24 hours in the Maldives

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog. Since the last entry we have been to the UK a couple of times, spent a couple of months in Bangkok, a couple of weeks in Japan, and another couple of months in Yangon before moving back to Sri Lanka, where we’ve been for nearly eight months now. Part of the arrangement at the moment is a visa run every 30 days. And until this last one I have avoided the Maldives, despite being a short flight at around one hour from Colombo. I suppose I felt that nearby cities such as KL, Bangkok, Chennai, would be better for such fleeting visits. Yet I was wrong – and had a thoroughly enjoyable 24 hours in the Maldives.

From the first time I came to Sri Lanka five and a half years ago I’ve been curious to visit Male’, the tiny Maldivian capital. I remember Male’ rising from the Indian Ocean across the strait from the airport, hazy in the evening dusk, as we waiting on the tarmac to pick up passengers. I didn’t stay in the city but in one of the small guesthouses on reclaimed Hulhumale’, linked by road to the airport island. It was built just over a decade ago to ease housing issues and provide more space, with wide streets, a beautiful beach, an obvious plan, but with little discernable soul.

The ferry to Male’ took about 15 minutes, skirting around the airport on its way to the capital. Intense blue, everywhere. And flat: the perpendicular of sea and sky broken by small atolls of green, enormous boats, then Male’ with its low to medium-height buildings of banks and corporate head-quarters, clad in glass reflecting the sun or painted in different pastel colours, squeezing onto the little available land. It really does look like it grows out of the sea.

It’s a lovely thing, having several hours with nothing to do in a new place. I wandered from the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal at the northeast to Villimale’ ferry terminal at the southwest. From one corner of the capital to the other; just over a mile. Male’ is compact, frenetic, made up of thin streets that crisscross the island. Moving from northeast to southwest the buildings become lower rise, with fewer shops, fewer mopeds. There is a surprising amount of greenery. And you’re never far from a glimpse of that perpendicular. All of Male’’s roads are brick not tarmac which gives an unusual, appealing, streetscape.

Villimale’, two miles from the capital on the nearest atoll, yet a world away. Motorised vehicles are banned and the locals get around on foot, bicycle, electric moped or golf buggy. So it is quite, amazingly quiet. Along the promenade from the terminal the beach begins and, true to the Maldives, it is palm-fronded, azure and golden. From the palms hang individual hammock chairs that sway in the breeze. From what I can gather the locals spend their days asleep in these, not a bad way to spend a day. I join them, conscious, however, that I must return to the airport in a few hours.

 

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