#016: Maldives on a Backpacker Budget – MaafushiTak's dispatch released on 10 February 2015

Maldives Ferry Deck

Maafushi grows larger. The rain is starting to let up, although the grey clouds remain. A similar gathering to that found on Guraidhoo awaits the arrival of the government ferry. The Maafushi coastline looks more promising than that of Guraidhoo, but your expectations are now quite minimal.

A representative of the inn meets you, along with a luggage cart and umbrellas. He leads you to the inn as the sun starts to peak out from the clouds. After dropping off your luggage and checking in, you head south on foot.

The first “beach” you come across on Maafushi is covered in broken coral and rocks, but there is a lack of trash which is a welcome advance from what you experienced on Guraidhoo. At the far southern end of Maafushi lays a prison complex; razor wire fencing and prisoners going about their day. You cut across the narrow island to the other side. Some boats bob in the water, and others are propped up on land with oil drums supporting the hulls.

A new-looking mosque to your left gleams in the fresh sunlight as you head north passing through what appears to be Maafushi’s garbage dump. An islander arrives with a wheelbarrow of trash and dumps it; trash fires burn nearby. It is another reminder of the scourge of trash and the hardships of waste management on a small populated island. Many in the world are able to easily get it out of sight, but in the Maldives, options for doing so are quite limited.

As you walk along the eastern side, you notice that the first line of buildings have no windows. It seems they are built with their backs to the sea. This seems quite strange until you realize that there was probably another line of houses with sea views that were destroyed by the tsunami in 2004.

No Bikini Sign in Maafushi, Maldives

Towards the north of Maafushi there is a public beach. One local family is on it. There is a sign reminding beachgoers not to wear bikinis on the beach. The water is clear and there is a lack of trash on the beach, but the sand is less than optimal. Even still, it is a welcome sight coming from Guraidhoo.

Northern Part of Maafushi, Maldives Northern Side of Maafushi, Maldives

Hooking around the northern edge of the public beach (and the island itself) you find yourself with an empty public school on the left. You wander into it; it feels like a ghost town. Further along, crabs scurry on broken concrete—apparently more aftermath from the destructive tsunami. The walking is much more difficult here due to the piles of debris and coral. You contemplate turning back or finding a way into town by cutting through the walled-in school. You decide to forge on at least to see what is around the next corner.

Bikini Beach, Maafushi, Maldives Bikini Beach Wall in Maafushi, Maldives

A fence runs almost to the water. You slink around it. On the other side, bikini-clad girls lounge on chairs in the sun, a couple swims holding each other in the clear water and powdery sand gleams white amidst swaying palm trees. Separating this small beach from town is a perimeter fence that runs the complete length. On the town-side of the fence you notice another sign warning of bikinis. As you head back to the inn, you pass by Maafushi’s fish market–a handful of fish laid out along the roadside with prospective buyers inspecting the catch.

Fish Market in Maafushi, Maldives

The water is clear and warm, the waves very minimal. It is somewhat apparent that Bikini Beach is a false beach, built up over time with sand from somewhere else. The slope is very gradual, remaining shallow for much of the distance outward. Fish swim about. You are careful not to step on any of the dead coral patches. As you continue further out, the sand become less pronounced, the rocky outcropping more so.

It holds your interest for an hour, watching some interesting fish swim about, some in schools, some solitary. You head back to shore past some Russian girls and a honeymooning couple. You gather your belongings and make the five minute trek to the public beach you discovered earlier on the other side of Maafushi.

Boat Propped on Drums in Maafushi, Maldives

You drop your gear next to one of the oil-drum-propped ships and head into the water. The water depth is much more variable here, with deep drop offs and high ridges interspersed. The fish life is less so here, but the increased serenity here (in comparison to Bikini Beach) is a welcome advantage. When you look back to the coast, you see just the propped-up, weather-beaten ships—no sign of hotels or tourists. But once again, with a lack of waves, a lack of fish and a lack of great sand, you grow wary as the clouds start to darken, and leave shortly thereafter.

It starts to rain, and when it rains on Maafushi, it is extremely hard to find something to do, unless you want to stick to mediocre beaches in the rain. You walk to a convenience store and find some snacks from Bangladesh and some chips from Malaysia, along with a soda. You pop open the bag and stand under an overhang watching the deluge.

As it clears, you move to a stone wall and sit yourself on it. You notice some feisty house crows and start throwing them pieces of snacks. One keeps on winning the race. This continues for a good 15 minutes. As it is, this is one of the better ways you find to spend your time in Maafushi.

Alcohol is forbidden in the inhabited islands of the Maldives. Nightlife, thus, on an island like Maafushi or Guraidhoo consists of medicore restaurants and wandering around. There isn’t much in the way of music venues, shopping possibilities, movies or other entertainment.

