Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tropical intrigue

Hard at work in paradise

Our first mistake was to fly from Colombo to Maldives on the first Friday of Ramadan. Maldivians take their religion seriously and not only is there no food for sale anywhere during the day but no ferries run between the islands either. For a country made up of thousands of tiny coral atolls that's a serious transportation challenge. We were forced to stay in the capital city of Male, a tiny island where skyscrapers appear to jut straight out of the sea.

Going fishing
Gone fishing
Luckily we met a friendly local who invited us to join his family on a night fishing trip to celebrate the first Friday of Ramadan. We cruised out under cover of darkness and fished by throwing hooked lines over the side of the boat and hauling them back in with gloved hands. Everyone caught a number of fish and we even dragged up a few eels (don't worry, we threw them back). For our first time fishing, we were amazed we managed to catch anything!

Our local friend has political ambitions to become the senator for island where he was born. Recent Maldivian political history is a veritable soap opera of tropical intrigue. A very popular young opposition candidate ousted the longtime incumbent from the presidency a couple of years ago. He had big ideas for changing the country, opening up the tourism sector and developing the outlying atolls. But the incumbent wasn't happy losing his throne and organized a coup with the help of the Male police. Our friend was actually alongside the young president during the coup and was on the front-lines of the subsequent riots between police and angry constituents.

No sex scandals for this little guy
A new election was about to take place when we were there and tensions were running high. A non-stop series of incidents have rattled the political scene, from complex corruption schemes to high justices involved in sex scandals (especially big news during Ramadan!).

Luckily we were able to escape the embroiled capital unscathed to the beautiful island of Maafushi. Maldives is best known for its massive, five star, all inclusive resorts. But those were far beyond the reaches of our modest pocketbook. Luckily over the past few years the country legalized 'local guest houses' (thanks to the ousted young president). These are the equivalent of a nice budget hotel in the US. They had relatively spacious rooms with AC and all the amenities but without the attached resort.

We both felt like this after the Maldives
We spent our week there relaxing on the snow white beaches (a different shade of white compared to Zanzibar), swimming in the perfect turquoise water and diving pristine coral reefs. The marine life is in exquisite condition and residents are very aware of its importance to the local economy so they keep it well protected. There was no shortage of sharks, turtles, napoleon fish, sweetlips, eels and of course, plenty of Nemos. We munched on fresh seafood in the evenings and slurped down coconuts throughout the day (well hidden from the prying eyes of Ramadan of course). Though the coconuts were sub-par compared to Sri Lanka's King Coconuts, they still did the job and kept us well hydrated throughout the hot, hot days.

It was a wonderful week, all the more so because a week is the perfect amount of time to spend there. It's a great place for a short-term holiday. But our ambitions ran beyond the scope of a short-term holiday, we had our sights set on the smoldering volcanoes, verdant jungles and deserted beaches of Sumatra...

Co-posted on

Can't complain
Island life
On our way to unspoiled reefs
Shade on the Indian Ocean
Our home for a week

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