By Daniel Bosley
This week things kicked into a higher gear on our trip, like a ferry chugging noisily out of the harbour into the open ocean. With five of North Huvadhu’s nine inhabited islands visited in seven days, it’s tough to calculate the results for today’s travelogue.
Summarising a whole community in a few paragraphs is impossible and usually gives the wrong answer. First impressions - which make up most of the equation during a short stay - are often imprecise. But starting, unavoidably, with an island’s harbour is basic Maldivian maths.
Both Nilandhoo and Gemanafushi have neat and tidy harbours, with proud signs announcing the destination - very creatively in the latter’s case. Dhaandhoo’s busier harbour is similar, but piles of concrete grown hard in the sun betray an island running out of space.
Further south, Kanduhuludhoo’s harbour still bears the scars of the recent local council elections (as, we found, does the teaching faculty). Everything that doesn’t move has been painted pink, and there’s probably a couple of blushing cats trying to wash off the campaign somewhere. Alternatively, the building site that greets visitors to Kondey, home to the smallest population in the atoll, has clearly been a lower priority.
These things suggest communities either united, divided, under-resourced or simply in a very Maldivian state of drawn-out transition. But it’s the more complex answers beyond the diggers, the dhonis, the posters and the ice plants that we want to work out during our journey. Good students always show their working, so here’s a couple of this week’s other results.
Our visit to Kondey on Monday was brief - just eight hours - but seemed proportionate for an island where census takers in 2014 counted just under 300 people.
These few celebrate their independence every April 12th, the date on which they were allowed to move back home in 1975 after President Ibrahim Nasir revised population consolidation plans. The wary glances we received when walking down the island’s four streets gave the impression people feared we might take them away again.
Having arrived with little information about the island other than that it held at least three ancient hawittas, we asked the rare residents where they might be. But, with the tiny population sandwiched between two huge swathes of jungle, it was no surprise when I found myself blundering - unassisted and aimless - through the scrub shortly after lunch.
Despite an unrewarded hour of sun, sweat, and spiderwebs, I was determined to get a look at the Buddhist remains before our ferry arrived - or before meeting one of the numerous jinn we'd been told infested the island.
Finally, I stumbled (literally) upon my needle in the haystack; and rarely can a grown man ever have been so pleased to find a small hillock of slimy green rocks. Mission accomplished.
Our whirlwind visit to Kondey ended with a storm, though we made the journey to Kanduhuludhoo without any trouble. There, our stay was hosted by friends made via the Two Thousand Isles blog (cheers Aiman!!) - the first, but hopefully not the last time this has happened.
An interesting but rainy couple of days on this island were most memorable for another Kondey-style adventure, this time hunting for a fabled tree that 'lives’ in the shallows to the north of the Kanduhuluhdhoo.
Caught in the rain at the top of the island, one of our new friends mentioned that out beyond the driving rain, was an old tree from the ex-island of Beyrufushi. Realising that this was my white whale moment, and also that it was now warmer in the water than out, I set off.
A couple of hundred feet out into the waist deep water, I had almost lost sight of Kanduhuludhoo as the ghostly shape of the tree beckoned from beyond the sheets of rain. I was reminded of a Maldivian folk story - translated by Xavier - that described a tree of black coral at the end of the world, and my brain tried to remember what happened next as the waves got higher and all my bodily senses suggested I turn back.
Pausing to consider my options, I spotted half a dozen grey-tipped reef sharks a few feet away (they were only babies, but hey, I figured they could take me if they really wanted!). Mind made up, tree well and truly seen; I sloshed quickly back to shore only to find that attempts to keep my travel notes dry had failed badly.
But luckily, our week in the south of the atoll had been unforgettable, and the notes have since dried out, so the rest of our figures are safe for future atoll arithmetic.
We look forward to visiting Maamendhoo, Villingili, Kolamaafushi and Dhevvadhoo in the coming days to add more first impressions, second opinions and maybe a third adventure in Gaafu Alif’s four remaining islands.
The results are sure to be big.
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.