Friday, March 18, 2011

Assalaam Alaikum!

Assalaam Alaikum!  This is the Maldivian greeting to a visitor or friend.  According to the Maldives Visitors Guide, this greeting denotes the Islamic culture of the people and comes with a fervent wish for peace.  Our pronunciation:  AH-sah-lah-am     I-like-um

I have yet to even get off our boat, so have not seen anything of Male yet.  Bill has been ashore a couple of times, but since the agent told us not to leave our dinghy at the ferry dock area it has been impossible for us both to go ashore at the same time.  We think we have figured out a way to leave the dinghy at the dock/wall without it getting damaged.  If it works, we will finally go ashore together tomorrow.  Today everything is closed and the ferries are not operating.  Every Friday is the Holy Day and everything is closed except the resorts.  As in many Muslim countries, the normal work week is Sunday through Thursday; and weekends are Friday and Saturday.  This particular Friday is a very special Holy Day -- the anniversary celebration of the arrival of Islam in The Maldives.  

Here are a few of the dateline highlights mentioned in the Maldives Visitors Guide:
Archeological records indicate that the first humans to visit the Maldives stepped ashore over 5,000 years ago.  Supposedly, the Maldives were first colonized by an Indo-Aryan race between the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.

1st Century AD -- the Periplus Mari Erithraei, a Roman manual of navigation, mentions islands assumed to be Maldives
2nd Century AD -- Ptolemy refers to Maldives in his geography
362 AD -- a Roman historian records the visit of a delegation from Maldives islands to Rome bearing gifts to Emperor Julian
662 AD -- a historical Chinese document records that the King of Maldives sent gifts to Chinese Emperor Kao-Tsung of the Tang Dynasty
1153 AD -- Abu-al Barakaat brings the enlightenment of Islam and Maldives converts to Islam
1558 AD -- Portuguese invade Maldives
1573 AD -- Mohamed Thakurufaanu liberates Maldives from the Portuguese
1752 AD -- The Malabars invade and rule for 3 months
1887 AD -- Protectorate agreement with Great Britain
1932 AD -- First constitution enacted
1953 AD -- The first Republic
1954 AD -- Failure of the first Republic
1965 AD -- Independence from the British
1968 AD -- End of the monarchy, beginning of the second Republic
1972 AD -- Development of the first island resort  (and now there are hundreds!!)

The Maldives consist of 1190 islands grouped into 26 atolls scattered over an area of 90,000 square kilometers straddling the equator between latitudes 7 degrees 6 minutes North  and 0 degrees 42 minutes South, and between longitues 72 degrees 32 minutes East and 73 degrees 46 minutes East.  Of these 1190 islands, only 200 are inhabited.   Many of the tiny atolls are leased to tourist resorts.  The resorts owns rights both to the land and the surrounding seas; I do not know how far out from land these rights go, but yachts are not allowed to anchor anywhere near most resorts.  A few of the resorts welcome yachties and charge fees for landing your dinghy or simply for walking ashore.  The fees quoted to cruisers we know have ranged from $25 to $200 per day.   Very, very, very few resorts allow cruisers to walk ashore without paying a fee; although at least one resort has allowed cruisers to dine in their restaurants (those very expensive restaurants!) without charging an additional fee.  That particular resort does charge a fee if a cruiser wants to walk the grounds or use the swimming pool or beach or snorkel or anything else except purchase a meal in their restaurant.

Male is the capital and is located in the center of the Maldivian islands.   The Male atoll is approximately 32NM long and 20 NM wide.  It is not the largest atoll in the Maldives.   Huvadhoo Atoll is 45 miles by 35 miles.  Ari Atoll is 48 miles by 15 miles.  And the largest atoll has 2 names; it is the Milandhunmadulu and Thiladhumathee Atolls combined.  That combined atoll is 82 NM long and 20 NM wide.   As you can imagine, the fetch inside these atolls can create nice sized waves during strong winds.  We are here during an extremely benign northeast monsoon and it is quite calm.  Supposedly, it can get rougher during the normally much stronger southwest monsoon that occurs June through September.

Male is approximately 425 nautical miles southwest of Galle, Sri Lanka.  The atolls of Maldives are part of a greater geological structure known as the Laccadives-Chagos Ridge that stretches over 2000 kilometers.  The islands are low lying with the highest point at approximately 8-feet above sea level.   Because the Maldives are equatorial, severe storms are extremely rare.   Tsunamis caused by earthquakes in Indonesia are a real problem for these low atolls as there is no high ground anywhere. 

Population of Maldives is approximately 300,000 --- 100,000 of whom live on Male.  The waters are pristine.  About 90% of the Maldivian economy is tourism and they take eco-protection very seriously.  The marine life is incredible.  Diving is superb.  

BTW, there is a turtle hanging around our anchorage.  It is the largest green turtle that we have ever seen.  And it is also the first turtle we have seen since the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Yesterday a small boat motored by and a man held up a freshly caught octopus, indicating that it was for sale.  We shook our heads and he continued on.  Octopus is good but I don't know how to clean and cook it.  Wish our friends, Paul and Michele of S/V FREE SPIRIT, were nearby to teach us. 

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