Seychelles: A piece of paradise in Africa

TRAVEL & DESTINATION |
Waters off the Patatran Village Hotel in La Dique [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

Stunning and unspoiled—just two words to describe the beauty of Seychelles, the Indian Ocean archipelago.

While postcards from Seychelles depict the paradisaic allure, they only tell half the story of this piece of Africa that has fascinated visitors for ages.

The adventure begins minutes before your plane hits the tarmac on Mahe Island. From the air, the various islands that make up the archipelago—115 of them—jut out of the ocean like giant anthills.

A number of these islands are uninhabited, but their tropical climate and unspoilt nature has made them fertile grounds for the propagation of flora and fauna, some of which is found only in Seychelles.

From the capital Victoria to the laid back island of La Digue, Seychelles evokes the feeling of one giant conservation area. Here, over half of the land mass and almost all the waters around the islands are protected areas.

Our tour began in Mahe, the “mother island” and home to the nation’s capital. Mahe hosts one of Seychelles’ most visited beaches, Beau Vallon. To get to this beach takes a heart of steel. From the city centre, the narrow road meanders through one of the many natural forests in the island to a crest that gives a panoramic view of the city below.

It then snakes down the opposite side to Beau Vallon whose sandy beaches are hemmed in by giant granite boulders and palm trees. Thanks to a populace that has been tuned to a clean environment, no shred of waste gets in the clear azure waters unnoticed.

In our company was Ghanaian radio broadcaster Abeiku Santana who, like the rest of us, was making his maiden visit to these waters. “God had me in mind when he created this beach,” said an excited Abeiku. But if the beach at Mahe excited him, he was in for further shocks as more gems from this tourist enclave unfurled.

On day two, we set out to visit Trois Frères Distillery, makers of the Takamaka Rum and one of the country’s key exports. Here, we were met by the general manager Francis Mondon who informed us that the distillery makes about 50,000 cases, half of which are for the export market.

Like our local brew muratina, Takamaka’s main ingredient is sugarcane that was initially supplied through visiting ships but was later cultivated on the island starting in the late 1800s. The taste? Just like good rum!

Day three and it was time to give Mahe a break and explore the equally picturesque Praslin Island. To get here, we hopped on one of the Cat Cocos ferry services. These ferries are nothing like our own contraptions that have been known to stall midstream on the short channel in Likoni.

Hotel room in La Dique [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

The Cat Cocos that operate between the Islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue take the form of cruise ships with an upper deck or two to enhance travel experience. With advance booking, we headed to the waiting bay where our luggage was checked in, similar to your airport check in procedures.

Sea voyages can be boring, staring at nothing except the watery expanse. I empathise with seafarers who have to spend countless days at sea with no destination in sight. On this ferry though, the monotony is broken by the silhouettes of some distant islands and as we got closer, by Praslin, our home for the next two nights.

From far, Anse Lazio Beach in Praslin looks like a painting on a giant canvas. Pundits say it is the most photographed beach in all of Africa, and it is easy to see why. Palm trees that seem to sprout from more granite boulders sway gently in the morning breeze. The waters at this time are calmer, revealing the vibrant colours of the nearby fronds reflected in the ocean below.

Here, our party needed little prodding to jump into the water for an early minoring swim. I am not a good swimmer and if my life depended on my ability to swim, I would have been dead many moons ago.

Those who had their swimming gear at the ready jumped right in. I envied them. I was happy to walk on the soft sands and do what everyone with a cell phone does — take enough photos of ‘I too was here’ moments.

Kojo Bentum, a communication expert with the World Tourism Organisation joined me in the ‘walk of fame’, regaling me with enough tales of why tourism is the best bet for Africa’s economic future. Stories of the unexploited potential and what his organisation is doing about it. “Look at them, they are just a small fraction of global tourists who make Africa their destination,” he tells me, pointing to sunbathing tourists. “And then look at a beach like this one.” But of all places he could discuss the continent’s economic prospects, Kojo chose Anse Lazio.

So engrossed we were in this conversation that I did not see the big wave coming. Fearing to wet my shorts with ocean water, I jumped as high as I could to allow the wave to pass. Unknowingly, my new (and not too cheap) phone that was halfway tucked in my back pocket ‘jumped’ up with me too and fell into the water to be carried off by waves into the farthest reaches of the ocean. Thanks to Kojo for carrying more than one phone.

Next on our itinerary the famed Vallee de Mai National Park. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the most unique plants on the planet. According to our guide, the forest here has remained intact for eons before the first person settled on the islands. Old trees fall to the ground and rot, perpetuating more vegetation. Our guide was convinced that Vallee de Mai must have been the original site for the Garden of Eden.

But Vallee de Mai is famous the world over for one of her products, Coco de mer, a fruit of legends. For starters, it is the largest nut in the world that mainly grows on this nature reserve. It takes 25 years, we were told, for the tree to mature and for the sex of the fruit to be determined (yes, there are male and female coco de mer fruits). 

It takes another seven years for the fruit to mature and fall to the ground. However, it is the shape of the female nut that will put you on edge. With the outer skin off, the nut resembles…well… the female pelvic. The male, on the other hand, has the longest male flower in the world. Your guess is as good as mine as to the shape of the male flower. So popular is coco de mer that it features on almost all artifacts from Seychelles.

Our five days here passed quickly, with 112 more islands unexplored. Covid-19 will one day become bearable and allow for more travel. And Seychelles will be on the cards again.

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