Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Morning in Maafushi Part 1 (Maldives Diaries)

Mornings in Maafushi are mild, and the colors are ever so vivid. I love these mornings. On my first morning during my second visit, I only had a short time to take in the calm surroundings of the promenade. There were puddles from last night's rain, but the sun graciously shone, rendering blues to the sky and the ocean. So early in the morning, there weren't anyone swimming at Bikini Beach, the island's only area where bikinis are allowed. After all, Maafushi, with its population of 1,300, is still a "local island", thus is governed by certain norms of behavior. Nowhere in the island can you buy alcohol too.


Kaani Beach Hotel is a great hotel to stay in, but if wifi connection is essential to your holiday, then look elsewhere. When I complained about the difficulty in getting through any of their half-a-dozen signals, the front desk man said, and I quote, "It's the same all over the island." Ugh. Not true. I stayed in "Stingray Inn", a delightful, well-enclosed hotel located inland - and it had excellent wifi signal and fast internet. In fact, if you wanted to download stuff, you could because of the speed - not that I went to Maldives for that. Internet connection, these days, is a travel essential when you need to connect to home or work without paying for exorbitant long distance calls. It is not "the same all over the islands". Unfortunately, there are no internet cafes in Maafushi (unless I missed them).

Breakfast in Kaani Beach Hotel was interesting, though it had limited options. The eggplant (aubergines) dish was particularly tasty. Rice had embellishments of vegetables, and didn't seem cooked the way we do fried rice (i.e. it isn't oily). My plate had paratha but heaven knows it doesn't belong with my rice.

The restaurant staff of Kaani is very attentive, and they know how to make their guests feel welcome. Meanwhile, I was gearing up for my excursion of the day.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Concrete slabs are placed at Bikini Beach to help avoid erosion.

Part of the "sea view" from my 3rd floor balcony. If however you absolutely require a wifi connection, then you'd have to look elsewhere for this. Kaani's wifi is almost non-existent. There are bout 5 to 6 signals (and their corresponding passwords - including signals from the two other Kaani hotels in the island) but nothing worked. I almost lost hair out of desperation catching wifi during my 4-day stay.

My very limited buffet haul. I also had fried egg delivered to my table.

Eggplant dish

This was a tuna meal, I think. :)

Flan cubes

Fresh catch are on display at the bay, near the harbour. Mornings in the islands are always characterized by fisherfolk selling their fish. I haven't seen an officially designated "market" in Maafushi.

Rooms at Kaani Beach Hotel have a choice of either standard or deluxe - and a family room - and "sea view" or "city view". Above is the "city view" which is understandably cheaper than the beach-fronting rooms. To quite honest, the options don't make much difference. "Sea view" is shown below. - and has partial vie of the ocean because of the tall coconut trees. It has a better view - than the roofs - but barely. The family room is quite a catch though because of its space.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Tempestuous Ride to Maafushi (Maldives Diaries)

The ride to Maafushi was something else. The sea wasn't turquoise; it was dark blue. And the ride rocked like there was no tomorrow. I tried to be calm but I was consciously aware of the possibility of us tipping over. 

My previous rides were a constellation away – they were smooth sails, like being ushered into paradise. This, on the other hand, was akin to the horror genre, and I don’t scare easily. This made the rowdy Chinese clam up. As if that wasn't enough, 1 ½ hours into the ride, the boat recklessly bumped against the Gulhi port, the only stopover for this trip before reaching Maafushi.

Ticket booth that serves Villingili, Maafushi, Thilafushi (the garbage disposal island), Gulhifalhu, cargo shipping, Guraidhoo and parking tickets.

Jetty waiting area. Entry requires a ticket.

There was backlash against the impact and I was shaken for 10 seconds or so. Instead of being apologetic, the ferry staff laughed. Laughed! A child was crying because she fell off her seat – and they all laughed. Talk about insensitivity. They opened up the machine box and decided that we could get off the boat to wait. 

Twenty minutes later, we were sailing southwestward once again. But midway to our destination, the boat conked out again. We were at a tempestuous area, and rocking sideways. They had to secure the anchor while they tried fixing the machine. That didn't take long, but that was more than enough trouble to last me a week.

