On our last day in Ukulhas, we packed up our belongings, tidied our huts, and returned our rented canoe. Chiko, his wife, baby daughter and even his dad came to bid us farewell when Zamicko arrived in a wagon to take our luggage to the jetty. All of us were sad to leave the island and promised to return one day.
We caught the 1300 hrs speedboat to Velana International Airport on Hulhulé Island, with stops at Rasdhoo Island and Malé in between.
If the Maldives is synonymous with idyllic, then its capital city of Malé must be the only exception. Once we neared Malé, large rusty tankers and densely packed blocks of highrises came into view, and we knew our escape to a rustic, laid-back island life was over. About 150,000 inhabitants live and work in this tiny area of 6.8 square kilometres, making it one of the densest places in the world.
We had the opportunity to experience the intricate web of narrow alleyways in Malé on our first night in the Maldives. We had taken the public ferry from the airport to Malé and arrived at the jetty past 2200 hrs. Even at that hour, there was a flurry of activity at the jetty with passengers embarking and disembarking, luggage being transferred, drivers touting for business, etc. It was easy to spot our hotel's representative though. Aside from holding a "Somerset Inn" sign, she was the only Filipino lady in a dress and stiletto heels in the crowd.
Once our luggage was retrieved, she barked orders at 2 drivers who promptly whisked us away in their vehicles. The drivers navigated us through impossibly narrow streets and passageways expertly, whilst we sat at the edge of our seats praying that we didn't knock over any mopeds and pedestrian along the way.
Somerset Inn was a small boutique hotel with a single tiny lift. We paid S$128.54 per superior twin/double room, inclusive of breakfast and return airport transfers. It was not a fancy place, but more than adequate for a few hours of sleep.
It was already 2245 hrs when we checked in, and we hadn't had our dinner yet. The receptionist gave us directions to Salsa Royal Restaurant, which he said was still open. The restaurant was a 10-min walk away and it was still relatively busy when we got there. They had an extensive menu with Asian and Western favourites. I ordered their Fish n Chips, which was described as "fillet of reef fish crumbed and deep-fried". Sounded perfectly normal until they brought me 2 pieces of the blackest fish I'd ever seen in fish n chips. It tasted as unappetising as it looked. I realised from that point that the Maldivians did not use white fish like haddock or cod, but tuna in most of their fish dishes.
Singapore is 3 hours ahead of the Maldives, so several of us were up by 0500 hrs Maldivian Time the next morning and raring to go for a walk. Before our trip, I'd already researched on places of interest in Malé, and I only really wanted to see their local markets.
It was a short walk from our hotel to the waterfront. We arrived there in time to watch the sky turn from crimson to bright blue, and fishermen unload their catch from their fishing vessels.
The local fish market was still getting ready for business when we got there, so we wandered into the local produce market first. Fruits and vegetables like what we'd see throughout South East Asia were on display, but what caught our eye were the habanero peppers and screw pine fruit on sale.
In Singapore, the species of screw pine we have is the Pandanus Amaryllifolius (commonly known as pandan). The species they have in Maldives though is Pandanus Tectorius. It has leaves as tall as a person and very large fruits. Out of curiosity, we tried some screw pine fruit in Ukulhas. It tasted rather bland. It was also made into a drink for us.
The fish market opened at 0700 hrs and we were one of the first to set foot in there that morning. It was the perfect time to watch the fishmongers hard at work, gutting and cleaning their fish, before the housewives and restaurateurs arrived to do their marketing.
As we had already done our sightseeing of Malé at the start of our trip, we went straight to the airport on our last day. We had almost 7 hours to kill before our flight. Our initial plan was to store our bags with the left baggage counter at the airport, then take the local bus to a shopping mall at Hulhumale. Unfortunately, each time the bus arrived, the locals would rush forward and push us aside. It was impossible for us to get on, so we gave up and whittled away the hours at the airport instead.
The waiting areas in the airport were not air-conditioned. We checked out the various airport lounges, but none seemed worth using our Priority Pass or Dragon Pass on. In the end, we split our time between the food court and The Pizza Company, tucking in food with no tuna in it...