Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hulhumalé, Maldives: A Newborn Artificial Island

Our low-cost airline flight provided an on-board entertainment that surpassed all others we've experienced... The spectacle of Maldives' islands, strung together like a jewel necklace, sitting oh so pretty in the middle-ish of Indian Ocean nowhere. It was one of those travel moments filled with imaginative swear words, muttered under the breath.

Hulhumalé's public beach. Frequented by Maldivians. 

The Republic of Maldives never made it to our bucket list prior the trip, because back then it was our choice not to afford it. Hubby and I keep our respective lists quite realistic. And Maldives is one of them countries we thought we'll only consider visiting when we're old and gray and subject to carbon dating.

We felt our few savings was better spent somewhere else.

Hulhumalé Inn, our accommodation on the island.

But we chanced upon an airline company website glitch last year — thanks to a tip that circulated within the travel blogging community which allowed us to book a cheap flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur to Malé for three. The total price, about $4. We took that as a sign. Cause really, we'd be stupid not to grab such rare opportunity. So we purchased tickets. Without worries whether we could fund the unplanned luxe getaway or not.

A Maldivian 'bench'. Dunno what they're looking at.
And two months later, there we were celebrating our fifth year of togetherness with our toddler Luna, thousands of feet above the ground.The flight itself exceeded our expectations. Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, or simply Malé International Airport, ain't much of a looker. But outside its arrival hall where the port for ferries to the capital and private resorts' speed boats is, one can have a quick taste of paradise. The water is a gorgeous aquamarine.

A more conservative approach to clothing on this inhabited island.

Queues at the immigration counters were long, took a while before our turn. And when it was, the officer simply stamped our passports. No questions asked. We grabbed our luggage and sped towards the arrivals. We arranged our pickup ($15 for all of us) through Hulhumalé Inn, a ten-room guesthouse on Hulhumalé Island, wherein we were booked for the night. We would have taken the public bus, but each passenger was only allowed a luggage each. After shopping in Australia, we had tons.
Public Bus Service On Hulhumalé Island 
A bus service runs between Malé International Airport and Hulhumalé island between 6:00AM to 2:00AM, operated by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company. It leaves Nirolhu Magu's (neighborhood 1) bus stop roughly every forty minutes to one hour and is a mere 15 minute-ride. Station at the airport should just be outside the arrival hall. Ask around. In the evening, bus may run every two hours. Each passenger's allowed only a luggage each at the time of our travel (2013). Fare is MVR3 or about US$.20.
Man-made beauty, this reclaimed island.

Driver helped us dump all our stuff in the van (Maldivians know so well how to give good service, in such regard, keep a stash of small bills to give away as tips). Our party of three was whisked to the guesthouse, not stopping for anything even when some locals signaled to hitch a ride. Upon arrival, we were handed welcome drinks. The staff brought our luggage up the room while we quickly filled out the check in forms. We couldn't wait to explore the hood.
Hulhumalé Inn Review
It did its job well in giving us a comfy pod to sleep in. Our simple double room priced at UD$70 excluding taxes and fees (Yep, welcome to the Maldives!) has an en suite bath and a small balcony. It faces the main street which never gets too hectic. WiFi was a pain, hair-pulling slow during the few times we were able to connect. A simple brekkie is included in the room rates. Egg and toast and cereal. Coffee and tea. Kitchen opens at 6:30-7:00AM. There are cafes nearby, and the beach is just a couple of blocks to the east. The guesthouse offers package tours. Staff was as warm as the Maldivian sun's rays.
Beach got busy as the day approached sundown.

Hulhumalé's role to us was not limited to being a transit stop. It served as an educator. It gave us a brief introduction to Maldivian culture. 

The island was constructed (completed in 2002) on a shallow lagoon in the same atoll as the capital's, and is linked to the island of Hulhulé. Its purpose is to address the country's growing population density. On our stroll around the neighborhood that afternoon, we passed by blocks and blocks of newly built (and under construction) residential buildings. Structures are mostly four to five stories high. Not all were occupied. Perhaps exodus has not commenced yet.

New flats. Cheaper rent compared to Malé's.
From the relatively busy Nirolhu Magu street, we walked two blocks to get to the shore. At the public beach, we let our feet sink into the white, powdery sand. I could not believe we were basking in artificial paradise. 

Hubby and Luna waded in the water while I watched a group of local women, all covered up, lie on/roll over the sand and chitchat and giggle like young girls. Islam is the official religion of Maldives. On inhabited islands, female tourists are expected to maintain a conservative approach to clothing. The thought of swimming in pants and shirt put me off (though I knew about this beforehand) since I didn't see any public changing rooms nearby. I'd have to saunter back to our guesthouse dripping. I don't know what's more unacceptable: Being in the water wearing a swimsuit, or being out on the street looking like a wet t-shirt contest participant. Nah to both.

  Access to public beach. Not a lot of seaside cafes here. Alcohol is only sold/may only be consumed in Hulhulé Island Hotel.
Before heading back to Hulhumalé Inn, we searched for a place to eat because the guesthouse doesn't sell food. There were only a handful of convenience stores and sai hotaa (tea shop) on the island during our visit. Like in India and Sri Lanka, the cafes are mostly populated by men. I was the only female at Cafe De when we dined. We ordered a fishcake which tasted more like a hot pepper cake, sweet sticky rice (apparently to balance out the spiciness of the pepper patty – I mean, fishcake), and hamburger (a safe order for Luna).

Fishcake. Or so we were told.

A cafe's a great place to start interacting with locals. In our case however, we weren't thrown random questions. We only received a lot of stares. I initially thought, perhaps because I'm female. But then the Maldivians, to me, didn't seem overly conservative. 

Maybe Hulhumalé's residents are simply not used to curious travelers. Not like the thousands deployed in other islands who were trained to entertain. Or maybe this newborn community a melting pot of sorts is still in the process of welding its cliques within. And still in the process of establishing their set of norms which has not tackled the subject of striking up conversations with foreigners. Or for all I know, we just didn't stumble upon a local who's intrigued enough.

The island of Hulhumalé, the newest kid on the block ( or make that, the newest island in the atoll), may be artificial, but it gives visitors a peek at real Maldivian life. Something you won't witness in a high end resort. Something worth experiencing even for a short while.

Missed our guide to backpacking Maldives? Click HERE.


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photocache said...
July 17, 2014 at 3:46 AM

For that price (air), it's a no brainer decision. I just wish we get deals like that around here. said...
July 18, 2014 at 2:29 PM

It certainly is a no brainer :)

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