Alighting from the boat was another problem, as they found it difficult to position the boat where they could maneuver the passenger ramp. To cut the long story short, we were met by the people from Kaani Beach Hotel, with their baggage cart in tow. We leisurely walked a hundred meters south until a familiar facade greeted me. It sounds Hawaiian than anything Maldivian. Kaani.


Gulhi is a local island, a stopover for rides to Maafushi.

From Gulhi, you can see some of the islands of Anantara resort island.

Gulhi Harbour

At the hotel lobby, I was handed a watermelon drink. After registration formalities (involving a lot of forms to fill), I waited some 20 minutes to get my room fixed.

Meanwhile, I started arranging for my daily excursions for the next two days. I went outside and just enjoyed the cool breeze blowing all my cares away. The wind was a magical panacea that temporarily dissipated all hints of stress.

In a snap, I rolled with the waves and my spirit was set free. There are perks of a holiday that’s hard to describe. This was one of it.

Like other hotels, Kaani Beach Hotel representatives will meet their guests at the harbour. Baggage trolleys wait with them, then it's a 10-15 minute walk to the hotel.

Buffet breakfast is served here from 7AM to 10 AM at the restaurant of Kaani Beach Hotel.

Room 201 is a family room with a "sea view" and a balcony. Our other room 204 is a standard with "sea view" as wall and is smaller. Most standard rooms have "city view", i.e. a view of the roofs.

The view from my glass window at room 201.

Kaani Beach Hotel has an enviable location - beach front.

Maafushi is the biggest island of the South Male Atoll, with a population of 1,200. It is the atoll country's most popular "local island" visited by tourists. While it's home to the national penitentiary, it is also fast developing as an independent tourism island, with so many guest houses and hotels sprouting every tourist season. This, of course, is different from Maafilaafushi which is part of the northern atolls.

Bikini Beach at dusk.

This much is true. No one comes to Maldives scrimping. It just isn't the place for keeping moolah in your pocket. Staying in Maafushi, a "local island", is a conscious decision to splurge your dollar by eventually visiting the luxurious "resort islands" in the vicinity. Maafushi, until recently, has been closed to foreign visitors. Opening it to the world is a peek into real Maldivian life. Resorts don't show authentic Maldivian living otherwise; but are mere laps of luxury not exactly shared by its population. Having said this, there are rules, conventions,if you will, that have to be followed. Nudity and public display of affection are not allowed, as are alcohol, etc. The beach strip in front of Kaani is called "Bikini Beach". It is the only place in Maafushi where bikinis are allowed. I've even seen ladies going topless. The locals are pretty much tolerant, but foreigners should not test their limit.

That night, I window shopped and learned that a mask bought for $70 in Male was just $15 in Maafushi. That gave me a jolt. Baligtad ata. From where I come from, islands and resorts fetch higher prices than city shops. In Maldives, local products (carvings from jackfruit trees) fetch amazingly affordable prices. 

Tuna Kothu Roshi is a popular gastronomic dinner staple said to have originated from Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Ingredients include chopped roshi mixed with curry sauce, vegetables, egg and meat (tuna). It has an interesting taste but I wasn't very fond of the tuna after taste. This cost me 49 Rf, plus 17 Rf coke. I also ordered mixed fried noodle as my main meal.

I found the local restaurant where I used to have dinner last November, the name I still couldn't read. Time has faded the sign board, and no one seemed to care.  I ordered mixed fried noodle at 60 Rf ($4) and Tuna Kothu Roshi to sample it. Why pay the extravagant 200 Rf meals when you can get decent food in a local restaurant? Fortunately for me, I roam and I discover. Can I just say that in all my visits to this anonymous restaurant, I have never seen another foreigner eat there? Conveniently, this restaurant accepts US dollars, though I think most of the Maldives do. 

