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

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