I’ve been slow to write about the Maldives—part of it is we’ve been busy
exploring; the water is gorgeous and the villages are intriguing. The other
reason is it’s a hard place to draw conclusions about; a typical day is a contradictory
mix of experiences and emotions
The other day Behan and I headed into Nolhivaranfaru, the
little village we’d been anchored off of for the past few days. As we wandered
the tidy grid of streets I was surprised by the grandeur of some of the houses
peaking out from behind the high stone walls. Many of the homes we’re seen so
far have been modest coral or cinder–block structures surrounded by fruit trees
and enclosed by walls (often painted with political slogans). On Nolhivaranfaru
there were also big blocks of government housing—apparently waiting to be
filled by residents from other villages—as the Maldives seeks to centralize its
The main reason we headed in is we were planning to move on
and Behan wanted to show me the ancient banyan tree in the village centre. I also
wanted to take in some of the Koran recital competition that we’d been hearing
amplified over the water. The reaction we got as we strolled the sand streets
varied from engaged conversation, welcoming handshakes and smiles, to hard
stares. We fell somewhere between guest and unwelcome distraction; despite
having carefully dressed in long skirts and long sleeves our otherness still showed.
I’m not sure if this reaction is a reflection of the fact
that the Local Tourism Law (which went into effect in 2009—and allows visitors
to access islands outside of the approved ‘tourist’ islands) hasn’t really
taken hold up here, or if Maldivian people are simply very reserved. Chances
are we were among the first tourists (if not the first) to wander the village
A short while later, we pulled up anchor and headed toward
Kulhudhuffushi (grocery store island for short, and the forth largest city in
On the way we encountered a small pod of shy dwarf sperm whale and a sleepy pod
of Risso’s dolphins—just two of the 21 species of whales and dolphins found
here. As we slowly motored past the Risso’s dolphins, we watched them drift lazily
on the surface, their white snouts pointed sunward. One breached. And a few did
dolphin leaps—but mainly they just sunbathed.
Below the water the life is just as rich and diverse. Sea-temperature
rise means the coral isn’t as vibrant as some we’ve seen, but we’ve seen some
great formations and a lovely variety of fish life. Coral is everywhere—so it’s
not hard to find a place to snorkel (it’s actually harder to find a place to
In Kulhudhuffushi we anchored in the international boat harbour—as
the only boats, and waited for the customs officials to return from prayer so
we could head ashore. When we headed into town I took in the faded yellow flags
for the Maldivian Democratic Party that still flutter over the streets—despite the
imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Lining the street were stores filled with a quirky
miscellany; cinnamon next to a vice and a box of machetes, and areca nut
(betel) found with the rice. What we couldn’t find was flour. Somehow in our provisioning,
wheat flour was missed. We never carry tons; it’s easily infested and until now
we’ve found it everywhere.
We searched along the wide sand streets and down a few
narrow lanes. Visiting about a dozen stores we went through our spiel: ask for flour
for bread, show a loaf of bread, and repeat the flour part. Usually we got a
head shake. Occasionally the store clerk would look through the whole shop with
us before sending us on to the next store. The worst moment came when we chased
down the bakery truck only to have the driver look at us in confusion-despite
the baked goods sitting beside him.
On a whim we went into on final store. As soon as we
entered, we were ready to turn around, it had less on the shelves than most of
the others, but when we went through our spiel the shop clerk opened up a
bucket of flour.
Yesterday we arrived at a new anchorage. After a pretty
snorkel the kids headed to shore and I made belated hot cross buns. Then Evan
and I went in and joined the other cruisers sitting in a circle in the sand
with the council president where they were talking about politics, drinking
water shortages, sea level rise and fishing. A woman in a full hijab quietly brought
us drinking coconuts—then returned to a circle of women a little ways away.
I peppered our host with questions—trying to get to the
heart of the Maldives,
trying to understand what it’s like to live in the place that the rest of the
world sees as a perfect paradise.