Seaplane Over the Maldives

Malé is more densely populated than Manhattan!

Today started with an announcement that we were anchored off of the coast of Male, Maldives. The Maldives sounds like a lovely group of islands that is only concerned with going to the beach and running a tourism industry. Yesterday though, somewhere between lunch and napping, we had caught a lecture on the Maldives and found out that we were both very, very wrong about this country.

The Maldives does have a lot of resorts and it is a series of atolls with blue water and rooms on stilts over the ocean, but it is also a very strict Muslim country and its capital, Male, is the 4th most densely populated island in the world (ahead of Manhattan). Evidence of practicing any religion except for Islam will get you thrown in jail. Drinking alcohol will get you thrown in jail. The Maldives adheres to strict shiria law and we were all going to have to be very careful. Fortunately for us we were taking a seaplane over the islands so we couldn’t get into so much trouble 🙂

Seaplane on "Runway"

The seaplane was a Silversea excursion and we were beyond excited for this as the Maldives would undoubtedly be the most beautiful from the sky! Taking off and landing on the water was also such a unique opportunity that neither of us had done before. We started out on the tender boat from the ship to the pier. The ride was choppy yet uneventful. Next, we hopped on another boat to get to the airport, which was on a different island. The ride over to the airport was great. The weather was fantastic, the ocean was blue and we got to get a good look at Male from the sea. Honestly, it doesn’t look SO crowded. The airport was the picture of an island airport – it didn’t even have any walls! It was very modern feeling and a number of Asian, Middle Eastern and European carriers fly right to the Maldives. We then took a small bus to the seaplane terminal (!!!). This was definitely the most interesting airport terminal I’ve ever been in. The tarmac was water and planes taxied off of “runways” after landing. The resorts of the Maldives are not located on Male, the main island, but are instead located on the atolls that make up the rest of the country. Muslim law is not really in effect on those islands so the airport was more relaxed as foreigners landed and then either took seaplanes or boats to their resorts.

Dave and Me Boarding our Seaplane!

Boarding the plane involved walking out on a small pier and hopping on the plane. It was very small with only 10-12 seats so we all had a window. The cockpit was a few yards away and the door was open so we could see the pilot and copilot the whole time – very odd to see in a post 9/11 world. The propellors started spinning and soon enough we were taxiing to the “runway” for takeoff! The whole process was identical to that of a regular plane, yet on water. We stopped, turned, and then sped up, racing along the water faster and faster until physics took over and we were lifting off of the water into the air. The views were immediately spectacular and the greens and blues of the ocean swirled below us. The atolls are pretty much in a straight line, so one side of the plane would see them on the way out, and the other side would have the views on the way back. I had the view first so I snapped away, taking about 100 photos. The little huts of the resorts looked absolutely stunning on the water and the islands themselves looked incapable of sustaining any human life, let alone buildings – they looked 90% submerged. The atolls themselves looked white-ish and the water inside was a light turquoise because it was so shallow. After about 10 minutes the plane headed back and Dave got a view of everything while I got to look out at the ocean and eventually onto Male. It was a short flight but we saw the entire country of the Maldives. The country is actually sinking and the people are looking to buy land in another country, so who knows how long anyone will get to take in these beautiful islands. It was a fantastic experience to see something so unique in such a unique way – thanks to my in-laws for a fantastic honeymoon gift! 🙂 🙂 Landing on the water was SO cool and a much smoother landing than any other plane for sure – not bumpy at all!The Maldives - a sinking nation!

We hung out in the terminal for a bit while we waited for the other group to take their flight. It was actually nice because it was breezy (no walls) and we got to see many planes take-off and land. Eventually we all boarded the bus back to the airport and then got on our water taxi back to the main island. We hadn’t anticipated having much time in Male but because we did not have to clear security at the airport we had much more time in the Maldives and would actually have 2 hours to walk around the island. Male is just over 1 square km so we’d be able to see most of the “city”. I had worn a long, black dress and had brought a black pashmina for my shoulders but it was so hot that there was just no way that I was able to wear the pashmina over my dress. I was modest by Western standards, but in a strict Muslim country, I guess this wasn’t good enough. Men stared at me to the point that I was very uncomfortable and some even hissed at me and made this weird noise with their tongue when passing me on the street. I was extremely uncomfortable, especially because the ratio of men to women is waaaaay off (as it had been in Oman as well). You simply see practically no women. Its maybe 20 men to 1 woman. You don’t realize how different that is until you see it. The walk continued for a bit with our destination being the beach on the east end of the island. When we arrived, I guess we weren’t so surprised to see the women swimming in their burqas (head coverings and all) and police standing by the water’s edge monitoring everything. We took our flip flops off to test the water (it was beautiful!!) but we didn’t go in any further than our feet for fear of the police.

Our walk continued for an hour or so longer and we covered a quarter of the island. It was more of the same, although we both took note of the myriad of women’s shoe stores, but things did get a little better when we got closer to the port. Still, most of the women I saw were from our ship or the Costa ship that was anchored close to us. We tried to grab a quick lunch or even a juice but there weren’t many restaurants. We did go to the fruit and vegetable market, which was very nice and more comfortable than the rest of the island. We bought spices, admired some fruits we’d never seen before and generally had a good time walking around. What an interesting day filled with unexpected experiences in the tropical Maldives!

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