The North Island Lodge, in the Seychelles, is the most expensive hotel in the world. The private island boutique sanctuary which flits you in by helicopter from the main island of Mahé will tickle your wallet for a skimpy $6,695USD … a night. The world’s second most expensive, according to Travel Mag is here too. Fregate Island Private can make your pirate fantasies come true for just less than $6K a night. For these astounding rates you will have a butler at your beck and call 24/7, gourmet food, free flowing organic fruity cocktails and should you so desire, your own private beach. This is NOT where we stayed. But the stunning natural beauty they offer is also achievable for the more budget minded traveller. The rainbow of birds still sing you awake and the tropical flowers still bloom and scent the breeze even when you’re paying far less. The Seychelles are truly a tropical wonder of drool inducing beauty.
We chose to stay at Coco Blanche Self Catering Villas, a family run guest house across the street from the south end of ‘Grande Anse’ on Mahe’s southeast coast. Every beach here in the Seychelles is called “Anse” something…it means bay or cove in Creole, the local tongue which is a lyrical mix of French and Patois. It sounds happy. Self catering means it has a small kitchen where we can prepare simple meals. In this case, a two burner hotplate, sink, kettle and bar fridge. Early one morning shortly after we arrived I crossed the street and bought a great big fresh fish from the twice a week market, which was simply a pile of colourful fish spread out on a tarp in the hot sun. Now what was I going to do with it?
Annaline the very sweet helper at the guesthouse came to the rescue by preparing a special Creole sauce from local chilli, fruit, spices, herbs and love. Together we picked curry and lemon grass leaves from the bushes right outside the door. She taught me how to make a citronella tea that would chase away the mosquitos. Later, Jimmy the gardener barbecued the fish for us over a wood fire using bamboo sticks to keep it from burning. It had a smokey spicy flavour that was savoury and succulent at the same time. We ate this with a boiled breadfruit I had found on the ground earlier that day drizzled with home made coconut oil from the market and a pumpkin chutney with ginger, garlic, onion and lemon. A perfect Seychellois meal.
The cool thing about staying in a family run place is…the family. They are all right there living together on the same property, each with their own tidy home. I’m told it is common for several generations of the same family to live together. Grandpa Olaf sits shirtless on his lovely colonial covered veranda each evening chatting about history and life in the Seychelles with Cam while massive bats swirl overhead. You can hear them voraciously sucking the juice out of the tart rose apples. Papa is a warm and gentle fellow who’s company and rum Cam really enjoyed. Lyla played with the kids and dogs. Great for her after so much time in adult company. I was able to borrow some books from cheery Grandma Lucy and chat with Caroline the owner who was always there when we needed anything. The first night we arrived Lyla was feeling chilly with jet-lag so we asked for a blanket as the beds had only sheets. She looked at us with an quizzical expression. “There are no blankets in the Seychelles, that’s the first time anyone has ever asked for a blanket” she laughed and her face shone with a huge welcoming smile. We certainly never needed a blanket after that!
Cam went golfing with Caroline’s husband David and his friend the local doctor to a course where if you’re not careful the speedy red crabs steal your balls. We snorkelled from the beach right across he street with uncles and nephews and Cam even went along on a morning octopus hunting trip. The mission was successful so Uncle Alan cooked us up an amazingly delicious octopus in coconut milk curry for lunch. The family was so generous that when Cam helped assemble a new couch that had just arrived from overseas, Caroline rewarded him with a bottle of the local Takamaka Rum. Now we’re hooked. Just a little over ice and the spicy flavour transports us to Christmas town. Minus the eggnog.
Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The biggest island Mahé is 27km’s long and 8km’s wide. The 115-island country, is about 1,500 kilometres east of mainland Southeast Africa. On your map, it’s a spec. With just over 90,000 residents it has the smallest population of any African state. And perhaps the most beauty. Everywhere you look, it’s anther postcard. A hot sticky postcard. Daily temps at the moment hover in the high 30’s with humidity dangling around 90%. Think steam room…with clothes on. Summer and the rainy season has just begun. Most of the heavy rain has been happening at night so hasn’t spoiled our nosing around. But when it rains…man does it rain. A warm carwash wouldn’t be too far off. If you’re coming in December you need flip flops and an umbrella. The heat is relentless. Just moving your eyeballs makes you sweat. The sweat trickles down your sides in warm streams if you walk across the room. I’m not sure how the population grows. It’s way too hot for sex. I tried to work out early a few mornings by walking up the local mountain and ended up feeling dizzy and dehydrated all day. It’s been too hot to move my fingers to write this story, that’s why it’s taken so long. Sorry about that.
