Travel Into The Maldives on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Maldives on a Harley (1/8/07 - 12/8/07)
Distance 6 km (500058 km to 500064 km)

This is part of the thirteenth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from Sri Lanka

1/8/07 The westward flight from Colombo took just one hour to a totally different world. Approaching the airport at low altitude we had a magnificent aerial view of why people come here. Dozens of small tropical islands surrounded by yellow sand and brilliant blue waters and small tourist bungalows. Customs here is strict. No non Islamic items. An expensive place, we wandered the whole island checking out four budget hotels in our guide book, all full or no longer taking tourists. Business men or imported labourers filling them. The $US 8.00 per person tourist room tax keeps even the basic budget places expensive and it was only $US 10.00 more to upgrade to air-conditioning, hot water and TV. Moving up the accommodation scale we ran into Adam, a local man, recently married to a Philippine internet bride, a Christian woman who converted to Islam for the wedding. He managed to find us, presumably for a commission, a comfortable hotel for $US 50.00 a night, booking it for a week. The Maldives is a unique place in the world. The world's lowest country, it's highest point just 2.3 metres above sea level. It has uncountable numbers of islandsConcrete Tetrapods, holding the island together stretching north and south of the equator for over 800 km's popping up and down with the tide, officially about 1200 islands, those with some vegetation growing. The fast growing population of 360,000 is entirely Sunni Muslim the only religion allowed with 90,000 people crammed into the capital city of Male, where we are, an island just 1.7 sq km in area making it one of the most densely populated places on earth, and with no where to expand and slowly sinking with rising sea levels. This island has already been pushed out to its outer reef limits and is held in place by tetrapods, those four legged concrete wave breakers. Almost all of the Maldives imports and exports come through this tiny island, as did we, arriving by boat from the neighbouring airport island. After settling in we were at the shipping agent's office after lunch. The boat is early, arriving tomorrow morning, paperwork available tomorrow afternoon, but they are not sure when the goods will be available. Apparently the motorcycle is in a 40 foot (12m) consolidated container. They are emptied here straight onto the ground, no storage shed. If the motorcycle is at the back of the container we would have to pay to have the container unloaded, remove the motorcycle, and then reload the other goods back into the container, a very expensive process. We might have to wait a few days for the other shippers toBusy local port taking supplies to the islands clear their goods. Our agent can't help us get the motorcycle off the island, unless we take a full container, about $US 1,000 including handling fees in Colombo. A visit to Maldives National Shipping Limited had a better ending. As the national shipping carrier they could arrange to take the motorcycle back to Colombo as "break cargo", non container or deck cargo, a one off special arrangement, at about 10% of the container option. The shipping schedule is uncertain but they normally have a sailing about once a week. 

2/8/07 Mali is a mix of modern and old. Higher rise buildings are the only option on the densely populated island. Many older single or double storied places are coming down, replaced by new ten or more stories. Most streets are narrow, small trucks, cars and thousands of motorcycles weave along them. We awoke to the sound of the morning call for the faithful to pray, there being over 20 mosques on the 1.7 sq/km island. The morning was spent at a wi-fi internet place updating our virus program on the laptop, removing 1200 virus files, accumulated from using a memory stick between internet cafes and our computer. The ship with our motorcycle had been slightly delayed, unloading starting this afternoon. After a letter to customs they approved the temporary importMotorcycles have recently become the main transport on Male of the motorcycle, but require us to also get approval from the Transport Ministry, closed by the time we discovered this. Government working hours are 7.30 am till 2.30 pm, and they don't reopen for two days, Friday and Saturday being the Muslim holidays. So by evening we are settling into our small island home. Watched the loading of a few dozen dhoni's (motorised dhow) taking supplies, a lot of building materials, to the islands, mostly resorts. A mammoth task building from nothing, a resort on a piece of coral in the middle of the ocean. Later in the evening we took another promenade, stopping for a tea at one of the many small eateries around the island. A male only domain, women are allowed but are rarely seen in one. Many people use the mild narcotic beetle nut and lime in them, alcohol on the island is banned.          

