As rare as they are, the three days of pampered and almost absolute rest in resorts on the islands of Huvahandhoo and Rangalifinolhu, in the Maldives, know the strange thing.
And just a little bit, we have to confess.
By eleven o'clock, the sea around the second was already showing its surreal hues of turquoise and emerald green, one of the most intense we've ever found in the Indian Ocean.
It is in this appealing water gradient that the seaplane will love. Ten minutes later, with us on board, he returns to the skies.
As it rises, it pierces large white clouds and then gives us back the clear view of the successive coral atolls. Several of them are occupied by resorts.
Some host small villages in the deep Maldives.
We are still minutes away from the final destination when we catch a glimpse of the capital.
The Unbelievable Vision of the Great City of Maldives
We get closer. Your house with 6 km2, hitherto diffuse, reveals itself to be parallelepiped, dotted with gaudy buildings.
The landscape is polluted by a sequence of cranes and the embryonic structures of the bridge that will connect Malé to the neighboring island of Hulhule, as expected, built by the China.
We love off that same island. Five minutes later, the luggage is delivered to the resort lounge. We cross the airport to the small dock next door and board a round-bottomed ferry. The boat sets sail full of airport workers who, when lunchtime arrives, go to the city.
Other passengers are Maldivians who have just arrived from abroad or from different parts of the Maldives. Older men and traditionalists cover the tops of their heads with distinct taqiyahs.
Women wear hijabs draped over their backs and torso. Many take care of their offspring little or not at all.
The vessel approaches the urban domain that we had seen from the skies. It enters a pier that protects it from bad seas and docks in front of the advanced line of buildings.
It didn't take long for us to go up to Boduthakurufaanu Magu, the coastal street surrounding the island.
Jumhooree Maidhaan: The Political Fulcrum of Maldives
At the top of the pier, we notice the proximity of Praça da República, preceded by the presidential jetty Izzudheen Faalan, with its cloned architecture of the Opera de Sydney.
The plaza confirms the waving flag of the nation, with its Islamic crescent centered in a green rectangle contained for a second, red.
It is here that the frequent anti-government demonstrations are concentrated, some of them more extreme, such as those of 2003, 2004 and 2005, which descended into brutally controlled revolts.
Since the elections and the peaceful transition to multipartyism in 2005, the situation has, however, remained calm.
At this hour, at the opposite end of this area that the natives call Jumhooree Maidhaan, the Musical Fountain is dry and silent.
Gradually, more and more men crowd the square.
They arrive from boats offshore and on countless motor scooters that have parked in the vicinity.
Curious about what would be generating such a migration, we took a tree-lined alley perpendicular to the sea.
It wasn't long before we found the city's Islamic Center and its Grand Friday Mosque, the largest mosque in the nation, crowned by golden domes that, seen from the sea, project above the green treetops.
The Islamic Bustle around the Grand Friday Mosque
the muezzin intones his adahan, the magnetic call of faith. Devotees throng in and around the overcrowded temple. When we give ourselves away, we are prayer intruders.
At first flustered, we quickly realized that no one contests the unfaithful and poorly dressed presence of the outsiders.
We lean against a wall. We follow and photograph the course of the ceremony. Only one or another believer cares to check what we do and stalks us after his most pronounced prostration prostrate.
When the prayer is over, they roll up the small prayer rugs, retrieve their slippers and demobilize. For a long time, men and only men descend the marble steps of the mosque.
Some stay together before getting back to work. None approach us. Apart from a tenuous intrigue for our unexpected presence, no one is even bothered.
At least for us, the Maldivian core of Malé, which we feared, hermetic and rigid, proves to be patient and tolerant.
We take advantage of the surprising at will and unravel it as much as we can, until exhaustion.
Drifting through the Intricate Male
We return to the marginal avenue. We skirted the market still at half gas due to the prayer break and arrived at the fishing dock.
There, a folkloric fleet of boats with shallow decks, serves as the basis for countless boxes and plastic containers, as for the lives of almost so many fishermen.
Bangladeshis predominate, the preferred workforce of Maldivians with possessions and businesses that delegate to them, at low cost, the most thankless tasks.
Some fishermen had just arrived from the sea. They gave themselves up to remedied showers irrigated by bucket. Ready for rest, others jumped from boat to boat, anxious to feel the firmness of the land, freedom and deserved leisure.
Meanwhile, the usual bustle returns to the market. Bank after booth, repeat the employees also from the Bangladesh and tropical fruits from there, vegetables, spices, among a panoply of foodstuffs that feed the capital.
