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Bored to Death in Paradise
A Short Excursion to the Tiny Nation of the Maldives

By: Montgomery Sapone

Our arrival in the tiny island nation of the Republic of the Maldives was something of a disaster. Unlike the rest of the European tourists on package holidays, we had no idea where we were going and no guidebook to help us out. The immigration men in green uniforms wouldn't stamp our passports unless we identified where we would be staying on our embarkation cards.  "Just go out there," said the pimply-faced twenty year old official, "there is a tourist booth."  No one was in the tourist booth, but a young hustler named Abdul in reflective sunglasses and Calvin Klein jeans accosted us and told us he'd give us a really great deal.  My rule of never dealing with teenage hustlers was temporarily suspended, since the scrawled name of the resort on the back of a sweat-logged business card gave a temporary destination for the customs officials. 

The Portuguese were pushed out of the Maldives in 1563, Sultan Shamsuddeen III was deposed in 1936.  But now this tiny country made up of tiny coral islands has been recolonized by sunburned Europeans.  Abdul's giant book of resorts in the Maldives made it clear that our desert island fantasy was just an illusion.  If it had ever existed, by now our fantasy island had certainly been infested with sunburned Germans on package holiday jaunts.

Since no motorboats were available, Abdul arranged a slow but reliable dhoni for us at an outrageous price.   Stupid us.  We thought the Maldives were going to be cheap, but it turns out that this atoll nation is the Switzerland of the Indian Ocean.  The coral island that we landed on, Thuligiri, looked like a Robinson Curusoe set.  The beaches were pristine white and powdery, the coconut trees languorously leaning over the surf, and the water turquoise blue.  Club Med relocated because it wasn’t big enough.  Oh, the shame to have touched foot on a property owned by Club Med!  The former Club Med island contained a swimming pool, air conditioned huts, a Friday night disco and hundreds of German tourists on holiday-safari booked through a travel company called Tui, which specializes in exotic resort destinations for middle class sun-deprived Germans.  This was not what we had in mind.

Abdul, once we finally caught him on his mobile phone, was nice enough to arrange a boat to take us to a more "primitive" island.  The Maldives is composed of about 1000 islands, of which eighty are resorts and another two hundred are inhabited by native Malidvians who fish and drink Coca Cola all day under the shade of coconut palms.   The rest of the islands are inhabited by rabbits.  Although the government prohibits private ownership of land, the vast majority of the resorts on the islands are owned by foreign capital; Asdu Sun Island where we eventually landed is one of the few resorts actually owned by Maldivians.  

Contrary to the overall trend towards adding as many amenities as possible, the owners of Asdu, Ahmed Ismail and Abida Ibrahim, have decided not to develop the island.  "In the Maldives," says Michelle Ismail, the British educated daughter of the owners, "there is always tension between the desire to develop and the need for ecological and social preservation.  But we think that this is what people want.  In ten years, all the big resorts will go back to a more primitive style.  Europeans want to escape civilization after all."   

But they don't want to give it up entirely. Asdu, like many of the Maldive resort islands has been colonized by Italians, who spend all day lying in the sun like giant pink-skinned lizards.  At night they drink wine imported from Tuscany and listen to opera over the loudspeaker as the tropical monsoon pours outside.   Charmingly, Italian tourists even bring their own olive oil with them on vacation.   

After about a week of scuba diving, ping pong and squaking island birds, we were ready to leave.  Forget the fantasy island propaganda, it's really boring to live in a tropical paradise.  Especially if it's a 100% Sunni Muslim tropical paradise.  "Okay, it's beautiful," says Abdul about life in Male, the capital of the Maldives, "but there is no nightlife."  No discos, no drinking and no excitement.  If you're a young Maldivian and you want to party down, you've got to take a water taxi out to one of the resort islands for about $100 round trip.  Urban fun is outside of the price range of most Maldivians, which leaves fishing, card playing or Islam as potential hobbies. 

Lukas, the blue-eyed blonde haired Polish dive master (a real poster boy for the masculine Slavic beauty ideal) was another sufferer from severe boredom caused by island life.  In his case, though, it was compounded by a grim Slavic there-is-only-suffering mentality.  "After about a week," he said lighting another unfiltered cigarette, "I was ready to leave.  It's not like working in Egypt where you can go smoke hash with the Bedouin in the desert when you get tired of scuba diving tourists.  Here you are stuck."    

Email:  Montgomery Sapone

 

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