27 August 2013
If the Maldives is paradise, does that make Male, it's island capital, Paradise City? Perhaps not. But it is still a really interesting place to see before you jump on a boat or plane to the less built-upon atolls.
I was in the Republic of the Maldives for work.
Not so tough, I know!
But I arrived the night before the rest of the crew, which was perfect for me, because it allowed me time to explore.
The Maldives is made up of a necklace of aquamarine stone atolls, at most only a few metres above sea level, and spreading over a vast 90,000 sq/km.
It is precarious and precious, and fascinating.
The island of Male lies at the bottom of a 'bead', on the strand to the right.
The airport is on the island of Hulhule, a hop away from the bulging capital island.
It is because of this unique geographical design that I had such a Bond movie experience on arrival. I was met at the airport by my hotel representative (who was surprised to be picking up a girl with surfboards, but that's another story) and escorted to a chic, covered speedboat with white leather seats, where I was handed a cloth refresher towel, and a bottle of water, then whisked across the night time sea to Male, and my hotel. It's a unique experience leaving an airport by boat, just to get to the city!
First impression, aside from the whole jet-set Bond movie thing, was how friendly everyone was. Really lovely, warm people. From the moment I entered the foyer of the Traders Hotel I was made to feel welcome and comfortable. Everyone was smiling!
After I had settled in, I turned on the television and apprehensively checked the room service menu (I had read about the food in the Maldives being really expensive but, to the contrary it was the cheapest room service I'd ever seen - and it was really good!). I got such a nice surprise to see my friends, Oni and Moses, from Fiji's Shangri-La on the in-house channel. It's an odd thing to be so far from home, in the middle of the night and see a familiar face from the other side of the world. But such a lovely way of being reminded that the world is small, and friends are plenty.
Before settling in for the night, I couldn't resist the urge to check out the rooftop pool. The air was balmy and the water was so inviting. In the soft light I could see a small group of people enjoying the atmosphere of the bar, their soft voices only broken by the clink of the glasses. I wanted to linger but I was so tired, and had exploring to do the next morning, so I made my way back downstairs for a very comfortable sleep.
As monsoonal clouds gathered around ominously, the concierge gave me a map and informed me that the winner of the Male marathon could complete a lap of the island in just eighteen minutes. I felt certain I would take much longer, especially with my camera for company, and I was right.
Male is an intriguing city, and it's brimming with photo opportunities! The tree-lined streets, crumbling buildings and bustling markets all provide snap-worthy vistas, as do the harbours. The fact that Male is the capital, with a population of over 100000, with all the rubbish that entails, and the bikes, and the boats, you would imagine the harbours to look a little murky. But they don't. All of the water around Male looks that same postcard turquoise colour that you would expect to find your over-water island bungalow perched above. It's just beautiful!
My wander took a pleasant hour and a half, including about ten minutes of taking shelter in a monsoon downpour.
I had lunch at the hotel rooftop restaurant and bar (non-alcoholic bar - the Maldives is predominantly an Islamic country and all of Male is dry). It has great views beyond the rooftop pool, of the city and across to the airport island.
I ordered a 'Hot Nights' - blueberry and raspberry puree, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and soda water. It was refreshing and altogether yum. You don't need alcohol with drinks like that!
For food, I had the tiger prawn tempura, and yellow fin tuna tartare, which at only $10US with caviar, lime, sprouts, and a little spicy kick was fantastic and delicious!
Male is the kind of adventure you need before settling in to the mindless relaxation and pampering that the island resorts offer. With rising sea levels, it won't be around forever, and I have a feeling of being privileged to experience it.
I loved Male, and would insist that anyone heading to a Maldivian resort should stay there at least one day, it's really worth it.