We detour once more inland, through alleys paved with cement blocks, narrowed by endless rows of parked scooters and disputed, meter by meter, by many moving.
In the shops closest to Praça da República, handicrafts and souvenirs abound. Professional recruiters do everything they can to lure tourists to their profit lairs.
As soon as we leave there, Maldivian businesses rely only on their countrymen. The Maldives produce little or nothing.
A Myriad of Stores and Strange Businesses
Thus, strange distributors of everything, from pumps and boat engines to softeners and detergents, proliferate, all of them with shop windows lacking good shop windows.
We head east along Medhuziyaarai Magu Street, via the Islamic Center and its Grand Friday Mosque. It is no coincidence that this mosque leads us to the one that preceded it in time, the Old Friday Mosque.
If the former became the Maldivian record holder in terms of size, the latter is the oldest in the nation.
It was built in 1656, in coral stone and wood that prodigious craftsmen sculpted to endow it with an intricate decoration full of Quranic motifs and writings.
A long panel worked in the XNUMXth century and more important than the others, celebrates the introduction of Islam in the Maldives.
Old Friday Mosque and Muleaage Palace & Medhu Ziyaarath
We took a look at the Old Friday Mosque and the old cemetery adjoining it even before being told that we could only do it with a guide and, allegedly, after authorization from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
Unsurprisingly, whoever informs us of this requirement is a guide.
An attractive blue and white building, preceded by even more colorful gates, stands in front of the old mosque. Originally, this Muleaage & Medhu Ziyaarath palace was erected in the early XNUMXth century to house the last reigning sultan of the Maldives, deposed even before he moved.
For 40 years, government departments occupied the buildings. In 1953, after the implementation of the First Republic, it became a presidential residence. Until 1994, when a certain President Gayoom decided to move to a new official residence.
Inside the complex is the tomb of Abu Al Barakaath, the man who, in 1153, brought Islam to Male and made the Maldives an archipelago of Allah, but not quite so much.
The Unexpected Photogenics of the Women of Male
Back on the streets, we come across women – family members or friends – each with a hijab in the most appropriate color for their condition or the preference of the day.
Whatever the reasons – but all too often due to religious pressure – Muslim women are often afraid of being photographed.
In Malé, as had happened to us already in the small town of Maamigili do south ari atoll, most of the ladies we approach react with reticence, which is almost always followed by postures of dignity, self-confidence and even more patience and benevolence.
We decided to stretch the rope.
A mother in a long black niqab passes us, accompanied by four children.
As an innocent joke and in relation to the imaginary of the elusive and dark character of the paws books that Mickey Mouse fought, we got used to calling Black Spots to the ladies in these costumes.
A joke pulls a joke, even though we were aware that they belonged to families that followed Salafist or more orthodox Wahhabi Islam, we were not intimidated and started a conversation.
We took advantage of the packaging and asked to take a picture of it. As we expected, the lady answers that only for children.
We pull through fiction. We tell you that we need images of Maldivians in different clothes.
We also remind her that we can only see her eyes and that we cannot identify her. "Alright, come on, let's do it." gives in to our relief. “First, all together. Enjoy and take just me. But please hurry!”
We followed the instructions to the letter, except for the time we drag. The lady gives up the case for lost. She assumes the delay and resumes the conversation. “But anyway, where are you from? From Portugal?
Oh my son is crazy about Cristiano Ronaldo! Now I ask you to take some with him!”
Male's End of Day Life
Gradually, we had reached the outskirts of the island's eastern edge. Instead of alleys, we now walked more open streets where life seemed organic and familiar as ever.
We entered a small park-garden.
Some parents chat and rest on hammocks, against a mural that illustrates the nation's insularity while their kids run and scream here and there.
At the nearby Rasmee Dhandu Stadium – probably the only one on the island of Malé – we follow the last minutes of the President Cup.
Hundreds of spectators watch the match, all men, all seated on a bench that, instead of the traditional L-shaped stools, is made up of high plastic chairs.
The match ends 2-1. As the final whistle blows, the small crowd disbands. Soon after, sunlight follows suit.
We had a plane to catch in a few hours, so we slowly returned to Praça da República and the ferry to the airport.
Along the way, a torrential downpour forces us to take refuge in a restaurant.
There we devoured nans and lassis. It had never occurred to us that the life of the disdained Male would, after all, have so much flavor.
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