We spent three restful days anchored off of the island of Uligan, in the Maldives. Compared with Galle, in Sri Lanka, it was paradise to look at. Actually, compared with most places, it was paradise to look at.
We’ve noted this before, but it is becoming more manifest to us as we make our way around the world. There is a well-beaten path that cruisers travel upon, such that most boats that circumnavigate go to the same places. Or at least, another way of saying it, is that all of the places that we we have been, have been frequented by many many others who are doing the same thing. The Galapagos, Papeete in Tahiti, Nuku Alofa in Tonga, Langkawi in Malaysisia, and so one. The fact that others have been here before doesn’t detract from their beauty, certainly. But it does shade the way that you interact with locals.
Take Uligan, for example. We chose Uligan because it is reported to be less tainted by frequent visitors, and is supposedly less of a bureaucratic nightmare for sailors than is the capital of the Maldives, Male. Both of these are no doubt true. We received reports from others who went to Male about the exorbitant charges and tight restrictions that were placed on them when they visited. For example, a vast majority of the islands here, are off limits for cruising sailors, and a permit to visit even a few requires an agent and payments of many hundreds of dollars.
And Uligan is supposedly trying to protect itself from outside influence. For example, locals were not allowed to visit our boat, and we were not allowed to give gifts, especially alcohol.
All that said, one could still not help but wonder what places like this before visiting yachts, and, perhaps more importantly, TV, cell phones, and the internet. We noted with great irony that when we went to visit the home of the fellow from whom we eventually purchased internet time and diesel, he had THREE satellite dishes with access to multiple international channels. During the short time that we were there, we saw him tuned to a show out of sunny California, where two buxom young women discussed the tatoos that they had recently put on their chests. I’m not sure how much worse we could have made things by having them over to our boat.
When we went to purchase diesel and internet time, the charges were outrageous. The fellow wanted $6/per hour for internet time. We found another local who said he’d give us access for “somewhere between $1 and $3, definitely not more than $3 per hour,” and we finally bargained him down to $1. In the end, it turned out that the fellow who agreed to the $1 price was working for the fellow who wanted $6, and he gave him a scolding in front of us, in Maldivian, for not getting more. We later found out that, had we paid the $6 rate, after 10 hours each of usage, we would have paid for their internet connection for about half a year.
We also purchased diesel, and bargained them down from $1.30 a liter to $1.00 a liter, close to the most we’ve paid anywhere in the world. When we checked the amounts being provided, we saw that we were getting about 9 liters for every 10 purchased.
What a shame. It may be that there are other people on the island (it is small, with just 450 or so inhabitants), but the ones we met didn’t feel very genuine.
The island itself was beautiful, a low coral atoll, with sturdy, clean houses fronting a long, wide street that ran the length of the island. You couldn’t help but notice the head-high mortar walls surrounding each yard, though, such that you were prevented from seeing what was going on in their daily lives, or even from getting more than a brief glimpse of their homes. It felt, a bit, like an extension of the head-scarfs worn by the women. Many did not return a greeting when you passed by, and some would tuck their faces further into their clothing or turn away as you neared.
But there were one or two that we met, in the company of their husbands, who had warm smiles and spoke engagingly.
At one end of the island, there were cranes and other heavy machinery, and it was clear that a major construction project was underway. What was that to be, we asked? A huge, luxury resort. Good luck staying isolated, folks.