Crossing the Maldives (while also dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's')

Photo: Belinda Jackson

Endless beautiful islands, endless sun (except for the occasional monsoon), endless luxury. Immerse in all this fabulousness, it's easy to miss Maldivian culture when you're holidaying on the exclusive isles in the Laccadive Sea.

So here's a quick fact hit: the local language of the Maldives is Dhivehi. It draws on Arabic, Urdu and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese. The alphabet, when printed on official signs, looks as though someone’s been too lazy to finish writing their Arabic script, and not imaginative enough to make it decorative. To the untrained eye, it could even resemble a series of punctuation marks.

But what words you can create with its 25-letter alphabet! We’re trying to jump from the luxury resort of Cocoa Island by COMO, famed for its diving, to its new sister property, Maalifushi by COMO, further south and an up-and-coming star in the surf arena. If we had a sea plane, we could skip between the two in a matter of hours.

But we don’t. 

Instead, we take Cocoa’s boat 40 minutes up to the capital Male’s airport, where we will take a commercial flight south to Thimarafushi, and then another boat to Maalifushi. Lost yet?

(Incidentally, the island of Male is so small, at just 4sqm, and so densely populated, with around 200,000 people - about half the nation’s population - that the airport is on the next island, and linked by a taxi rank of public dhonis (local boats), who charge 15 rufiyya, or US$1, to cross the water.)

Photo: Belinda Jackson
At Male airport, we learn that Thimarafushi airport is closed because ocean swells have engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local tells me. “Very good for surfing, very bad for flying.”

For a Maldivian to say something’s low, it must be very, very low indeed. The highest point in the Maldives, incidentally, is a towering 2.4m. The lowest official point is 1.5m. I’m tipping that point is somewhere near Thimarafushi airport. 

So, back to language, instead of aiming for Thimarafushi, we’re going to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo airport. Or so we think. Then we learn we’re actually going to Kadhdhoo Kooddoo airport. 

Imagine trying to do a Maldivian crossword!

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