After a week on Mahé, the main island of Seychelles, we hopped over to the third largest link in the chain called La Digue. You get there by taking a ferry to Praslin (the second largest) and then a smaller boat the rest of the way. If this sounds familiar to the journey from Vancouver to Hornby Island B.C. you are correct Watson and that is not where the similarities end. It’s pretty groovy and quirky too.
The granite island of La Digue has a population of about 2,000 people, who mostly live in the villages of La Passe where the dock is and La Réunion on the west side. It is only about 10 km², which makes it easy to zip around by bike. There are a few taxis and delivery trucks but everyone else uses 2 wheels and handle bars.
Traditional ox-cart taxis still trundle along but are mostly used for weddings now. We made the rookie mistake of locking our bikes together while we went snorkelling on one of our first days then realized we’d lost the key. A local man with a limp who had been quietly sitting in the shade at the jetty drinking a midday Seybrew (not an uncommon occurrence) came to our rescue by finding THE one Police man who seemed to have THE key… to everyone’s bike. Voila! He unlocked us and we never locked our bikes again. The only reason to secure them is because tipsy tourists occasionally ride away on the wrong rig causing a domino effect of bicycle mis-possession.
These bikes are a cruiser’s dream. We leisurely peddled the island’s few roads and paths with our baskets full of fruit from one of the two market stalls, beer from the many small shops or fins and masks for a trip to one of the unbelievably gorgeous beaches. We rolled to “the jetty” which is “downtown” La Digue (this is funny, believe me) to go to sunrise yoga in the gazebo and to visit new friends. The skinny roads are shaded by the overgrown lush jungle landscape. Riding and driving are on the left here…this can be troublesome when old reflexes kick in. It’s a daily parade of waving and tossing ‘bonjours’ to the Seychellois we passed.
They were all business, riding ‘no hands style’ talking on cell phones or doubling one, two or three family members with totally nonchalant expressions. Once I saw a man with his wife sitting side saddle on the cross bar, holding a baby, drinking a beer. The Seychellois don’t smile or talk to you unless you say hello first. They can seem a little chilly but I think they might just be sick and tired of tourists.
We thought North Vancouver had some heavy rain? I’ll never complain again. Because the Seychelles are so near the equator, they get frequent and sometimes uber-heavy rainfall during the ‘rainy season’ which lasts from November to March. Hmmm….didn’t really plan well on that front. The monthly rainfall for December is about 400mm or 15 inches. But that happens in about an hour. Think car wash. Warm car wash. When it’s not raining, it’s hot and sticky and doesn’t relent much at night. I bow to the patron saint of air conditioning, which we used for sleeping. I am not exaggerating when I say I broke into a drippy sweat just chewing a piece of pineapple. Most exercise was out of the question unless done prior to 7am. I couldn’t tell if it was the humidity which hovers around 80% or a terminal month long hot flash. It’s a good thing I look so cute in a sopping wet sarong. Right? Actually, the fewer clothes the better. It’s simply too hot to wear sleeves, or a bra…or much of anything. The local uniform is shorts and flip flops. The ladies wear skirts and the young ones rock the hoochie mama attire better than Rihanna’s back up singers. I was very impressed to see young boys with long pants and shoes on heading to church on Sunday mornings. I hope God appreciates just how uncomfortable they must have been.
The Casa de Leela self catering guest house where we stayed is in the centre of the island, right across the street from Veuve Nature Reserve. This is where you can apparently see the rare Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher. Gorgeous black birds with two long tail feathers. If you’ve ever read Dr. Seuss’s Gertrude McFuzz you’ll have the right idea. Apparently there are only 100 of these in the world and only on La Digue. We went over there early one morning and walked around hoping to see one. We got one hundred and fifty mosquito bites and not one bird sighting, but we did see a nest. They lay one egg twice a year. No wonder they’re endangered. The next day as we were sitting on our porch having dinner of potato chips, peanuts and beer (I wish I was kidding) a beautiful male came and landed in the curry tree in front of our cabana. Yes, fresh curry leaves anyone? Why is it that male birds are always Village People flamboyant and the females dress like nuns? He showed us his lovely tail feathers like a fashion model on a runway and flitted away. Sometimes doing nothing is best. Paradise Flycatcher home delivery service!
