Crossing the Maldives (while also dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s’)

Photo: Belinda Jackson

Endless beautiful islands, endless sun (except for the occasional monsoon), endless luxury. Immerse in all this fabulousness, it’s easy to miss Maldivian culture when you’re holidaying on the exclusive isles in the Laccadive Sea.
So here’s a quick fact hit: the local language
of the Maldives is Dhivehi. It draws on Arabic, Urdu and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese. The alphabet, when printed on official signs, looks as though
someone’s been too lazy to finish writing their Arabic script, and not
imaginative enough to make it decorative. To the untrained eye, it could even
resemble a series of punctuation marks.

But what words you can create with its
25-letter alphabet! We’re trying to jump from the luxury resort of
Cocoa Island by COMO, famed for its diving, to its new sister property, Maalifushi by COMO, further
south and an up-and-coming star in the surf arena. If we had a sea plane, we
could skip between the two in a matter of hours.
But we don’t. 

Instead, we take Cocoa’s boat
40 minutes up to the capital Male’s airport, where we will take a commercial
flight south to Thimarafushi, and then another boat to Maalifushi. Lost yet?

(Incidentally, the island of Male is so
small, at just 4sqm, and so densely populated, with around 200,000 people – about half the nation’s population – that the airport is on the next island,
and linked by a taxi rank of public dhonis (local boats), who charge 15 rufiyya, or US$1, to
cross the water.)
Photo: Belinda Jackson
At Male airport, we learn that Thimarafushi airport is closed because ocean swells have
engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local tells me. “Very
good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
For a Maldivian to say something’s low, it
must be very, very low indeed. The highest point in the Maldives, incidentally,
is a towering 2.4m. The lowest official point is 1.5m. I’m tipping that point
is somewhere near Thimarafushi airport. 
So, back to language, instead of aiming for Thimarafushi,
we’re going to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo airport. Or so we think. Then we learn
we’re actually going to Kadhdhoo Kooddoo airport. 
Imagine trying to do a Maldivian crossword!

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad.

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