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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Where the Runway Meets the Sea

MALDIVES | Wednesday, 28 February 2018 | Views [759]

After flying for hours over endless ocean, you spot a few atolls and sandbanks, and don't even see any presence of human habitation until about 15 seconds before the jumbo jet touches the runway. This isn't fantasy or a Robinson Crusoe-style castaway, this is the Maldives. Strung like a bracelet of atolls across several hundred kilometres of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a series of more than 1,000 islands with only about 200 inhabited. As I cleared immigration, I was playfully asked why I didn't have a partner with me. The Maldives aren't prototypically one for a solo traveller or the average backpacker, but one for honeymooners, tropical fantasy seekers, and guys like Keith Richards, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson. As I exchanged some Aussie dollars for Maldivian rufiyaa, in return I got some of the most colourful money I've ever seen. 

I had the turquoise sea just outside.

I've been through a lot these past few days and after the other day, I'm really fortunate to be alive. A few days ago I went to a Korean restaurant in Melbourne and I was invited to a table to drink soju with these guys. With zero memory after that, I woke up in a jail with a broken front tooth and the cops saying "you're one of the better drunks we've had to deal with, this happens every Friday and Saturday." It only dawned on me later that it could have been my last memory ever. As a result, I flat out hate alcohol. I should add that I broke one of the golden rules of drinking with strangers: only drink from new bottles and only when you can watch the seal being broken. Fortunately I had nothing stolen, but I didn't find out the full story until the next day. Ever since I returned from Antarctica, I've had on and off bouts of depression and in the words of my friend Elie, "you let yourself go after Antarctica, this isn't who you are." I've had difficulty sleeping and I went to Sydney a day early, and then I had to endure an 8-hour flight, 15 hours at the airport in KL, and then the 4-hour flight to Male. From the airport I wasn't done even though I was bleary-eyed. After signing off on my first Maldivian geocache, I took the short ferry to Male but had to hang round for three hours for the Maafushi-bound ferry. 

My friend Kim, whom I met in Wellington before she hosted me in Bali, is who recommended Maafushi. Meaning "big island" in Dhivehi, Maafushi is the backpacker hub of the Maldives. Until only about five years ago, it was practically impossible to travel to the Maldives as a backpacker. To visit any of the "inhabited" islands (many of the resorts are on uninhabited islands), you needed a permit and a local contact. 

The ferry port when you arrive at Male from Hulhumale (where the airport is located) is on the northeast corner of the island, and the ferry to Maafushi is on the southwest corner. I opted to walk across Male and it requires nerves of steel. More than 100,000 people, and just about as many motorbikes, are crammed onto this little tiny island. How do they fit so much onto one little atoll? I was nearly hit by motorbikes a few times, but I made it across in one piece. In the time I had to wait for the ferry I soared Juliett into the sky for a few nice shots of Male.

On the ferry I was so exhausted I fell into a deep sleep for a few minutes, and then shortly thereafter I was on Maafushi. Male is a bustling metropolis by comparison, and the "streets" are made of sand. It was only a short walk to Ayoub's flat. Originally from Jordan but raised in Dubai and Qatar, Ayoub is my CS host who is here working in construction on a resort.

The Maldives, much like Tuvalu and Tokelau, are at great risk of disappearing as a result of rising sea levels. It's the world's lowest-lying country, with the highest point being a mere 8 feet above sea level. As I heard the evening call to prayer, I made a cuppa and I was very tired. Alcohol is a touchy issue in the Maldives. It's impossible to bring any into the country (and my bags were X-rayed to make sure), and the only access to it is when a liveaboard dive boat comes into town. After last week, I have no appetite for it so I got a non-alcoholic mojito Holsten. Lucas and Marica are a Czech couple stayed at Ayoub's home via AirBnB, and they all went out on the party boat whilst I went for a walk, flew Juliett, and then slept like a rock.

Due to the balmy climate of the Maldives, this is among the lightest I've ever travelled. I left my computer behind in Australia, and brought little more than Juliett, my camera, and a few clothes. Tonight I was so exhausted I slept 17 hours, and just as the immigration official wondered, I'd be dreaming of having a partner on these sexy little islands...


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