Private islands, lavish hotels, honeymoon bungalows... These are the images evoked when I heard the word Maldives. I hesitated to buy the plane ticket because it would make me one of "those people."
In the end, my phobia of the 1% didn't outweigh the 40% discount on a French dive boat named Le Soleil II that promised crystal clear waters abundant with underwater megafauna.
I booked the tickets only on condition that we'd have a week to explore some of the local atolls, the ones where Maldivians live a conservative muslim life that is starkly contrasted with the glitz and glamour of boozy beach buffets enjoyed in bikinis.
What we found above the water was a unique culture of hospitable seafarers who introduced me to my favourite new breakfast, Mas Huni, an aromatic tuna salad composed of finely chopped shallots, chili, and coconut served with chapati and and a boiled egg. Best enjoyed with your feet in the sand.