The Real McCoy?

What do you think of when you hear about the Maldives? I’m guessing white pristine beaches, palm trees, huts on stilts, luxury hotels, maybe the odd [insert alcoholic drink of choice here] being sipped by a tanned tourist as the sun goes down… Well, yes, you’d be right, that is a large part of the Maldives, so to say it’s not the real Maldives is simply wrong. It is very real, very lucrative, and takes up whole islands. And it is also kept so completely cut-off from the rest rest of the Maldives, it like two separate worlds.

Relaxing at the resort

I was lucky enough to be treated to a couple of days at a resort a few weeks ago. I’ve never stayed anywhere like that, never done a “lounging by the sea” type of holiday, but turns out I’m better at doing nothing than I thought! Apart from the opportunity to even out my increasingly extreme tan lines (I look a little like a fab ice lolly), it was interesting to see the side of the Maldives that most visitors see. And it was beautiful. The beaches were perfect – the seaweed swept up to ensure the white sand stretches unspoilt from palm trees to turquoise water; the immaculately kept pathways helpfully sprayed with insecticide to keep the mozzies at bay should they spoil your relaxation; and while I do love the local food, it was an enormous treat to indulge in such variety whilst I was there (- buckets of yoghurt, bread without sugar, protein that wasn’t tuna!). But it also brought home to me how isolated the resorts are from the Maldivian community.

The local fishmonger. No fancy packaging here 🙂

There seems to be little to no interaction between the guests and locals, in fact, it seemed near impossible to actually leave the resort and walk over the bridge to the adjacent island – fences and locked gates saying NO ADMITTANCE – leaving the resort to explore was clearly not something that was really encouraged. Because of the cultural differences (I think), tourists are encouraged to stay at arms length from the locals, and oh, what a shame I think this is, for both parties.

Ibrahim Fariq and some of the local artefacts he has collected over the years; I’m sure other visitors would love to see this to

For the tourists, I think it’s such a pity to visit somewhere and never really get to see the local architecture, try the food, explore the shops, observe the traditions. And I know that a lot of tourists are quite happy with not seeing these things, they have gone on holiday to chill out, switch off, and that’s fine. But there are some visitors who would like to see these things, and more particularly, I think that if it were possible to explore, then it would encourage a different type of tourist too. It’s not necessarily about changing the activities of those tourists who already come to the Maldives, but perhaps opening up the market to other tourists, those who don’t want to stay in a resort. I for one, could not afford to come to the Maldives as a tourist, with the tourism opportunities now available. But if there were a non-resort market then I am sure it would have been on my list of places to visit.

Fishing with Bonda
Snorkelling with Ibi

For the locals, there are many who I have met who want to show people “their” Maldives; they are proud of their home, their beautiful country, and they want to show it to the rest of of the world. They don’t want tourists to see only the resort version, they want people to see their “daily” version, to meet the wonderful people.

Who says you can’t look good in a snorkel?!

I can relate to this in the same way that I want people to come to the Highlands of Scotland (where I lived from the age of 3) and to see the beautiful countryside, to meet the people, to taste the wonderful food we can grow and catch, to hear the music, to see our art. And this is just the same for at least some of the people of the Maldivian communities – they want to show off what they are proud of: their Maldives.

Cooking with Fatima

For some, saying what I have said could be controversial, as there are other aspects to the mingling of tourists which some are opposed to – Maldives is a Muslim country and were tourists to mix more, it is important that they respected the Maldivian culture. But I truly believe that respect and tolerance is something that is developed only through interaction, not through isolation. And this is a principle that I think applies to all communities, all societies, all countries and all continents worldwide. If we shut ourselves off from each other, if we build walls and divides between each other, we foster fear and ignorance. If we open up and celebrate our differences, at the same time we appreciate our similarities.

3 thoughts on “The Real McCoy?

  1. I agree with all that Imogen. We’ve actually been to a resort island in the Maldives, but I’d have liked the opportunity to see the real (other) Maldives as well, which would have meant going to another island (for which there were no opportunities). I’m uncomfortable with visiting countries where you’re kept separate from the inhabitants and it at least partly defeats the purpose of travel in my view.


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