At first Male does not seem to change as you walk through, it is a relentless sequence of streets full of small businesses; offices, shops, workshops or restaurants and cafes, but gradually you see the different things and the subtle differences. I started coming across small squares in amongst the high rises, maybe with a banana plant or a palm tree. There might be a playground set in some trees, or a temple set back from the pavement.
It never took long , though to reach the coast again. On the south side of the island, the wave action was stronger and most of the coastline was protected by huge concrete structures, tetrapods, that reminded me of the jacks in the game of the same name. Their angular protrusions broke up the wave energy more effectively than a solid wall, but it really makes Male look like a fortress. They rise higher than the level of the promenade and you can barely see the ocean beyond. However, if I stood on one of the concrete benches along the harbourside, I could see the next set of islands in the distance, the Male South Atoll, and the little pinprick of streetlights showed me they were inhabited.
I wondered where the boats got out of this harbour; these tetrapods right along this coast. Looking later on Google Earth I realised the nearest breach was nearly a mile to the west near where my office was. Any boats at this end would have to weave between countless other vessels before even reaching the open sea.
Tetrapods beating off the waves
We said our farewells and sat back in our cruiser. It headed back out and we watched the procession of resort, uninhabited, settled and functional islands. Of the last two I noticed there was an island that was used as the fuel storage depot – nice idea keeping it separate from the heaving metropolis of Male. We passed by one of the resorts you see in all the brochures. A long line of chalets on a pier, everything on stilts so you can sleep above the ocean. Two things would concern me staying there – I’ve never found ocean noises that soothing. I can put up with lap lap lap of gentle waves; it is quite sleep inducing, but everything else, the bird flapping on their roosts, the fish gurgling at the surface and the hiss and froth noises with anything beyond the gentlest of swells have never been calming. I was OK in Tortola where my apartment was 900 ft above the waves, but to be sleeping right on top of it? And second, if you dropped anything down the cracks or over the side of the chalet it would be so much more of a fag going hunting for it amongst the coral than just rootling in the undergrowth. I wondered if they had chalet maids with snorkels for just that possibility.
The boat traffic increased again as we drew closer to Male and we could see the urban skyline grow in front of us. We were earlier than expected as we drew in between the small beacons marking the entrance and once Mohammed had said farewell and headed back to his office, we decided we needed a drink. On the top floor of a nearby building was a large cafe and we headed up there; the air being cooler up there than in the packed streets. Once the menu was put in front of us we realised we were also very hungry, not having eaten at all on Thulusdhoo so we ordered some sandwiches and looked around. I found it bizarre to stare across the channel to the next island and see the huge tailfin of an Emirates Airbus poking up from behind the palm trees as it sat waiting at the airport.
The Airport from the mainland
The more I saw, the more I worked out how you could live on a bunch of tiny islands in the middle of the ocean. Each island seemed to have a function, whether it be nature reserve or fuel depot or airport. The people did not see each coastline as a limit, the shallow seas in between were as much their gardens, their recreation areas, their farmers fields, even their living space, as any piece of dirt.