If I were compiling a list of the strangest and most amazing places to visit purely out of interest, then somewhere in the middle of this list would be the capital of the Maldives, the city of Male.
Everything is surprising here, starting with the appearance of the city, ending with the organization of the life of the local population and urban planning in general, because everything that seems natural to us in a standard mainland city becomes practically unrealizable on an area of two square kilometers in the middle of the ocean.
Personally, I got to Male only because I missed my plane. The next flight left only a day later, but a pleasant bonus was that the airline, whose seaplane was late for us on the island of Filitéo, completely repented and not only agreed to send me on the next flight, but also assigned me to stay overnight.
However, if you are in the Maldives, set aside at least half a day to walk around Male. You won’t need more time.
The first acquaintance with Male comes from the airplane window, and a surprised exhalation is the most modest thing that you will give out when you see a mountain of high-rise buildings towering in the middle of the ocean.
Male airport is built on an artificial island, so the way to the city is by ferry through a small strait. The whole journey takes about 10 minutes without any traffic jams. The ferry runs differently at different times, but generally the interval is also about 10 minutes.
The total population of Male is a little more than 100 thousand people, and all these people are located only two square kilometers and somehow manage to live on them. At the same time, this piece of land has all the necessary infrastructure in the form of hospitals, schools, a university and even three football stadiums. It turns out that football in the Maldives is quite popular, although I personally have not heard anything about the local football team.
The first thing that catches your eye, despite the very small size of the island, the population prefers to move around it by motorized transport. In most cases, these are mopeds with which all sidewalks are lined. How you can find your moped here is generally a mystery. The thought arose that it is possible that every Maldivian can go out into the street, take any moped, get where he needs to go and leave it to the next one. In the end, you still won’t go far – from the island.
The strangest thing is that cars also go to Male, which, for me, is simply unreasonable. Most of these cars are taxis, though. By the way, a taxi in Male is a fairly cheap way of getting around. You can drive through the entire city for an amount equivalent to 70-100 rubles.
There is also public transport in the city – as far as I could understand from the diagram at the bus stop – this is only one route that goes in a circle in two directions.
In general, in terms of the organization of traffic, Male is a completely Asian city. Where Europeans prefer to get on a bike and ride 15 minutes, the Maldivians buy a scooter and ride in exhaust fumes. As a result, despite being located practically on the open sea, the city can hardly be called filled with fresh air.
On the other hand, building density seriously interferes with the freshness of the air. As already mentioned, the population of Male is about 100 thousand people, and all these people need to live somewhere. The area of the island is constantly increasing artificially, and developers diligently use every square meter. They save, first of all, on sidewalks: the widest sidewalk at most exceeds one meter. Despite this, there are quite a lot of greenery, parks and small squares in Male.
Roads here, too, do not differ in space. The central street of the city – Majedi Magu – is no wider than an ordinary courtyard passage. I didn’t even notice right away that the traffic here is on the left: the streets are so narrow that in two rows you can still drive very few places.
And it’s better to start your walk right from the embankment, where you will be dropped off by a ferry from the airport. The direction of movement is not so important. Go left – you will come out to a beautiful park with a public beach. To the right, you will pass by the main mosque of Male, the presidential palace, which is smaller in size than the City Hall of Yekaterinburg, and you will reach Republic Square and local markets.
There are only two large markets here and they are located opposite each other. The first is the usual grocery and manufactured goods market. The assortment here is not very rich, and the impression is that bananas are the most popular product here. In general, it is common practice here when one seller sells only one product: bananas, peppers, curry leaves (I saw a seller who simply had a large pile of this herb on the counter) or chewing leaves. The latter is a local folk sedative that is chewed and spit out. I did not try, because “well, him.”
Separate rows are occupied by counters with dried and smoked fish. Everything is the same here: one seller – one product. You can take something for a sample, but you didn’t want to buy anything, because it goes well with beer, and beer in Male is from the category of fantasy.
And for a real ethnographic experience, head to the fish market. This is a small room with a tiled floor, on which all possible fish that can only be found in local waters are laid out.
The highlight of the program is a separate counter, behind which all purchased fish is cut. That is, if you bought tuna, but you don’t want to mess with it, go to such a counter and they will skillfully cut it for you. In this video, a market worker calmly chopped one fish at first, and then, seeing me with a camera, showed the class.
Not far from the market is the square with the Victory Monument and the Sultan Park. The monument was built relatively recently in memory of those killed during the attack in 1988, when there was an attempted coup d’état.
Sultan’s Park is a relatively small square with a small fountain and benches. In general, by our standards, this is just a small square, but in Male, where every patch of land counts, to allocate such an area for a square is almost a waste.
By the way, here in the park there is an art gallery and a national museum, in the courtyard of which cannons from British ships are exhibited.
By the way, Male is best suited to stock up on souvenirs here: the choice here is much richer than in souvenir shops at hotels or at the airport, and prices are much lower. The main souvenir shops are located on the small Chandani Magu Street, which starts right next to Republic Square.
It is best to buy souvenirs from a coconut tree, handbags woven from dried palm leaves, seashells and a local exclusive – shark teeth.
The merchants, which is characteristic, speak excellent Russian, and the Egyptian approach to inviting customers is actively practiced here – this is when a local approaches you on the street, strikes up a casual conversation and then leads you to his shop.
Bargaining is just as easy, and sellers willingly agree to discounts. Typical dialogue:
– How much does a shell cost?
– 15 dollars
– Let’s go for 10?
– Then another magnet.
– Take it.
Shark teeth are a very popular souvenir in local shops. The assortment is very rich – from small teeth of reef sharks for 5-10 dollars apiece to huge razor teeth of a white shark from one and a half thousand dollars. It seems that there are no problems with exporting from the country. At least, according to the sellers and the customs officer, whom I asked before departure.
With the rest of the shop, everything is somewhat more complicated. All large shops are located along the central street of Majidi Magu: groceries, household appliances, cosmetics and perfumery, clothing and other goods. True, it is difficult to say a lot of good things about the assortment: as a rule, these are consumer goods imported from Southeast Asia and India, since there is practically no production of its own in the Maldives. The choice of clothing and cosmetics is especially scarce – a Muslim country, no matter how.
Public catering in Male is very oriented towards foreign tourists. As a rule, these are European dishes with a major shift towards Indian cuisine. Most places offer a club sandwich or some pretty decent pizza. Surprisingly delicious coffee is prepared.
Fish dishes, which of course, are cheaper than meat or poultry dishes, but the average bill per person is equivalent to 200 rubles. It is clear that you will not be offered any alcohol – the strictest ban in the country.
But you can also try local delicacies. I stumbled upon a small shop that sold small round pies with various fillings, deep fried. A whole bag of these delicacies cost me about 60 Russian rubles.
Oddly enough, Male does not give the impression of an overpopulated city in which there is no respite from dense buildings and an abundance of transport. The city has where to walk and what to see, although most of the buildings have not been here for several decades.
This is a completely different Maldives – not the ones you see on the resort islands, and Malé definitely deserves to drop in here for at least half a day before flying home to feel the real character of the country.