Thoughts of the everyday drift and vanish on the tropical breeze
As I write this, I’m sitting in my office in Brno. Through the big window, I can see the main road with cars splashing along through the puddles. People battle to keep their umbrellas in shape against the wind. The hills in the distance are clouded in mist.
What I wouldn’t give to be somewhere else.
So, after looking around for a bit of inspiration, I stumbled upon The Maldives. And, I’m going to be honest, I probably couldn’t have found them on a map. I knew they were in the Indian Ocean, but that was about it. Beaches? Of course. Clear blue ocean? Check. Tropical climate? Yep. Right then…
The Maldives consists of a chain of 26 atolls stretching from north to south, with the capital, Malé, located on an atoll of the same name. It’s connected by air to Europe through Istanbul and Milan, mainly, but there are also many frequent services to and from China, India and Hong Kong.
Accommodation on the islands varies wildly in price, but the one thing you’re virtually guaranteed is access to a beautiful beach. Tourism is the main industry (having overtaken fishing and agriculture), and, with over 600,000 tourists visiting every year, it has developed a reputation for being a little paradise.
Travelling between islands is done with the aid of either seaplane or boat. Many resorts will organise this for you – typically by seaplane followed by a boat transfer to the jetty of the destination island. The boats themselves are usually speedboats (quicker but more expensive) or the local style of vessel, a long, narrow boat known as a dhoni.
Dhonis are the ones used by most locals. Because there are many routes set up for the benefit of traders and so forth jumping on one of these for a shorter hop is always a possibility. Dhonis used to be built using timber from banana trees, but nowadays, modern vessels makers tend to use fibreglass, for a long-lasting life and ease of maintenance.
Once you’ve discovered the beach, what else is there to do? Well, the typical activity for tourists is snorkelling or scuba diving. Banana Reef, on the North Malé atoll, is a popular diving spot for both. The variety of coral and fish is breathtaking, and the visibility is excellent.
Occasionally dolphins will make an appearance in this part of the ocean and, due to the popularity of it as a diving location, are used to human contact. The current can get a little strong in some areas occasionally, so if you’re not a strong swimmer, instruction is advised.
Manta Point, located in the south-east of the same atoll, is, unsurprisingly, a habitat for the creatures after which it is named. The reef starts at a depth of around 12 metres, and rays between 6 and 10 metres in length glide gracefully through the warm waters, as well as turtles, octopus, moray eels and the occasional barracuda.
Back on dry land, the National Museum, located in Sultan Park, in the capital, reopened in 2010 after new buildings were presented to the islands by the Chinese government. This three-storey building was designed to store artefacts with a view to restoring patriotism in the citizens of the islands.
Unfortunately, in February 2012, a number of the artefacts from the Maldives’ pre-Islamic era were damaged or destroyed in an attack by vandals – many are still there, but some are awaiting restoration even now.
Islam is the religion of the Maldives, and one of the most visible sights on the Malé skyline is the Grand Friday Mosque – one of the largest in Asia, able to hold around 5,000 people. The interior is decorated with many ornate woodcarvings and beautifully reproduced Arabic script.
If you’d like to see the modern-day equivalent of one of the most ancient trades on the island, get to the north of the city and investigate the Fish Market. Every morning, scores of fishing dhonis return, loaded with freshly-caught fish, and here is the place where they’re quickly and expertly gutted and filleted.
Everything from octopus to some truly monumental tuna is available to buy in this noisy and slightly chaotic place. Probably not one for the squeamish, though!
If you feel like having someone else do all the organisation for you, Secret Paradise Tours run everything from half-day walking tours of Malé to a week of island-hopping and diving. If it’s just a tour you’re after, City Discovery can do you a 7-hour tour of the capital.
It includes stops at local cafes to try freshly-made delicacies, as well as meeting members of the Save the Beach conservation group. These lads will tell you all about the delicate habitats of the creatures who live in the waters surrounding the islands.
After days of exploration and walking, it’s time to lie in your hammock on the beach again. Bask in the tropical winter sun, stroll along the soft, white sand and feel the warmth on your back. Fall asleep beneath the palm trees, before waking up and sating your appetite with some fresh seafood, coconut or delicious chicken or fish curries. I can taste it now!
So, as I lean back in my chair, and gaze out towards the grey and the rain, I can imagine myself there. A relaxing idyll where all thoughts of your everyday life drift away on the warm breeze.