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Published: January 19th 2017
Before moving onto the Maldives we had a final night at the Go! Hotel in Manila and I had no intention of going anywhere, I know I'm a wuss but we were staying in a really poor area and I can't shake the whole kidnapping thing from my brain despite Suzanne and David having used public transport and wandering around and being fine.
Anyway fate in the form of Howard intervened and some how our only charging lead for his tablet, my phone and kindle managed to get left back in Puerto Princessa and having already 'lost' the camera we need my phone to work if only to take photos, so we had to go out after all. The lady on reception didn't help my nerves when she said we absolutely shouldn't go out to the local market but she suggested we went to the SM Mall of Asia by taxi, so we did and the taxi driver locked all the doors the second we were inside!
The chasm between the rich and the poor in the Philippines is vast and this trip really highlighted that, the taxi drove past the real shanty town area and then along the
12 lane highway to the Mall. As we were nearing it and stopped at some lights two little lads with their arms round each other sauntered up the road barefoot, as if it was just what they did every day and it broke my heart. They could have only been about 6 years old and were clearly living on the streets, what is happening to us? How come nobody cares???
The contrast between seeing them and then arriving at this vast mall, with all it's designer shops and people spending money without a care was so extreme and left me really shaken up. Apparently it is estimated that there are 30,000 street children in Manila alone, what?!!!!!!
The Mall experience wasn't pleasant there were so many people it was unreal and we really stood out but we did manage to get a charging lead and a taxi back without incident and the receptionist was relieved to see us again!
So on the 16th we left Manila, glad to leave the city but having really loved the country, and started our epic journey to the Maldives via Singapore and 1 taxi, 2 flights and one minibus and 20+
hours later we arrived. The ATMs weren't working and it took ages to find our pick up but we got there in the end.
At this point I should say that I knew very little about the Maldives apart from they are beautiful, lots of beaches, rich people go there and frolic and lucky people stay in huts on stilts above the sea. It has never really appealed to me so I didn't do any reading up about it. So it was quite a shock to discover that it is a Muslim country, the women nearly all wear the burka, even in the sea, most of the population live on Male, the men tend to hawk and spit a lot, there is no alcohol and you can only wear swimming costumes on the designated bikini beaches! I would imagine most holiday makers don't see a lot of this as they seem to be whisked off in private boats, speed boats or sea planes to their isolated resorts and can drink and wear bikinis. For those of us who can't afford to do that we get to see the rest of it, rubbish and all!!!
We stayed what was
left of the first night on Hulhumale the airport island at the New Town Inn, a nice little place but we only really got to see the area as we travelled to the port the next day. now that was a bit of a shock, it was like a building site with block after numbered block of apartments being built. We reckon the population of Male has grown so much that the only space left is over on this nearby island so people are moving over here.
From the port we took a ferry across to Male for about 30p and then a couple of Swedes asked if we could all share a taxi across to the other ferry port where we were then taking different ferries to different islands, so we did. Male is not impressive, just a big, noisy, traffic choked city that happens to be surrounded by the most beautiful sea.
For the princely sum of £1.30 each we bought tickets for the little ferry boat to Dhiffushi, a 3 hour journey which also stopped at 3 other islands on the way. The time actually passed quite quickly, there were lots of other islands to
look at, some humongous yachts, lots of those rows of thatched huts/bungalows/cottages on stilts but no sign of the people who must have been staying in them.
The ferry dropped off and picked up a few passengers and goods at the island stops and then Dhiffushi came into view, it looked gorgeous and the other island very close to it did also but that was the private resort island, you know with the huts on stilts in a long line and the alcohol and the £1,500 a night (I kid you not) price tag!! The sea surrounding both of them funnily enough looked exactly the same......
We piled off and were met by the lovely friendly staff from the Rashu Hiyaa where we were staying and 2 minutes later we were at our hotel, it was fabulous! Much to our astonishment we were given an upgraded room and the lad who showed us there told us he couldn't understand why the boss had done it and neither could we! So we got the best room in the hotel, complete with both jacuzzi bath and sauna ha ha ha. Neither got used but at least we had the option
we also had a window with a bit of a sea view and a balcony with a village and glimpse of the sea view, it was all wonderful.
The next day we decided to walk around the coastline and it took us about an hour to get round the island. Wow wow wow the colour of the sea is just stunning and along the sand were loads of crabs popping out of holes, digging holes and generally whizzing about. We kept having to stop and watch, it was fascinating and the number of shells that were walking along until they realised we were there and then they suddenly stopped was incredible. It was like being in a marine life documentary.
Dhiffushi isn't a resort island it is home to local people and the village takes up most of the island, there are small shops that seem to open when they feel like it, a school and a mosque, one restaurant and 2 cafés which the locals also use and only a few small hotels. It is really lovely and felt real. I had thought it would be lovely to stay in a hut on stilts and it probably
would be but I loved our hotel and the beach was only a few steps away and it was nice that local people used it too.
However the environmental message doesn't seem to have fully got through out here and it was really sad to see not only washed up rubbish in places but also dumped rubbish in places along the coast. Having seen ferry staff throwing their cans into the sea I guess I shouldn't have been surprised but I was.
Eee the beach! The sand was soft and white and the sea was totally clear and warm, it really was heavenly and so unusual to see the waves breaking around the atoll edge in the distance. I didn't want to leave but due to the ferry not running on a Friday and a flight to catch on Saturday we had to, damn it.
The ferry back left at 6.30 am urrrgh and I spent the journey nodding off to sleep then jumping awake as I tipped off the seat. Back on Male we had a look at the Tsunami memorial which was next to the port, commemorating the 82 people who died. Then we wiled
away a couple of hours at the Sea House Cafe which is above the ferry building. We sat at a table right at the front overlooking the sea and were astounded at how clear the water was, you could see right to the bottom and the number of fish was incredible. There were loads of different types, different sizes, colours, shapes, patterns - some looked like ones you would only expect to see if you went snorkelling it was great. Howard even saw a baby shark! We also saw 2 pods of dolphins, I mean dolphins! In a port area with boats whizzing about?! There was also plastic bags and bits of rubbish floating by too sadly.
Then we joined all the school kids catching the ferry over to Hulhumale and checked back into the New Town Inn and were reunited with the rest of our luggage. Rather than fall asleep, which was a distinct possibility we went out for a walk around the area, what a rubbish filled dump of a building site. The beach is lovely though so I'm going to have to dig out a t-shirt and leggings if I want to go for a swim
as the sign clearly says bikinis not allowed and the locals were in fully clothed.
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