|.I remember sitting on the beach near the apron on Gan in 1960, waiting to
be called to the Bristol Freighter which was to take me and a couple of colleagues
to Ceylon. It was the first leg of our long awaited journey home. The chuff
charts had been discarded, the kit bags packed and our RAF blue uniforms recovered
from storage. It was January. The sun was high in a cloudless blue sky and
the temperature was around 100 degrees F. Despite the contrast waiting for
us in Blighty, we were anxious to be on our way.
At the same time, I was sorry to leave. Living on Gan had been a unique experience.
I'd loved it. And like many others who served there, I was determined to return
one day if the opportunity arose. My first opportunity came in 1990 when on
holiday in North Male Atoll. On that occasion, Air Maldives offered to fly
me down there, but as they could not guarantee a return flight within my holiday
period I had to decline.
A few years on and the situation improved. Gan is much more accessible and
in October 2002 I was able to fulfil my ambition. I was accompanied by my
wife Isobel, who had been my fiancée during my first sojourn there.
I had always wanted her to appreciate how much I must have suffered!
My first nostalgic visit was to the control tower, where I'd spent most of
my working days, and I have to say that the welcome I received there was quite
amazing. The Officer in Charge, Ahmed Rasheed, showed me round the tower,
even pointing out the floor space that had been occupied by the consoles I'd
worked on. They were long gone.
Downstairs, in the meteorological centre, I was introduced to Meteorological
Forecaster Ali Wafir and Atoll Chief, Hamid Yoosuf, and spent some time chatting
about 1959 and the future of Addu.
Things are looking good. Gan is about to be developed as an international
airport. On 10th December 2002, President Gayoom will lay the foundation stone
for a new airport terminal, to contain duty free shops etc. The existing tower
is to be demolished and replaced by a new one, and the runway upgraded. Apparently,
faulty drainage has resulted in parts of the runway lying on swamp, which
is not ideal for landing Boeing 767s. A British company will start work on
this in December.
The old fuel storage tanks were about to be examined as I left, prior to
being cleaned and prepared for re-use. The fuel pumps will have to be replaced
as will at least part of the pipeline.
When work is completed, Gan will be accessible directly from Britain, Germany
etc., which will make the development of Wilingli and, it is hoped, islands
in Suvadiva Atoll, economically viable. This will eliminate the need for holidaymakers
taking expensive local flights from Male. These flights are not totally reliable
and while I had no problem, one flight from Gan was cancelled while I was
there and two Russians had to wait two days for another. They of course missed
their connecting flight home. It is because of incidents like this that resort
developers are not keen to commit themselves. Everything depends on the proposed
new international airport.
How the new development will be administered I don't know. The Adduans would
like some degree of autonomy, but would not go down the road of rebellion
to achieve it as in 1959. They are more at ease with Male than in 1959 and,
despite excellent educational facilities in Addu, many Addu children complete
their education in Male. One thing in the Adduan's favour of course is that
due to their long association with the RAF, they are more able to integrate
and communicate with foreigners than their northern brothers.
Causeways linking Gan straight through to Hitaddu have been in place for
many years. Now there is an asphalt road running from the Gan end of Fedu
to the northern end of Hitaddu. Most of it is two-way, but there is a stretch
of dual carriageway on Hitaddu. The Danish company who laid the new road was
just putting the finishing touches to it while I was there. The causeways,
and much of the road, are illuminated by electricity supplied by a brand new
power station on Hitaddu. The old power station on Gan has closed down and
the building now used for storage.
Another nostalgic trip was to the site of the kadjans my colleagues and I
occupied in 1959. There had been four of them, but only three bases remained.
The base of the one I lived in has either been lifted or covered by the road.
It was disappointing, as I'd hoped to find the sixpence I lost there 42 years
ago. The small building just west of the kadjans, which we referred to as
the Eureka building, is still there.
The difference between Gan as it is now and as it was in 1959 is colossal.
There were few trees in 1959, but now the island, with the exception of the
area each side of the runway, is covered in rich vegetation. Many of the ex-RAF
buildings still there had not been built in 1959, including the Sergeants'
Mess, which now functions as the reception, bar and dining room for Equator
There are three clothing manufacturers operating on Gan, with factories each
side of the main road and on the south side of the island. They produce women's
underwear, and most of the workers are women from Sri Lanka on a three-year
contract. They occupy the old airmen's billets and the Pakistani camp.
