Maldives: Uligamu & Utheemu

The Maldives are a spectacular string of atolls in the Indian Ocean between India and the Middle East, halfway around the world from Minnesota. Historically, they were important for trade because of their location, a nice stop over. Now they are primarily a very up-scale tourist destination with some of the best scuba diving in the world and some of the most expensive resorts.

The resorts are so expensive that most divers don’t stay in them. They instead fly into the capital Malé and board a ‘live-aboard’ dive boat. So they do lots of diving, barely setting foot on land. The land is barely there; the islands are the tips of mountains surrounded by corals. The average elevation is less than five feet and the highest point is less than eight. The rising sea levels are such a serious threat that the government has developed a total evacuation and relocation plan.

There was considerable damage (something like 60% their annual GDP plus significant loss of life) from the Boxing Day, 2004, Tsunami but far less devastation than in Malaysia. Because the islands are on tops of mountains rather than the Continental Shelf, the water is deep very close to shore. That means the wave doesn’t break and crash down on the islands but just washes across them and keeps going. That’s a good thing, or at least less bad. Standing on an eight-foot peak, looking at a fifteen-foot wave can never be good.

The word ‘atoll’ by the way comes from the Sinhalese language.   For us, the Maldives mean tender stops at two of the most northerly islands. For cruise ships, they are basically beach days. There is a historically significant palace on one, which was the home of Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu who led the successful revolt against the Portuguese in the 16th Century. They do have a shop or two with t-shirts “I heart the Maldives” made in China. Lots of smallish, reddish dolphins in the area of our island.

Uligamu is pretty much as advertised without the t-shirt stalls or up-scale resorts. We got on the tender at about 10 to 10, on the shore by 10:00, walked the length and breadth of the village, no one tried to sell us t-shirts, scuba lessons, or guided tours via tuk tuk. That was refreshing. A possible exception to the no sellers comment was one man holding a machete behind his back and talking to us in something other than English. I’m guessing he was offering to get us coconuts.

By then it was 10 after 10 and we set out to find a beach. Once you got past the trash at the high water mark, the beaches were great and almost completely circled the island, white sand and clear water. Many of the shells on beach were walking around, presumably homes for hermit crabs. Snorkeling from the beach was good but not the Great Barrier Reef. There was plenty of coral, much of it ghost, and enough fish, mostly small, to keep me amused.

Doré doesn’t like this picture; thinks it makes her look fat but she wasn’t worried at the time.

20170329_112110.jpgThese bench-like things (from a distance, I thought bike racks) were rather numerous, quite comfortable, and surprisingly easy to get out of, if you thought of a reason why you might want to do that. Most of our beach time was spent like this. Since there were no guides and no tours, we don’t know what kind of trees these are but they were the best shade available. They probably made a 15°F difference and there was a bit of a sea breeze after noon. We didn’t really venture inland, partly because of mosquito-born diseases that can happen here, and mosquitos were about the only fauna we could expect to see on land. Very few near the beach.

Overall, I have no idea how the islanders support themselves but picking up trash isn’t one of the things they do. If they cleaned up and had a few stalls selling coconut milk and local handicrafts, their beaches would attract cruise ships like sand flies.

A little information we gleaned from a local school teacher (who is paid by the national government, is off work at one, and spends his afternoons on the beach) is that there are 68 local students and 23 teachers and staff. My suggestion is to pass out 68 trash bags and tell the kids litter is a bad thing. Not only would they be collectors, they would be enforcers. Or maybe hire 12 or 15 trash collectors to replace some of the educators. I can’t believe I am proposing laying off educators but in terms of clean-up, I like the 68 trash bags idea. The teachers could find something better to do.

I see no reason to come here but for the diving and that probably takes a boat from a different atoll.

I’ll come back to the topic, if not the islands of the Maldives later.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s