The Edition visits isles across the Maldives on a bi-monthly schedule, discovering the intricacies of island life and amazing islanders residing in different atolls, taking our readers through a 'virtual' tour of the country.
Taking less than an hour, the flight to Hanimaadhoo, especially after sundown is an opportunity to experience a novel version of the Maldivian bird’s eye view. Personally, pinpricks of light highlighting cities and islands on dark waters made it difficult to tear my eyes away from the window. However, it should be consolation to daytime travellers that the view would be beautiful regardless of the lighting.
Upon landing at Hanimaadhoo Airport, I discovered a taxi already waiting to whisk me away to Kottafaru Guesthouse, our accommodation for the next few days.
There, we were warmly welcomed by our hosts, Ibu and Tee who were waiting with refreshments at the guesthouses magnificent outdoor restaurant nestled between a myriad of plants. Worn out from the excitement that follows foraying out of Kaafu Atoll for the first time in four years, I turned in for the night in one of Kottafaru’s tastefully furnished rooms.
Rousing early the next morning and day one began with a visit to the east coast, to witness an exceptionally picturesque sunrise. The pictures we clicked invariably included several bright-faced beachgoers, including families lounging on stone seats, toddlers and their older siblings frolicking in the shallows as well as an energetic group of boys taking turns to dive into deeper waters.
Otherwise a quiet island, Hanimaadhoo put itself on several maps in 2004 with the establishment of Hanimaadhoo Meteorological Centre and Observatory. Constituting a key node within the nationwide network of centres that funnel data to the capital city Hanimaadhoo station should be marked as a compulsory stop for every visiting island hopper.
After a brief but fascinating tour of the sophisticated equipment dedicated to collecting climatic data from Northern Maldives, we set off to our next stop.
In contrast to the Meteorological Centre’s outdoor set-up, the Hanimaadhoo Observatory mainly conducts research activities at a laboratory located within a buffer zone. In addition to ruling out fears of local interference on the atmosphere, the legally protected buffer zone ensures that the walk to Hanimaadhoo Observatory is dominated by nature. The path, flanked on either side by a thicket of coconut palms, was covered for once (unlike several unfortunate areas close to city spaces), not with plastic, but brittle amber leaves and coconut husks.
Dubbed one of a kind not only in Maldives but across the entire South Asian region, Hanimaadhoo Observatory is noted for its dedicated research into transboundary air pollution. Seated among a collection of state-of-the-art equipment, I listened with rapt attention as some of the observatory’s collaborative efforts with name worthy international bodies were explained.
Head abuzz from the information, I returned to my lodgings for some replenishment. Sated after a hearty meal, I spent the day’s last few hours unwinding at Kottafaru’s lounging area. That night, I burrowed under my blankets with high hopes of enjoying a truly Maldivian experience the following day - a fishing trip.
However, since fishing had to wait until the noon sun’s glare eased, morning found me at Hanimaadhoo Agricultural Centre. Lush with an impressive variety of crops, I did not regret marking down the centre as a mandatory stop on my bucket list. I savoured the experience of walking through the plantation, noting both local favourites such as watermelon, banana, papaya as well as more exotic varieties such as grapes, aloe vera and my personal favourite - dragon fruit. Dedicated to enriching the local diet, the Agricultural Centre also boasts a goat pen and a greenhouse.
When the time came to set out to sea, I was already dressed in light breathable clothing in preparation for a ‘hands on’ experience. Our hosts decided to join the fun and had thoughtfully booked a boat, which motored us a short distance away from the island to more suitable waters.
I was waiting patiently after casting a line when luck, or should I say lunch, came my way not once but thrice. In addition to the yield of my beginners' luck, Ibu and Tee also contributed to the overall catch, so our boat headed back to Hanimaadhoo a bucket of fish heavier than we set off.
Kyle, the 4-year old son of my hosts, bounded back on land with a proud “mission complete!”
Adorable as the statement was, a crucial aspect of the trip had yet to unfold. Once our party returned to the guest house, the grills were brought out and fires were stoked. The aroma of roasting fish greeted me as soon as I stepped out after a heavenly shower -a day’s worth of sea spray and sweat down the drain. I would have gladly helped prepare our catch but the day’s activities left me nodding off in the warm lighting accentuated by the barbeque fire. Despite this, my hosts, ever gracious, took charge and made sure I had a plate of fresh steaming seafood before I slept.
The next day, I took a leisurely walk through the island, taking my sweet time observing the intricacies of island life which I missed while zooming from one stop to another in a taxi or the guesthouse van.
Women swept their lawns with eakle brooms, children clad in sky blue uniforms walked to school alongside their parents or zoomed past on bicycles. Warm smiles welcomed me at every turn and I was delighted to realize that the island’s residents have a certain love for greenery. I’m not exaggerating when I say there wasn’t a single house without leaves and branches spilling over walls, some blooming with flowers or laden with fruit.
True to my hectic schedule, the walk was not without an objective. My aim for the day singled down to locating a ripe breadfruit and convincing someone to part with it. Why go through the trouble?
A local lady had kindly agreed to prepare ‘Banbukeyo Bondibaiy’, a sinfully sweet dessert dish of which the main ingredient just so happened to be breadfruit.
After a successful endeavour, I watched as the dish was prepared on an ingenious old-fashioned stove burrowed straight into the stone below my feet. The set-up was as memorable as the decadently sweet dessert itself.
Having heard many good things about an initiative launched and managed solely by the Hanimaadhoo Youth Council, I paid a visit to Saadhaa Preschool. A cursory glance at the facilities is enough to assure anyone that all of the council’s ambitions were successfully realized. Young voices could be heard chattering in classrooms and uniform-clad children could be seen laughing and playing in the school grounds.
Worries of not being able to sample all of Kottafaru’s delectable dishes during my brief trip evaporated when I set my eyes on the day’s lunch table. Spread out before me were several mouth-watering options ranging from fried reef fish to spaghetti and rice. However, it was the local fruit platter, bursting with colour and variety, that stole the show. Admittedly, I am guilty of sneaking off with a few jujubes while the rest were clicking Instagram worthy shots and updating their stories.
Evening arrived with an unexpected avenue for entertainment. Clad in traditional sarongs, a local Bodu Beru group under the name ‘Kethi araa’ came to pay a visit to Kottafaru Guesthouse with their drums, much to the delight of its residents.
As no island trip would be complete without an ocean experience, I once again boarded a small boat to tick this prerequisite off my to-do list. Admittedly, I am not the best swimmer. Therefore the boat, arranged by my ever-considerate hosts, solved the problem posed by Hanimaadhoo’s naturally spacious lagoon.
After my experience of diving into the turquoise blues, I would advise less confident swimmers to motor out to a suitable snorkelling area since lifeforms located within the lagoon were considerably bleached in contrast to the more vibrant outer reefs, which are quite a bit further out. Nevertheless, be it diving or snorkelling one desires, there are several pristine spots one can visit nearby the island and throughout the atoll for a comprehensive underwater experience.
I decided to say my goodbyes to Hanimaadhoo with a sunset stroll, soaking in the peace and quiet that had given me a much needed four-day reprieve from city life. I boarded the plane to Male’ with no regrets and hopes to return.