A 20-minute speed boat ride was all that stood between the hustle and bustle of life on Male, to pinch-me-i’m-dreaming island paradise. The first half of my winter break was spent living like a local in the capital – enjoying traditional Maldivian cuisine and exploring the charms of this heavily-urbanised city.
Parked in every available inch of street space and making up 99% of the city’s traffic, Male’s motorbikes were the very first things I noticed when stepping off the boat that had brought us from Airport Island (or Hulhule Island) to the capital. Whizzing past us with absolutely no regard for road safety or sanity, drivers won’t take a second glance at who or what they might be knocking down. The trick is to stroll confidently across the road regardless of traffic – it sounds completely mental, but the bikes will somehow maneuver around you and you’ll become an essential part of the organised chaos.
Male is the nation’s only entry point, and houses the Presidential Palace, government buildings and commercial harbour so most Maldivians or foreign workers will find themselves living or working in the city at some point in their lives. Holidaymakers sadly may never see it, as they will pick up a speedboat or sea plane from Airport Island and be taken straight to their prospective resorts, all of which have their own island and range from a twenty minute boat ride away to an hour or more by plane.
There were two shopping trips packed into my time on the island; one that involved a couple of local men and an ancient sewing machine, and one that was more…aromatic! Both full of colour and vibrancy, the first was a visit to the local produce and fish markets; just two blocks from one another and both buzzing with excitement. If you’ve ever bought tuna steaks from the supermarket you’ll know that they cost around £24.99 per kg. In Male, I was munching on freshly-caught Yellow Fin Tuna for just a few pounds per kg, and you can even see it below being chopped and sold by a local fisherman.
There’s a fabric shop around every corner on the island, and dotted between them you’ll find small businesses making small fortunes taking fabrics of your choice and turning them into bespoke garments. From luxurious silk, lace and chiffon to corduroy and jersey, choosing your fabric is only the beginning! This second shopping trip of mine was a one-of-a-kind experience; just as colourful and inviting as the fish market – minus the stench!
Tantalisingly draped around the shop and crying out to be turned into something beautiful, there’s a fabric in every colour and pattern you can imagine – topped off with your choice of zips, buttons, ribbons, bows and embellishments. I recommend having at least an inkling of an idea as to what you’d like made, otherwise you’ll be wandering around with a multi-coloured arm, a palm full of buttons and a brain busier than a blogger at fashion week.
Armed with my favourite The White Pepper black and white dress (see photos below) I chose a navy blue corduroy and a berry-coloured jersey material, and skipped down the street like a school-girl to my favourite dress-maker, Hamid. I explained that I wanted the style of the black and white dress replicated, but a few inches longer. My mum opted for a more complicated but beautiful maxi shirt dress with contrasting buttons. Despite the language barrier being around a hundred foot tall, within 24 hours the dresses were done. I chose everything from the fabric to the zips and buttons, and Hamid took my vision and turned it into a reality….all for less than £10 per dress. If only I had a Hamid here in the UK…
Whilst our days were spent shopping and exploring, our evenings were enjoyed on the waterfront eating fresh fish and chicken curries! If you love food packed with spice and flavour, then you’ll love the Maldivian curry cuisine. We fell in love with a restaurant called City Garden, which boasts an irresistible Thai-inspired menu, incredible views over the harbour and the chance to dine on a balcony by candlelight.
Whilst on Male, we took a day-trip to a nearby island for around 10 USD. Known by the locals as Little Bandos, it was here that we had our first taste of the underwater wildlife. Feeling a little bit like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, we were left on the island from 10am until 4pm with nothing to do but lounge on the soft white sands and swim in the glistening turquoise sea – sounds awful, doesn’t it? Apart from a set of toilets and a make-shift, non-alcoholic bar, there was nothing on the island but palm trees, fruit bats and lizards. A 15 minute stroll was all it took to walk from one end to the other.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Little Bandos island had given us only a small taste of the luxury that was to come.
Stay tunes for part two – Island Paradise in the Maldives.