Back in 1959, sarongs were the normal wear for men. Now you will be lucky
if you see any, certainly on Gan. Most wear trousers and shirts. And while
there are still many bicycles in use, there are also many motorbikes and cars.
As yet, they all seem to travel at a sedate pace.
Another rarity is the dhoni. There is no dhoni park, and the only ones I
saw on Gan were rotting hulks. I did see one or two moored off Fedu. But as
one security man put it - "When work with RAF, one-and-half hour rowing
Hitaddu - Gan. Now twenty minutes on road." Little need for dhonis. This
man was one of many who approached me and asked if I'd been there before with
There are still herons, terns and flying foxes galore, but thanks to a regular
spraying programme and mosquito coils in the bar, I saw hardly any insects.
Every stroll on the beach, however, produced a new crop of sand-fly bites
on our ankles. These were relieved by cream obtained at the local shop.
Before going to Gan I put together a folder containing the write-up now on
the rafgan site, and some photographs taken in 1959. I presented it to the
manager of Equator Village when I arrived, but, as word went round, I had
to keep picking it up to take to different people, such as those at the tower.
One of the photographs in the folder was of a young girl called Wasima. Wasima
worked at Station Sick Quarters in 1959, and allowed me to take her photograph
one morning as she passed our kadjan. Two young sisters working at the tower
recognised her from the photo as their aunt. By the time I returned to the
Village, one of Wasima's sons, Ahamed, had contacted my wife at the resort
and invited us for a meal at the family restaurant.
The restaurant, 'Medhuvathi,' is directly across the road from the airport
terminal building. It is owned by Wasima's husband Mohammed, and run by him
and sons Ahamed and Abdulla. Mohammed worked at the officer's mess at the
time of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip's visit in March 1972, and still
has a copy of the menu. Our meal was splendid, and a few days later, we were
invited to the family home on Fedu to meet Wasima. According to Mohammed,
the building now housing his restaurant was once occupied by SAS Flight.
Equator Village embraces the Sergeants' Mess, Warrant Officers' and Senior
NCO's quarters. It is fenced off and a security guard is always on duty by
the gate. At first I wondered at the need for security, but I suppose it is
deemed necessary because of the large number of workers from Sri Lanka on
My wife and I were placed in room 101 (Were they trying to tell us something?)
which was an end-terrace room a few yards from the beach. It was clean, air-conditioned
and also had a fan. A partitioned-off section contained a wash-hand basin,
w.c. and an electrically heated shower. All in all it was quite acceptable.
The dining room was spacious and pleasant, and the meals, as far as I was
concerned, quite good. Service was very good. There were very few guests,
October being a quiet time, and the staff was keen to have something to do.
Soft drinks and beer were inclusive, but for accounting purposes had to be
There is a beautiful swimming pool, with ample sun beds, and although there
were Germans at the resort I never saw any beds booked with a towel when I
sneaked out at 5am to check.
Isobel and I had a trip up to Hitaddu in the hotel mini bus. Total cost $23US.
The driver pointed out places of interest and made photo stops. The trip took
about an hour and a half. You can cycle up there of course, bikes are included
in the package, but it is a bit hot for that when you are not acclimatised.
I did a fair amount of cycling on Gan, including a couple of laps of the perimeter
track, and was particularly intrigued by notices each side of the runway stating,
'STOP. Give way to aircraft. Obey the traffic signals.' No chance! I was there
We also went on an island-hopping trip, which included a barbecue. This was
also part of the package. The trip over the lagoon to Midu was very pleasant,
but for some reason, one of the crew thought we would like a walk through
Midu. The sun was directly overhead and there was no shade. I had to call
a halt as Isobel was wilting noticeably.
Back on board and we had another pleasant cruise to Wilingili for a barbecue.
My advice - give it a miss. The area selected for the barbecue was littered
with plastic bottles and cans. Picture a picnic on a tip and you'll get the
idea. One man, one hour and a couple of bin liners could work wonders. The
barbecue consisted of fish and spaghetti. Not my idea of a barbecue but then
coming from the frozen north I don't go in for them much. If you want to visit
Wilingili, I suggest you do it on a snorkelling trip.
