We leave Seychelles and head for Madagascar
Trip Start May 16, 2006
13Trip End Jul 11, 2006
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Up at 6.30, onto our bikes with camera gear and down to the helicopter pad, where we lock up the bikes and wade through thigh deep water around the pad, then along the beach towards the park. The sun is just starting to touch the higher rocks near the shore, but it is still pretty dark for photography. Walk down the path in the park
to about halfway down the Anse Source d'Argent. Looks very pretty, but not spectacular like the day before
when we didn't have the camera - next camera will be a 3 megapixel waterproof one for taking snorkelling. Get some reasonable photos,
then back along the beach, and out of the park by about 8.10.
Decide to have a look at the "Veuve" (widow) Reserve for the endangered paradise flycatcher. The male bird is believed to be in mourning because of its very long black tail feathers. The reserve is free, but a very helpful and eager information officer took us through the exhibit, and pointed out a nest with a female on it, just by the road.
We walked the forest paths and rotting boardwalks, were menaced severely by a couple of dogs, but saw no other flycatchers, and only a couple of Indian mynahs. Got our valuables on the way back, and continued on to drop off the bikes before 9am, then back to have another good breakfast and talk to Mr Marston, who is a native Seychelloise, but looks and sounds French.
He lived some time in Australia, and has grown children there, and also here, including a very cute three-year old. We came to a reasonable compromise on the first nights meal, paying for one night half board, one night B&B for E180 total. We later found that off-season prices were only E80 with negotiation, which shows the advantage of not booking ahead, particularly when the booking is ignored anyway.
As we had packed early in the morning, we headed straight down to the port for a 30 minute wait for the schooner, which we could see crossing the straits, heeling a fair bit in the fresh wind. Took photo of local transport while we waited.
Some pretty flash luggage and passengers being delivered from the resorts, plus locals with normal bundles. All fitted on with room to spare, with us in the middle of the stern seat. The sea was pretty choppy, but with the breeze on the quarter, we made pretty good time, with a minimum of fuss, apart from shipping a wave through the scuppers which soaked the bag of the girl next to MP. At the wharf, were directed to the first cab off the rank, for a reasonable R75 and a friendly driver of European extraction. Tells us all his father's brothers went to Australia in the 1950's, and there are some 30,000 Seychelloise in Australia. This could account for the incredibly good (A$1465 plus tax of $464) fare we got for our Sydney/Mauritius/Seychelles/Mauritius/Sydney flights, which wasn't publicised. Perhaps it wa to get the Seychelloise trade, but not deflect ordinary tourists from Mauritius.
We manage to get the best room in the house at Rosemary's Guest House - top floor front, with floor to ceiling clear glass louvres, and views of the beach from here and also from the toilet. The view goes both way, so it is a bit pro-bono but OK. Even though the guesthouse is basic, it has that something extra which makes it special.
The coastline to here was pretty ordinary, but this looks good, with a fine white sand beach, large leafed trees shading it, coconut palms, and a pretty island with boulders and large trees only a couple of hundred metres offshore, and a string of rocks and islets beyond.
There is a fresh breeze coming in from the south east, and the strait is pretty choppy, but we decide to swim out to the island,, and the rock outliers beyond. It is a challenging swim, very difficult without mask, fins and snorkel, but with them, it is fine. We take it easy, stay clear of the waves breaking on the rocks and over the submerged outlier, and are rewarded by a large turtle sighting. Behind the island, which is an exclusive resort, the water is quieter, and we see some good terrain and fish through clearer, undisturbed water. Say g'day to one of the workers on the dock, loading garbage, then set out on the long slog back to shore.
We are tired from the long swim, but raise enough energy to go looking for the baker, on Mme' instructions. Are unable to find it, but are directed by workers moving a fridge in the resort, to what looks like a boat yard at the back of someone's home. Here we are directed by a man planing timber to a closed door, which turns out to be the bakery. Definitely a believer in word-of-mouth publicity. The baker is not surprised to see customers, and takes our R6 for 10 bread rolls, which go down pretty well with the usual canned tuna, and drinks purchased up the other end of the town.
After a rest, we walk the town again, with our swim gear, to check out the bus timetable, and maybe get the bus to Anse Lazio, further up the coast. The bus timetable gives us no chance of getting there today, so we decide to walk the main road to the next bay, which has snorkelling, according to the map. From the road, we find that we can walk down the beach to pick up the road at the start of the headland, then walk the road through jungle over a saddle to the next bay.
