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Two Thousand Isles: Huvadhoo Rising

13 May 2017, MVT 13:45
GA. Nilandhoo Harbour and main mosque. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ
13 May 2017, MVT 13:45

By Daniel Bosley

This week we arrived in Huvadhu, the final leg in our tour of Suvadive - and by far the largest. But that isn’t where this week’s travelogue starts. It begins twelve hours back across a star-strewn Equatorial Channel in Seenu Feydhoo.

Having planned to travel to one of the Gaafus from Fuvahmulah (Alif or Dhaal, we didn’t really mind), we’d been forced to backtrack to Addu. Fuvahmulah’s fishermen often travel north to Huvadhu for bait, but last week they all seemed to be headed elsewhere; so we did too.

An unexpected homecoming gave just enough time to rectify those bad packing decisions (I never wear that shirt anyway) before we headed to Feydhoo harbour and the New Line cargo ferry plying the old route to Male’, via G.A. Dhaandhoo and Nilandhoo.

After a lengthy wait, we settled in among the coconuts, kerosene and cardboard boxes as the muttering of the engines replaced the muttering about local council elections on the harbour. Outside, a middle-aged man was complaining loudly that his ballot box had been affected by fanditha while, inside, it was a more senior voter who seemed spellbound that we had elected to travel alongside him (a stare far too long to write about properly here).

Assortment of coconuts and other goods aboard the New Line cargo vessel. PHOTO/AISHATH NAJ

As we headed out into the night just after 8pm, both he and the dozen or so fellow passengers settled down on mats and old bits of cardboard on the deck. The voices discussing the election on the radio soon faded out as Hulhumeedhoo slid past on our right.

Completely unprepared for the trip (why didn’t we pack those yoga mats?), I lay wide awake on the deck with slippers for a pillow, watching the midnight lights of Fuvahmulah twinkle in the east before we entered the Gadhdhoo Channel at around 3am. The voices on the radio returned, but (far more) interestingly they were now accompanied by mysterious lights on the horizon. Invisible from the glow of the bridge, I thought I’d imagined them until I saw the captain also craning his neck out into the darkness.

From clean across the atoll - still three hours away - the islands of Gaafu Alif were rising like half a dozen over-eager sunsets. If I’d brought a blanket I’d have totally missed it (wise packing after all). The captain selected our star and headed towards it.

Gaafu Dawn

Daandhoo harbour rose before us just as dawn was breaking and, after the tide of wheelbarrows had receded an hour later, we hopped over to Nilandhoo just next door, spotting the campaign leftovers before we’d even made it past the reef.

One friend in Male’, upon learning that I was on his home island, quickly called to check I’d not been aiming for the island’s ever-so-slightly better known namesake in Faafu atoll. Indeed, this Nilandhoo is small - there’s no ATM, half the population is in Male’, and the number of old telephone boxes equals policemen and cars combined (two). But there are more stories here than we imagined.

Within a few hours of sleeping off the channel crossing, we’d seen the island’s Buddhist remains, been shown the legacy of the tsunami and met with the family of Nilandhoo’s most (in)famous resident - the fandithaveriya Hakeem Didi, who became the last man officially executed in the Maldives 64 years ago. Soon followed a sea cucumber export business, a sundial to show prayer times, and a nearby leper colony...none of which we’d had any idea existed six days ago.

But the visit has not all been history, as our arrival coincided with both Children’s Day and the atoll’s Minivan 50 football tournament - events for which everyone on the island has been busying themselves all week. We were generously invited to both, watching the children of Nilandhoo School show off their skills on Wednesday before the men did the same on Thursday. The latter beat Kondey 2-0 in the first leg of this tie, which also doubles up as the final as only two islands are competing this year.

Nilandhoo supporters at Minivan 50 match versus Kondey FC. PHOTO/DANIEL BOSLEY

Before arriving in Huvadhu, I was interested to see if people would continue to ask Naj what house in Addu she was from. I’d watched this conversation with fascination a number of times in Fuvahmulah, thinking to myself, 'they can’t possibly know every house in Hithadhoo’ - though her answer was usually met with knowing nods. This line of questioning (and the nods) has lessened but not stopped completely up here in Nilandhoo.

Back on the cargo ferry, a seasoned traveller had shuffled over to me as we finished our jam sandwiches and milk tea breakfast in Dhaandhoo harbour.

“Kon rashah?” he asked.

“UK”, I responded, thinking I had joined the club. He nodded, seemingly satisfied and shuffled off again.

Five minutes later, we overheard him asking the captain: “Where is UK?”

Good point!

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.

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