Mr A. Writinghawk (writinghawk) wrote,
Mr A. Writinghawk

Welcome to Maldives

james_r flew out yesterday to visit. I told everyone to do this, but besides my mother and brother, he has been the only taker. He was keen to come up from Male' on a local boat, if possible, rather than fly to a nearby resort - a bit cheaper and a much more authentic Maldivian experience, though the boat journey is about 12 hours, as against 45 minutes for the flight. He is getting a slightly more authentic Maldivian experience than perhaps even he wanted.

Before coming he made the quixotic suggestion that he could enquire on arrival at Male' about the next boat going to Landhoo, or to Noonu atoll, or some such, and take it. It is a wrench to remember what a sensible idea this would have seemed to me a year ago. But it would have been doomed to fail, for as I explained, the odds would have been heavily against his finding anyone who knew the answer, or even such a person existing. The island dhoanis ply back and forth to Male', where on the waterfront there are hundreds and hundreds of them stacked two deep up against the shore, carrying supplies and passengers. They may stay for about four days at each end of the journey before setting out again. People know the telephone numbers of their local boat captain, or perhaps of a few nearby boats, and will ring to ask when the boat is likely to leave, which will be decided at maybe a day's notice. This is a very satisfactory arrangement in Maldives, where no-one makes plans further in advance than that (the way Eid, a major national holiday, can vary by a day or two and is declared a day before according to sightings of the new moon, exhibits the same laid-back approach) and where you would rarely if ever go to an island where you didn't have a contact.

Faced with this huge array of boats, finding out which ones go where, never mind when they might leave, would be more or less impossible, so I looked into boats from my end. None of the the boats I knew of, the Kaminee, Taj, Maafaru and Landhoo boats, seemed to be making the journey in the right couple of days. Saji knew of a few others, such as a Manadhoo boat, but so far as he could find out they were no use either. So giving up after all on boats, I tried to book James on a flight to one of the two resorts nearby. Need I say that Maldivian Air Taxi only finalise their schedule for each day at about 3pm the day before? (They are responding to day-by-day demand from the resorts, so this is not so unreasonable.) The true price of the flight is exorbitant but luckily locals (and usually visiting friends of locals) can book spare seats at a much reduced rate. (There is a chance of getting bumped if an extra resort guest appears, but it doesn't happen often.) But when I duly rang on Saturday, the flights for Sunday were full. So communicating entirely by text message, I directed James to the Maafushige guesthouse while I tried again for Monday. This time I was more successful and booked him on a flight to the very nearby resort island of Kudafunafaru. I texted him that he should check in at 6.30am next day, and exhorted him to enjoy Male'. Then I turned my attention to arranging a boat locally to pick him up from the resort; there is, naturally, no regular transport between the resorts and local islands.

That afternoon Mr Shareef, the Islam teacher, buttonholed me in the street. Did I know there was a boat leaving Male' for Kudafunafaru at midnight tonight?

I passed on the information, imagining however that James, having arrived after a 10-hour flight and settled into a hotel room in Male', would be content to stay there and catch the seaplane next morning. For a couple of hours I heard nothing. But I had underestimated him: when he picked up my message, he replied with enthusiasm. What should he do next? As succinctly as I might, I passed on the details Shareef had given of this boat. It was the supply boat for the resort. (It was the first I'd ever heard of such a boat - though logically they must get supplies somehow.) The company is called AAA, so his first task was to find their boat by asking people where it was moored, apparently somewhere near the Vilingili ferry terminal. (Practically the opposite side of town from where the normal island dhoanis hang out.) Then he must persuade the boat captain to take him. On the upside as it really isn't a passenger service it would probably be a free ride. On the downside, I reminded him that the captain might not speak English, and might be surprised to have a European wanting a passage on his boat.

Quite remarkably, within about fifteen minutes James had found the boat, worked out that he needed to take it to the airport and change onto another AAA boat, and established himself as a passenger for the trip. I suppose he then collected his luggage, and joined the boat, and that it departed more or less on schedule at midnight. It would probably arrive about midday. I went to sleep.

Then at about six or seven o'clock in the morning, the boat stopped off some island en route. It wasn't yet out of the Male' atoll, probably about a third of the way here.

After a couple of hours, James began to wonder if it was a scheduled stop. Happily the boat was not short of supplies, being a supply boat, and food was provided. There also turned out to be another couple of passengers for Kudafari, but only the nine-year-old girl was able and willing to speak any English, and that, I imagine, was limited.

By half-past ten it was revealed that the engine had broken down irretrievably. Another boat was on the way. At half-past three or so it arrived and all the provisions started to be moved onto it; this procedure took about an hour. It was optimistically bandied about that they would get in around ten. Then another hour was spent tying everything down and securing it. The boat got under way again a bit after five.

The current ETA is between 1 and 2 in the morning.
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