It was only a few years ago that visiting islands in Maldives was relatively restricted; tourists weren’t just funneled to resort islands, they were actually banned from islands populated by locals. Lifting of the tourism ban in 2009 meant that cruising boats were no longer restricted to uninhabited or resort islands, but can visit populated islands as well. There’s a small but growing industry of guest houses and services for independent travelers. As a cruiser, we don’t need those much, but I’m immensely grateful: since it’s hard to imagine visiting a country where we’re effectively barred from getting to know the people and the culture.
Sure, we’re dosing heavily on the incredible natural beauty, and “what we did today” generally includes time spent in the water. A lot of time in the water.
But while our days near villages represent a relatively small portion of our time, they have provided a disproportionate share of the memories that stick, the experiences we seek:that chance to connect with people from another culture, learn from them, and broaden our horizon of understanding.
Like the anchorage we picked for the pretty spit of beach that turned out to be adjacent to a friendly family. We’re conscious of our differences in this relatively reserved culture and don’t want to foist ourselves on anyone, but the day we arrived we were welcomed into their circle, fed snacks and drinking coconuts, and shown heartwarming hospitality.
We were told about the family business selling catching trevally and snapper to the markets in the capital, Male, and taken to see the artful and swift filleting of a day’s catch. Sitting together on their beachfront, we had a surprisingly frank discussion about the state of Maldivian politics and their hopes and fears for the future.
But sometimes, our differences feel very present. Arriving at one island for a Koran recitation festival, even covered up from wrist to ankle I felt uncomfortable and unwanted at times. It’s OK, though. It’s incumbent on us to be good guests, and our visibly obvious differences aren’t always comfortable to our hosts.
Lifting the tourism ban doesn’t entirely mean we have freedom to roam. Generally, resorts aren’t too keen to have random visitors popping in, and levy stiff fees to encourage us to stay clear. We’ve heard $50 and $75 for privilege of landing a dinghy on the beach; the kids were asked for $7 each from the caretaker of an abandoned resort where they wanted to play on the beach. Generally, yachts are not considered welcome scenery within ½ mile of facilities. No, it doesn’t matter that you’d like to patronize the restaurant, or purchase a dive excursion. But there are also resorts which are welcoming. It’s easy enough to find out in advance by making a call or emailing to find out if they’re happy to have cruisers, or if you should save yourself the trouble and anchor elsewhere.
Given the sky-high room rates and especially given an expectation of privacy in the open-air / ocean facing bungalows, I don’t think it’s so unreasonable to keep our distance. In truth, this isn’t an issue for us, because we’re happy to try another Maldivian curry than eat a “western” meal that costs as much as week of our groceries. And sure, splashing out on pampering would be lovely. But we’re not missing the absence of it, either.
Instead, we keep a slow and steady pace southwards, from one beautiful spot to another. The perfect anchorage here has a trifecta of good snorkeling, good fishing, and a nice beach for an evening gathering. And, when we’re lucky, it comes with local knowledge, shared in friendship.
© Sailing Totem