The Seychelles Islands beckon people to them with their pictures of pristine beaches, clear blue water and palm trees. We have all seen the travel literature. But for my husband and me, as senior backpackers who travel on a shoestring expensive hotels were not an option. We did our own research on the internet and decided to stay in small guest houses on the three main islands in the inner Seychelles group: Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.
The weather was ideal, during the early weeks of November when it is warm and sunny. The first touchdown is the Mhae island where there is an airport. It was thrilling to fly over the water and land on a green strip fringed by the ocean. The airport opens out to a solid granite mountain covered in a blanket of lush greenery. Tall trees provide shady spots for the people who rush in and out of the terminal. We felt we had already landed in paradise after our desert experiences in Sinai the day before.
Our first holiday apartment was right on the beach and we immediately jumped into the sea. It was like a warm bath. At the little supermarket we stocked up on some basic groceries that included Seybrew, the local beer made on the island. Doing our own thing is ideal because we both love cooking and value our privacy more than anything else. To get around each island taking the local bus is a very cheap and easy option. They arrive punctually every few minutes and for a few rupees one can sit in comfort and view the scenery.
The next morning I had a free ride on a giant tortoise that was outside our apartment. He had just polished off a field of baby pumpkin plants and was very pleased with himself. The gardener showed us a bowl of their newly hatches tortoises he was nurturing. Victoria is the capital of the Seychelles and it manages to keep up an air of laid back yet efficient commerce. All around are luxurious blooms, big spreading trees and shady streets for ambling droves of tourists and barefoot locals.
The famous clock in the town centre is fondly called Little Big Ben. This miniature counterpart of the famous one in London supports a number of street lamps and every tourist needs to have their picture taken with it. We did not bother to buy expensive tickets to stroll around the famous botanical gardens because the foliage was similar to what we saw on the rest of the island. We saved our bucks to go and see the Valle de Mai where the big coconuts grow. The ferry left Victoria bay and soon we were bouncing across the blue ocean to get to Praslin, the next island.
Valle de Mai home to the largest nut in the world
Praslin is a different vibe to Mahe. It is flatter, more rural and surrounded by beautiful beaches. We stayed in a guest house run by Chinese people and were fortunate to have a bus stop at its entrance on the beach. We sped off to the Valle de Mai and spent the morning with the big giants - the coco de mer palms. In the picture you will see the famous coco de mer seed. It is fertilised by the long black phallic flowers of the male tree. No wonder they call this place the garden of Eden. Be fruitful and multiply. These trees grow to a height of over 30 metres in this silent and mysterious valley.
We tried to snorkel around the rocks but there was not very much to see. Perhaps we had become very fussy because we had dived in the Red Sea where there is endless visibility and a lot more fish and colourful corals and seaweed. It did not matter because each place is unique. Here in the Seychelles there is no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables and it is easy to cook a delicious meal on the Garden of Eden and wash it down with Seybrew.
La Digue was our favourite place in the Seychelles
When holiday makers return to the Seychelles most of them will go directly to the island of La Digue. It has an old world charm of its own. For many years there were no cars or other vehicles allowed on the roads. Oxen pull carts around but bicycles are the most popular form of transport and the streets teem with cyclists of all shapes and sizes. We were driven in a 4 x 4 taxi. This was a new introduction and slowly the oxen have given way to a touch of technology. I was glad that the motor vehicles did not leave large piles of gooey ox poo all over the streets!
We fell in love with the rock formations. Huge pink granite monoliths that had been sculpted into organic shapes by the ravages of time. We have a special bond to this granite back home. It is part of the original Gondwanaland land mass the erupted and separated into a jigsaw puzzle out in the Indian Ocean. We share the same granite on the Atlantic side of the coast in Cape Town, South Africa. Here the granite is grey, not pink and there is little evidence of the beautiful grooves and soft shapes of its Seychelles counterparts.
I have a background in ceramics and was able to figure out that the grey granite reached a higher temperature before it cooled down to form the Clifton and Llandudno beach boulders back home. Here in the Seychelles the pink colour is due to various oxides, especially iron and chrome that do not burn out at a lower temperature. So now you know, that is why they are pink and ours are white. But we both shared the original land mass all those years ago.
Helpful hints for the elderly backpacker
Do your homework well in advance before you set off on an intrepid journey. Scan the internet for the best travel deals. We also consult with a travel agent who is experienced in handling years and years of Jim's diverse and complicated schedules. Philippa always manages to route us around the globe in the most effective and economical way. We also choose the season according to the best weather at the best price. Philippa knows the travel trade like the back of her hand and has often come to the rescue when something goes wrong with a flight or two during the trip. A personal relationship with a travel agent is important to us.
Read up about the places, talk to anybody who has been to places you intend to visit. Often people can suggest special things to look out for. Shopping and collecting keepsakes are always important for me. I love collecting hats, rocks and seeds and some of them are big. To allow for my homebound burdens I pack a few kilograms of staple foods like tea, coffee, cereal, biscuits and other consumables. The bottle of wine we take wrapped up in jerseys and towels in the luggage guarantee the safe return of my heavier items.
Always pack a first aid kit that includes treatment for diarrhoea and travel bugs. Pack insect repellents, sea-sick pills and antiseptics. We always take herbal remedies beforehand to help protect us from malaria and microbial or parasitic infections. I am happy to share more information with anybody who would like to know more. The best advice I can give is: the better you prepare, the easier it is to travel on a skinflint budget. Bon voyage!
This video takes 10 minutes for an armchair visit to the Seychelles. Enjoy!