If you were to make a list of the most peculiar and interesting places on the planet, the Maldives would surely be very near the top. It’s a volcanic island archipelago sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean with thousands of tiny atolls, each just barely breaching the oceanÕs surface. Sustaining human life here is a remarkable challenge. Without a source of fresh water anywhere in the island chain, other than rainwater catchment from rooftops, and of course coconuts, the country relies on desalination plants for almost its entire freshwater supply. A fire at the main desalination plant last week in the capital city, Male, created a national crisis and government shutdown that nearly forced us to abort our Maldives visit in mid-ocean and return to Sri Lanka. Tsunami is an ever-present risk due to the low elevation levels (around one meter for many islands), and if the story of global warming is true, this country will be the first to succumb to the rising tide. The evacuation of the Maldives and the sinking of its beautiful reefed islands will be one of the more tragic moments in human history.
But for today these issues are under control, thanks to a well organized government and an array of social programs that ensure every inhabited island has power, water, access to fuel, and all the necessities for a safe life. It is one of the few countries we’ve visited where there isn’t even a hint of corruption anywhere, and we’ve found this 100% Muslim population to be the most honest dealing and straight forward people weÕve ever met. There are simply no rip-offs, no back handers for government officials, and if we dropped a wallet from our pocket, we’re certain the locals would ensure it’s prompt return. How this culture of honesty came to exist amidst a region with such rampant corruption is an interesting social question. Perhaps it’s rooted in Muslim tradition, or perhaps it’s the nature of life in a tiny remote island village, where a reputation for dishonesty could have lifelong penalties.
So it’s a curious feature of these islands that about a third are inhabited by local villagers, a third are uninhabited and vacant, and a third have been sold off to privately owned resourts (over-the-water bungalow honeymooners being the target audience). The sale of those islands has been a huge revenue generator for the authoritarian Maldivian government. The constitution requires every Maldivian citizen to practice Muslim, with the President being the “supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam” and to prevent the spread of western ideas among the locals, the movement of visitors among the inhabited islands is heavily restricted (not that we’ve paid much attention to those rulesÉ a benefit of being here on a sailboat). Our mingling with the locals has again been a highlight of our time here so far, and another example of how our lingering prejudices are being systematically deconstructed by the people we meet on our journey.
So we’ve been island hopping in some of the most idyllic tropical atolls we’ve seen since the Tuamotus last year. The white sand beaches and turquoise bays are what have made the Maldives so famous, and we confirm these features have few rivals anywhere in the Tropics. Sadly this will be our last Tropical adventure on this voyage, so as we head south towards the country’s capital of Male, we’ll be soaking it up with very mixed emotions.
Note to yachties heading for Maldives: There are some bureaucratic complications associated with yacht movement and crew changes in the Maldives. We highly suggest working with yachting agents Assad and Muzhid at Real Seahawks Maldives to ensure smooth clearance in Uligamu or Male at a very reasonable agency cost. They were also instrumental in helping us form our security plan for the high risk area, and are connected to all the security contractors that work out of Male. Our highest recommendation for their services and our most sincere thanks for what they did for us.
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