Remembering the late Phillip Laurella: A Pioneer of Liveaboard Tourism who journeyed all the way from France to find home in the Maldives
After 43-years of island life in the Maldives, Philippe Laurella, who passed away at the age of 81 on 25th February 2023, had undoubtedly earned himself a place in Maldivian folklore as the longest-standing expat to ever set foot on its sandy shores. Local Maldivians will remember him as the foreign newcomer who stumbled onto the beautiful white sand coastlines of our home many decades ago, falling in love with the island – and marrying one of the locals along the way. Soon after his first visit, he had decided to put down roots and was recognized by all as the light-haired, sun-kissed foreigner ever since. But how had Phillip ended up in a tropical oasis in the middle of the Indian Ocean all those years ago? Join us as we explore his remarkable journey for freedom and family in his own words.
Philippe’s journey first began in his homeland of France; as a free-spirited avid traveler, he was ready to embark on a new adventure. So, back in 1978, he booked a one-way ticket on the ‘Magic Bus. This bus trip was a rite of passage for many; an overland voyage that begins in Western Europe (Amsterdam), passing via the Middle East and Asia with the last stop as Kathmandu, Nepal, covering over 11,000 miles of terrain in the process. However, Philippe’s final destination – the Maldives-was unbeknownst to him at the time. He was utterly unaware that he would soon be calling the Maldives home for the next 43 years of his life.
“I thought this was very good because I could spend the time that I wanted in every country.”
Tens of thousands of young individuals embarked on this overland journey on the ‘Magic Bus’ throughout the 1960s to the late 1970s in search of enlightenment, freedom, and for those simply interested in learning about the world and their position in it. There were obvious language barriers along the way, but the bus allowed travelers to hop on and off whenever they liked.
“I thought this was very good because I could spend the time that I wanted in every country…. my English was very poor at the time, it was not easy.”
Philippe had been fortunate enough to enjoy a free life and to travel during the 1970s, enjoying many unspoiled paradises along the way.
“Today, I think it is not possible to make the same trip.” The Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan closed the route to Western travelers at the end of the 1970s. “At the time, I had no idea what was ahead, I had vaguely heard of the Maldives back then, but most people used to confuse it with some islands located near Argentina.” Phillippe had traveled through many countries like Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to reach the Maldives islands. “To visit different places, to talk with people and to meet new people, well, it was very nice.”
He had arrived in India after four long months of travel.
Finally, after four months of travel, he arrived in India. “I arrived in Delhi, I went to Kashmir and again Delhi, and then to Bombay (Mumbai). But at the time, what I have to tell you is I didn’t know that I was going to the Maldives.” Still blissfully unaware, Laurella had continued to move forward not knowing the course of his life was about to change.
After traveling through India and visiting hotspots like Bombay, Goa, and Kochi, he had spent a few weeks in a smaller village called Kovalam. “At the time, nothing and nobody was there, only fishermen; I rented a house for 15 days- a very simple house. I sat there for days and went from beach to beach.”
During this time, Philippe had encountered other Frenchmen, a couple on the trail just as he was. “They came to visit me because they heard from travelers that a French guy was in Kovalam for some time. So, then they came and told me, look, we are going to the Maldives. Do you want to come with us?” It did not take much convincing until Philippe had said, “Okay, why not?”
ARRIVING AT HIS ISLAND HOME
Philippe and his newly acquired friends had left Kovalam together with a plan to stay a few weeks, and they arrived soon after at Male’ in the Maldives via a small boat. Little did Philippe know that this decision would alter the path of his life. Back in May 1978, it was a simple, quiet existence on the island. There was no electricity and no telephones. “When I first came to the Maldives, there was a certain charm to it, life was good.” Even landing in Velidhoo was subject to nature, as they had to wait for high tide to get the boat near to the island: “Life was complicated, but still there was charm and serenity.”
Philippe’s plan to stay for a few weeks had ended up in an 18-month stay, for he was “struck by the beauty and the simplicity of the place.” He had bought a boat at Noonu Atoll Velidhoo, the island he would later call home, constructed a deck and a cabin, and set sail from Haa Alifu to Laamu to explore the Maldives. With a heavy heart, Philippe had eventually left the Maldives and continued his travels, touring India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Singapore before returning home to France. However, he had found himself no longer feeling at home back in France- his island home was calling.
Philippe had found himself back in Velidho in less than a month. “I kept thinking about this country.” It was clear he had found a new place to call his home.
THE REST IS HISTORY
Over the four decades that Philippe had called the Maldives his home, he learned to be a chameleon, a jack of many trades. At first, he built a boat, Baraabaru, the first real safari boat in Maldives, at the time and welcomed during 10 years tourists from France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, USA. The people of Velidhoo were quick to follow in his footsteps and remains a hotspot for cruises and liveaboards in Maldives to this day. After 10 years of cruising he sold the boat and opened a French restaurant in Male’, the “Rendezvous” for 3 years, becoming a naval architect, a uniquely talented artist, a husband, and loving father to 3 beautiful children. Along the way, he had overcome many unforeseen challenges like the tragic passing of his wife. But he had held on to his spirit and remained open to life, growing and adapting in his day to day, graciously accepting the spontaneous shifts life threw his way.
“I was struck by the beauty and the simplicity of the place.”
Anyone who crossed paths with the late Philippe Laurella could clearly see and feel his kindhearted free spirit. His openness to life had guided him towards countless opportunities, ultimately leading to a fulfilled existence. He remained full of vitality until his final days, and an inspiration to anyone he encountered. All you had to do was hear his hearty laugh to feel as if there was more to the world than where you were born and the names on your passport. He was warm-hearted, sincere and so full of joy, and remains a beloved memory in the hearts of those who shared his space with him.
Here’s to celebrating the memory of the late Philippe, an insipiration for all of us to keep seeking that freedom, trusting it would be found, and being grateful for the unpredictable journey that is life.
“My stay here just happened. – I could still continue my voyage.” Philippe Laurella was a pioneer and an icon, authentically and freely following his heart’s desires until he found a loving home in the Maldives.