By Daniel Bosley
The trip around Huvadhu is done, as Vaadhoo became our last island this week. It’s been ten weeks since we left Addu for Fuvahmulah and it’s time to head back for a breather.
Notepads and hard drives are ready to burst. That hard-to-replace wire has to be replaced, and the holes in my jeans have become inappropriate. We’ve also got a pile of pictures and stories to work through before we pick up the trail in Laamu in a few weeks’ time.
While most of these travelogue articles have covered wider topics and themes, the practical aspects of the trip have been equally interesting (to me, anyway).
After five years of working here, I realised before we left that planning more than a few days ahead is to set yourself up for failure. So we’ve bumbled along through 19 islands with little more than an empty calendar and a vague plan.
So far, so good.
Finding places to stay has become easier with every island, as new friends have happily passed us on to other friends or family members on the next island – or to the empty rooms of the above currently in Male’. On more than one island, including Vaadhoo, we’ve found hosts via the blog itself, proving that people can be kind not just in real life but also online (who knew?).
Likewise, atoll transport is not something that can be reliably planned ahead, with ferry schedules sort of an oral tradition of their own. Like local history or folklore, there are many different versions, they’re rarely written down, and they don’t usually make sense. Also, bad weather or a public holiday can sink all but the most buoyant of travel plans (see below).
In terms of gathering stories, some have been obvious – Hakeem Didi in Nilandhoo, mat-making in Gadhdhoo, lakes in Fuvahmulah – but others take a little while to tease out, normally emerging during long conversations on the joali. Someone knowing a place like the back of their hand and asking them to tell you what’s interesting about the back of their hand are very different things. One island councilor flatly responded that there was nothing of interest in his island, but that’s never quite true. His hands were lovely, btw.
Explaining the project to people has also been a little tricky, partly as we still feel like we’re working it out ourselves. The concept of an independent Maldivian culture and travel blog is a novel one, especially in places that only got 24hr electricity in the past 20 years. While I had expected a foreigner being married to a Maldivian the other major novelty on smaller islands, it was actually a girl taking pics and flying drones that seemed to catch more people off guard – that and the word ‘isles’ (Two Thousand Rahtha, maybe?).
In terms of writing about our highs and lows, this has not been quite as straightforward as we thought. An attempt to be brutally honest in a blog post about one island visit was, despite best efforts at diplomacy, taken by residents as criticism of the island itself. Perhaps this is understandable when so little is written about most islands, and a bad story can hang around like an edgy TripAdvisor review. This issue is sort of a microcosmic, island-level, version of the problem that afflicts most Maldivian media coverage.
Similarly, when writing about others’ home islands, people can get upset if they consider even minor details to be wrong.
Up! Set!! A disagreement over two feet regarding the depth of a lake in Fuvahmulah brought accusations that I was damaging the island’s image and a reprimand for not conducting a full scientific survey before broaching the topic. (Note to self: pack a yardstick for Laamu).
Apart from this we’ve met with no practical setbacks on this first leg of the trip, except for this morning’s ferry to Thinadhoo (/last helicopter out of Saigon) being far too full with the Eid exodus. Having to pay MVR1000 for a launch instead of MVR50 for a ferry does sting a bit.
But, we’ve survived the start of hulhangu moosun, which had the potential to seriously disrupt travel, and the month of Ramadan, which had the potential to seriously disrupt energy levels. Best of all, we’ve seen all of Suvadive and picked up enough support to convince us that we might just complete the full Dhivehi 187. But there’s a long way to go.
Editor’s Note: “Two Thousand Isles” is a collaboration between Maldivian photographer Aishath Naj and her husband, British writer Daniel Bosley in partnership with Mihaaru to document the untold stories of the Maldive islands.