Gatecrashing Paradise: Adventures in the Real Maldives

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Gatecrashing ParadiseI commented on Tom Chesshyre’s How Low Can You Go, an exploration of unknown corners of Europe, courtesy of the Low Cost Carriers who fly there, a few years ago. This time in Gatecrashing Paradise Tom sets out to explore the other Maldives, not the one where all the tourists go.

Until quite recently tourists were very restricted when it came to Maldives travel. You could fly in to the airport, on a separate island next to the capital Male. From there you’d be whisked off to your five star resort where the only contact with anybody local would be with the resort staff, the front desk personnel, the waiters, the bar staff and so on. Travelling to other islands was forbidden.

That’s changed and as a result small guest houses and hotels have sprung up and you can make your way – like Tom – around the island by local ferry services and domestic flights. You don’t need an economics degree to know most of the money from the five star resorts would have gone straight back to their overseas owners – minus a percentage diverted to local politicians and their business cronies. The new policy should see more tourist income going straight in to local pockets.

Although as of yet there aren’t many overseas tourists taking the local travel option, when it comes to foreigners the only ones Tom encounters seem to be guest workers, principally Bangladeshis with a smattering of Sri Lankans. His month in the islands takes him all around the scattered atolls of the low lying nation where he encounters climate change concerns (nothing is naturally much more than two or three metres above sea level), worker exploitation, tsunami fears and some decidedly murky politics, often as opaque as the lagoon waters are transparent. Fortunately he also makes a couple of diversions to the luxury resorts – Kurumba and Six Senses – good for comparison purposes.

For some reason despite my scuba diving enthusiasms (diving is a big Maldives attraction) I’ve never been to the Maldives. Although recently I had an interesting Maldives encounter from 40,000 feet up in a Qantas A380. I spotted a resort far down below, had some trouble working out which one it was (it hadn’t found its way to Google Earth) and then read about some interesting local history around that resort island.