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Gan Memories a Return to Paradise ?
by
John Stephenson

Just some general points: I only spent about 5 weeks on Gan in Jan/Feb 1969 when I was on detachment with 214 Sqn (Victor Tankers) from Marham
but was so taken with the place, I always wanted to go back. My memories are rather limited so please forgive me if I get things wrong. We started
our trip from Heathrow on Friday 4th Feb, arriving back on Sunday morning, 13th Feb 05.

The main things which struck me when we landed at Gan were that the dispersal looked empty, the transmitter towers had gone (only 1 left) and that there was so much more greenery.  Many servicing buildings had been demolished and the fuel farm tanks had disappeared. The new international
airport building is still not finished - I spoke to the 2 Irish engineers who were having to continuously transit between Gan and Ireland; there were major problems with power supplies (now dependent on generators on Hittadu) as well as financial problems and governmental requirements.
There is a Catch 22 situation here as the airport cannot be finished to take direct long haul flights until the holiday development on Viligili is completed and this has seemingly run into financial difficulties, compounded by the tsunami to a certain extent (I was told the development was for a 1,000 bed facility which if so, seems much too large in my opinion).

All the factories have now closed on Gan so there is little direct work happening; Main Street around the new terminal building is being finished as is the landscaping and planting but little else.. There are still a few Sri Lankan workers living in the factory compounds, ostensibly as caretakers and there are security guards around who have nothing to do but sit in a little box all day and night! I also noticed that much of the old
golf course had been turned over to agriculture - a plantation had been cultivated all over the south island side, and I also saw some allotments!

There are a lot more bicycles and motor bikes around now - with no lights on - so care is needed on the road where overtaking is rife! There are mixed opinions on the benefits of having a road linking the western islands - speeding and road deaths are new concepts, and there appears to be a drug problem on Hittadu with the younger islanders. I also miss the sight of the dhonis arriving from the islands in the morning and departing in the afternoon - no boats needed now and the fishing industry is virtually no more (we saw 1 tuna boat at Fedu harbour). There is a harbour development on Hittadu but I don't know to what end.

When we decided to have a walk around Gan (in the rain), we were stopped from crossing the east end of the island - there is a  gated fence which stops access to the peri road and a security guard on a bike patrols this area; the gate and fence is also up on the south side, just before where the old Hastings wreck was by my reckoning; there is no problem crossing the western threshold and the guard will lift the barrier for you to pass.
I noticed there are new National Security Service buildings on the south side so perhaps this is why movement around the eastern end is restricted.
The Pakistani workers compound is no more; the hospital, walls, minaret and grounds have been demolished. Although the main mosque building is still there,  you have to search for it as the trees and shrubbery have been allowed to grow around it. The south beach is pretty grotty as most of the rubble from the demolition/construction in this area has just been dumped on the beach surrounds which, allied to the rubbish generated by industry, has made a right mess of the area. I also think that the construction of the road between Gan and Fedu has caused problems with the tidal flow at the south end as I think there is much more mud/sand at low tide than I recall.

On my previous visit, I seem to have vivid memories of lots of bats roosting in the trees and numerous lizards running around. This time, I saw very few bats and only 2 small lizards during the whole week. There were no chit-chats in the room (probably due to the air con) and only 4 in total on the ceiling in the bar.
I may well be imagining it but wasn't there a reef out in the lagoon? I seem to recall seeing breakers out there, if so, they aren't there now which makes me think something may have happened to the reef either due to accommodating the numerous boats or perhaps because of marine problems prior to the tsunami; the beach depth seems much smaller along the northern length than I remember. There was no damage to Gan due to the tsunami - hotel staff told me they saw the water recede from the beach before the waves came in but they didn't broach the sea wall. Fedu did suffer some flood damage and there was still lots of coral pieces in the streets as well as on the new beach at the causeway junction point.

The MCU hangar is now a warehouse and the station gym is a store for cement bags; there were 3 workers shovelling cement from broken bags and the dust cloud was immense. The slipway is now taken up by a rusting hulk of what looks like an arab dhow; there's lots of rubbish around and a strong smell of sewage in this area. Some of the small jetties in what was the dhoni park are in a poor state of repair as is the sea wall - there is a lot more weed in the sea here than I remember (and I don't recall the sea being as salty as it is now....yaargh)!! The fuel supply pipe is now rusted away and really should be dismantled as the whole jetty structure is in a deplorable state. There's also lots of rubble and large masonry blocks on the beach here which prevents access along the beach (perhaps this is deliberate to fall in line with the restricted access at the east end).

The station commanders bungalow is now a government residence (complete with gate guard and barrier) as is the officers mess area (no entry). The
Blue Lagoon is now closed and is in a poor state of repair; the Astra is also closed and looks its age (no workers to use it). The 180 Club area is now totally reserved for islanders and also contains children's school activities; there is a reflexology/spa complex opposite for those who want a bit of pampering. I vividly remember drinking Tiger in the Marine Bar and also wasting lots of beer when the guys decided to play "Beetle" one night on the lawn. The swimming pool is a right mess and totally dilapidated; the police flight building is as per and is very resplendent in light blue paint. One of the souvenir shops was apparently the airmen's mess office  - but I don't remember this.
I met Idi who used to work in the Blue Lagoon; he has a shop just around the corner and lives on Fedu; Ali Ben is the head boy in the hotel and used to work in the officers mess (he told me he started working for the RAF in 1956 at aged 32 and he is now 72 which by my maths, means he must be 81???). He also lives on Fedu and very kindly offered to loan Maggie and myself his motor bike, an offer which caused Maggie the horrors so I had to decline his kind offer.

Equator Village is ostensibly the same SNCO's mess as it was; the snooker table is the same - and the cushions have to be seen to be believed. None of the guests seem able to play snooker so all the balls are for pool!!
Talking of guests, the hotel was about half full when we were there and consisted of about 80% Germans, 12% Russian, 5% Rumanian and 3% Irish/British. There is no TV in the rooms and the satellite telly in the bar was invariably tuned into German stations; it was actually very refreshing not watching TV or reading British newspapers which made catching-up when we returned to UK pretty interesting. The pool area was very pleasant and relaxing (waiter service to hand or sit in the water at the pool bar) and there was a daily cabaret with the hens and chickens roaming free and the cocks trying to outdo each other - watch out for falling coconuts though!! Food was generally of a good standard and the service was second to none. Just as before, the friendliness of the islanders was so refreshing when compared to other resorts we have been to.

Much of Gan as I remember was still there and the hotel staff would like many more British people to visit (can't imagine why). I'm glad I went back and perhaps if international direct flights do occur, I will go back again. I think because of the history of Addu and the government, there is a lot of political bias against Addu so fingers crossed for the future

Our travel itinerary with Emirates was:     Heathrow (20.00) to Dubai - 7 hours (3 hours stop-over)
                                                        Dubai (09.50) to Male (Via Colombo) - 7 hours

                                                        Saturday night stop-over in Male (no alcohol)!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                        Island Aviation: Male to Gan (1hour) and return.

                                                        Male (19.00) to Dubai - 4 hours (5 hours stop-over in Irish Village)!!
                                                        Dubai (03.10) to Heathrow - 8 hours

Costs: Emirates (Economy):                                554 each
Equator Hotel (6 nights):                                    390 each
                                                        (all inclusive + transfers + 1 night in Male)

John Stephenson

 

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