It is written in travel records of Vasco de Gama that on his second voyage to India, the Portuguese explorer encountered the archipelago of the Seychelles islands north of the shores of Madagascar.However, they didn’t seem to have caught his attention as he only passed by them and they will for him remain unimportant – a lonely point in the Indian Ocean described in a few lines, a landscape on the way to greater discovery.
As far as the eye can see there is not the least bit of land to disturb the perfect harmony of the sea and sky. Your mind stays captivated by a picture perfect kiss they create long after you have left the island. Lost somewhere in the heart of the Indian ocean, miles away from the African continent and the Indian coast the Seychelles are calmly waiting for new explorers to discover long-kept treasures.
From unknown to independent
Without a doubt, they can easily seduce – white sandy beachesdecorated with large granite rocks, flora and fauna rich in endemic species, coral seabed, tropical rain forests where waterfalls are safely tucked in. It is not difficult to imagine this little paradise which was uninhabited and completely untouched for a very long time. French immigrants settled in the nearby Mauritius began exploring this”no man’s land”, shortly after they declared its ownership and baptised itas Seychelles – in honour of the French minister of finance Jean Moreau de Séchelles. Thus began a new time for this group of islands, which were a focal point in trade ventures between Europe, Asia and Africa for sugar and spice exchange. Less than a century later, the British recognised the potential of the Seychelles islands, came and abolished slavery. Finally, 40 years ago the independent Republic of Seychelles was born, today the smallest sovereign African states.
Island life is special. The fact that not even a single bridge binds it to the land that we know, gives the impression of freedom and the subtle feeling that you really are in another corner of the world. What was once a dot in the ocean, now it’s a whole new world, living and breathing at its own pace, nourishing rare species that exist nowhere else in the world. This is the home of the giant Aldabra tortoises, long necked reptiles that can weigh up to 200 kilograms. There is over 80 000 of them, which is a little less than the overall island population. It is not completely clear how they settled below this part of the sky, nor where they came from, but it is certain that, like many others, they found their paradise here. Their life span is on average no less than 200 years – I would say they are lucky to spend two long human lives on these beaches.
Playground for those with deep pockets and artistic canvas for the ones who long for a lonely beach and long walks on wet sand, coconut palm trees to rest with a few lines of unheard quality writers that speak their mind and a little restless waves to spark up the imagination. It is very easy to live the solitary Robinson Crusoe experience, as with more than 70 beaches that the island of Mahe is offering, you can easily spend days alone.
Victoria’s small London
Mahe is the most populous and largest island in this group, smaller ones are La Digue and Praslin. Victoria isits administrative and commercial centre and one of the smallest capitals in the world. The main site of the town whose name celebrates the British queen is l’Horloge, a smaller copy of London’s Big Ben which datesfrom the time of British colonialism. As in Britain, cars areonthe left side of the road and traffic operates smoothly, although there is only one traffic light in the city. The only public transport is a bus taking you from Victoria through the entire island for 7 thousand Seychelles Rupee or a little more than half a euro. The island’s climate is pleasant, rarely drops below 23 degrees Celsius, and does not exceed 34.Bus windows are open and the air conditioning does not exist. To feel the pulse of this tiny town, head down from the old clock at the city entrance, stroll through the narrow streets to the harbour and the famous marketSir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke -a perfect place to buy fresh fish and exotic fruits in French, English and the official language of Seychelles – Creole. Whichever language you understand and speak, it’s easy to understand that fish and tourism are the main economic engines of this interesting country. Victoria has only 25 000 inhabitants, but recognises and respects their differences. Thus, laying on only 20 square kilometers,the capital has found space for both Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and hindu temple Arulmigu Navasakti Vinayagar. There is about 2% of the Indian population living on the islands and their religious temple is open to everyone.
