So today we flew to the Maldives for a much needed vacation!! We instantly saved money by flying from Sri Lanka and using a Sri Lankan company called findmyfare.com I would highly recommend doing this as part of a bigger trip to Asia as the cost for return flights was only £150pp!!
After a 1 hour and 10 minute flight we landed in Hulhumale airport, you automatically get a 30 day free visa on arrival which is fab, all you have to do is fill out your arrival card that you pick up from the departure gate in Colombo. You do really need to have a hotel or guesthouse booked in advance as immigration like to know where you are going though we could not remember the name of ours and explained this – they seemed happy with our ramblings and did not push us for further detail so you could pretend if you haven’t sorted something earlier.
We had actually used AirBnB and were to stay in a mans apartment in Hulhumale, it was very cheap at £17 per night, there was some confusion as in the emails he had lead me to believe he was greeting us at the airport. When we stepped into arrivals he was nowhere to be seen and we had to turn on the dreaded data roaming to find out the name of the accommodation – lord knows how much that’ll cost!
We headed to the help desk and the lady was more than willing to advise, we rang the number I had on my email and found out he wasn’t coming and wanted us to take the bus though we actually misheard and thought he, himself was on the bus to meet outside the airport. We took this time to enquire how much rufiyaa to the pound, so we knew how much to draw out of the ATM. If possible I would advise bringing hard dollars as you can exchange these and then on return change them back, however, if like us, you only had your card, you were forced to use the ATM which meant drawing out exact amounts.
We waited for the bus to arrive and when it did were expecting our host to jump off or let us know whether to get on, this didn’t happen. Confused we called him and he told us we needed to get the bus, I asked what stop we should get off at as we had no idea where we were going, he simply could not answer this and said the first – it was actually the second but luckily we didn’t get off. We were a little annoyed as it was boiling hot and we had been waiting around for almost an hour, he seemed to be no help at all!!
We got off in the strangest place I have ever seen, complexes of new apartment buildings that all looked the same and were eerily quiet, imagine some strange American horror where the people have vanished and no one ever figured out why!! We were greeted by our host and it was a very quick walk from the bus stop to his apartment, the room was nice enough for the price though I was melting with the heat. He told us the beach was nearby and there was an area I could swim in a costume. The Maldives is an Islamic state and women are not allowed to show their shoulders or knees in public places including beaches so I was quite happy there was supposedly a designated area for this. We got changed and headed down, it is such a weird place and we did not get a good vibe at all, there was an area that he had pointed out but there were signs along the beach saying no swimwear, and no kissing (or inappropriate acts of love) and I felt to uncomfortable to take any sort of risk. The beach was beautiful, white sand and turquoise water but there was absolutely nothing to do. Most definitely a residential island and so we wouldn’t recommend staying there but hopping on a ferry to Male, so that is what we did.
We told our host that the island simply wasn’t up to our expectations and so had decided to go to Male, it had nothing to do with his hospitality or the room but more the fact we just felt uneasy in this twilight city. We grabbed the next bus to the ferry port and jumped on to a ferry, it was very beautiful travelling across the water and within 20 minutes we had arrived. We disembarked and headed to a nearby cafe to ask some advice to where we could stay for cheap, they couldn’t tell us exactly as they didn’t know but pointed towards inland which makes sense – beachfront is always expensive!
We headed inland and saw 2 hotels, we nipped inside to gauge the prices we would be facing, a room there would cost over $100 a night – way out of our tight budget. We asked if there were cheaper guesthouses but she wasn’t very willing to help saying the prices you are looking at are $80+, we were a little disheartened at this and started to regret leaving our budget accommodation in such a rush. However, we hadn’t walked more than 50 metres round the corner when we saw a red sign saying “real inn” down a very small side street, it was worth a look. We went upstairs to reception and asked what the cheapest room rate was – $50 a bit too much, I quickly said that we were only on a $40 budget but thank you for his help, he quickly changed his mind and gave us the room for the $40, I reckon we could have possibly got this cheaper had I stated lower but was afraid to put him off, you live and you learn – don’t be afraid to haggle!!!
The room is clean, air conned and free wifi is included, we were right by the ferry port and just one row behind the sea front – a bloody gem if you ask us!! We went out and paraded along the promenade taking in the lovely scene of boats and crystal clear water – ever so strange to think of a harbour with clear water, even in the dark you could see the fish swimming and darting through the boats. We bumped into a shop owner who was all to keen to help us find a “local” restaurant, too keen it seemed, we explained we had no money and wanted a cheap, local eatery where the Maldivian people go. He took us to The Baywatch, we sat down and had a look at the menu, it was moderately expensive, too expensive for us and there wasn’t even any Maldivian cuisine on the menu!! We left and decided to wander ourselves, after literally turning the corner we came across Dot Com cafe, it had Maldivian men sitting on the upper deck which we took as a good sign. We had a quick glance at the menu and were very happy with the prices, much more to our budget, we enjoyed chicken noodles for 45 rufiyaa and seafood noodles for 60 rufiyaa (I recommend the chicken over seafood, it was yum!) You could even get chicken curry for 20 rufiyaa which is the equivalent to just less than a pound!!
After we finished our meal a plate was presented to us – beetle leaves, this is a tabaccoesque product you chew to get a buzz, the locals here and in Sri Lanka love it, if you see people with red lips and tongues this is what they have been chewing. We decided to try some and were advised exactly what to do by some locals – you take the beetle leaf and rub about half a pea size lump of lime (crushed coral paste) into the middle, you add a beetle nut and Ras el Hanout for flavour then chew away. In Sri Lanka the locals spit this like you would chewing tobacco, however, the Maldivian locals told us it was harmless to swallow as long as you chewed for long enough. Sherard was the first to try and then I thought, you only get one opportunity – can’t say I enjoyed it and actually gagged at the texture but it did leave me with a wonderful red tongue.
We bought some delicious looking donuts and headed back to the hotel, the heavens opened and it was rather amusing to see the motorcyclists race to the side to duck under cover from the downpour, we sought out shelter and had a good giggle with the locals as the tarpaulin suddenly formed an aggressive leak drenching a young boys head. The rain lasted for a few minutes tops so we once again headed off.
Now we are in bed preparing for an episode of Downton and planning our sightseeing around Male in the morning, we wish you all good night and a happy tomorrow!!!