tropicalscientist

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Weekend Trip to Maldives – snorkeling, diving and public islands

…Maafushi – a public island in the Maldives…

Sitting on an extremely, ekhm, interesting lecture on Biomedical Engineering Systems, I received an email from one of the low cost Asian airlines with Maldives offer. Since my birthday was approaching, I thought – it ‘s a sign! So after a quick confirmation from Michao, I bought the tickets and started thinking how not to spend a lot of money on such a holiday. The plan was that we would go to Male for the weekend and see what the Maldivian capital looks like. Then, however, out of curiosity, I began to look at the hotels on the nearby islands and found them to be quite affordable and reachable by public transport! Everything turn out pretty manageable and I couldn’t wait for our adventure!

…capital of Maldives – Male 

I. Male – first impression

…dark night in the Maldives – ‘view’ of Male from the airport island …

It started mysteriously, because we landed in the Maldives after dark. The main island-capital –Male, can be reached only by ferry, and because we were afraid that there won’t be any ferries, we booked a hotel on the island-airport beforehand. Meanwhile, upon arriving, it turned out that are no taxis, and the buses to the residential part of the island are less frequent than the boats to Male … In anticipation of the transport we sat down before the terminal on a lovely bench overlooking the capital, where we could start enjoying the oceanic climate and ice creams from the airport’s Burger King.

…Michao in front of Hulhumale Airport Terminal…

When we finally reached our hotel, all the food establishments had closed, so we entered the only open place we found. As the Maldivians have mostly Indian roots, local food is a-familiar for us from Singapore- food characteristic of this nation (which is too spicy for me -no matter how hungry I am).

Walking through the dark streets of Hulhumale we felt a bit like … in Poland – sidewalks, architecture, streets, trees … we could not get rid of this strange feeling.

The next day after a quick cappuccino over a rather cloudy sea, we went to the ferry terminal to catch a boat to Male. Boats turned out to be running every 20min, so quickly we found ourselves in the capital. We had few hours to get to another ferry terminal ,on the other side of the island, this time to get a public boat to our final destination island- Maafushi. I know that sounds like we were walking a lot, but these little islands are really tiny (Male has just ~ 2.5km2). Besides, there is no better way to get to know a new place than to ‘get lost’ in its side streets and soak up the local atmosphere.

…banana tree behind a gate on one of the streets of Male …

I had only one small problem … I do not know what I had in my head, that this time I took a small suitcase instead of a backpack. Maybe I thought Male streets would be made of marble instead of old, cracked asphalt? Difficulties in breaking through uneven, chaotic streets and loud scooters whizzing around made us quit exploring and wanted to teleport to a less urbanized environment as soon as possible. In the meantime, we also got caught in a tropical rain, so we hid in the restaurant for a delicious Maldivian lunch, which in my case was spaghetti. Michao ordered a local dish and got something that resembled an instant soup.

Without much hassle, we bought ferry tickets to Maafushi at the ferry terminal and for the first time since arrival we encountered foreign tourists. Public transfer was quite interesting – bored locals, mixed with calm Chinese and excited Western tourists, small makeshift shop, and around us – island paradises and dolphins jumping out of the water…

II. Maafushi – an ordinary island in paradise

The journey lasted about 2 hours, and when we got off at Maafushi we were greeted by rather rainy weather (the classic of our trips in Asia …). Maafushi is an incredibly small and flat island that can be walked around in 10 minutes. There are no sidewalks and streets – there is more or less beaten sand (still better option for my suitcase’s wheels than hollow pavements in Male).

We reached our small beachfront hotel quickly, where we managed to get a free upgrade to a sea view room (always ask! this trick worked for me in many different places, like Hong Kong, Philippines or Australia).