Geckos visit all the time. Nervous little brown ones and my favourite, the curious electric green fellas. They climb the walls and ceilings constantly. Cam and Lyla took to chasing them around with the spaghetti strainer like great hunters. I don’t think they really want to catch one because they screamed and giggled if they got even close. “Gotcha”! Cam grabbed one by the tail and was left with a bright green gecko tail in his hand. He yelped and dropped it and the bodiless tail continued to wiggle and squirm on the ground. The Seychellois say that means the gecko swearing at you like a wagging finger. Wouldn’t you swear too if someone yanked your tail off? Don’t worry, they grow back. These geckos laugh and chirp very loudly at night. The first night we woke up thinking someone was tapping at our window and laughing but it was just a gecko in the air conditioner. He was probably hot too. The flocks of garden snails are as big as oranges. You have to be careful walking at night or you’ll hear that sickening crunch immediately followed by your foot sliding through snail slime. The spiders are the size of your palm so it’s fairly alarming when one of those hits you in the face and chickens run wild everywhere. They don’t look worried but they should be. They are on the menu. We saw enormous ancient tortoises…mating… if you can imagine the groaning. Lyla said they sounded like an old man trying to get up the stairs. Harghhhhh! And countless varieties of vibrantly coloured flowers and birds.
Humidity hung over us like a heavy damp duvet. Oh the steamy hell of it. Our Canadian constitutions struggle to get motivated to do anything. We move like teenagers who’ve been told to clean our rooms. We are sluggish sloths. One muggy afternoon we decided to walk up La Digue’s tallest peak, Belle Vue or Eagle’s Nest Mountain. Why we didn’t do this early in the day when it was only 25C is still a mystery. Though it’s only a little over 300 m (980 ft) it took us more than an hour on the winding road and overgrown jungle trail. We were all soaked through with sweat, red faced and dizzy, but the view was worth it. How do people do things like Ironman in the Hawaiian heat?
Another day we did an amazing guided hike around the southern tip of the island. Through thick jungle, over, around and under huge fields of magnificent pink granite boulders to secluded Anse Maron. Here we snorkelled with baby lemon sharks in clear small pools and were served an exotic fruit and fresh fish samosa lunch by Rondy our guide during another refreshing tropical rain shower. We never could have found that trail without him. In some places it seems to grow over the moment you step through. Rondy packs a machete and a huge smile.
He also makes jewellery and presented us with lovely shell bracelets. On the hike out to Anse Source D’Argent which has been called the most beautiful beach in the world, we saw a huge green sea turtle burying her eggs. So graceful in the water and so awkward on land. She was exhausted after laying and burying her 200 eggs in the exact place she was born. We watched her struggle and marvelled at power of nature. She had been all over the oceans and found her way back home. Shit, I can’t even find my phone half of the time.
The country may be a little underdeveloped infrastructure wise but the beaches are straight from heaven. White powdery sand and warm turquoise waters trimmed with palm trees leaning at just the right angle to give you that little bit of shade you need. There are massive granite boulders dotting the coast and jungle. They are so precariously perched you can’t believe they won’t tumble down on you. I would not have been surprised to see a dinosaur come walking out of the forest. The film Castaway with Tom Hanks was made here, on the island of Praslin. The only reason I can see that he would want to leave is that he was lonely and Wilson was starting to get on his nerves. That and perhaps the wifi was too expensive. Our favourite beach was Petit Anse. You had to hike a little to get there so it was virtually empty and there were hand made palm lean-to’s to shelter you from the brutal equatorial sun.