Isobel was ill when we first arrived on Gan, and collapsed in the reception
area after leaving the dining room unable to eat. The staff could not have
been more helpful. The girls on reception and the waiters all rallied round.
They gave her fresh lime to settle her stomach and advised her to go to the
doctor. She declined the visit to the doctor as she thought she'd sleep it
off and besides, a heart condition means that she already swallows a bucketful
of pills every day.
After three full days in bed, she gave in and agreed to see a doctor. The
receptionists made an appointment and the mini bus took us to the surgery
on Fedu. On arrival, the bus driver opened the surgery door and the young
Indian doctor beckoned Isobel in. On his prompting I followed - as did the
bus driver. No private medicine here then!
But he certainly knew his job. He diagnosed a urinary infection and de-hydration,
prescribed some pills and advised her of what to do. The bill came to $8.50US
- not bad for a consultation plus medicines. Isobel was up and about shortly
after. When she told an Irishman at the resort that the doctor had prescribed
three different medicines, he said that he must have been trained in Ireland,
where they are taught to give three medicines - to be sure to be sure to be
Was the trip worth it? As far as I am concerned, very much so. I think anyone
who served there would enjoy a return visit. The development of the airport
and Wilingili will make a visit to Addu an even more attractive proposition.
There will be the advantage of staying on a dedicated holiday resort, with
the bonus of being able to commute to Gan for nostalgia's sake.
For anyone contemplating a holiday on Gan, I'll give some details of our
We booked our holiday through Maldive Travel, which is run by a good friend
of ours called Toni de Laroque, entitled Toni - The Maldive Lady, in recognition
of some 20 years dedication to the Maldives. Toni produces a brochure covering
the resorts she promotes, but travel arrangements are made on her behalf by
Trailfinders in London.
Arrangements were easy to make. I gave Trailfinders my proposed holiday dates
and asked them to put together an itinerary based on ten days on Gan and five
in Dubai. Within a short time I had a provisional printout. Once my deposit
was paid, the printout was updated and confirmed. The only delay was confirmation
of the flights between Male and Gan, which were confirmed two weeks before
we set off.
The journey from our home in Kirriemuir to Male via Glasgow, Heathrow and
Dubai was uneventful but tiring, and when we arrived in Hulule we were none
too pleased at being shipped over to a hotel in Male to spend several hours
awaiting our Gan flight. There was nothing wrong with the hotel and of course
it was much better than hanging around the airport. We had a perfectly adequate
room with en-suite, but we would have been much happier if arrangements could
have been made for us in the new hotel at the airport. Neither of us like
Male and I have yet to meet anyone who does.
Our flight to Gan was aboard a Dash 8. It was only half full, but at least
it wasn't cancelled and it was good to see Gan from the air once again. We
were picked up at the air terminal by the resort minibus.
Our departure from Equator Village was well organised. Our luggage was taken
to the airport in advance and processed for us. Then, about half-an-hour before
take-off, we were taken along. This time, the Dash 8 was full. There was only
a couple of hours to wait for our flight to Dubai from Male, so while by arrangement
we could have gone to the Hulule hotel, we opted to stay at the airport.
Costs, omitting our Dubai stopover, were as follows: -
We had nine nights (ten days) on Gan, the total cost being £2,644.
All costs were for two of us and comprised: -
Cost of flights from Glasgow to Male via Dubai, £1452
Cost of transfers to Gan from Male, £427. Expensive in my opinion and
a cost which will be eliminated when Gan becomes international airport.
Accommodation in Equator Village, Gan, £765. This may appear to be expensive,
but it is all-inclusive, and there is very little to spend money on in the
We left Glasgow at 1050am on Saturday 12th October, and arrived on Gan at
17.45 on 13th October. Gan was 4 hours behind the UK.
Maldive Travel, 3 Esher House, 11 Edith Terrace, London SW10 0TH.
Phone 020 7352 2246. Website: http://www.maldivetravel.com.
Trailfinders, 194 Kensington High Street, London W8 7RG. Phone 020