Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 21st – Coup, What Coup in the Maldives?

As it's taken four days to sail from Mauritius to the Maldives, we've had plenty of time to try to work out what's happening on the islands, given that a coup is meant to have taken place there a couple of weeks ago – our big fear that the situation would be too unstable for us to call in there. Two days before we got there, there was a big demonstration, and it appears that the "interim government" has agreed to hold free elections "in the near future" (whenever that is). The reports are that this has calmed the atmosphere down a little, and thankfully this means that the ship feels that it's safe to call in at its busy capital Male.

Male is about the exact opposite of what people expect of the Maldives. Rather than a palm-fringed desert island of white sand, this is about the most densely populated place on the planet, with roughly 100,000 people crammed onto a tiny island of about 1 square mile. Almost every square inch of the island is built upon, with concrete high rises and office blocks lining the narrow streets filled with noisy motorbikes.

Anyone who comes to Male in search of the stereotypically relaxed Maldives resort is in for a big surprise; but, it's easy to find all that within a short boat trip from the capital. I took a trip to the beautiful resort island of Bandos, about 45 minutes away, and this place offered everything you'd imagine of the Maldives. The luxurious holiday cottages, swimming pools and beach bars all made this feel like a world away from Male.

But the star attraction were the picture perfect white sand beaches, lined by palm trees and lapped by impossibly blue waters. The clear water was lovely and warm, and the coral reef was just yards out to sea, filled with an amazing array of colourful sea life. It was so hot and steamy that you wanted to be in the sea anyway, but the snorkelling was some of the best I've had in a long time – the sheer variety of fish chomping away on the reef, and the palette of colours they were painted with was breathtaking.

Our time on the island was over all too soon, so it was time to get back to the real world in Male. A place this busy with people is never going to feel relaxed, but the atmosphere on the streets didn't seem like the place was in political turmoil. In fact, the people were incredibly friendly and welcoming – Tracy and another female passenger had explored the town earlier in the day, and people were constantly offering help and telling them about what they were seeing.

Let's hope that these beautiful islands and their lovely people will see their government restored to democracy soon – they deserve better.