3/8/07 Friday is a religious holiday, outside of resorts, for them everyday is a "holiday". On Male almost everything closes till after the 12.00 noon prayer time. Also at prayer times on other days, five times a day, the muezzin calls people to pray from loud speakers atop Mosque minarets, TV is interrupted or goes off the air to remind people to pray and shops and offices close for about 15 minutes. When we left our hotel early this morning few people we in the streets. We walked the southern edge ofLocal woman cooling off in the lagoon on Viligi the island towards the new harbour and took a boat to the nearby island of Viligili which is like a suburb. A more relaxed place, locals also come here to get away from the congestion of Male. Socialising, football and swimming the main relaxing pastime. A British couple who moved here only a few days ago, invited us into their new home for a cup of tea. She works for the Red Cross to help after the tsunami, he will be house father to their three young children. We are surprised at the number of imported Bangladeshi and other low paid foreign workers in the country brought here to do menial labour, construction workers, motor vehicle repairers, waiters, something we didn't expect to see in this supposedly poor country, more expected in wealthier regional countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.     

4/8/07 The people on Mali are friendly but more reserved than we have been used to in India and Sri Lanka. Happy to talk if approached, answer questions on directions, politely smiling, but a little distancing is felt, perhaps the them and us differences. Segregation, what we can do and what they can't, is at each divisive island barrier. The one island one resort policy. No overnight stays on locally inhabited islands keeps locals and holidaymakers separate, physically and socially. There is no alcohol allowed anywhere outside the resorts, nor pork, nor promiscuity. Locals are allowedUnloading tuna from small fishing boats to serve, handle and observe such differences working at resorts and profit from such activities with jobs, schools, hospitals in this income tax free society but otherwise they are kept separate. With a morning off we crossed back over to the airport island for a stroll including a visit to the only place tourist alcohol is available outside resorts, the Hulhule Island Hotel. Ex-pats come on weekends to enjoy a drink beside the pool. The quite large ex-pat community get a monitored, generous allowance of alcohol. Providing any of it to locals is illegal, with severe consequences. Another two visits to the shipping agent did not produce a delivery order for the motorcycle, delayed by the shipping company.      

5/8/07 Food in Male is good and varied, and in local restaurants very reasonably priced. Our local breakfast of roshi (light chapati) with tuna and grated coconut mix is light and tasty. The "short eats" popular in the region are varied and again tasty if not a little chilli hot. Fruit and vegetables, mostly imported are used sparingly in meals. We were at the Transport Ministry at 7.30 am. Apparently all motorcycle imports need to be pre-approved, large ones can't be over five years old and there is no provision for a temporary registration. However the helpful staff took on our cause and by close of business we had obtained special approval to ride theLocal boats carry sand and gravel to Male motorcycle on the nearby island of Hulhumale, with a police escort. Quite a generous offer considering. We were told this has never been done before. With the rising sea water and faster rising population the Maldives, looking towards the future has started to create its own land. Hulhumale, slightly to the north of the airport and linked by a causeway is a manmade island of almost 2 sq/km. Sand and rubble has been piled onto the reef raising it to about 2 metres above sea level, with a sandy beach along one shore and wharf along the other, with plans to continuing expanding and developing the island to eventually accommodate 150,000 Maldivians. The problem left for tomorrow is how to get the motorcycle there as we are not allowed to ride on the much more densely populated island of Male and the boats going are not geared to carrying large motorcycles. With an approval letter from the Transport Ministry, delivery order and payment of port fees, Customs, again exceptionally helpful, assisting us with forms, we were organised to have the motorcycle cleared by 9.00 am tomorrow.     

