The Maldives also has the lowest ground level (1.5 m) above the sea in the world. The biggest concern of the country is that the sea level is rising, due to global warming, and the country could sink under the water. Australia has given the right to asylum to the citizens of the country which is estimated to completely sink under water in the next 150 years. As the President of the country announced their plans to buy a homeland in India, Sri Lanka or Australia, he also declared war on global warming and greenhouse gases.
The Maldives’ economy depends on two industries, tourism and fishing; the soil is too salty and infertile for a productive farming industry to develop. Besides some tropical plants only coconuts can grow. Due to this the locals tend to be very poor. Food, drinking water, fuel and many other necessities are imported. Even the electricity is produced by generators working with imported fuel. All things considered, you get the feeling that it’s a false paradise.
The official language of the country is Dvehi. Besides the Maldives it’s also a common language on Minicoy Island which is in the offshore waters of India. The written form resembles Arabic and Hindi. The pronunciation also resembles the same mixture.
The common religion in the Maldives is Islam. The Maldivians’ origins go back to when Sri Lanka used to be Buddhists, but in the 12th century, after contact with Arabic sailors, they converted to Islam, and for 800 years they were ruled by Islamic Sultanate. On the island where most of the local citizens live selling alcohol is forbidden.
A journey to a tropical paradise
One of the first places that comes to mind when you think of a tropical paradise like the Maldives is a difficult journey. We went there in December 2009 with a connecting flight from Doha, but today Turkish Airlines have a direct flight to the capital city Malé from Istanbul. The flight lasts 8 hours. Ibrahim Nasır International Airport is on Hulhule Island, which is just across Malé.
It was really interesting to descend down to the ocean without seeing any land till the plane touched down on landing. After getting off the plane, we skipped Malé, whose dense settlement could be seen from where we were, and boarded a minibus to the seaplane port, which is on the other side of the airport, to catch the seaplane that would take us to the island where we would stay. After a short ride we reached to the Maldivian Air Taxi which is one of the two companies that transport people to some specific islands with charter seaplanes.
After waiting for half an hour in the waiting room, we got on the seaplane. Since this would be our first experience we were kind of excited. Our pilots met us wearing green shorts, white shirts and sandals. As we settled in the plane our only cabin attendant made an announcement glamorized with jokes. The boring procedures in the plane somehow became something quite amusing. During our flight at 6500 feet the view was fabulous. Before landing on our island, we stopped by another one, some of the passengers got off and our plane took off again. After a fun 45 minute flight, we reached the Medhufusi Island Resort where we would spend our holiday.
We chose to stay in the villas on the beach instead of in the overwater bungalows. Our single story villa was under a coconut tree 10 m away from the ocean. It had a small porch which we enjoyed during the whole holiday. Generally couples on their honeymoon choose to stay in the overwater bungalows which stand on piles over the ocean and are reached by boat. The porches of the bungalows face the ocean and you can use the stairs in front of them to get into the ocean. The little sharks we saw from the jetty on our way to the villas made us question the idea of using the stairs to get into water.
A 45 minute tour was enough to see our little paradise island. Diving tours from different places saved us from swimming at the same place every day. There were diving courses lasting for a week for interested parties. Scuba diving or snorkeling are attractions you really should try while you’re in the Maldives as there is such a colorful and varied underwater life. You can rent an underwater camera from the diving centers for 25 US$ per day to document what you see underwater. The price includes a CD of all your pictures so that you can take them home and enjoy them.
One day when we sailed away for diving, we passed by the island next to ours. Before that, on a windy day, I had heard the call for prayer coming from a distance but never thought there might have been a mosque. To my surprise it was true. Passing by that neighboring island, we also saw the generator that worked continuously to supply electricity to our island. Probably there was a power line under water. Seeing all these things we realized that the Maldives in fact suffer from the lack of a lot of basic amenities.
Sailing 15-20 minutes we reached the spot outside the reef of our atoll. Before jumping in the sea, I checked the list of the fish we might find. I was sure that I couldn’t keep their names in mind but tried to keep their images. The spot where we stopped was on a group of coral reefs that had come up from deep water to the surface. In the middle, it was around 2m deep, and on the sides it was endless. After a while I started to see some of the fish on the list, but it wasn’t easy to take their photos. Just as I got close in an attempt to get a shot, they fled. It became kind of a game between me and the fish, but eventually I managed to get shots of most of them.
What we saw under the water was much more colorful than the photos. The reason for that is under the water, when you go deeper, the colors subside and fade away. Our eyes can get over this but cameras without a flash can’t. Besides fish there were interesting sea creatures; starfish, mussels with colorful edges, brain shaped round things which I don’t know the name of, they were all very beautiful. After staying for two hours we returned to the island.
Another day, we strolled inland and explored the center of the island. Though it was full of trees, there was a white sand looking layer on the ground and a plant that looked like bush has grown among it. I liked them so much that I couldn’t help putting some in a bottle and bringing them to Istanbul.
On beach we very often came across crustaceans. A little different from ours but these ones were cute. When you approach them they stop and wait for you to go away. We chased their traces to our villa.
We couldn’t go back home without enjoying a nice massage session. That’s why we surrendered to the girls from Bali at a massage center above water. Maybe because of the mood that the ambiance created, it was miraculous. It might be because I had never had a massage at a place where I could watch the turquoise ocean when I looked out of the window.
During the holiday, evenings were very steady. In the evening the best thing to do on the island was to watch the view. The clouds always changing their shapes on the horizon created a perfect sunset.
When the evening fell, we pushed our limits especially with the seafood on the buffet. There wasn’t much attraction at night. After dinner, you hang out at the bar on the jetty and watch the fish. One night there was a show with some local music and dances. As a matter of fact after all the sun and the ocean, in the evening, we were too tired to lift a finger and the best attraction would be to choose a movie from the archive.
After enjoying 5 days and nights on this tropical island it was time to go back home. At sunrise we got on the boat with our captains who also spent the night in our island and sailed to our plane which was offshore. A short while after our plane took off, just like we had done at our arrival, we took some more passengers from the neighbor islands before continuing on our way to Male.
The view of the islands sprinkled on the ocean in the sunrise was out of this world. Without being sure whether we may come back some day or not we tried to save the memory with every detail to our minds. Every once in a while we saw little hills of sand that couldn’t even be defined as islands. We thought about what will happen to all these island if the sea level keeps on rising. I wondered what the Maldivians felt about that. Imagine, after a hundred years your country will be under water. It’s hard to establish even empathy with them.
As our plane started descending over Male, Male and the airport seemed so surreal in the middle of ocean. Though we were fascinated by the view once more, as a matter of fact the Maldives no longer felt as surreal for us. We were on our way home with a feeling as if we had been here for such a long time and became much too familiar with everything. This is what I like most about traveling. The spot on the map no longer seems that far and foreign for you anymore.
Short list of things to do in the Maldives:
- Stay at an island far from the center.
- Use a seaplane.
- Dive either with snorkel or scuba.
- Eat seafood which is served in abundance.
- Get a massage session somewhere with an ocean view.
- Either rent or take with you an underwater camera.
- Tour Male, though we didn’t, you should.
Keep in mind:
- The best season to go to the Maldives is between November and March.
- Turkish citizens don’t need visa to go to the Maldives.
- One week is enough for Maldives, or else you may get bored.