Sometimes small, seemingly unimportant decisions bring us the most valuable experience that we could hope for. A random look kept longer brought a new friend; coffee at that restaurant that was just “on the way” – new business hope; waiting for the bus at the next, instead of always the same station because you wanted to breathe a little bit more of fresh air – a lifetime partner. It was the same with each seemingly small decision on this island – “random decisions” brought meant to be experiences.
Outside the capital, Mahe has only one two-lane road that takes you by the entire length of the coast. The first “random” decision to turn left and begin the tour in a clockwise direction, brings the possibility to soak and breath beautiful island scenery slowly and logically.Sandy beaches where giant tortoises are resting, wild tropical forests and their shadows that create unforgettable dances on the road and pictures of the luxury port of urban capital city. This is why turning left wasn’t an accident, it made the beginning perfect.
South of Victoria, on the map of the world in the direction of Kenya, in the shadow of coconut palms lies the most popular beach Beau Vallon. It is the longest and most visited, but locals believe its popularity is linked to the legend of hidden treasure. According to the old tale, it is here that a pirate named Le Buse buried his treasure and before he died he left a cryptogram as a guide for future curious noses. Upon discovering this map, it has led them right to this beach.
Far more peaceful is Takamaka, quiet beach with a few restaurants carvedin wood that serve fresh fish and have no more than two tables set up on the sand.
The fresh air, the smell of the ocean and African rhythms that moves your hips will lead you to the north. Over 1,000 miles from the east coast of Africa the island of Mahe’s jungle clad mountains rise from the Indian Ocean covered in rainforest. The highest peak, Morne Seychelles is 905 m high and it is a barely 2 hour drive from the west point on the island. From above, still no land in sight – luxury of loneliness in nature is here entirely possible.
Turn right off the main road and wild path leads to a new adventure. Beautiful mix of cinnamon and vanilla lingers in the air. A few steps further, belowthe unknown flowers and a tea factory is in front of you. It is open to visitors where in the museum you can learn about the history of Seychelles and the factory and then see the process of production and packaging of the Seychelles tea. Claire is working in the tea industry for the last 15 years, and love for it was passed on to her by two generations of women in the family.
“On the island, we mostly drink tea. When somebody asks for coffee first, you know that they are tourists. We used to have tea in abundance, here we only produced tea grown on our plantations, so, so sipping a soothing warm drink remained a daily habit of the islanders“, explains Claire in fluent English with her enchanting French accent.
Today, the number of tea plantations is reduced almost by a half in order to make more space for fruits and vegetables essential for life. Therefore, the tea leaves today are heavily imported from Sri Lanka and in Seychelles factory they go through the processes of drying, fermentation, fibre separation and packaging.
Apart from Madagascar, Seychelles is the only place in the world where endemic plant Coco de mer grows in its natural habitat. Coconut of the seais a specific fruit, especially in its appearance. With suggestive shapes and sensual curves, the fruit of Lodoicea Mer palm trees is protectedby the Seychelles island foundation that takes care of its preservation, collection and export. Among scientists, Coco de Mer is still referred to as Lodoicea Maldivica, which suggests that before discovering the archipelago of the Seychelles, it was believed it originated from the coasts of Maldives. Centuries ago, local peple of the Maldives started to encounter coco de mer on the beaches. Not knowing where it came from and what it was, they started to believe it was of great value and gave it a high commercial price. Until the discovery of the true origin of this fruit, it was believed thatacres of coconut forests flourished underneath the ocean surface, decorating the coral seebed with fruits of coco de mer which often weighs up to 30 pounds. Until it became the subject of scientific research and biological definitions, coconut of the sea has enjoyed the status of a miraculous fruit that was decorated with jewels and yielded to thekings and members of the royal family as a sign of respect I respect.
Ocean waves are still whispering the stories of hidden treasures. Jewels, gold bars and relics of the Cathedral of the Indian Goa which are believed to be hidden somewhere in the white sandy beaches of Seychelles, to date no one has found. Maybe it’s time to buy a one-way ticket?