Maldives - The Country
Maldives is like a string of pearls - 1192 islands and atolls, none more
than 6' above the sea level. The country stretches 600 miles
north-south with no island more than a couple of miles long as it
dangles below the Indian sub-continent. Curiously
it is an Islamic enclave in a mostly Hindu part of the world but that
seems to have served its people well for hundreds of years. Most
people live by fishing and the average income is quite low. Some
islands have been turned into high class resorts for well-heeled
tourists seeking seclusion, white beaches and clear water.
Most islands are off-limits to cruising yachts,
but Uligan, in the northernmost atoll is on the most-frequented route
for circumnavigators on their way from Asia to the Red Sea, and so the
country has made this a port of entry. It is a beautiful spot and
a nice break on the path from Sri Lanka to the Gulf of Aden. The
authorities operated the most professional reception and check-in
procedure we have encountered in 10 years of cruising - quick,
courteous, clear forms, crisp information on do's and don'ts while in
Uligan, and clear check-out procedures for when that time comes.
The people on the island were hard to get to know - the 2 merchants who
catered to cruisers made an effort to greet us, but most people politely
walked past, sometimes smiling, but pointedly avoiding close
contact. We were invited to a dinner put on by the locals,
and a few of the young men came down to chat during our only social time
together while at Uligan. All were camera-shy, and thus pictures
with locals were hard to come by.
all, we enjoyed the stop, but the scenery was similar to the S Pacific
and the people were not as outgoing and we did not feel that we absorbed
much of the local culture during our 8-day stay. Our next stop was to be
Oman, our first in the Arab world as the drums of war
rolled in the United States as they threatened in invade Iraq.