This being our first foreign landfall, it is interesting to note the difference between the African countries we have visited and this “western?” influenced country.
In this very superficial comparison after only two days, we have noticed
1. no holes in pavements
2. no potholes in the streets
3. gardens outside all buildings are well kept
4. public areas are spotless and well kept
5. no rubbish and the bins are used and emptied regularly
6. no hawkers or beggars
7. no laybouts hanging around waiting to “help” tourist for a fee
8. no one calling out “my friend” Africanese for "I want your money".
This is truly paradise. Everything is well run, the officials are efficient and pleasant, the people friendly, and it has been wonderful to meet up with our yachting friends from Tanga again.
Seychelles Archipelago is a group of granitic islands which were once part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland before India split from Africa millions of years ago, and left these very dramatic and beautiful pinnacles of rock sticking up out of the ocean 1000 miles from the African coast.
Mahe is the main island where the capital Port Victoria is situated, Praslin , and la Digue, together with numerous small, virtually uninhabited islands comprise the inner islands.
There are also groups of outlying coral islands, one of which, the Amirantes, we tried to visit on the way here, but were blown off by our first real storm.
The first European ship to anchor here was British, in 1609 and then 100years later English and American pirates, who had been harried out of the Caribbean, came here to raid ships carrying spices, tea and timber which were crossing the Indian Ocean at that time. One of the more gentlemanly pirates had a mansion here which can be visited and there are still people searching for the plunder which is said to be buried here.
The French first took possession of the islands in 1742 and they named them in honour of Louis XV’s finance minister. During the Napoleonic wars, in 1794 a British fleet of 166 cannon and 12,500 men entered the harbour, unsportingly flying the French flag, resulting in a quick surrender by the French. Two weeks later when they left, as soon as they were over the horizon, the French tricolour was back on top of the flagpole! This was repeated throughout the war, giving support to both sides and flying the appropriate flag.
In 1815, after Napolean was defeated by the Brits, the islands became part of the great British Empire, though largely in name only. The French governor remained and collaborated, even anglicising his name and the French settlers continued to expand their trade and to maintain their language and cultural identity.
Saddled with a poor colony she did not want, the British allowed the islands to remain as a peaceful and old fashioned backwater, with only the occasional steamer calling in. It was during this period of splendid isolation that the culture of the Seychelles was formed, which explains the spirit of self-sufficiency which one can still see today. There is a mixture of African, Arab, Indian and even Chinese, as well as the French farmers, with much intermarriage. An extremely harmonious and stable population has evolved, industrious and law abiding, very unlike Africa. At the same time the Kreol language also developed. 98% of the 75000 population are RC.
Since 1964, two lawyer politicians of opposing parties, have ruled the country. There was an attempted coup at one point when one of the leaders was out of the country. Mad Mike Hoare and his mercenaries briefly hit the headlines in 1981, trying to stage an invasion by purporting to be a visiting rugby team but failed to get beyond the airport. The two leaders then collaborated to develop tourism and the islands have never looked back. They are the embodiment of a dream, a true tropical paradise.
The airport was opened in 1971 and virtually the whole island watched the first VC10 come into land and five years later the islands became independent from Britain. The islands have remained very French and French is the second language for most people, though all those we meet inevitably also speak English. There seem to be a majority of French tourists here, mostly rather noisy to our ears, or maybe we are just prejudiced! Today Tourism is the main industry and there is relatively little else, so everything has to be imported and is generally rather expensive. The Seychelles government is very aware that too many tourists will ruin this idyllic paradise and have limited the number of hotel beds to 4500. No new hotels or lodges are being built, except on a few of the outlying, privately owned islands.
Eating out is prohibitively expensive, everything priced in tourist Euros, (e.g. €10 for a simple ham sandwich!!) so we don’t do much dining out. On principle we refuse to pay in Euros, which we don’t have anyway. We are lucky that we can join the Seychelles YC as visiting members and can get drinks and have simple meals for less than half we would pay outside. Also what a pleasure to have efficient service, so unlike Tanga YC where a meal took anything up to an hour to arrive! Consequently many members are social members only, so the club is always busy, with a very friendly atmosphere and very pleasant to spend time there.
Trips around the Islands
Our first excursion was a bus ride across Mahe to Port Launay to spend the day with our friends George and Colleen, a South African cruising couple who we had met at Tanga. Like us, they are also retired and are taking every day as it comes.
Mahe has 1000m mountaqins at its centre, covered with what appears to be impenetrable rain forest. It was a very steep and spectacular bus trip up the side of the hill and down the other side.
Port Launay is spectacular, with crystal clear sea and a coral reef very close to the shore. Cherry has at last had her first snorkel over coral and saw the beautiful reef fish for the first time and she is now hooked for life!
We then took off for the outer islands: Praslin, La Dique, Marianne, Felicite and Cocos Isle. We found beautiful isolated coves and anchored up overnight. The coral at Ille de Cocos is reasonably good with wonderful fish. The variety and colours are absolutely amazing. Sadly, much of the coral is being destroyed by tour operators and cruisers who don’t seem to care that their anchors are destroying large areas of reef. Coral is very slow growing, and when up to 20 boats a day throw anchors onto the living reef, it does not stand a chance of recovery. The conservation department tried to police this wanton destruction by installing mooring buoys over reefs, but they got broken and have not been repaired. We have found this very distressing.
We were thrilled to meet up with Ken and Sue from Kloof on a flying visit to the Seychelles. Fantastic to catch up on all the news from back home.
Our dinghy motor has been very unreliable, and Alec has spent a huge amount of time smelling of petrol and trying to find the fault. Hold thumbs, today it seems to be okay. (HAH! I spoke too soon)
On returning to Mahe, George and Colleen were so enthusiastic about the beauties of the west coast that we have been persuaded to explore this before moving on to Chagos. So we will have a snorkelling trip around Mahe and then set off eastwards.
West Coast of Mahe
A lovely five days and nights sailing, snorkelling and swimming. Ille Therese definitely overrated, the coral not too marvellous. But good clear water. Very exposed when the wind comes up so we moved around the corner to Port Launay which is very sheltered. There, the coral is much better and we had some lovely snorkels, and beautiful sunsets.
Then on the way back to Port Victoria to reprovision and prepare for our next crossing, we discovered an unnamed cove just around the headland from Cap Ternay. Beautiful clear water, good coral and glorious scenery. We spent one night there, but unhappily once again having dinghy troubles, only had one snorkel.
We are now back in Victoria, and hopefully will be leaving for Chagos in two days time. While we were away on the west coast it appears that the Somalian pirates were having a field day attacking fishing boats in this area, so everyone is very “twitchy” and asking us if we really mean to leave. As we cannot stay forever, we will just go as planned and hope that we are too small and insignificant for the pirates to notice us.
Our blog will be dormant for about three months, but we will send VERY short emails to all on our mailing list to keep you abreast of developments. Watch this space.
For some pictures of Seychelles please click here.