…sea view turned out to be a palm tree view but I do not complain;)…

III. What can you do in the Maldives ..?

The receptionist spoke good English and immediately offered us tours at good rates. As we had very little time (1.5 days), we decided on island hopping with a few snorkeling spots for the last day. That same evening we went out to the ‘city’, where we found several hotels, several restaurants and several dive shops, where we booked 2 dives for the next day (if the weather improves). Fortunately, the weather was ok and before breakfast and before diving we went to see the beach and bathed in the Maldivian sea for the first time (of course, in modest clothes, not to offend the locals).

…Information about the dress code, ie the ban on bikinis and other immodest outfits…

…Maafushi morning …

Soon after, we got into boat to sail out to our first- ‘skills refreshing ’- dive. Cruising around with a diving team alone was a great experience. After descent into the water (the deeper the colder – our license allows us to descend to 18m) you could soak in the sun on the upper deck and admire the amazing color of the water, posh resorts and wild public islands.

How was the diving ? Since then I recommend to do the ‘skills refreshment’  in the pool rather than the open sea. One of the exercises is letting  in and then out some water under the mask, while being submerged to a depth of about 1.5 . Michao of course coped well, but in my case the water came into my eyes and nose immediately, I began to choke and I had to surface to catch my breath. Water that has fallen into my lungs stayed there, as well as awkward fact that if this situation happens at a greater depth I will not have such easy escape to the surface *, affected the comfort of my dive a little but it was still fun. We saw huge turtles, sharks and my favorite – eagle rays!

* Before the ascent you need to do the decompression stop, ie stop for about 5min at a depth of 3m

Returning to our island, I noticed a tall concrete wall at its end. It turned out that it is nothing more than .. a prison! The criminality in ‘paradise’ is another thing , adding to bad sidewalks, the ban on alcohol and women in burqas, which I have never imagined here. Although being imprisoned in the Maldives doesn’t sound so bad  …

…prison on the tropical island (gray wall on the right side)…

Apropos alcohol ban – it is actually very strictly adhered to. That is why the evenings at Maafushi are rather peaceful, there are no such things as clubs or beach bars, that can be found in other Southeast Asian countries (including Muslim ones). The only exception are private resort-islands.

…and I thought i came across a cold beer! Nope – it’s just a non-alcoholic imitation …

…peculiar mesh benches…

The next day we went for a quick island hoping (quick because the same evening we had a speedboat to Male and later in the evening a flight to Singapore). And here again we benefited from the flexibility of locals and the ability to get things done on the spot. The half-day trip was extended for us by a couple of hours so we could see as much as possible before we leave.

So we set out with our fellow passengers for a few snorkeling spots that were quite rich in colorful tropical fish. Whenever I swim in their natural environment, I feel guilty that I kept their sisters and brothers in an aquarium that is no comparison to the vast coral reefs.

To get bigger fish to swim to where we were snorkeling, we got bottle of food. Michao did not hesitate to spray it in my direction, which resulted in a mass of bizarre fish brushing against me with they slippery bodies trying to catch the pieces of food. Buee!

Another cool moment was to land alone on the sand bar, a piece of sand emerging from the sea, and watching our boat sail away … And it was thanks to the fact that for the rest of the passengers it was the last point of the program and they were returning to Maafushi. That’s why we had a private piece of sand in the middle of the sea just for myself and my birthday,non-alcoholic champagne, which was pretty amazing!

Unfortunately the boat came back and took us for lunch on an nearby island which turned out to be even smaller and even more ‘local’ than Maaf.

On the spot we were taken to one of the huts, that fitted only one table, but with a tablecloth. The choice was fried rice or fried noodles and grilled fish which looked too similar to those we had recently fed, so to Michal’s delight, I gave him my portion.

After the meal it was time to enjoy the beautiful, crystal-blue water for the last time, at the local bikini beach.

IV. Epilogue

I definitely recommend visiting public islands in the Maldives. While the Male is chaotic and not very friendly, the nearby islands give an incredible opportunity to experience tropical nature and to see the life of the locas, for which everyday life is life in paradise.

