3.5 out of 5 stars

If you were to mention the Maldives to most people they would conjure up images of pristine beaches and luxury hotels. This champagne lifestyle comes at a price though, not only is it expensive to go there, the Beckhams were rumoured to have spent £250k on one holiday alone, but there has been a human cost to this lifestyle for the residents and workers of the island. On top of that, the Maldives is in a perilous position. It is the lowest country in the world, only nudging a few meters above the waves and will be affected by climate change as sea levels rise.

Having previously had a strong Buddhist influence, the country is a Muslim country that is not as strict as others, for example, alcohol was allowed in certain places, but it still could be quite draconian at times. The country was run by a Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for 30 years after he won six consecutive elections without opposition. It was the only country in the world not to have a political party, even China has one political party. For most visitors, all that they would have been able to see was the luxury resorts and a little of the islands they were designated to holiday on. Most would be blissfully unaware of the history of the place. This was because islands in the archipelago that were not designated ‘tourist resorts’ were off limits to any outsiders. The rules have been relaxed now and this means that Tom Chessyre had the opportunity to see what real life was like there for residents and immigrants.

Travelling between the various islands on cargo boats and other craft is a good way to meet the locals and the people that work in the resorts. He does end up in a couple of the luxury resort for the odd night or two, but most of the time he is staying in guesthouses run by the locals. It makes it much easier to tease out the stories that they have of their country. Given how draconian the regime is, some were reluctant to speak, or if they did then they have been anonymised by Chessyre. We hear of their fears and hope for the country as well as he is prepared to let people confide in him. A lot of people were affected by the 2004 tsunami, and the atolls are very vulnerable given their height; there is no high land to retreat to when the waves sweep in and the future seems bleak for some residents. I thought this was really good, insightful reportage and travel writing of the other side of an island paradise.

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