By Daniel Bosley
Our trip north from Addu to Fuvahmulah has coincided with the start of the south west monsoon; a fresh location for a new season. In practice, however, the changing pattern of weather doesn’t always make itself felt in the southern atolls.
The nakaiy app on my phone (yes, there is one) says both assidha and the approaching burunu begin with storms. The seas were calm on the hour long trip, though this didn’t stop me getting queasy...as a result of looking at my phone to check the app (obviously).
Travelling to Gnaviyani from Seenu is fairly straightforward anyway; the map of the neighbourhood in Feydhoo’s ferry terminal confirms this. North into the big blue area, keep going for a while, if you hit Huvadhoo, you’ve gone too far.
Having just arrived as I write, the first thing I’ve discovered is that all the things people say about the island appear to be true, even though the way people talk here makes you wonder if they are being honest (‘dhogeh’!?).
Fuvahmulah is big, is beautiful, and is unlike anywhere else in the country. What's more, the island council’s official slogan is 'Happiest Place on Earth’. It's a bold claim, but hard to argue with so far.
Adding to the proud stories told by the 15,000 people who call the island home, Fuvahmulah’s reputation has been burnished by a number of explorers and researchers in recent years, after being sort of missed by most travellers for centuries.
Ibn Battuta mentioned it as part of his 14th century Maldivian marriage spree, while two French brothers and a Dutchman visited by chance a couple of hundred years after, remarking favourably on the fruit and the fandiyaaru (they were far less complimentary of the females).
The twentieth century saw HCP Bell, Xavier Romero-Frias, Nils Finn Munch-Petersen, and Thor Heyerdahl all spend time studying the island and its culture, probably drawn by the quirks of its wild isolation. The latter described the people as 'exceptionally beautiful’, though a couple of his colleagues were nearly drowned swimming off the beach.
The legendary tales of hospitality are certainly not dhogeh, perhaps because visitors to the least-accessible isle (in a land of formerly inaccessible isles) were once such a rarity. The Equatorial Channel wraps itself aggressively around the single-island atoll and refuses to let people in or out without a struggle.
The introduction of a modern harbour and airport have recently provided a less hazardous lifeline to the outside world (and Male’s political exiles now go abroad). But beyond the vigilant seawall, the constant thrashing of the waves is a reminder of the island’s unusual nature compared with the rest of the country.
Rounding the south-east corner of the island on the launch ferry, the huge waves crashing against the concrete actually put me in mind of a more familiar island just off the north-west of Europe. Thankfully, however, comparisons with Britain’s Bognor, Brighton, or Blackpool stop there.
Perhaps Sri Lanka is a better comparison, an island also famous for its fertility (and I'm positive I saw a tuc-tuc on the main road). Even today, Fuvahmulah’s interior is home to some of the Maldives most exotic produce, as we quickly found out - being invited to enjoy fist-sized mangos from one of the island’s oldest trees.
Away from the porous and salty soil that characterizes most Maldivian islands, Fuvahmulah’s soft centre is stuffed with anything the archipelago can produce. This includes bananas, watermelon, the occasional pineapple, many yams, and some fascinating stories.
As the trip continues and the islands get smaller we know that fresh stories may be harder to come by, but in Fuvahmulah we intend to take full advantage of the low-hanging fruit.
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. Exclusive articles will be published biweekly on Mihaaru every Wednesday and Saturday.