Practicing tropical island survival in the Maldives

posted in: Nature, Survival | 0

36 hours after coming home from Alaska I was on a plane heading for the Maldives. This time I was together with my family. I had missed them on my trip to Alaska but now we had two weeks together ahead of us. This was our summer vacation.

It wasn’t a wilderness vacation in the sense that we lived outside but we stayed in a beachfront bungalow 15 meters away form the water’s edge. A perfect vacation for all of us. We were surrounded by nature in a luxury resort with the most beautiful view and still within close range of a swimming pool and other facilities for my kids.

Staying on a tropical island still made me wonder what my priorities and challenges would be in a survival situation. The first thing I do when I go to a new place is to read nature. What fire making materials are available, what sources of food and water are available, what resources are available for shelter making and so on. It’s not something I think about it has just become a habit to me.

I found plenty of firemaking materials including some palm leaf sheath. Apart from firemaking this fibrous mesh can be used for numerous things. The fibres are very strong and can be used for making both rope, baskets and nets just like palm leaves can. The mesh itself can also be used directly as a brush, washcloth, padding, and much more.

Nature here is so lush that finding food wouldn’t be your biggest challenge. The ocean would probably be your biggest resource of food in a survival situation. When we were dropped off on the island the first thing we saw was a Blacktip reef shark swimming under the bridge where we landed.

One early morning my wife and I took a stroll along the beach. We were paddling in the shallows when we suddenly heard a big splash and snapping jaws behind us. As we looked back we saw a 1.2 meter long shark right behind us. Apparently it was hunting something all the way up on the shore. As it went back into the sea it passed right by us along with a few other sharks.

On the beach we saw both hermit crabs, ghost crabs, Oriental garden lizards, beetles, Grey heron and more and above us smaller birds and the Indian Flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus). We had been swimming in the ocean for a couple of days before buying a diving mask. After this it became clear to us just how lush the ocean was. Twospot Demoiselle, Picasso Triggerfish, Grouper and the poisonous Yellow Boxfish were just some of the fish I saw. One time I was snorkeling in the shallows when I coincidentally looked up and saw a girl looking at me while pointing. I turned around to see what she was pointing at and I saw a huge shadow right behind me. A big stingray was passing me one meter away.

Had we not come during the monsoon water would probably have been an issue here. At this point we had plenty of rain water so this was also not a priority. When people think of the monsoon they often think of endless rain for months but in the Maldives the “Halhangu” as the Monsoon is called here is more versatile and heavy rain can come within a few minutes. During the day time we had perfect weather throughout our two week long stay and most of the rain came during the nights.

So if both food and water was plentiful, what would my biggest challenge be if I ended up on a tropical island like this one in a survival situation? The answer is heat. When I first arrived here I had nausea and felt both dizzy and tired. I wasn’t sure whether it was jetlag from traveling east through 15 timezones or 221 longitudes the last couple of days or whether it was the heat. Either way the heat was humid and intense and it made me lazy and indolent. Not an ideal state of being in a survival situation where you want to stay on top of things.

The heat aside my light skin is not well protected against the scorching sun. So this would definitely be a challenge for me too. Without sunscreen I would need to stay out of the sun most of the time.

Luckily sharks and stingrays are more active after dusk so I could hunt for them without being exposed to the sun otherwise I would need to stay covered up.

My kids and I often go on trips together and sometimes I leave them to solve tasks on their own . Whether the task is building their own shelter, lighting fire or foraging for food they always go at it with passion. This time they were the ones to give me a challenge though. They had been playing around outside for an hour or more when they came in with some coconuts they had collected on the beach. They had been trying to open them for some time when one of the locals came by and showed them how to do it. Now they wanted me to do it too. It was both great fun and a challenge I couldn’t say no to.

Coconuts have edible fruit flesh as you probably know and they are great for many things in a survival situation. Green coconuts contain a lot of water too. Well it’s not actually water rather than a kind of fruit juice rich in natural sugars, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium. Coconut water is also rich in fibers. Be careful not to drink too much of it though since their high amounts of potassium can cause unconsciousness, uncontrolled diabetes, red blood cell destruction among other things. It also contains natural laxatives which can be helpful if you get constipation but it could also leave you dehydrated. So you shouldn’t drink too much of it. Probably not more than two cups a day.

Climbing a palm tree to get the green coconuts is not an easy task though. And it is certainly not risk free either. I talked to one of the locals who’s job it was to climb the palm trees and cut down coconuts and withered leaves with his machete. His technique was to tie a rope around his back and lean into it as he moved upwards. The rope he used was made from hide and which made it very strong. Others use a rope around their feet which they press towards the trunk of the tree to avoid slipping. These are ancient techniques that require great strength and practice and you don’t want to risk injuring yourself in a survival situation unless absolutely necessary.

Another way to get water is from palm leaves. And you don’t have to climb the trees to get it. What you want to do is to locate some young shoots that grow straight from the ground near the base of a tree. Find a flowering stalk, bend it downwards and cut off the tip. The leaves contain a sugary fluid that you can drink. The next day slice off another thin piece of the leaf and it will give you up to a liter of fluid a day. Be aware that this fluid also contains a laxative so take care that you don’t drink too much of that either.

There are many other ways to get water in the tropics. If you have a plastic bag condensation is another one. There are two immediate ways to do it. One is by tying a plastic bag around the branch of a tree with green leaves and let the sun evaporate the water inside the branch and leave it to condensate on the plastic bag.

The other is by making a solar still. This can be made in different ways but the principle is the same. You dig a hole in the ground and cover it with the plastic bag. In the middle of the hole under the plastic bag you put a container to collect the water. Then you place a small stone on top of the plastic bag right above the container to weigh down the plastic bag a bit. The idea is to make water from the ground below evaporate and condensate on the plastic bag above. Because of the weight of the stone the water will then dribble down into the middle and into the container. You can use this method to render salt water or dirty water drinkable and you can put wet leaves into the hole to extract the water from them. Mind you that this is a method that requires some patience.

The Maldives is a tropical paradise and I would recommend everyone to visit this place. From a survival/SHTF point of view, which is my take on this blog, there are a few things to consider however: First of all remember you will most likely be staying on a remote island with no immediate medical help available so take your precautions. There are some very poisonous fish here so don’t step on the corals. Well don’t step on them anyway since you will destroy them. Also don’t swim in the ocean at night since sharks are more active at night and this is their feeding time. Tsunamis and severe storms happen but I wouldn’t worry too much about that though. It is however a Muslim country where radical Islam is very strong. 200 Maldivians have been known to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria out of a total population of only 345.000. I didn’t know about this until after we visited the country but in Male, the capital of the Maldives Islam was clearly present. At the moment there are no risks for tourists visiting the islands however since tourism is a big business for the country. And the Islamists are able to launder their money through it. Just don’t bring alcohol through customs. You can buy it at the resorts anyway since the government is turning it’s blind eye to it.

Whether or not you want to indirectly support radical Islam the Maldives is definitely worth a visit from a holiday perspective. And boycotting the country would probably only help the radical forces within the country gain more power. So my recommendation is to go and experience this tropical paradise. The irony of it all being of course that by flying here you will encourage global warning and it is believed that the islands will disappear within the next 10-100 years due to sea levels rising.

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