Day 140, Year 5: Visiting Uligan Village
Date: Monday, March 15, 2010
Weather: Sunny and Hot
Location: Uligan Island, Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives

Uligan Island is now divided in half and there is a chain link fence dividing the halves. On the southern half of the island a three-star resort is being built. The people here tell us that they wanted a three-star so some ‘normal’ people could come and stay. What the Lonely Planet lists as budget resorts go for $150 to $400 a night, meals included. Mid-range resorts are more like $500 to $700. The top end resorts go for $800 to $3,000 a night, meals not included. Who in the world spends this much money for a vacation? Well, Tom Cruise for one. Evidently he often vacations in the Maldives. But I’m supposing the three-star resort is in the mid-range. So that is what Uligan will have. On the northern half of the island there is only one village on the western side where we are anchored. This little village is laid out like a cross, with a short street going east to west and a longer street going north to south. I say ‘street’ but there are no cars. We saw one motor bike and one bicycle with no place to go. And we did see the island’s only official vehicle which is an ambulance. But back to the village walk. The streets are sand as is everything on the island. The east-west street was not very long, but the north-south street might have been a quarter of a mile long. No food is grown here because the sand does not support it. There are breadfruit trees, a few papaya trees, and a couple of other fruit trees, some of which were covered with netting to keep away the fruit bats. Fish is the basis of most food here with rice and other staples being imported. But with fish as the main source of food, it was a funny thing that we saw no fishing boats. Evidently the village has one fishing boat that is out now, and some individuals have boats, but there are none of the small boats that we saw so many of in Thailand and India.

We arrived on the island just before 11 am and a young man named Hammadh was waiting for us at the concrete sea wall. We don’t know how he knew we were coming, but this is a small village of about 480 people and news probably travels very quickly. Not that many yachties stop by here and since we are one of their only sources of income, being there to greet us is important. And besides, you are not allowed to walk around the village without a guide, so seventeen year-old Hammadh was our guide for the day Our first stop was at the office of Antrac Maldives. This is a tiny little one room building where the Uligan agent for Antrac works. His name is Imaad Abdulla, but he is away right now. Hammadh is actually one of Imaad’s six brothers. We sat outside under a breadfruit tree for shade and read the letters of thanks that cruisers have written to Imaad over the years. It was fun to see entries by friends who were here earlier this year. Next we walked down the north-south sand street lined with walls built of coral and mortar. These walls are about 5 feet high, just high enough to give privacy in the yards behind them. As we approached the school, Imaad called us on Hammadh’s cell phone to apologize for being away and to welcome us to the Maldives. We explained that we will not be staying long. We are allowed to stay for 72 hours without paying for an agent, and that is what we have decided to do. We will leave on Wednesday morning. We watched the students in grades 8, 9, and 10 leaving the school. All of the young women were covered from head to toe in a flowing white Muslim uniform and most were carrying umbrellas to shield them from the relentless sun. The young men were dressed in dark slacks and white shirts. They were less than anxious to have us take photos of them, but I did get a few. We then walked on to see the Energy Resources Pilot Project which consists of more than 20 wind generators and a few solar panels sitting in a field of weeds. The grand opening of this project was in January of 2009, but it has already been abandoned. The wind generators were supposed to supply power for the village for four to five hours each night, but Hammadh said it just didn’t work. What a shame. But somehow the villagers are getting enough power to keep their televisions running. Almost every home has a television. Some can only receive the local stations, but others have a huge array of choices. While we were in the little store on the island, we watched the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel. We stopped by the Antrac office on the way back to the sea wall and checked our email. They are receiving internet by using a 3G telephone modem like the one we used in Cochin. Hammadh told us that the way young men find wives from other islands is through chat rooms on the internet. Many of the young people own laptops. I have no idea where the money comes from as there is no industry on this island and the resort that will bring in income has not been built yet.

We headed back to Windbird and waited for Hammadh and gang to deliver fuel to us. We had wanted to buy 250 liters but at $1.20 US a liter we decided to get only 80 liters and hope for wind. The 80 liters we did buy cost us $96 US dollars. We paid $4.54 per gallon for this diesel. Ouch! And by the way, in last night’s log I erroneously stated that diesel in Cochin was $1 US per gallon. I meant $1 US per liter. The currency of choice here is US dollars and since there are no banks and no businesses other than the one little store, we would have no way of getting local currency. So we broke into our reserve of US dollars. After the diesel was delivered, we went for a late afternoon snorkel. This time Mark took along his underwater camera. I just had to have some pictures of the Powder-blue Surgeonfish and Mark got those for me. He also got great video and photos of the strangest looking underwater creature we have seen. It looks like a sea cucumber but is much more active than most. It attaches one end to a bommie and twists and turns its long body in the water. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. And I finally got to see a Clown Triggerfish. This was in deeper water so Mark was not able to get a good photo, but I had great fun swimming with this guy for a while.

It is hard to believe, but tomorrow we go ashore to check out. But I’m sure I can talk Mark into one more snorkel before we head south.

100315 Day 140 Maldives–Uligan Village and Anchorage
100315 Day 140 Maldives–Uligan Underwater
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Day 141, Year 5: Underwater in Uligan
Day 139, Year 5: Arrival in Maldives