Seychelles - Beach Island Paradise
Nov 26, 2005
|THE SEYCHELLES - A VIEW FROM PARADISE
While on our flight from Dubai, I looked down at the map in the Emirates Airlines magazine to see exactly where our next destination was and there before me were a few tiny dots marked the Seychelles surrounded by a full page of blue representing the vastness of the Indian Ocean. The white knuckle flier that I am, the first thought that popped into my mind naturally was " Get out the life preserver, it's gonna be an ocean crash landing if we run into trouble on this flight." The second thing that occurred to me however was just how remote and isolated these islands were - meeting the number one criteria of any paradise seeker.
We landed in the capital Mahe, walked down the flight stairs to a perfect tropical morning, and entered a tiny circa. 1940s airport terminal where customs agents in musty ancient wooden booths lazily stamped our passports and ushered us into their island paradise. We then hopped on an eight seat single engine puddle jumper for the twenty minute flight to the island of Praslin. Upon arrival, the first thing that struck us about Praslin was just how exuberantly lush and tidy it was. Palm trees, bougainvillea, and draping tropical foliage scented with the smell of " I really don't have a clue what this might be" flowers were everywhere. Dotting the roadside were simple but immaculate white clapboard houses with sloping tin roofs that in their British colonial style would easily have been at home in the Bahamas. With no visible poverty, or hustlers to disturb the casual tourist and seemingly happy, contented locals (this we would later discover was an illusion but no matter), criteria number two for paradise was met.
We took an SPTC (Seychelles Public Transit Commission for those not in the know) public bus - rickety, open air and with dodgy brakes but at two dollars a day it would save us a fortune and take us all over the island for the next week- to our self catering apartment, L'Hirondelle, on pristine Anse Volbert beach. For us, this was where paradise began. For about 85 euros a night, we got a roomy one bedroom apartment, decorated in blue and yellow nautical colours, with an expansive second floor terrace replete with comfy hardwood deck chairs, coffee table and a picture-perfect view of the turquoise (yes, really turquoise) Indian Ocean. Over the course of the following week, we would for the first time on our journey self-cater. We shopped at the woefully under-stocked local shops and Carl made his famous (to me anyways) spaghetti and meat sauce, while I made a version of Indian chicken curry that was so undercooked that you could as well have called it Salmonella Stew. Every day, we followed the same ritual. Wake up. Long languid breakfast on our terrace, wash (maybe), pack a lunch consisting of meagre staples like grilled cheese, a hard-boiled egg and a couple of bananas, and then the biggest stress of the day: select a beach.
We became veritable beach experts and even developed a rating system. We soon discovered that our seemingly idyllic beach on Anse Volbert, by Praslin standards might as well have been Lake Ontario There was Anse Verlan, deserted, a bit rugged and strewn with coconut husks but brilliantly blue just the same, private Anse Georgette , and the granddaddy of them all, Anse Lazio. Anse Lazio was a cliché: crystal clear waters, deep powdery white sand and at each pole, boulder-like rocks that served as bookends. .
Praslin however was more than just beaches. It harbours the tiny but amazing national park called the Vallee de Mai, a Jurrasic Park-like jungle that is home to the world's only double coconut, the Coco de Mer. I know what you are thinking. Coconuts. Big deal. That was my initial reaction but these coconuts are so flagrantly erotic that when you actually see them, your first reaction is to laugh and feel almost squeamish, as if you're watching a strip show, and just want to tell them to cover up. The female coconut is subtly lascivious but the male one is- well just forget it. In fact it took Carl a lot of convincing to even put a picture of it on our website. "It's not porno," I kept telling him, "it's only a coconut."
From Praslin, we took a six kilometre hop on a schooner ferry to the island of La Digue. La Digue is the Seychelles' poster child, possessing the impossibly photogenic Anse Sourse D'Argent familiar to everyone back home as the centrepiece of every Islands calendar and the backdrop for many a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. After a few minutes on La Digue, Praslin seemed by comparison downright urbane and cosmopolitan. An ox powered open air jeepnee served as the island's lone taxi, cars were nowhere to be seen, and the bicycle was the primary mode of transport..
For the next several days we spent our time lazily biking around the island, hopping from beach to beach. And just when you thought beaches didn't get more beautiful, well they did. Anse Coco and Grande Anse were the bad boys of La Digue, rough and tumble with pounding waves and dangerous currents. Their impossibly blue waters teased us for they were simply too hazardous for swimming. So instead, we trekked kilometres, trampled over rocks and waded in thigh deep water in pursuit of our own private beach paradise. We were Robinson Crusoe wannabees and on La Digue , with a perfect beach around every corner, we were easily rewarded.
One needn't be intrepid though for the centrepiece of La Digue is the easily accessible Anse Source D'Argent. Based on my familiarity with it from pictures I'd seen at home, I thought this beach might disappoint but as with everything in the Seychelles, pictures really don't do it justice. Ribbons of white sand punctuated by huge sculpted boulders that would do Henry Moore proud, are framed by soaring coconut palms and a blue coral sea. This place is so seductive and enticing, so photogenic, that come four o'clock everyone it seems becomes a supermodel. We had to chuckle as we watched virtually every boyfriend/husband position his girlfriend/wife atop a boulder and click away in the camera friendly light of the afternoon sun. And while I don't want to sound nasty or burst anyone's bubble, most of these erstwhile Christie Brinkleys could barely even fit on the boulders.
Yes, the Seychelles were about beaches, but to say that is to be simplistic and miss the bigger picture. Ultimately for me, this island paradise provided a communion with nature, and a communion to the spirit and soul. In savouring it's simplicity and serenity, I think I managed to tap into a larger part of myself, and felt an innate sense of contentment and peace. Ultimately, I did not go there searching for inner peace nor do I believe that these islands miraculously revealed it to me. What they did provide however was a setting for me to access a spirit in me I already harboured, but was simply in my daily life too busy and distracted to tap. And that I suppose was their greatest gift to me..
Ten Travel Tips for the Seychelles
1. The Seychelles can be a very expensive destination but if you would like to save some money, consider booking a self-catering apartment as there are many available on the popular islands.
2. Mahe is the main island and has the most resorts however, the smaller outer islands give you a much more casual, isolated and relaxing experience that should not be missed.
3. La Digue was our favourite island of the three we visited (Mahe, Praslin and La Digue) and think it is a must for every visitor to the Seychelles.
4. If you don't have a lot of time in the Seychelles you can always just do a day trip to La Digue from Praslin. Rent a bike for the day and explore the many beaches the island has to offer.
5. A visit to the Seychelles can easily be combined with a trip to either Africa or the Middle East and can make a great beach stopover destination.
6. Payment for all hotels and restaurants run by hotels, must be in US dollars or Euros - make sure you bring enough currency with you. The Seychelles Rupee is only used at local establishments. You can withdraw rupees from the few bank machines but make sure you save your receipt if you want to change any back before you leave. The receipt is a required.
7. There is a black market for US dollars or Euros with locals offering you 'change, change' throughout the islands. Exchange with care so you don't get ripped off. You are usually best to use a bank or proper exchange booth and make sure you get a receipt.
8. If you are staying on La Digue, rent bikes for the duration of your stay. They are the best way to see the island, which can easily be cycled around.
9. Since virtually everything is imported to the Seychelles make sure you bring with you everything you need - sunscreen, film, batteries, books etc. There is very little available to purchase in the stores.
10. Taking public transportation is very easy and a cost effective way to get around that is used by most tourists and locals.