Public ferry leaves the Male pier ones daily at 3PM (boarding time is 2:35PM), except Fridays, and costs $2 per person. This is the same port that serves commuters to Villingili and Guraidhoo. Travel time to Maafushi is approximately 2 hours, with one short stop at the island of Gulhi, which is barely 20 minutes to the final destination. The boat's name is Ranthari but this isn't written anywhere on the boat so tourists bound for Maafushi should repeatedly ask the guys at the pier for updates, just to be sure you won't get left behind. Return trips to Male run daily, and leaves Maafushi pier at 7:30AM, except Fridays (a holy day for the Maldivians). 

This is the Eye in the Sky!

One of the two iconic symbols of Maafushi.

The beach side promenade at night is bright but mostly deserted. 

Kaafu aka South Male Atoll

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Half a Day in Male - and What to See (Maldives Diaries)

Male, Maldives - I awoke from the chill of the airconditioner. It was 5:30 AM and I could see a bit of sunlight peeping through the curtain line. I got up and worked on my online stuff. By 7:30, I found my way to Olive Restaurant, Hotel Octave’s 5-table food hall at the first floor (2nd, actually). 

I picked the Olive Breakfast instead of the dreary sounding Continental Breakfast. Something that carries the name of the restaurant must be better than the other options, right? Olive breakfast has 3 toasted bread, butter and jam, 2 pieces of (chicken) sausage, fried egg and orange juice. They also served a fruit platter of delectably sweet papaya and sour oranges.

View from my room at the 5th level.

Narrow streets characterize Male's city roads.

Olive breakfast

Some of the sweetest papayas are found in Male. Their oranges are however sour.

After breakfast, I walked to the front desk manned by a personable chap who was sniffing away his running nose. He handed me a map and perfunctorily instructed where I could go: the souvenir shops, the fish market.

I, of course, wanted to be elsewhere, but I needed to orient myself as to where I could find Majeedi Magu, Male’s main commercial street. After one misdirection, I found Majeedi and walked towards the "Artificial Beach", ironically the capital's only serviceable beach. .

Along the way, I've reoriented myself to familiar sites I've seen from last year: Male’s penchant for either pastel or livid colors; the city hall, Olympus cinema, a couple of mosques, a sundry of garment and electronic shops, an Ace Hardware and finally, the almost deserted Artificial Beach.

Street signs are carved on concrete.

One of the few small mosques found along Mahjeedi Magu. Male has 10 mosques all over the capital.

Another small mosque along the capital's commercial district.

Shopping along Majeedi Magu (above and below).

City Hall

Olympus Screen, one of the only two cinema halls in Male. Unfortunately, Olympus these days caters to children's theatre (recitals), not movies.

"Gadi Iru", a Maldivian film, is shown at the Shwack Cinema located along Haveeri Hingun.

A tree-lined side street.

Delly's Pizza is properly located just a block or so from the Artificial Beach. Its vibrant colors always catches my attention everytime I walk past that part of Majeedi Magu.

The breakwater was lined by tripods that beat the persistent rush of the waves, in the process preventing further erosion.

Without them, it would hasten the sinking of this island. From the promenade, I could see planes steadily arriving at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Maldive’s main airport located in the island of Hulhule.

Not long after, I braved the drizzle to revisit the Tsunami Memorial and the nearby Tripod Monument. I then took a taxi (25 rufiyaa fixed rate, payable with either the dollar or local money) to get to the National Museum.

Artificial Beach, the capital's only leisure beach for swimming.

Tripods protecting the breakwaters against erosion.

Small crabs are found on the tripods.

From the breakwater and the Artificial Beach, you can see the frequent arrival of planes at the adjacent Hulhule island where the main airport is located.

Tsunami Memorial

The devastating Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004 affected Maldives, Indonesia and Thailand. This is dedicated to the people who lost their lives at the tsunami that followed the earthquake. 

Tripod Monument just across the Tsunami Memorial. Paying homage to inanimate structures that help "save" the city from erosion.

Nissan March, our taxi, has fixed 25 -rufiyaa fare.