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Modest Maldives – how to travel in Maldives on a budget

…in my mind Maldives was some divine place in heaven, inaccessible to ordinary mortals…

Maldives are associated with shockingly blue water, pristine white sand beaches on uninhabited islands, strings of water villas and of course– luxury. You might think that lucky Maldivians have to be very wealthy if their resorts charge over 1000$ per night, right?

…Michao admires the water-villas during our island hopping …

I. What is the truth? Where are the Maldivians since the islands are ‘uninhabited’ ..?

Maldives is a real country on Planet Earth with a little over 393,500 inhabitants, which make it the smallest in Asia by land and population.  If you wonder how this mysterious population looks like, I will give you a hint – Maldives lies southwest of India and Sri Lanka…

… the local crew and the lower deck of the speedboat on which Michao was lounging …

Okay, so going back to wealthy Maldivians there is another shocking surprise. It turns out, that Maldives suffer from unbelievable level of corruption. Apparently, few people in the government sells its little islands to international hotel brands for millions of dollars. The money goes to only few pockets, whilst the local people live in rather poor conditions on the public islands. If you want to know more, check out this documentary [click].

… Maldives capital – Male, and just behind it an island-airport …

If you are more of adventure traveler and want to see by yourself how ‘the paradise’ really looks like, OR you don’t have extra few thousands of $ lying around and still crave for Maldives- I have good news. You can travel in Maldives cheaply! The trick is to … stay on public islands. This will not only save you a lot of money, but you would also be contributing to local communities rather than international corporations.

And by saving money I mean the whole range of things that are crazy expensive in Maldivian’s resorts:

  • transfer: the resorts are located on private islands, so you have no choice but fork out extra few hundreds of $ for a private boat or plane to get you there upon your arrival to the capital island – Male. However, if you stay on public island, you can use a public transport, which in this case is a small ferry. In fact, the ferry ride is one the cheapest I have seen around SE Asia, only 1,5$!

…the interior of the public ferry to Maafushi Island …

  • accommodation: I can imagine that there is nothing like Maldivian resort, but there really are other options for budget travelers. We paid only 30$ per night/per room in a nice hotel by the beach on Maafushi Island.

… who would’t want to stay in a room where you can go out to the beach directly through the window?:) …

  • activities: I have no idea how expensive that might be on private island (probably – very very expensive) but on public one there were few dive shops, so you can negotiate the price. We paid 100$ for 2 dives and only 30$ for the tour around the ‘neighborhood’, and that included the whole day of island hopping in a cool speedboat, snorkeling and lunch in local ‘restaurant’!

… island hopping and chilling on the rooftop of our speedboat …

II. And now the best part: Luxurious Resorts Travel Hack!

Even if you stay in a cheap hotel on Public Island you can still experience the luxury of a resort! How..?

Public island hotels organize 1-day ‘resort trips’, for as low as 15$. There is additional entrance fee to the resort (from 43$ to 183$- depending on the resort, including buffet lunch and unlimited drinks). So you can treat yourself for a day or two and enjoy the luxuries… cheaply;)

III. Warning!

If you like the idea of public island stay, you need to know that Maldives is a very strict Muslim country – total alcohol ban and ‘appropriate’ outfit applies. I traveled around the Muslim countries in SE Asia and usually the rules were pretty relaxed. Surprisingly -not in this case. There really is no alcohol in the local bars, shops and even hotels, at which entrance we are reminded about the island ‘dress code’.

I guess we could survive those few days of holidays without a drink but we absolutely cannot imagine Maldives without swimming in that insanely-blue water freely, right…?

As always there are few ways around this:

– you could do a resort-trip with a day of open-bar and unlimited bikini time,

– make sure your public island has a ‘bikini beach’ – which is a zone where only foreigners can enter to expose their shameless bodies as much as they want,

… my “swimsuit” on the public beach …

– bikini ban applies on the islands but no one cared what I wore on the boat while island hopping or during snorkeling;)

Questions? Comments? Any Travel hacks/ ideas for me? Let me know in the comments!

In the next post –> how does Maldivian public island looks like?

 

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