6/8/07 After an early visit to Customs, their paperwork was complete. Back to the Transport Ministry and the only way to get the large motorcycle to Hulhumale looked like being on the container barge going twice a day. However a trip to the Port Authority revealed it would cost near $US 200 to load, ship and unload it for a return journey. The whole event wasUnloading the container at the crowded wharf now reaching the level of immense frustration. Again at the Transport Ministry and phone calls to the police finally gained approval to ride one circuit of the island of Male, at 7 am the day after tomorrow, before the morning traffic and with two police escort motorcycles. Why the concern over our riding here is also beyond our ability to understand. Still this was an acceptable alternative. Permission from Male Municipality would also have to be obtained, which the Transport Authorities would arrange. They would also look into the possibility of whether we needing special registration and number plates for the ride. Shortly before the close of business it was arranged and we relaxed. Everyone had been exceptionally helpful in solving all the problems that were raised in riding here. Each evening the locals go promenading along the waterfront, take their children cruising on one of the thousands of motorcycle in the streets, riders and passengers helmetless, sit in the parks playing chess, swim clothed in the ocean pool or play football on one of the few vacant areas of land. By the end of each day, after pounding the pavement up and down between government offices we return to our hotel and collapse, exhausted by the heat and bureaucracy.

7/8/07 We aimedNumberplates needed to be issued for our one hour ride to get the motorcycle from the container this morning and were at the port at 9.00 am, and were instructed to go look for our container, which could be anywhere. Unfortunately not knowing the system, and finding our container in a stack, it was not going to be available till tomorrow, too late for the scheduled ride. Apparently a day's notice to "ground" a shipping container is needed. Back to the Transport Ministry and as letters had already been sent to Police and Male Municipality regarding the ride, they hurried up the port and our container was grounded by 11.00 am. As the motorcycle is one of eleven individual consignments in the 12m container, and when the doors were flung open it could not be seen, negotiations started with wharf labourers. The first crew wanted $US 200.00 to unload and reload the container. A better price was negotiated with the second crew, 120 dollars but as the bike appeared about four metres inside they generously reduced the price to 100 dollars, still good money for the time spent unstuffing and restuffing. The Port Authority agreed to store our crate and helped with documentation which had us riding just outside the port gates by 2.00 pm, parked the motorcycle, ready for tomorrow's police escorted ride around the island and we headed back to our air-conditioned hotel room, pleased to be finished with paperwork. No, atStopping for photos on our escorted ride 5 pm we were visited at the hotel by a representative of the Transport Ministry with a "to whom it might concern letter", just in case we were stopped, and number plates, 0000, for our one hour ride. Now we were ready!

8/8/07 Our morning ride was accompanied by three police motorcycles plus one plain clothed police co-ordinator. It lasted just over 30 minutes, including a few stops for photographs and a loop of the island of Male was just 6 km's. Not our usual sort of riding but it was pleasant in early morning. We were welcomed on our return by the Deputy Director and the Assistant Director General of Transport for a few more photos. All too soon it was back to paperwork to export the motorcycle. An easier process involving the usual people, shipping company, customs, port authority, again exceptionally helpful and we had re-crated soon after lunch with it waiting for the next ship to Colombo, tranship to Singapore and onto Fiji. Who knows when it will arrive, which is why we will be heading home to Australia to wait. Mali is quiet for a capital city. There are no dogs barking, they are banned, we have not seen any cats or other animals other than a few lizards and fruit bats. Music does not come from cars or entertainment venues. Trucks are small and quiet, no buses and horns are rarely used. A pleasant change from India and Sri Lanka.Photos with the organisers of the ride      

9/8/07 Business over we have a little more time to look around. One island near to Male that is growing, not so pleasantly, is Thilafushi, or garbage island, where the country gets rid of its building, household and tourist rubbish. It is also the industrial centre employing thousands of Bangladeshi labourers, making bricks, unloading sand, cement and gravel, boat building etc. Kept away from the upmarket resort tourist's eye the garbage fires burn here 24 hours a day, the mountain of empty plastic water bottles, the rusting used oil containers leak onto the atoll. Never a pleasant place in any country, here the environmental consequences seem greater with magnificent coral reefs so close. Political concerns here are rising to a peak. After almost 30 years of rule President Gayoom is coming to the end of his time, at least that is how locals are talking. Depending on your view it could be seen as a good or bad rule but is certainly controversial. Amnesty International criticises his human rights record. There is no denying he has built a prosperous country while still retaining the culture and religion using what resources were available. His methods have often been criticised and many of his friends and relatives have benefited from this prosperity. The first "free" elections are An environmental problem of oil and plastic on the garbage island due in 2008 and people are expecting change. Perhaps surprisingly to a more Islamic party. Women have been wearing the head scarf more frequently in recent years.