The museum, once the Sultan's Palace, charges a hefty 50 rufiyaa entrance fee, and a 10 Rf tariff for camera use. To be quite honest, 50 seems exorbitant for a collection of haphazardly arranged, albeit forgettable “memorabilia” (and I realize the irony here). As it was during my first time visit, the petite elderly lady guard was present, but she was less intrusive. 

Afterwards, I tried finding Somerset Hotel and couldn't (I'd be staying there on my last day in atoll country). After scouring half a dozen magus (streets), I gave up and headed towards the Fish Market. It's highly recommended by guide books. I missed it the first time because I thought then that "seeing fish" wouldn't exactly excite me. But in a place with a dearth of local sites, the market proved one of the more interesting places to visit. Way better than the National Museum - or Sultan Park.

Entrance/Exit of the National Museum.

Front of the National Museum

Busy scene in front of the Fish Market

Facing the coast, the market is a row of basins filled with fresh catch, including giant tunas, all plopped on a container for display. It was an interesting traipse into an industry that takes advantage of the populace’s primary source of affordable meat – the fish

Being Muslims, Maldivians don’t eat pork and their obvious lack of space disallows herding cows, goats, etc. Chicken meals are prepared halal so you don’t exactly get the taste of chicken the way you’re accustomed with. And, just as an addendum, dog are not allowed all over the archipelago either. This certainly baffles. Who in their right state of consciousness would ban dogs in their midst? Dogs, wrestling, religious articles outside the Koran, pornography, alcohol – they’re all prohibited in the country. Yet – drug addiction is allegedly rampant all over the land. Go figure!

Scenes from the Fish Market.

Iskandhar School along Chandanee Magu, the other commercial street of Male.

Looking for Somerset Hotel.

A mural depicting how Male would be like in a few year's time.

I walked towards the Presidential Jetty (Jetty no. 1), crossed the Republic Square (Jumhooree Maidhaan, considered the heart of Male) amidst greedy pigeons, posed for posterity at the Friday Mosque, hopped at Sultan Park, then hailed a taxi back to Hotel Octave. I had second thoughts if the driver was familiar wth the hotel, but he knew exactly where Kaminee Magu was, navigating through some of the narrowest streets this side of paradise. It was almost 12 noon, check out time.

Presidential Jetty (Jetty no. 1)

Republic Square - the capital's "town plaza" where rallies are held.

Grand Friday Mosque just takes my breath away every time I pass by (above and below).

Friday Mosque's minarets. Visitors are welcome as long as they're properly attired.

A sculpture located at the roundabout, flanked by the Friday Mosque, the Armed Forces headquarters, and Sultan Park.

I was told I could stay in my room until 2:15PM when I’d get taken to the ferry terminal. At 12, I saw myself back to the restaurant. I ordered sweet and sour chicken and a cup of Basmati rice served with cracklingly delicious papadom (thin, crisp disc-shaped Indian food typically based on a seasoned dough made from black gram, fried or cooked with dry heat) – all for 80 Rf, plus sales tax of 6%. The TGST "tax" has been raised to 8% recently but some establishments seem to charge the old rate for some reason.

Sweet and sour chicken 

Basmati rice sprinkled with wisps of onion. Basmati's less sticky than our Philippine varieties.

Fun eating papadom.


The ferry terminal was as I remembered it: a flurry of activities filled with inter-island commuters and rushing tourists. I secured my $2 ticket and waited for the only boat traveling to the local island of Maafushi. Just like before, it arrived at 2:35PM, like clock work. 

There weren't sign boards indicating boat arrivals and departures. I had to ask every so often just to make sure I wasn't left behind. My boat was supposedly called Ranthari, but I couldn't find that name written anywhere). We boarded shortly alongside a group of noisy Chinese tourists who annoyed me with their barrage of devil-may-care public auditory display. 

Why do they have to be so loud, I kept wondering. Money obviously cannot buy manners, and if this smacks of prejudice, it is merely borne out of observation and my experiences all over. I noticed a middle-aged German couple and a gay couple whom we saw at Hotel Octave. Like me, they were also on holiday, yet they didn't impose their auditory pollution on the rest of the boat riders.

This is the Eye in the Sky!