You sit in a chair for a while and watch couples eat at a candlelit restaurant on the water. It looks kitschy and manufactured, but the options are few and for any here on an economically-induced honeymoon, perhaps the best of bad choices. Eventually, the servers start packing up tables and chairs while one couple remains. An awkward procedure you watch for a bit before getting up to wander. You spot a pool table in a hotel and walk inside.

“What room number are you,” the front desk asks as you head directly for the pool table.

“102,” you respond.

“Thank you sir.”

You rack the balls and set up a game of pool. The clerk flips through cards.

Halfway through the second game the front desk clerk wanders over. “Are you staying at this hotel?” he asks.

“Nope”

“Oh, I asked you for the room number and thought you stay here”

“No, but that is my room number,” you note flashing your keys from the hotel down the street.

“Okay, I see, well you can finish this game but then you must go”

You wander out around the corner, past a busy restaurant and down a street. You pass a shop for fruit juice and smoothies. You walk inside. You note that they have a bunch of flavouring syrups—not what you wanted to see.

“What kind of fresh fruit do you have?”

“Bananas”

“Okay, can I have a fresh banana smoothie?”

He blends one up and pours it into a glass. It is quite expensive and is quite bad. You hang out in the back of the smoothie shop killing time, sipping on the poorly balanced smoothie. It is another problem with life on an island, the lack of good produce.

You wake up to an absolute downpour. Both a private ferry running direct between Maafushi and Male and the public ferry making one stop in between the two are scheduled to leave in the early morning. Being a Thursday, you realize that if you don’t get off the island today, you are stuck here until Saturday as ferries cease on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.

You leave your room looking for breakfast, but no one is around. You walk into the inn’s kitchen and notice the various supplies, such as cans of tuna. A large, white freezer hums in the corner. You walk to it, open the lid and peer inside. A large, whole rock-hard tuna lies across the other frozen items.

A hotel worker arrives, shoos you out of the kitchen and gets to work on a skimpy breakfast.

Rain Puddles in Maafushi, Maldives

The rain continues to drive down. You watch out the window as other hotels drive their customers 30 seconds to the ferry dock. Others provide umbrellas or other amenities to keep people dry. You look around and are offered nothing but a wave goodbye. The umbrellas offered on arrival are nowhere to be found once they obtained your money. You step outside and, within 20 seconds, are completely drenched. What was dirt paths yesterday are ponds, and you slosh through it.

The townspeople and tourists wait under a large open-air shelter near where the ferries dock. It is crowded and steamy, despite the blowing wind. You veer off to the left where the private ferry jerks in the water.

“Do you have tickets,” the dockhand calls out as you step to the gangplank.

“No, I buy on ship yes?”

“No ticket, we are full”

“Full? Where do I buy ticket?” you ask.

“No more ticket, boat full.”

You walk towards the pavilion now understand why the crowd is gathered there. Every piece of clothing and every surface of your skin is completely drenched. You look at the packed private ferry and realize that you are now one ferry away from being stuck on Maafushi for two full days. You start coming to terms with the idea of paying the couple hundred dollars for a motorboat out of this place.

The private boat sets off into the choppy waters. There is no sign of the public government ferry, but the horizon is muddled and grey. You recall that the ferry dropped you off closer towards town, and not where the private ferry was, and so you head off closer in that direction with the hopes of a head start on everyone else.

Under a blue tent, set up over a white plastic table, you seek refuge from the rain. The wind sends the rain at you regardless, but the additional discomfort seems reasonable given the stakes. Minutes turn to eternity with no ferry in sight. The ferry is now late by more than 30 minutes, and you have been outside for approximately 45 minutes now. Perhaps the ferry has been cancelled.

With that thought in mind, you turn and walk through ever deepening water to a nearby hotel. You turn the knob and open the door, stepping inside the nicely decorated but unstaffed lobby. You pull up a plastic chair towards the door, sit down and watch the horizon. Another ten minutes goes by and then you see movement in the grey. You quickly slide the chair back to its original place and set back off through the newly-formed pond to where the ferry docked upon arrival.

The ferry enters the harbour and turns to its port side. You now realize that the ferry is actually heading to the docking position adjacent to the pavilion. You immediately set off for the ferry but are now in a race against the mob from the closer-set pavilion. Your plan has backfired.

The ferry arrives into Male along with the torrential rains. Whereas the private ferry set off from Jetty 1 along the northern coastline, the government ferry dock is on the southwest corner. This is just another scourge of missing the private ferry, as your walk is now a nearly direct diagonal across the whole of Male, rather than a few minutes down.

Rain in Male, Maldives

The streets are flooding, thick streams of turgid water. Motorbikes drive through splitting the pooled liquid to either side. Having never dried from Maafushi, you are in no worse condition. The upside, however, is that Male is much more picturesque than the island of Maafushi due to its colourful character and characters. Thus, even in the rain, you can find great entertainment in the daily life. It is a highlight of the day as you splash through the streets on your way to the airport ferry. You are glad to be back in Male.

Bicyclist in Male, Maldives
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Tak

New York, NY
Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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