10/8/07 We have spent considerable time in our hotel room watching TV during the heat of the day and in evenings. The news channel is Aljazeera's English network, there is no CNN or BBC at our hotel. Many of the articles are interesting and balanced, many have the slant of an agenda. Most of the other 16 channels are Islamic based or compatible with those beliefs. Sport is a neutral topic, three channels, cartoons are also popular. Occasionally a moderate movie or wildlife program is aired, sometimes cut short by prayer time or reasons beyond us. Being a Friday holiday we took the ferry, along with many other beach seekers to the man made island of Hulhumale. Everything here is new. Three storied apartment blocks, shops, roads, even the beach which has been created fronting a reef making lagoon swimming pleasant. We have been hearing about this island from many locals, extremely proud of its construction and the likely future of the Maldive's increasing population and rising sea levels. It will take time to fully develop but offers a great alternative to densely populated Male. We hired a small motorcycle at the jetty and spent a couple of hours looking around. Man made beach on the man made island of Hulhumale

11/8/07 We paid for the motorcycle's shipping this morning at Maldives National Shipping Line (MNSL), the last documents, and were asked to return later to collect the Bill of Lading. Whilst the paperwork for us to be allowed to ride for just a short time seemed quite excessive, it is this country's system, necessary to have such an overpopulated small atoll function, importing virtually everything a third of a million people need. In all of our dealings, with the many government departments, everyone was incredibly helpful and took on our cause to facilitate even the short ride we managed. We don't recall having such helpful officials anywhere else in the world. There were too many helpers to mention individually but Mr Ahmed Nazeer Mohamed, Deputy Director, Ministry of Transport, liaised with the port, police, municipality and customs to bring together the ride at the scheduled time. A ride that without his assistance is unlikely to have occurred. Our thanks to his efforts. I would also like to add that at no time were we asked for any non official payment or inducement for assistance, refreshing after such requests in many other countries. Unfortunately on our return at 2.00 pm we were advised by MNSL that they could not take our motorcycle as break bulk. Apparently theySunset from Male had just been informed it could not be unloaded at Colombo port. It would have to go in a whole container. They were sorry and would take it freight free, but we would have to reimburse them for the handling fees, about $US 400.00 in total. As we fly out tomorrow at 9.15 am we had little choice. Helpful to the end, by 3.00 pm they had persuaded Lily Shipping, a competitor with a different labour method in Colombo, to take the cargo on a ship leaving at 5.00 pm, in two hours. It was a race, new paperwork from Lily Shipping for the consignment, back to the port, pay again the port duties, customs to restamp the new paperwork, port authorities to approve the shipment, completed just in time. We missed the reef submarine ride we had booked for ourselves this afternoon. It was to be a Maldivian memory, something we hadn't done before, but still the motorcycle left, we hoped. Over dinner we were talking to our waiter, a Sri Lankan. Turned out he was on our flight to Sri Lanka tomorrow, but his departure time was 7.00 am, over two hours before ours. In all the other paperwork we had forgotten to check with the airline for a time change. A lucky coincidence otherwise we could have missed the flight.       

12/8/07 We were at Male, Airport and Hulhumale Islands from our departing plane the airport by 4.30 am, the flight had been delayed and was now leaving at 8.30 am. The coincidental meeting with the waiter last night now not so advantageous, we could have slept later, arriving this morning unknowing and still caught the flight. What seemed like a lucky encounter last night, not so this morning. One reason we have learnt, "it is impossible to know if a right or wrong decision or occurrence happens, we can never know the true consequences of an alternative". As we flew out, again getting great views of the coral atolls and reefs we pondered the future of this country. Another, whose people are being dragged into the western world, willing or unwilling, but one that can hopefully retain a piece of the past. With their fishing rights here so progressive, no trawling, no net fishing, just line fishing, no spearguns, they should always have traditional fishing. 

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