An ocean paradise.
A chain of 1,192 tiny islands, clumped into 26 atolls, barely rising above the ocean’s surface. While the Maldives is well known for its expensive resorts, white sandy beaches and fantastic diving, less is publicised about the everyday lives of the local people who inhabit around 198 of these remote islands.
I spent 2 months living on Naifaru. An island in the Lhaviyani Atoll inhabited by local Maldivians and able to be walked around in only 30 minutes.
Why the Maldives?
Well, once I’d decided to take a break from work, I had to figure out where to go exactly. I had a desire to experience countries very different from the western world I knew. Nepal was always top of the list. However, I wasn’t keen on spending several months there during the rainy season. The warm, sunny weather of the tropics was much more appealing!
I wanted to get back to ‘something marine’ having studied marine biology eons earlier at university. And as I love diving, fishing and boating, I wanted to see what it would be like to work with something I usually only did for fun. Atoll Volunteers offered up just the right mix of relaxed island living, working in the marine environment and immersing myself in a completely new culture.
What’s it like on a local island…
To get to Naifaru, I had to start in Male, the capital of the Maldives. My first impressions read like a kid seeing something new for the first time. Then there was the moya or crazy speedboat ride out to Naifaru where everyone got seasick!
From there, I began to settle into island life, taking in every aspect of what a small Islamic community gets up to on a normal day. There is the tasty traditional food I learned to cook, regular concerts and parades for the kids, and sports – especially soccer – to get involved in. Education programmes with a fun day full of activities are run for teenagers once they finish school. And exploring the ins and outs of tiny alleyways on Naifaru brought surprises around most corners.
The marine and turtle conservation programme was just kicking off when I got there with trees to plant, manuals to write and corals to identify. The programme was as much about learning about local business as caring for turtles. A trip to the tuna processing factory on nearby Felivaru island was interesting, especially seeing how every part of the fish was used for something. And it was fascinating to spend a day on a tuna fishing boat seeing how they caught the tuna using the traditional pole and line method.
16 students and teachers from Sharjah, Dubai joined us for an intensive week of study, learning and fun. I tagged along with them to Kurendhoo Island, another island in the Lhaviyani Atoll, where we helped out with a beach clean up and were treated to more amazing local food.
Occasionally we got to visit one of the nearby uninhabited or resort islands. The strict clothing restrictions were lifted and it was lovely to be able to relax in a bikini on the uninhabited Vayva Island or celebrate a birthday with a glass of bubbly at Kuredu Resort.
A highlight of my trip was the night I spent on deserted Dhidhoo Island and watched a turtle drag herself up onto the beach to lay her eggs. Truly amazing! We saw the marine centre slowly take shape and finally had the excitement of welcoming our first 8 green sea turtles to the centre.
2 months drew to a close. I made some wonderful friends and experienced so much in such a short time. Reflecting on my time on Naifaru helped me realise how much I had changed.
My mind was far away from the confines of my tree in NZ. My transformation had begun!