Malé During Ramadan Shows Different Side of Maldives

Day 88, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Sunday, March 31, 2024; Malé, Maldives.

I am hearing decidedly different opinions of Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, from those who went ashore yesterday. Perhaps some didn’t expect a densely packed small city. In fact, Malé is the world’s smallest capital city and one of the most densely populated. More than 200,000 people are packed onto the 3.2 square miles of the island.

Because this 98-percent Muslim country is in the midst of Ramadan, virtually all restaurants and coffee shops are closed until after sundown. To some cruise passengers, the city did not feel very welcoming. Others reported just a busy place with locals going about their own business. It is clear to me that the tourist infrastructure of the Maldives is not in the city of Malé, but rather on the many resort islands, where alcohol flows, bikinis are standard attire and nothing seems to close for Ramadan.

We decided to check the city out for ourselves, despite the heat and humidity, so after donning my neck fan, hat and lots of sunblock, I joined my sisters to head ashore around 10 a.m. My first impression was that Ramadan didn’t seem to have curtailed activity – people (mostly men), cars and motorbikes were everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean the bikes were parked on the sidewalks, leaving little room to walk. I dreaded the faux pas of accidentally hitting one and knocking down the whole block-long row like dominoes in a Saturday Night Live skit.

We edged our way along the waterfront to the market on a nearby pier. Almost every food is imported, so the first building was full of produce – bananas, okra, beans, even a fruit I didn’t recognize. No one objected to my taking photographs, as I silently asked with a questioning look while holding up my smartphone. They knew I wasn’t there to buy, so they went about their business as I tried to stay out of the way.

We left through a side door to the busy dock lined with fishing boats, where men offloaded hundreds of yellowfin tuna into baskets and buckets and dragged them into the market.

Several fellow passengers were gathered along the seawall, watching colored fish and the occasional stingray glide by. We heard the best time to see the stingrays had been late yesterday afternoon when locals fed them. Of course, the reflective water played havoc with my attempts to get a good photograph.

Heading inland a few blocks didn’t help us to escape the traffic or the sidewalks blocked by parked motorbikes. Many shops were closed, with the exception of some souvenir shops. Men implored us to step inside to browse, and I left one shop with a t-shirt – a rare purchase for me. I try to limit myself to one per trip, and then only from a remote locale that is off the beaten path. My current collection includes Antarctica (actually, Ushuaia, Argentina), Pitcairn Island and now the Maldives. Even if I don’t have a good photo of stingrays, I have them memorialized on a shirt.

As my sisters went on to explore the gardens of Sultan Park, I stopped and sat in the shade to sketch the Islamic Center with its gold-domed Grand Friday Mosque and 142-foot-tall minaret.

I sketched, erased and redrew several times trying to get the proportions of the tower just right. It still looks both crooked and slightly leaning to me.

Two hours was about all I could take of the heat and humidity, so I headed back to the tender pier. The shaded waiting area was enclosed, so water for passengers wasn’t conspicuous to the fasting locals.

The day had started with a sunrise Easter service on the Sea View deck. Baskets of dyed eggs decorated the Lido Buffet, and I was pleasantly surprised to see baked ham on the lunch menu. I put a slice between two pieces of rye bread, along with mustard and pickles, and had a fine sandwich. The special Easter cake was pretty, but I left it for someone else to cut into.

I spend the afternoon painting my sketch. Our sail away drew a decent-sized crowd as we wove our way out of the archipelago and toward the Seychelles, which we will reach after three sea days.