Unfortunately, there is a luxury resort, La Reserve, here, with a lot of contruction going on. The security guard wouldn't let us through to the beach, and said there was no way to the water further on, and the very corner of the beach was occupied by a sewerage works, with no way through so we were effectively euchred.
We decided to walk on, anyway, up a long hill. We could see through the trees down to a rocky foreshore, but there was no safe way down. Walked to where we could see the water to the North, but it looked pretty murky, so called it a day and walked back home via our beach, past some pretty flash resorts with seafront restaurants with tablecloths, napkins and wine glasses.
After an evening cold coke and Bacardi, we head across the road to the recommended Laurier restaurant for something quick and light before collapsing into the sack. Found out that all they had was a R150 buffet, for which we had neither the energy nor the appetite. Walked the street looking for an alternative, but did not find anything as we didn't walk far enough, so headed back along the dark street, with "dark voices" in the trees offering us black market change. Settled for an icecream at great cost, mixed with our can of fruit salad, opened with our trusty mini-leatherman, and more tuna rolls. To bed about 9.30, but DP finds it hard to sleep with waves breaking just outside, dogs barking, and a fair bit of light through the open louvres. With the curtains drawn, the louvres closed, and the dogs worn out, she eventually got to sleep, if fitfully.
Tuesday 23rd May - Praslin
DP tired from broken sleep, stays abed while MP catches up on the diary. Good breakfat at 8am, then get the 9.20 Route 61 bus, with really squeaky brakes, to the national park in Vallee de Mai, via the ugly commercial area and port at Baie St Anne, then the ferry wharf, then back to turn inland at Baie St Anne, and up and over the saddle at the National Park. The park is heritage listed, so must be good, but still pretty pricey at E15 each.
The rare coco de mer plant only grows here and at another place in the Seychelles. There are male and female palms. The female palm produces the largest seed in the world; it can weigh more than 20kg. The seed is inside a husk and the fruit takes 6 to 7 years to ripen. After germination, the first leaf appears about one year later. A trunk does not appear until the palm is about 15 years. It reaches maturity between 20 and 40 years, and palms probably live for between 200 and 400 years.
There actually were a lot of Coco de Mer palms, with the appropriately suggestive shapes in the fruit (after the husk is taken off),
and the male flower stalk,
and quite a lot of other palms and native trees. The park was a charming palm grove and rainforest pocket, but quite small. The fruit themselves could easily be taken as a Henry Moore sculpture of "woman". Took photo of female before it's husked.
A half husk left on one of the seats had a very pleasant aroma coming from it, very fruity. The fresh nut was amazingly heavy, definitely too dense to float, yet the specimens for sale in the shop were quite light and hollow, and felt like a brittle ceramic copy. At R1800, and with a heritage authentication sticker, you would have to assume that they were the real thing, but we weren't prepared to buy one and smash it to find out. Certainly the nut at our guest house, and at Georgina's in Beau Vallon had a more "woody" feel, and loose items rattling inside.
After doing the rounds of the park, we headed half a km down the steep hill on the main road to look at the waterfall, which was nicely set in luxuriant jungle.
We were hoping for a bus stop at the falls, but no such luck, so we tramped back uphill to wait for the bus back to Anse Volbert, where we upset the bus system by getting it to stop where we wrongly thought there was a stop, so we could get more bread rolls from the mystery boulangerie.
After a quick return home to regroup and get our snorkelling gear, we returned to the real bus stop through the resort behind the beach, just in time for the 12.55 bus, which is 15 minutes early. After we pass the point to which we walked yesterday, the coastline became quite interesting, but the bus timetable didn't allow the luxury of stopping, so we carried on to Anse Boudin, the end of the line, from which the bus goes occasionally to Zimbabwe, but not to Anse Lazio. The road continues, up a steep hill, then down an even steeper one to a very pretty beach with a car park, a flash restaurant, and a resort. The beach, which is supposed to be the best on Praslin, looked really good,
but it was stinking hot, and DP had forgotten to get drink. Fortunately the resort had bottled water, so we felt we could spend the rest of the day.
We found a sheltered spot among the rocks, with just enough sand, once we had cleared the fallen fruit, and good shade without too much sandfly habitat, which is important as Dianne is suffering from ten bites from our biking day on La Digue).
There was good snorkelling straight out, and excellent terrain along the western headland. More tuna rolls, with coconut and Wurthers lollies, in the face of fierce attacks from the fearless local golden brown skinks.
We then transferred to the eastern end for another good snorkel, and see more turtles and good coral. Although we could have stayed for hours, we were a bit worried about the bus system, and after a very hot climb over the saddle, were on the 5.15 bus home, while conditions were still ideal for swimming or snorkelling.
After a rest and bacardu sundowner, walked the extra mile to find the alternative restaurant, La Goulue, where we sat at a very strange 4 person table with a large post down the centre, like most of the other tables there. Must have been architect designed. Fish and chips, and Creole fish burger, plus fruit drinks, not too bad for about R150. Better night's sleep, fewer dog incidents, better sound and light control.
Wednesday 24th May Praslin - Mahe
Organise some of our gear, as have to be out of the room by 10.30. Finish packing, get our breakfast, and leave all the gear in the office while we head north along the beach until we are close enough to the point to swim straight out. Nothing to see on the way out, not even fish until we are out level with the point, then we get some isolated coral, fish and a couple of really long-tailed eagle rays, more mottled than spotted, but with the characteristic dog's head. There is a long, sloping face on the headland, with no boulders to break up the current, so we keep a careful eye on our drift as we head for the lighthouse and the corner where the headland runs into the La Reserve resort. Visibility improves, but the water is quite green until we get to the current at the lighthouse, when we get clear blue water and unlimited visibility. The current brings in a lot of big fish, both single and in schools, and we see a turtle, a small shark, and beautiful underwater terrain. The best snorkel of our trip, and quite unexpected, especially as it was so ordinary earlier in the swim.
It has taken us about an hour to get here, so we have a good look, then start back against the current. Close in to the rock and wash of the surf, the current isn't too bad, as the wind has stayed fairly light, so we make good time. Haul out about halfway along the rock face for a rest and a warm-up. Around the point, the wind kicks in, we lose visibility, and after a good look at the wreckage of at least one big boat, do the long slug back to the beach, taking only 50 minutes for the return trip. Rinsed ourselves under the outdoor shower in one of the flash resorts on the way back, so by the time we got home our lycra suits were drying nicely. Took photo of beach and palm trees which Rosemary's Guest House was hiding behind.
Did a bit of sunning to dry out further, then changed, paid up E130 for our excellent two night's accommodation, using an E100 traveller's cheque, booked a taxi, and headed for the airport at about 1 pm, even though we have a 4.30pm flight.
At the airport, we are too late to get on the 1.30 flight, which is full and just leaving, but wait listed for the next one, and get the call for the 2.30 flight, in the smaller Twin Otter. Some fair photos on the flight, including the hell ship from La Digue (Spoke to someone who took the cargo boat from Mahe to La Digue - said was extremely scary, with waves breaking over the boat, losing some freight at one stage, with crew member jumping overboard with rope tied to him to retrieve it).
Get R400 at the ATM, and another R150 taxi to Georgina's Cottage where we have one of 3 rooms (for R350,), but are the only ones there. Arrange for the same taxi to pick us up at 7.30 in the morning, and a special early breakfast, then head for the internet, via a street market in the park area along the waterfront. There is a big police presence, and a lot of locals with stalls for food and trinkets set up.
At the internet, we get USB ports and word, and are able to upload the diary, look at our photo, and upload some photos, but it takes forever, possibly because some customers are making internet phone calls.
The photos from the new camera are disappointing, very contrasty, not much definition of foliage against the bright sand and water. The internet is too slow for uploading photos, so we stop after five and an introductory photo.
Walked to our former hotel for another of their good procuitto pizzas, then along the beach and up to the market area. We are pleased that the market is still on, as it is normally pretty dark along the shore, and we have ALL our goodies with us.
We have an overhead fan, and no mossie nets or screens, but don't get monstered.
Summary of our thoughts on Seychelles
We visited three islands - Mahe, La Digue and Praslin.
They were all different, and we enjoyed them all for different reasons.
Mahe has some very ordinary areas, but also some wonderful areas, mainly the North West coast.
La Digue was our favourite island - lots of wonderful beaches - at Anse Source d'Argent, Anse Severe and Grand Anse, for a start. Loved the ease of getting around by pushbikes.
At first we weren't that impressed with Praslin, and thought it came a poor third. However, the special feel of Rosemary's Guest House, situated right on Anse Volbert, changed our mind. Then, when we saw our first view of Anse Lazio, we really had to rethink, as this would have to be close to the best beach of all three islands. Then came our great snorkel near La Reserve. Therefore, we'd say that Praslin's highlights were harder to find, but were definitely there.
Re coral on reefs: As far as we could ascertain, almost all the coral in the Seychelles appears to have been killed in one El Nino event about 1998. We first became aware of this when we went to the Maldives to dive in 1999, and were disappointed to find all the coral dead where we were, because the water temperature had risen 1 or 2 degrees a year or so before for a while.
Therefore, though the structure of the reef may still be there, it is covered in algae and weed, with no bright colours. So, when we say the coral is good, this usually means that though the majority of the coral is dead, there is some that is coming back, and is alive and healthy. Unfortunately, this is very common all over the world these days.
Costs in Seychelles The main problems for budget travellers are accommodation and transportation. The cheapest double room, in a basic guesthouse, off-season, still cost at least A$100 per night.
With transportation, the local buses are very cheap, but the problem is they won't take luggage (unless you strike it lucky). Therefore, unless you're travelling very light, you're forced to take taxis, which are VERY expensive for backpackers, averaging A$30 every time you take one.
We were pleasantly surprised about the price of food. If you don't eat in restaurants, you can eat quite cheaply. Groceries are reasonable, and there are cafes, pizzas etc.
Thursday 25th May - Seychelles-Mauritius- Madagascar
Dianne has another bad night's sleep, and up before the alarm to finish packing. Make our own coffee and toast, and wait for the taxi.
The taxi is on time at 7.30, make good time up and over the pass, but hit a big traffic jam which slows us up all the way through town, until we are well on the way to the airport. Get there in plenty of time, book baggage straight through to Antananarivo, and spend our last rupees on coke in the departure lounge. Off on our Air Seychelles flight
on time at 10am, to the South, getting a few photos on the way out. Offered a "snack", which turns out to be a chicken and fish meal, with a good white wine. Dianne can't get audio again, but from the picture we see, doesn't miss much.
Pass over a weird, but nice-looking elongated atoll, an isolated part of Mauritius, with a really good looking reef area, then, later see islands, off the mainland. On the Mauritian mainland pass over an amazingly built-up area
before going straight over Pt Louis and past some spectacular peaks before landing among the green canefields at Plaisance just after midday.
Murray kept an eye on the baggage for at least 6 circuits to make sure our bag hadn't been offloaded, as we're flying on to Antananarivo at 11pm tonight, and we've, hopefully, booked our bags through.
Dianne checked out the departures., but nothing to see. Found out where the local buses leave from, as we've decided to pass our eleven hours in transit by doing some sightseeing. Walked out of airport to the roundabout to get the bus to Mahebourg, but in typical fashion, suddenly decided it'd be better to see Port Louis, as we've already seen Mahebourg.. Just as we decide this, a Port Louis bus goes past, so run to get it at the bus stop.
It is a 1 hour trip through cane fields, small villages, and bigger towns. Seems to be a lot more built-up than before (in 1990), but buildings look about the same. More large high-rise, and a technology park Cyber-something. Fairly scary high speed run down into town, then up and around a narrow flyover to the bus station.
Looked around for the bus stop to get us home for a while before asking and being given the double wave direction, which we correctly deciphered as indicating: a long way that-a-way, then a bit to the left. Found the Mahebourg stop, with buses lined up, and seemed to go when full. Having found the time for the last bus, we then felt confident enough to go exploring.
Walked past the flea market area,
getting Murray reading glasses and sunnies for R100 each, (later found the reading glasses were cracked), then walking around Caudan Waterfront, the flash newly redeveloped port precinct.
Internetted for 1 1/2 hours, having only medium success uploading photos.
Weren't game to wait for the last bus, so took the last two places in a bus just leaving at about 5, for another hour trip, anxiously looking for our stop. Eventually, guided by the conductor, we got off at the same stop, going the same way as our outward journey.
Killed time with diary and papers until got the message to check in at about 8pm. Charged palm pilot battery, and continued diary in departure lounge until our flight left at 11pm.