a good quality underwater digital camera, and today is making me think about buying one. The problem is that they are expensive and I don't dive often enough to warrant carrying it around the world with me. Tough decision.

Well, after a total 94 minutes in the water, and so much excitement, I was shattered. So a quick snack and back to the guest house to bed. Slept like a baby for a few hours - it was dark when I woke up!

Eating out is cheap here, so treated myself to a nice meal at the 'Royal Salsa' italian & Thai restaurant. Nice meal of fresh prawn cocktail, thai meal and finished off with Rambutan & pineapple desert. Nice finish to a great day. Walking around town is relaxed but still full of activity as shops are open late. It's still in the upper 20's at 8pm.

Sun 5th Jan - I fully intended today to be a chillin' day, but it didn't really turn out that way, as plenty to do. My watch battery died in the night so had to sort that out. Simple things take time when you're in a foreign land.

Also fancied checking out one of the other islands close by, so went to the Vilingili ferry terminal to catch the regular service (3 rufiyaa) that only takes a little over 10 minues for the crossing. Vilingili is a residential island and very few tourists go there. It has white sand beaches and hardly any traffic. The roads are all block paved and the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. At regular intervals around the perimeter road there are mesh hammock chairs, generally with locals sprawled in them, whiling away the day doing nothing. To give an idea of how small it is, it only takes 30 minutes to walk the perimeter road. Stopped at a local café full of guys spending all day doing nothing, as they do. I guess it is the weekend so tommorow would be a bit more active. Had some of the local doughnut type snacks followed by areca nuts & betel leaves before heading back to the ferry, stopping for a relax in the hammock chairs on the way. This life is so stressful, you have to slow down to the local's pace, to fully appreciate it!

The rest of the day didn't turn out as expected either. I had become friendly with the lovely manageress of the hotel I was staying in. Gorgeous maldivian girl with a great spirit. Got invited back to her family home for dinner. Scooter ride around malé first before catching the ferry to 'Hulhumalé'. This is another residential island about 20 minues journey and really an extension of Hulhule, the airport island. The two are linked by a narrow road. Only a few years old, so all buildings are still new and shops and roads really clean with lots more building still going on. Interesting dinner of tuna head, plus spiced tuna, rice and accompaniments. A bit of a challenge on the eating front....had to eat the tuna's brain as well as eyes! Must say that it wasn't my favourite gastronomic experience, but not as bad as it sounds. Tuna brain is a soft mushy messy thing that doesn't look too great, but I was 'ordered' to eat it. Forceful & feisty girl she is! Like a competition, the only way I could handle it was...you go first. She did, so I had no choice. Same with the eyes..like chewing a dry ball about 1cm in diameter. Late ferry back to Malé, dodging the rain along the way. The weather has been really tropical today with flash downpours that last upto 10 minutes and then clear.

The Maldives has so much going for it, that it is a place I could easily settle in. There are some issues of course. It is a muslim country, so that poses a small problem, although not much of one. No alcohol...now that's a biggie...me need wine! The major language is 'Dhivehi', which is only spoken here but related to Sinhalese spoken in Sri Lanka. Even though english is widely spoken, there are many incidences where some dhivehi would be essential as a resident. More positives than negatives though. Great climate, superb diving, relatively cheap living costs, job opportunities, nice people (i know one really nice one!). I also have a keen interest in marine biology, but never did it as a career. This would be an ideal place to study. Worth thinking about? Too many countries to visit yet, so not going to make that sort of decision yet as the UK has many reasons to return to (my three kids being the prime reasons).

Mon 6th Jan - I foolishly passed up on the opportunity for a day at an island resort with the previously mentioned lovely feisty lady because I had a flight booked back to sri lanka this morning. Might have been possible to change it to a later date but had a hotel booked and a flight to Bangkok too. What a pain....I will kick myself for a while. Whenever I book something in advance, it often seems to turn out the wrong thing to do. The problem is, if I don't then last minute flights can be much more expensive.

Decided to head to the airport early although my srilankan airways flight isn't until 1:35pm as there us usually something interesting going on to pass the time. Malé international is full of activity and lots of beautiful people, all bronzed after their getaway holidays. The usual collection of travel reps running in and out, tending to their flock of wayward holidaymakers. The departure area after passport control is a bit exclusive. Everything priced in US dollars and extortionately priced. Best thing was they had US lager on promotion for $1 a can, so that came in handy after a non-alcoholic few days!

Tags: Sightseeing


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