Seychelles - the travel brochures don't lie!

Trip Start May 16, 2006
Trip End Jul 11, 2006

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Thur 18th May Mauritius - Mahe, Seychelles
Once again, up early. Down to beach for a last look. Staff are busy raking the beach, getting rid of any seaweed, leaves and those pesky tourist footprints. Back up for another great breakfast, then check out the gym. Spend 20 minutes on the walking machine and bike, acting like tourists. Dianne then does a few lengths of the pool. We've enjoyed our couple of days acting as tourists, but it's time to leave, partly because we've run out of respectable clothes to wear, but also because the thought of laying around for a whole week, sunbaking and eating, with an occasional swim, would bore us to tears. Our only complaints about the hotel were the lighting in the room, which was OK for romance, but useless for reading by, and their A$30 per hour to use the internet (which is why we didn't use it).
Our 10.15am taxi arrives for our one-hour trip to the airport. Stops at Mahebourg on the way to show us a basic 600 rupee (about A$30) room, which we book for our last night before we leave for home. At airport do a bit of this diary while we wait for our Air Seychelles flight. Dianne thinks it would be quite romantic to have a picture of our plane with the mountains in the background, and goads Murray into taking it, but he's stopped by airport security. Later take one from plane on the runway, but not the same.

Our flight is two and a half hours, with no time change, but a considerable increase in temperature, as we're now only 4.5 degrees south of the equator. Steep approach to Mahe airport. Doesn't look that good from the air - artificial waterways with milky-green water, and very industrial with lots of earthworks.

The main reason for this is that most of the East coast has land reclamation projects going on in order to house the population. Mahe is only 27kms long and between 3kms and 8kms wide. A range of granite peaks runs down the island's spine from north to south, which only leaves a small coast strip to house 90% of the Seychelles population of 81,000.
Immigration check that we have a flight out, but don't check that we have accommodation. Get 500 rupees (about A$125 - about 4 to Aust dollar, versus 20 Mauritian rupees to Aust $) out of ATM machine. Unfortunately it is just one note, which means we have no change. Can't see any way out of paying for an expensive 150 rupee taxi to the Coral Strand Hotel, which is right on the beach at Beau Vallon on the North West side of the island. They can't find our booking, so show them our coupon saying we've paid A$412 for two nights with breakfast. Hotel is fairly jaded early 70's styling, but our room has a balcony overlooking the pool, with the sea just showing through the trees, so we have no complaints.

We're out walking on the beach, heading north, by 5.30pm. Very attractive setting.

Come back via the road, and check out Georgina's, a cheap (comparatively - there is no cheap accommodation in the Seychelles) place with a few rooms, and book for our last night in the country. Dark by the time we get back, and have to walk through a funny unlit pedestrian way, as the road makes a large detour inland. Not sure what exact activities take place here. Hotel restaurant is expensive, but we're pleasantly surprised to find the cafe is quite reasonable (we'd been fearing it might be like Tahiti, where there is nothing reasonable except bread, and had brought some canned goods for this reason). Have a large pizza for 65 rupees and two cokes for 9 rupees each. To bed, exhausted, about 9pm. Band is under us, but this time baby-boomer singer with guitar is good, and soothes us to sleep.
Friday 19th May - Mahe (Seychelles)
Laying awake during the night (due to jetlag) planning what we're going to do, and what we needed to take for the day. It became obvious that it wasn't going to be possible on public transport, so decided would find out about hiring a car. Down to another very good breakfast about 7am. The restaurant is right on the water, and we have a ringside seat, looking out over the bay. Very pleasant indeed.

Out to see the hire-car man when he arrived about quarter to eight. For 75 Euros we could have a small air-conditioned Kia, fully insured with no excess, so decide to take it. Then decide to use travel agent to book Catamaran to Praslin Island, rather than having to go into Victoria (the capital) to book it. This is when we are informed that the Catamaran is out of action being serviced, and won't be back till the 26th, so we'll have to fly there and back. Flights at 118 euros per person aren't that much more expensive than the catamaran, but it will entail about four extra taxi fares at about A$30 each. We're quickly learning that to enjoy the Seychelles you have to just forget any sort of budget, and just throw money at the problem. Out to get 100 rupees worth of petrol in the tank while we wait for Air Seychelles to open at 9am. This is when we find out that the only vacancy is at 6.45am tomorrow, even though there are lots of the 15 minute flights throughout the day. Because it is Saturday, there are lots of International flights arriving, with passengers making the connection. So much for having a leisurely seaside breakfast tomorrow! Taking it easy in paradise seems to be very hard to achieve.
We get the flight details and a booking number, but have to pick up the ticket at the airport before the flight. Tee up a 5.45 taxi for tomorrow, find that we can get an early breakfast, and, with our chores done, pack the car and head out over the pass and down into Victoria. There is not a lot of traffic on the road over the top, and we drop steeply down into Victoria, and the one-way streets around the market and down to the waterfront, where we pick up the road South. By dumb luck we end up on the inland road, rather than the Airport expressway, so cover some new ground through residential and bushy areas, getting a photo of a large church with typical rounded granite rocks behind at Cascade. There is a series of lagoons between the expressway and the inland road, all the way down to the airport, connected to further lagoons inside a second go at filling in all the original reef area for development land. Not very pretty, milky green colour, but does have mangroves, and a lot of fish movement on the surface, so can't be too toxic.
Beyond the airport, the lagoon opened up to a wide expanse of flat, shallow water, with the reef at least 500 metres out, with a breaking sea on it. The beach was narrow, and sandy, but did not tempt us. We stopped at Lalla Panzi, a small guest house, to enquire about staying on our last night, but they were more interested in casual vacancy, rather than one night booked ahead.
The water started to look interesting at Pointe au Sel, at the end of the long bay, but, typically, there was no-where to safely stop. We carried on around the point to a nice, small beach at the end of Anse Royale, which did have a small parking spot. DP geared up for her first snorkel, but found the promising dark patches on the sandy bottom to be only seaweed. Ashore, MP got some nice shots of the terrain and high tide seascape,
watched two older local women collecting washed up seaweed for fertilizer. Further along, at Cap Lascars, on the north end of Anse Marie-Louise, DP has another dip, and sees a large spotted Eagle stingray, a big pipefish, and a black-and-white moray, and a turtle, so snorkelling is on the improve.
From here, we head inland over the pass at Quatre Bornes, and down to the west coast at Takamaka, having missed the turnoff to the south coast in the centre of Quatre Bornes, so we backtrack. The road to the south coast is steep, a raised strip of concrete glued to the steep, rocky hillside, with no protection either side, but traffic is pretty light, and we make it all the way to the south, where the coastline is very pretty, but the sea a bit rough, and no obvious way to get out across the lip of the reef.

The road continues east, a very well-made concrete strip with lay-byes, and a substantial power supply alongside, but looks private, and there is a big, open gate. We turn around, and drive along the beach until we reach some houses, and find that beyond here is also private. After taking some good photos,

we head back to Quatre Bornes, picking up a loaf of bread and a big Coke at the Indian-run supermarket for R18, very reasonable.
Back at Takamaka, we find a parking spot and a nice, shaded beach, where DP sees a school of hump-head wrasse, which are enormous. The only other time we've seen them was in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. Also sees an unusual khaki-and-light-green banded pipefish, a turtle, and another spotted eagle ray. These are different to the normal rays, in that they have more of an actual head, and are using it to shovel up food. MP goes in for his first swim, sees nothing special, but is encouraged by number of fish about.
Further up the coast, we stop for a look at Baie Lazaire,

where some local louts are throwing at something in a large tree. See that there is a long-tailed tropic bird there, but don't manage to get a photo. Sea doesn't look promising, so head for the turnoff to Anse Soleil, along a high ridge. There is a lot of construction going on, so take a quick photo, and return without getting near the sea. We are starting to run out of time, so hot foot it up the west coast, which looks very much like the west coast of Raitaea, or a lot of the Pacific islands - flat area below steep mountains, wetlands and some cultivation. There are a lot of flat layered trees on the hillside, quite attractive. Trying to get access to the Port Launay Marine National Park, we go as far as the gates of a Youth Camp, then back on a narrow road, where we had to reverse a couple of times to let traffic past. The sea looks good, but we couldn't find anywhere to stop until we drove into a construction site and asked if we could park. A friendly worker gives us the OK, so we walk back to a pretty, secluded cove. MP has to go back for camera, which we left in car. Not a lot to report, but OK snorkelling. Carried on to another parking place, and climbed down to the beach at Anse L'islette, where there was a nice 4 metre drop-off about 100 metres out, with a good showing of fish, a turtle, and some reasonable coral.
We headed back down the coast a short while to pick up the cross-island road, just as school was coming out, and had to go up the hill at the same time as the bus, occasionally passing, staying behind at other times, while we tried to find stopping places for photos. It says something about the national attitude to tourists that there was not one lookout to take advantage of the spectacular views over the coast, and up to the granite mountain. Halfway across the mountain there was an abandoned London School of Missions boarding school for children of freed slaves, which ran for about 15 years in the 1880's. Some masonry ruins, and a large covered belvedere overlooking the SE coast. Some nice rainforest around it, and not very well kept tea plantations.
The road dropped down a long series of switchbacks in the upper town of Victoria,

not unlike Mt Wellington with houses, then we hit the one-way road system, and emerged on the northern coast road.
The coast was OK, but nothing special until we rounded the north point, a bit like the same location on Oahu, Hawaii, but got a lot better, with steep rocky hillsides down to granite boulder shoreline, with palm trees over,

and some pretty flash houses. One had a weird suspended walkway out over the sea, but about 20m off it, a bit high for tying up boats. Another was nestled into a magic little cove surrounded by boulders, but no public path down to it. Anywhere you could reasonably park had no water access, until we were almost home.
A bunch of old men were sitting on the sea wall when we pulled into the park, almost getting bogged in the sand. DP asked one of them if it was Sunset Beach, a good spot to snorkel, and he answered in perfect English that it wasn't, and that there was no parking at it, but a lot of people swim here. Taking it in turns, we checked it out for pretty good terrain and fish, and a turtle, but nothing spectacular. We were getting back to our 1/4 full on the fuel gauge, but carried on past our hotel to the ATM at the bank, then all the way to the end of the road in Baie Beau Vallon, and the track leading to the the national park. Pased the new fishing harbour, where we had a quick look, then stopped at a seaside parking spot enclosed by an old stone wall to clean up the shambles in the car, and empty out the sand before returning it.
By the time we got back, the Thrifty man had gone home, so we left the keys with the hotel counter staff, as requested, and then went for a twilight soak in the chest deep sea in front of our hotel for half an hour before tea, admiring the lovely setting.

Another good sized pizza meal, then packing for an early start, serenaded by a mediocre baby boomer band
Saturday 20th May Mahe-Praslin-La Digue (Seychelles)
Awake before the 5.30 am alarm, after very little sleep, and down at reception by 5.15. Book out, let them know we are expecting a 5.45 taxi, and have a go at early breakfast, which is quite basic in comparison with normal, but can't do it justice. Out for taxi by 5.30, taxi early. Another R150 for a uneventful ride to the domestic terminal, where we find a dozen or so starters, but no staff. After lining up at the ticket office for a while, enquire when it is going to open. Told ticketing is done when you book in, so transfer to this line. When we reach the counter, are told that they are processing the 6.30am flight first, and wait to the side. They then ignore us. We question someone being served, and find they are on our flight, so hop back on the end of the line. A second, smaller line opens, so Dianne joins this, hedging our bets. Unfortunately someone is booking in a whole football team, which takes forever. Just as Murray's getting to the start of the line, the staff member disappears, as the 6.30 plane is about to depart, and she has to help there. Eventually get our boarding passes at about the time the plane is due to depart. Get away eventually, only about quarter of an hour late.
We have to wait for an incoming Blue Horizon flight, then take off south before swinging East then NE with the main island and the smaller offshore islands in full view from MP's port side window. The inner islands look better from the air than the shore, and possibly could have good snorkelling. On the way there were a couple of small islands and rocks which looked pretty good, but the shoreline of Praslin looked OK, but nothing special.
Soon after 7am we had landed at Praslin airport. We are continuing on to the island of La Digue, but as it doesn't have an airport, we have to catch a schooner. As it runs regularly throughout the day, we're in no hurry. Try to make some phonecalls from the airport, but both phones are not working. Out to check on the bus timetable. As we have over half an hour before the next one, decide we'll walk towards Grand' Anse, which is about 3 kms away. Although we have all our luggage, we have no problems with our wheeled bags. Quite a few taxis pass, but all are full. When the bus turns up, he won't let us on with our baggage, which is what we half-expected, but we wanted to give it a go. This is the FIRST time, in the more than one hundred countries we have visited, that we have been refused public tranport with our baggage. The town is strung out along a fairly uninteresting bay, so we continue walking till we find a public phone. Ring our booked accommodation on La Digue, Chez Marston. Seems surprised that we are coming today, rather than tomorrow, although we have a confirmed booking in writing. Says he'll fix something up. Then have the bright idea of ringing to book a place on the 10am schooner (it is now 8.30am). Hail another occupied taxi, who stops, and offers us a fare of 15 euros for the 10kms or so to the jetty. Pass through Vallee de Mai National Park on the way, which looks very lush and attractive. Taxi driver points out male and female examples of the rare coco de mer palms.
At the wharf, the 9am schooner is just about to depart, and we get two of the last seats.
The schooner is actually only a cutter-rigged motor sailer, but, with the sail set, and the engine running, we make pretty good time out of the harbour and into the straights, with a moderate heel in about 10 knots of wind. The inner harbour area was similar to Victoria, in having milky green water, but in the strait, the water was a deep Tahitian blue. There were other sail boats making the crossing, and a genuine schooner coming the other way. Getting closer to La Digue, we were starting to see what it was all about. The island was higher than we were expecting, with layered green trees all the way to the granite boulder skyline, and white beaches with granite boulder headlands. The lighthouse, just off the port, was located on a group of sculptured granite rocks, surrounded by turquoise water. Not bad.

The guidebook says La Digue is easily the least developed of the main islands, with no roads or cars, only sand tracks, bikes and ox-carts. Well, the sand tracks have been replaced by roads, the ox-carts are purely for tourists, but there are only a few cars and trucks, and bikes are the main form of transport.

At the port, we debarked quickly, and were on our way along the tree-lined cobbled street in 10 minute, looking for Chez Marston. It was quite close to the port, with a cross between Moses and Mal Frost standing under the sign- Mr!
He explained that the place was full, but he would put us up in another guesthouse, and we would still have our half-board at his restaurant. Not an entirely satisfactory arrangement, but - que faire?
Sunshine Guest House had a large, elevated family home on the street, and a low bungalow behind with three rooms. Ours was a waterfront room, with a view over the lawn, under the palms to our own beach and the reef beyond. Once we had stopped being shat that the lively place we'd booked had been swapped for a much more isolated, quiet place, we realised that having a waterfront place wasn't too bad a compromise!
After bagging our valuables, we left them with Jude, who we assume was a backpacker, working for his keep, but may have been a relative, and headed out for our first snorkel, out through the channel at our beach and along the outside of the reef. This was just a quick explore, but once we got over the weed (where we saw our first turtle) the terrain and fish were pretty good, so we carried on all the way back to the port, seeing turtles and a variety of fish on the way, but not a lot of coral. Had to negotiate a surf break on the reef at the lighthouse rocks, swimming all the way around them to avoid the worst of the break. Had to flap through shallow water to the beach, and then walked all the way back through town in our wet gear and no shoes.
After a lunch? break, we set off south walking, with just our snorkelling gear. We have to compromise - either take camera, shoes etc and have to have one snorkel and one mind the gear, or just take our snorkelling gear, and both can go in together, when we can go in for much longer, and get more adventurous when there are two of us. After a while realise we are not that far from the famous beach at Anse Source d'Argent, in the national park, which you have to pay E3 for if you come by road. Snorkel and walk all the way to the south end of it. The snorkelling wasn't as good as the morning, but we still saw turtles and a good variety of fish. To get back in from beyond the reef after our first of many swims, we had to negotiate a boat channel with a strong out current, but managed OK by swimming in the shallows.
The beach and terrain behind it was indeed as beautiful as described, with the afternoon sun on the honey coloured rock, but you can't travel light and bring a camera with you, so no photos. The reef was a long way out here, and more exposed to the southerly swell, so we only snorkelled in the shallow before beating a retreat along the shoreline.
After an exhausted sleep, take photos of the sunset from our verandah

then we headed down to Chez Marston for our half-board, cutting out our E20 extra for dinner, on two grilled fish dinners at R75 each, plus fruit salad and icecream for R25. Theoretically a reasonable deal, only the fish was heavily garlic-laced, but otherwise tasteless, and dry to boot. We were also overcharged for drinks. When asked how the meal was, MP replied with the "comme-ci-comme-ca" sideways hand action, and we told Mr that we would drop back to B&B for tomorrow.
Sunday 20th May La Digue (Seychelles)
After an early, and good breakfast, we hire bikes for R50 each from Tati's, with a deal to get them back by 9am tomorrow. We loaded up a day's gear and headed North past the town, over our first hill, and down to a gorgeous, sheltered beach, in the lee of giant boulders, and under a spreading tree.

DP in for a snorkel around some outlier boulders, MP guards the gear and attacks a coconut taken off our beach. Later MP explores the excellent terrain and visibility around the headland. Took a lot of excellent photos.

From here, we rode along the coastline

all the way to the end of the road on the SE corner,

but too rough to get in, other than for a cooling dip for DP. We took more photos, and encountered a giant tortoise (the land variety, like in the Galapagos) on the way back to the north coast.

Stopped to shelter in a rock cave from a passing rain scud. The north coast had a couple of new hotels, and another superb-looking, sheltered beach, where DP encountered a spotted eagle ray with the strange mouth structure, more turtles, and two small fish looking like they were tongue kissing (perhaps exchanging eggs?). This beach was reached down a set of wooden stairs, and had about 20 tourists lounging under the trees. Took more good photos,

then tried to get into the water at the north point down some very steep rocks, but caution prevailed, and we went around the point to where we could leave the bikes on the road, and shelter ourselves from the sun under the rocks, while we took it in turns to snorkel.
Back through town, but everything was closed for Sunday/lunch, and had to head inland to find drinks, then home for a tuna sandwich lunch, photos of our beach

and a sleep till 4pm, before heading out to pay our E3 park entry and take photos of the beach at Anse Source d'Argent. While we are sorting out tickets, the ticket seller points out that the park closes at 5, and it is now 10 to. We abandon the park, and head for the southern beaches. The road signs are, to say the least, enigmatic, so we take the southernmost, and logical, turnoff which leads to a steep concrete road through a new housing development. The gears on the bikes are not real flash at their best, so we ended up pushing up this, and hoping our brakes, after adjustment, would hold down the far side. At least we didn't have a dead end, and joined the real road in a valley with small properties and some agriculture, with the main road passing through and over another divide down to the beach. This was through some pretty good jungle, with palms and creepers,

with the road built up again across a rocky slope, with a chain wire guard fence on the steep side. The last section was on a sandy road through a dried swamp area to a rustic restaurant behind the beach at Grande Anse.
The beach was quite beautiful, with blue green water, a surf running, and granite boulder ridges running down to headlands each end.

The surf was too rough for swimming, with strong currents, and not good enough for surfing, in spite of the presence of a lone local surfer on a body board. DP had a cooling dip in the shallows, while MP walked the beach to take photos.

In a rush of blood, he decided he could climb over the 20m high barrier of granite rocks to the next beach. With a combination of climbing steeply sloped boulders and tunnelling under them like a Tasmanian miner, he managed to get across the ridge to take photos, but not down to the next beach. It was getting late, and it didn't look like the sort of route you would retrace in the dark. Unfortunately, the tunnelling position is deadly on glasses clipped into the shirt, and they probably disappeared into the inaccessible chasms between the boulders. (This was not discovered until we were home).
Back on the beach, we looked at the creek at the east end,

and talked to a couple who had done the 10 minute walk by the track to the next beach. Had a cooling diet coke (all that was available) with some added bacardi while we sat and absorbed the absolute beauty of the place, then headed back in company with a local grandmother and her 9 year old grand daughter, who was riding her bike more like a boy. The woman had family in Mahe, but was finding it lonely in La Digue with just her husband and the grand daughter. However, she did say that she had so many relatives it was a full time job meeting and greeting them. She lived on the steep section we didn't need to revisit, so bid her farewell, and headed back into town by a different route, but almost dark.
Got into our swimmers and spent the twilight time soaking in the low tide water just off our beach, before heading to Chez Marston for a better dinner of a rather strange beef stir-fry, and a very creole spaghetti bolognaise. MP to bed at 9.30 DP at 10.30 after doing some diary. Gradually coming to terms with jet lag.
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