Resting on a joali — a simple string seat hanging from a banyan tree — I am watching the afternoon waves roll in on the reef and the sedate progress of a traditional wooden fishing dhow on the horizon.
Just before sunset, the beach is deserted as the day’s business (such as it is) unwinds on the grid of dusty streets on the tiny island of Makunudhoo, 15 miles long, three miles wide and one of the most remote in the Maldives.
I am the only tourist (you usually are), staying in a comfortable spare room at Mohamed Shakir’s house.
The tiny island of Makunudhoo (pictured) is 15 miles long, three miles wide and one of the most remote in the Maldives
One of the crew of the puttering ferry from the island of Kulhudhuffushi put me in touch with my gossipy host; there is no specified tourist accommodation.
If you want to know what’s really going on in the Maldives (who was that Russian oligarch at the One&Only Reethi Rah the other day, how many girlfriends exactly did he bring with him this time), Mohamed Shakir has all the answers.
Word of mouth is king on the ‘inhabited’ islands of the Maldives, as opposed to the ‘tourist’ islands. Yes, a leap of faith is required: who knows quite where you’ll stay.
But here’s the reward: delicious tranquillity that comes from having stepped off the tourist map.
I dine at the colourful Income Café on a corner near Mohamed Shakir’s house, with its pink plastic flowers and order the Maldivian speciality — garudiya, a tasty smoked tuna with lime, chilli and chopped onion served in a spicy broth along with rice. I drink lubo (lime) juice. There is no alcohol on the ‘inhabited’ isles. No need.
I am drunk on the pleasure of life without all the trimmings (no butlers on golf buggies, no celebrities in suites).
Alcohol is unavailable on Makunudhoo, but Tom writes that he was ‘drunk on the pleasures of life’
There is no tourist information on Makunudhoo – the locals told Tom all he needed to know
In the morning, I go for a swim, the beach empty apart from scuttling crabs. Then, I walk past the old fish-processing plant and a joyful (and incredibly skilful) game of volleyball.
I watch for a while with an Income Café coffee, engrossed in the game.
The simple life, Maldives-style. Hard to believe political opponents were once banished here. It must be the best ‘prison’ on Earth.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk