Excursion to Praslin

Trip Start Jan 20, 2008
Trip End Feb 10, 2008

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Flag of Seychelles Islands  ,
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

This morning I was up very early because I wanted to catch the 7:30 catamaran to Praslin Island about 30 km to the east. To make sure I could get a seat I needed to be there at 6:30 which meant leaving about 5:45. The taxi I'd arranged the night before was on time to take me to the dock, and I just as the ticket office opened. To my dismay, I learned that someone had already chartered the whole boat. There were no seats available until the second run at 10:30, and the 6:30 return trip was also chartered, so I could only get a seat at 2:30. That meant I would only have 3 hours on Praslin, with no chance to go across to La Digue which was the island I most hoped to visit. Such is life.
I bought my tickets and walked back into town. I wasn't too happy since there had been no warning that there would be no seats on the 7:30 cruise, and since I learned that I paid 4 times as much for my tickets as a local person would pay. In the Seychelles like several other places in the world, there are two ticket prices: one for local people, and another 3 to 4 times higher for tourists and visitors. Those who can pay more, goes the thinking, should pay more. The government of the Seychelles has placed most of its eggs in the tourism basket, and it intends to make the most of it. Prices are fixed everywhere. Tourists pay $1.50 for a soda pop everyone on all the islands, there is no competition that might benefit the consumer. Souvenir t-shirts are $25 at all shops, and so on. I went into a local supermarket to buy bottled water, there was none for sale. Tourists are not supposed to go to the supermarket; they're supposed to pay the high price at a restaurant or their resort. Meals for tourists all start around the same price at cheaper restaurants, and go up from there and the high end ones. Many things must be paid in foreign currency, and prices are kept high. I don't care for that mentality myself, and I decided that it I had the choice I wouldn't come here to spend any free time. Mauritius is just as good, and much less racket-like.
Since it was just after 6:30, the whole capital city of the Seychelles was closed: not even any restaurants were open (they don't open for breakfast until 9:00(!). I walked around and got better oriented and then thought perhaps I could get a cup of coffee at the marina where passenger and worker shuttles to different offshore resorts start running early. Sure enough in the little Creole restaurant that caters to local workers, they served me some coffee even though they weren't open yet. I noticed as I sat down that a big cruise ship had entered the harbor and docked during the night. That explained who chartered the cat out to Praslin. I nursed my coffee and watched with interest all the hustle and bustle of the harbor until 9:00 when I could get some breakfast in town.
At 10:30 I was at the passenger terminal for the Catamaran. It wasn't very full, on either of the two decks. I sat on the top deck with a group of boisterous retiree-aged Italian tourists having a wonderful time laughing and joking and teasing each other. I knew from the previous day that it would be rough, so I chose a seat toward the middle of the deck (the place that moves the least), and where the seats were dry (there would be lots of spray). I could see from where other passengers sat that they were going to have some surprises.
We pulled out on time for the 30 mile, one hour trip to Praslin and it didn't take long to hit the swells. There was a stiff wind blowing too, so there was lots of spray. I heard some surprised shouts at people who sat on the sundeck got a salt-water shower. Everyone bunched inside looking for dry seats. The boat was noisy for the first 15 minutes, and then it got quiet as people started trooping to the bar to ask for seasickness bags. There was a regular movement back and forth either seeking empty bags or placing used ones in the garbage bucket.
It was a little sad; they were paying a lot of money to get seasick so they could spend three hours on an island. I concentrated on keeping my stomach where it was supposed to be.
On arrival in Praslin, the passengers went different way: busses, taxis, rental cars, or walking. Walking is encouraged, so I walked. Praslin is a world heritage site because of the coco de mer trees that grow almost exclusively here. There are the world's largest nuts, and their local name explains what they look like. The locals sometimes call them coco-fesses, in French one could translate that: coco-buttocks (other translations would be possible - I'll choose the Forest Gump version). The nut has two circular sections that do look rather like a human posterior.  
Like everything else in Seychelles there is much hype and regulations surrounding the nut; such a coconut can set one back $250. And I saw tourists come back later to the catamaran with such souvenirs.
At lunch in a local restaurant (I had fresh fish - same prices as in Victoria),   I sat next to a group of young French tourist, two gals and three guys, in their early 20s. What I found interesting were the topics of their conversation. They talked about geopolitical issues: the Christian-Muslim conflicts in the world, the spread and true nature of Islam, the relative merits not only of French political personalities but of the US candidates for the presidency as well. They discussed the historical context of the conflict in the Middle East, and the current economic worries in the West. It was quite far ranging, and while I didn't agree with all their opinions they were pretty well informed and had obviously given the topics some thought. I thought it spoke well of the French educational system, and I wondered how well a similar group of young people from various other countries, including my own, would be able to carry on such a conversation.
After a quick three hours we started back to Victoria and the seasick bags began their migration once again. It was a little easier going back that coming, so there were fewer people sick.  Back at port, as my little way of defying the island tourist racket, I decided to take the bus back to the hotel. It's one of the few areas where everyone pays the same price: about 45 US cents. I arrived at the station just in time to board a bus going my direction and even got a seat at the front. They are big Tata busses made in India, in Bombay judging from the plaque on the dash board. They are big, clunky, solid, and make a wheezing, metallic, owl-like sound each time a gear is changed. There were so many passengers standing in the isle that I couldn't see out the front windshield, and had to guess where I was by peeking out the side windows. I guessed wrong and got off a few stops too early, and had to walk a while, but if footsore, I also felt fulfilled to have escaped a little bit of island hand in my pocket.
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