(written for 9 April 09)
We would have arrived in The Maldives at about 10pm on Wednesday night, but
these low lying atolls aren't worth approaching when it's dark. In an act
of irony smacking of our prayers for more wind a few days earlier, we had to
slow Aroha down, to arrive at day break.
The first sight of the northern atoll of The Maldives was a truly moving
experience. As the halo of the sun arrived before the sun itself, we could
make out the long low shadow of the northern most islands. I think one's
first blue water passage is quite an experience, and all three of us were
looking forward to the destination after what has felt like a long journey.
Uligamu (the island off where we are anchored) Coastguard didn't respond to
my VHF calls (I can just imagine their voice mail message: "please only have
emergencies within working hours..."), so we anchored over the word
"anchorage" on the chart. About an hour later, four smartly uniformed
officers arrived at Aroha and set about filling out pages and pages of
forms. One guy checked we didn't have firearms, another animals (I didn't
declare Laith and Bernard- they're looking a bit wild by now), another guy
immigration... and I'm not too sure what the other guy was paid to do.
Maybe he just came along for some coke and cigarettes. I've never sweetened
officials with Marlborgh Lights before, so there's lots of new experiences
on this trip!
Niyaz (the immigration guy) (who, by the way, remembers "Susan Margret" and
"Matt" from Dubai) told us we need an agent, and there's only one approved
one on the island. "How will we find him when we come ashore?" "Don't
worry, he will find you!" Sure enough, there he was waiting for us on the
beach! Small town, huh!? As it turns out, Imaad (the agent guy) is Niyaz'
brother). There are only 450 people on this island, so everyone's related.
We had to see the officials again in the afternoon, and by then I didn't
recognise them as they had all changed to shorts and t-shirts! Later, we
had dinner at Niyaz' house, organised by Imaad.
The rules and regulations here are frustrating beyond belief. They want
people to come and stay in the five star resorts, but they make life
difficult for independent travel. The government has a long standing policy
of separating tourists from the locals, to 'protect' them from untoward
influence. In turn the locals have it pretty good- jobs for life, no tax,
The upside of getting through the red tape is that you can actually mix with
locals. No tourist shops selling shark jaws or other treasures plundered
from the oceans. The locals are happy to talk about their country and
lifestyle, and they can provide pretty much anything at a modest mark up.
The government however, charges a lot more.