One of the biggest adjustments, other than the heat, has been the driving. It’s on the left and the roads are very skinny. Miss a turn, of which there are many on the one island road, and you could drop down several feet into who know’s what jungle or stream. At first when we tried to shift gears we’d roll down the window or turn on the wipers. A little stressful on the marriage, but we’re getting used to it. Another big surprise was the bats. Giant fruit bats they call the ‘flying fox’ because of their orangey fur, that circle around every afternoon and evening making us think the entrance to Batman’s lair can’t be too far away. The locals eat these mega bats that have the wingspan of an eagle. They used to shoot them out of the sky with shotguns for fun, until the government took away all the guns after the coup. That would have been a rockin’ Saturday night! Now they simply trap them with nets suspended between trees. I tried some one day in a pesto ravioli. “I’ll have the bat ravioli please” is not a sentence I had ever imagined uttering. It has a slightly gamey taste, like rabbit, and lots of little bones. I tried not to think about it too much. I can eat just about anything with pesto-cream all over it. Take that Ozzy Osbourne.
Restaurants are very expensive. At least for our budget. All of the food that is not locally grown (which is most of it) has to be imported. A local Seybrew beer in the corner grocery shop is about 25 Seychelle Rupees or $2.50 and in a restaurant that skyrockets to as much as $10. My husband seems to be loosing weight and we can’t figure out why? Our great saviour has been the the “take away”. Almost every corner has a little kitchen selling daily Creole and curry creations over rice for about $4. Be ready for plenty of bones and mystery meats with the ‘take-away’. We’ve learned not to look too closely before we eat. Best not to think about it. As I mentioned bats are cheap. This is also how we’ve met many locals and other travellers. One day at the Frangipani Take Away we miscalculated and didn’t have enough Rupees to pay for our lunch. The owner Sandy just told us to ‘come back tomorrow with it, see you then’. Some of the people are as warm as the temperature. Some seem more quiet and reserved.
Even paradise has it’s problems. While the most exquisite hotels are here, there is a big gap between the haves and have nots. We were told to never leave a bag unattended on the beach so have had to take turns swimming and snorkelling. Never leave anything valuable in the car and always lock doors and windows at night. There is a fairly big drug problem on Mahé that leads to thefts and other petty crime. A majority of the population just seem unmotivated. I can understand the feeling in this heat. Apparently they own their homes and don’t pay property tax so there’s not as much motivation to succeed financially as we have in the western world where our debts keep us stressed out and hopping. There seems to be a lot of sitting around.
One day we visited the Takamaka Bay Rum Distillery where the rum is still made the traditional way by crushing sugar cane under heavy logs and letting it ferment in oak barrels. The BBC was shooting a TV show called “Wanted in Paradise” where the idea is to see if one can really run away from home and live happily ever after in the tropics. They look at the price of real-estate, cost of living and actually apply for jobs to see if affording this life full time is possible for the average Joe. Not sure if it is. But the Pina Coladas sure do make you forget about the reality of your mortgage for a while.
Though there are exquisite boutique hotels here we were glad to stay closer to ground level where parents walk their children to school and visit with neighbours at the side of the road. It’s so warm that people are outside all the time. It’s not at all strange to see a row of men sitting on a stone wall in the shade of the palm trees like crows on a telephone line. Just talking and waiting for a breeze. The children go to school on foot or by bus each morning in nicely pressed school uniforms with flip flops on their feet and many live in simple corrugated metal shacks surrounded by lush jungle that seems to grow by the minute. There is basically just one road around the island so you see everyone standing and waiting for the diesel spitting blue busses that come by…when they feel like it. Nothing gets done in a hurry but it does seem to get done. Every day the streets and yards are swept clean of leaves and trash with simple palm brooms. There is pride here in even the simplest homes. Chickens run free, fish, rice and fruit are the readily available staples, many mangy dogs roam wild and little kids on end of year school field trips frolic in the waves. Their dark heads pop up like gophers with their skin gleaming in the salty Indian Ocean even though many don’t know how to swim. Their smiles and laughter are contagious.
After a week exploring the spectacular often secluded beaches, the capitol of Victoria, the spice gardens, small village shops, take away restaurants, barbecues and snorkelling reefs of Mahé we caught the ferry to La Digue, the third largest island in the chain. Here we will spend three weeks and our first tropical Christmas. I’d love to tell you about it but I’m way too hot and sticky and it’s time for a swim. You’ll find us in a humble family run guest house meeting the locals. We will also be sneaking into some great hotels, just for a peek.
Warm and Merry Christmas from spectacular Seychelles. May your family be healthy and filled with peace this Christmas.