Our Korean Air flight from Sri Lanka took 1¼ hours, was comfortable and had loads of leg room which is somewhat surprising given the average height of a Korean! We arrived on time at 7am in Malé the capital of the Maldives, although the airport is on a separate island to the city itself.
It somehow hadn’t really dawned on us how ‘big’ the Maldives actually is. We knew that the country is made up of a number of islands, but the real statistics are surprising. The Maldives is a long, narrow country measuring 823 kilometres (510 miles) from north to south and 133 kilometres (82 miles) from east to west. It is formed of 26 ring shaped natural atolls and there are reputed to be some 1,190 islands in these atolls in total although some have disappeared and others are uninhabited, interestingly (for us maybe more than you) included in the ‘uninhabited’ list are those that are just tourist resorts where there is no local civic office. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4’ 11”) above sea level it is the world’s lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world, at 2.4 metres
Prior to leaving the UK we had researched our trip in minute detail and booked our islands around the Government Ferry Schedule. So we took the airport Ferry to the main Male Island expecting it to drop us at the Government Ferry Terminal to catch our 9am (5½ hour) onward connection to Bodufolhudhoo Island but oh no nothing is that simple. The government ferry terminal happens to be on the other side of Male Island so a 15 minute taxi ride took us there. We were duly sold our tickets after some serious communication difficulties, but when we questioned why the departure time on ticket stated 10am the ticket lady was dismissive and sent us away and as a large rather restless queue was forming behind us we moved on. However we weren’t convinced and kept asking ‘official’ looking people most of whom weren’t prepared to help us until one man told us that the ferry wasn’t running that day and managed to get us our $7 back for the wrongly sold tickets. We are still bemused why we were even sold a ticket.
We had a plan B in case of delays and not making the 9am ferry and that was a scheduled speedboat going to our Island at 10.30am, the problem was that no one could tell us where the terminal was for these boats. We asked several taxi drivers who claimed they didn’t know until finally one kind taxi driver offered to take us to an area where he thought they may depart from. Guess what, a short walk from where we had got off the earlier airport ferry there were 20-30 large speedboats moored, we just needed to find the companies Nevi or Coral that operated our route.
Whilst wandering around looking bemused we met a ‘fixer’ man who just happened to work for Nevi and he booked us on the 10.30 and promptly took $100 off us for the privilege of going with them! Somewhat relieved and with a significant dent in the travel budget we duly waited for the ferry which whisked us across the ocean stopping at several islands on the way arriving at our island 82kms away a couple of hours later.
We then spent 3 happy days and nights on Bodufolhudhoo, a tiny island inhabited by Maldivian people, all very strict Muslims and only a handful of guesthouses as the island only opened up for tourism about three years ago. Our guesthouse was set around a courtyard garden, had 4 rooms with only 2 being used.
The Island took us 10 minutes to walk around, we found 2 shops, 1 souvenir shop (?) and 2 mosques for a population of about 300. There were no cars but we counted over 10 motorbikes and wondered why anyone needed one on such a small island.
Surprisingly we found the local people to be quite unfriendly unless they actually worked in some part of the tourist industry. Common to all the inhabited Maldivian islands there are special designated beaches for tourists called the ‘bikini beach’ where you are allowed ‘less modest clothing’ and here we shared the beautiful white sand with the handful of other tourists staying (no more than 16). The colours of the sea are beautiful and whilst the coral is pretty dead we enjoyed snorkelling, swimming, reading our books watching the sea plane landing and taking off at the next rather smart Resort Island.
Annie has been delighted to find no dogs on the Islands at all which has made her runs much more enjoyable after running the gauntlet from the numerous ‘mangy’ dogs in Sri Lanka. Richard is less pleased that due to local Islamic laws no alcohol is allowed anywhere in the country except on the resort islands and they want at least $35 just to land on their island as a guest or visitor! As a result we’re both ‘enjoying’ an enforced detox but water does tend to get a bit boring.
Since we arrived in the Maldives we have realised that the government ferry schedule is completely different to the one we had been working from so we were chuffed to be able to catch one for our short 45 minute transfer to Ukulhas our second island.
For anyone trying to find our islands on the map both Ukulhas and Bodufolhudhoo are part of Northern Ari Atoll and together with Southern Ari Atoll it consists of an amazing 105 islands.
At Ukulhas we discovered that the guesthouse had “double booked” our room – for this read ‘ours was a only a 3 night stay and the other booking was for 2 weeks’ so of course they won the room and we got bounced.
Needless to say we were less than chuffed! We were moved to the guesthouse next door and the main disappointment was the lack of a balcony as we love an outside space to sit in the shade and for the practical reason to dry our wet towels and swimwear.
Ukulhas is twice the size of Bodufolhudhoo with double the population, more shops (5) and restaurants (7), lots of motorbikes whizzing around the sandy streets and even two electric cars as well as several more guesthouses (about 20, with more being built) and tourists but we didn’t hear another English person the whole three days we were there.
Although the bikini beach area was narrow, it was much bigger than our last island and there was some great swimming and snorkelling here too.
Whilst here we even watched a football match; it was the semi-final of Youth Competition where our guesthouse manager was competing. It’s a 6 a side competition but ‘youth’ seems to be loosely applied!
Despite sticking to the inhabited islands, which is fascinating we have been surprised at both how bland the food is and how expensive everything is e.g. a lime & soda, whilst freshly made averages $5 and a portion of vegetable fried rice $8 meaning that each evening we are spending over $35 for dinner as everything has 6% minimum tax added as well as a 10% service charge on the base price. Guesthouse rooms also are around £50 per night and that’s for low quality and tiny shower rooms.
It’s still huge fun mind you and way cheaper than the crazy prices asked by the beautiful resort islands!