Slowing Down and Soaking Up the Sun-Filled Island Paradise
After the chaos of our six-week journey through India, we were overjoyed to be making our way to the calm, pristine paradise of the Maldives, a dreamy island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. After a midday flight from the Indian state of Kerala, we landed in Malé, the capital city of this sting of 26 ring-shaped atolls, in time to have a quick lunch and buy some last-minute provisions (Be warned: $40 for sunscreen!?) before boarding the speed boat to our idyllic paradise for the next week, the tiny island of Thoddoo. The tail end of a cyclone in the region made the three-hour ride significantly rougher (and longer), causing passengers to get sick as we held on for dear life. Arriving at dusk due to the slower than usual crossing, we were greeted at Thoddoo’s port and taken by one of the island's few vans to our guesthouse where we were welcomed with a fresh coconut and an upgraded room! Before dinner, we decided to stretch our sea legs with a short stroll in the quiet dark of night - the silence pure bliss after the cacophony of noise, aromas and congestion in India. We were both suffering a bit of PTSD after weeks in the overcrowded country, constantly berated by honking horns, hawkers and pollution. The purity and peace we found on Thoddoo was exactly what we needed in order to regroup, relax and reflect on our experiences in India.
Thoddoo is an agricultural island, growing the majority of the Maldives’s produce, and while most of the international resorts and luxury accommodations are situated on one of the more than 1,000 coral islands that make up the country, Thoddoo is one of the few inhabited by locals. In recent years, these islands were allowed to open their doors to tourists thanks to a change in state policy allowing residents to operate small, privately owned guesthouses in a government effort to help local economies and entrepreneurs. The beloved ex-president-in-exile responsible for this change in legislation, Mohamed Nasheed, has much support from these communities, which are demanding that the current, pro-big business government lift the charges against him. A notable difference in policy regarding the environment draws a distinction between the former and current governments – the former was highly progressive in seeking carbon neutrality by 2020, while the current is in negotiations with the Saudi royal family to sell an entire atoll in order to increase high-end tourism (and subsequently, carbon consumption by a factor of seven).
Politics aside, we found our budget experience in the Maldives to be quite unlike the over-water sea bungalow stays that are synonymous with the pristine island nation’s six-star tourism. Staying on an inhabited island offered us glimpses into local Maldivian life, which would have otherwise been off-limits to tourists staying in a resort. Our obsession with agriculture made the island a particular draw as row after row of irrigated field in the island’s interior brimmed with lush, leafy produce that appeared nearly iridescent in the midday sun. Coconut palms and papaya trees swayed in the island breeze as we traced our daily path to and from the private, tourist-only “bikini beach.” The Maldives is a very conservative Islamic nation (since a 2014 constitutional amendment, all Maldivian citizens must be Muslim); therefore, in an effort to reduce tourists’ impact on local customs, Thoddoo’s guesthouse proprietors lobbied the island’s 2,000 residents to designate a small portion of their nearly five-kilometres of beaches to international tourists.
Our days started off with a delicious Maldivian breakfast of tuna salad with coconut and fried egg served with flakey, warm naan and our new obsession, spicy Maldive Fish Chips. Afterward, we walked the short distance down the sandy path to ‘bikini beach’ for a lazy day of lounging on the naturally shaded private beach where we caught up on a stack of books. We punctuated our rest with frequent swims in the warm turquoise waters under the equatorial sun with daily snorkel trips to explore the off-shore corals brimming with flamboyantly colored fish and several graceful sea turtles. Capping our days of tropical bliss, we enjoyed the fresh catch of the day each evening, grilled with local spices and flavors. Rinse and repeat.
Our time on Thoddoo couldn’t have been more perfect as we healed from the intensity of a near year of travel; however, Trey managed to top the experience by popping the big question as we walked down the palm-lined sandy road, which was already one of our favorites on Earth, having affectionately nicknamed it ‘the road to lovingkindness.’ YES! (And while an extraordinary moment for us both, the irony is not lost that we decided to commit to one another on an island - in a country - governed by Sharia Law.)
Eight days of rest, rejuvenation and a proposal later, we couldn’t be more in love with each other and the Maldives as we made our way back to Malé and depart for Sri Lanka, the final destination of our yearlong journey.