Food is an issue on La Digue. At least it is for me, Miss food snob. Because everything is imported the supply is very limited and most items are highly processed so they won’t expire. It is also very expensive. Everything is in a package or box or wrapped in layers of thick plastic. Powdered milk, processed cheese and mystery meats that are a weird shade of pink. The day we found a loaf of wheat bread we did a little dance. Fresh bread is not available at the grocery store, it’s sold at the pizza restaurant. Because of course you get bread at the pizza restaurant! Vegetables are a rare commodity and eggs are sold one by one, in plastic bags. Raw eggs in plastic bags are hard to get home in one piece in the basket of your bike. We did find some hydroponic african spinach at a small market stall. Another happy dance. It might have been pot…I don’t know? When we wanted to make short bread cookies for Christmas we had a tough time finding flour. If you were friendly with the pizza maker man he would throw an extra chopped up hot dog on your pizza as a special treat! Aren’t we lucky? The four cheese pizza only had three cheeses and one of them was called ‘cheez’. It makes us very grateful for the vast array of fresh and high quality good choices at home. So often we are feeling more and more grateful about where we call home. Such a crap shoot that we happened to be born in Canada where we are safe and free and healthy.
For Christmas our gardener friend Danna cut us a local feathery pine from the jungle and stuck it in a pot on our porch. We collected shells during our snorkelling trips and because there was no paint on the island we went to a local artist who gave us a tube of a striking bronze. We painted the shells and dangled them from our little tree using dental floss. We made a red paper star out of an old box of tea. Christmas Eve is the big deal here so we blew the budget and went to the fancy La Digue Lodge for Christmas dinner. The children’s choir sang and Lyla chased crabs on the beach with some Belgian kids between courses as the sun set into the sea. Later we went to Midnight Mass at the peach coloured church that was crammed with well dressed Ladigoise singing and celebrating. All the kids were given candles so we left before they burned the place down. Santa filled our flip flops with chocolates and we exchanged simple Seychellois gifts. Cam got a nice bottle of his favourite Takamaka rum! I received a beautiful ‘lucky beans’ necklace and Lyla received some nice flower ties for her hair. Santa found her too! Though we dearly missed friends, family and the chilly traditions of home, it was a simple and completely different experience. One we will always remember.
Lyla had the amazing opportunity to take her Jr. Open Water Scuba Diver course here too. What an exciting learning experience for her!! After her pool sessions with the kind and cute dive master Loic we went down under the deep blue Indian Ocean together. She was amazingly comfortable with scuba and really understood the big responsibility and privilege of breathing under water. We saw so much sea life it was like plunking into a well stocked aquarium. Sea turtles, reef sharks (eek!), rays, eels, lion fish, trumpetfish, angel fish. Really too many to list. And the colours!! We did five dives together and made some really good new friends too.
Our dive master happened to have his Mom Christine and sister Alix visiting from South Africa so we ended up spending a lot of time together having drinks, eating, diving, beaching and rescuing puppies. Well, they rescued the puppies, we just cuddled them. Lyla actually wrote her scuba test on their porch with with a tiny puppy on her lap. Christine, by some miracle, managed to get all four puppies and the Mom adopted onto the big island of Mahé which is an amazing feat. She’s got a large deposit into the karma bank for that effort.
Making new friends from around the world has been one of the sparkling treasures of this journey. I hope this makes Lyla realize that our planet is full of possibility and friends can be found anywhere. She has been playing with kids from Germany, Britain, South Africa, Seychelles, Austria, Reunion Islands and more and doesn’t seem to care how old they are as long as they can swim. So while I do worry that Lyla missing a year of school may set her back in some ways, she is gaining an education that can’t really be quantified. We had lousy wifi on La Digue so school work didn’t really happen but a lot of discovery did.
Some things we learned in the School of Seychelles:
1). George, the nurse at the hospital can also be a wonderful Creole cook for your impromptu New Years Eve dinner party.
2). Bringing bananas to a homeless drug addict might make him smile.
3). Giving homemade Canadian shortbread to the staff at your guest house will makes them smile.
4). The shirtless, shoeless man with the dreads selling trinkets on the beach speaks 6 languages fluently and has a European university education. Never assume.
5). Don’t buy water in a plastic bag. Just trust me on that one.
6). Fresh mango lime juice prepared on Petite Anse beach might be the best drink in the best location ever. Or maybe the fresh coconut water is?
7). Some things are hard and scary but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them.
8). Sneaking into expensive hotels and poaching their pools can be fun.
9). Some of the best yoga classes have dogs walking through them.
10). Don’t stay in a hotel if the cleaning lady can open the door with a butter knife. Long story.
11). Never park under a coconut tree.
Wishing you all happiness for 2015. May you smile wide when nobody is looking.