Gondwana or Gondwanaland was a supercontinent that existed from the Neoproterozoic (about 550 million years ago) until the Jurassic (about 180 million years ago)… formed by the accretion of several cratons… Gondwana became the largest piece of continental crust of the Paleozoic Era covering an area of 100,000,000 square Km… During the carboniferous period it merged with Euramerica to form a larger supercontinent called Pangaea… gradually broke up during the Mesozoic Era… remanants of Gondwana make up about two thirds of today’s continental area… (Wikipedia)
The piece on Gondwana or Gondwanaland on Wikipedia goes on and on.
A geographer or a geologist (or whatever a person specialising in the study of the earth is called) may find it stimulating. For the rest of us lesser mortals, however, let me cut a long story short…
Years and years and years ago the earth had one huge land mass named Gondwanaland. Chunks of this mass broke off and, over millions of years, gradually drifted apart to form the various present-day continents.
At this point you are probably wondering, and may I add, very justifiably so, what on earth – no pun intended – does all this have to do with a Mumbaikar holidaying in the Seychelles?
The map below, depicting the geographical arrangement of various land masses in Gondwanaland should make matters crystal clear.
Eons ago, way before the great continental drift occurred, Seychelles was wedged between Madagascar and the west coast of India, south of the Narmada river. So, for all intents and purposes, that makes us Mumbaikars and the Seychellois Creole people geological neighbours!
And what better way to enjoy Diwali than celebrating the festival of light with the people that were originally next door but, due to circumstances well beyond their control, were forced to move far, far away!
Not that there is any dearth of reasons to visit Seychelles. In fact, from a planning perspective, this was one of the most confusing and confounding trips I have ever done.
Let me explain.
In February this year I did a birding trip to the North-East of India for which I was geared with my tele lens, tele converters, heavy tripod and gimbal and suitable clothing and boots. Similarly, on a fishing trip I’d pack fishing tackle and appropriate apparel. If the location held the promise of landscape photography then my camera bag would include wide-angle lenses, polarising, neutral density and other filters and a travel tripod would replace the heavier gimballed one. If it was a sea-side beach resort we were off to then a GoPro for underwater photography/ video, swimwear, flip-flops, … well, I’m sure you catch my drift.
The problem here was that Seychelles offers all of the above! In spades!
Another factor that needed serious consideration was the fact that in all my travels both in India and abroad, Seychelles is by far one of the most expensive countries I have ever visited. Be it hotel stay, or hiring a birding guide or booking a fishing charter, the Euros seem to develop wings and vanish into thin air!
To complicate matters further, we were a group of ten friends that loved to party. And so there was a significant danger that we would spend the entire 5 days doing none of the above apart from simply have a rollickingly good time!
I decided to sacrifice the fishing. Not that I missed it, all I needed to do was let my imagination run wild while sitting in the fish-fighting seat on our island hopping trips (the image above). Let me tell you, the virtual number of sailfish, marlin, wahoo and yellow-fin tuna I caught on the trip is pretty impressive!
4.5 hours by flight away from Mumbai, Seychelles is a nation comprising of 115 islands 1344 km off the east cost of Africa. Thanks to the huge distance away from the closest land mass, much of the flora and fauna found here are endemic and cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
The majority of islands are made of granite. Apart from being the oldest, they are also the worlds only granitic islands. Many of Seychelles beaches have these huge imposing granite boulders that had me pulling out my camera again and again and again…
The largest island is Mahe followed by Praslin. We opted to stay at the Bliss Hotel on Praslin. Bang on the beach, it was reasonably priced (comparatively) and set in lush landscaped surroundings. The air-conditioned, semi-detached living accommodation was well spaced out and very comfortable and we were extremely happy with the hospitality offered by the hotel staff.
When planning our stay it was a toss up between Mahe and Praslin. In retrospect I’m glad we stayed on Praslin. It is less populated and, unlike Mahe, it was in close proximity to some of the other islands we planned to visit like La Digue and Curieuse.
We were due to arrive at Mahe at 8.30am and had pre-booked a couple of cabs for the 20 minute drive from the airport to the Cat Cocos Jetty to catch the ferry to Praslin. Unfortunately, a flight delay forced us to miss the 9.30am ferry. The next ferry was at 4.30pm in the evening and we negotiated with the cabs to show us the sights of Mahe and drop us at the jetty in time to make the evening ferry.
Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens. It was here that we got our first views of the coco de mer tree and fruit. (More on this enigmatic palm tree later).
We also saw a number of birds including the zebra dove, Malagasy turtle dove and couple of endemics like the Seychelles bulbul and the beautiful Seychelles blue pigeon (of which I did get much better images later on Praslin.)
At an enclosure in the botanical garden we also got our first view of the endangered Aldabra giant tortoise.
Lunch was to be had at a large, sprawling beach-front shack. It was here that we had our first taste of the local creole cuisine and washed it down by several rounds of the local takamaka rum.
The rum comes in a variety of flavours of which the dark one (in my opinion) is very similar to the Old Monk that we get back home in India. One of the things that we looked forward to on this trip was creole food. And in particular, the seafood. I must admit I was a bit disappointed. The fish was fresh, but often (also in my opinion) slightly over cooked and I was expecting something a bit more spicy instead of the tomato-based, relatively bland (this too, in my opinion) fare that was dished out most of the time during our entire stay here.
Post lunch there was just enough time to visit the clock tower in the nation’s capital, Victoria. Affectionately referred to as Big (little) Ben by the locals, the tower is 116 years old and was erected in memory of Queen Victoria.
The Creole festival was on at the time where the Seychellois people celebrate their roots and traditions. The air was filled with the sound of creole music and barbecue cooking. Creole dancers performed on stage and kids dressed in traditional Creole attire complemented the festive air.
The two girls below dressed in beautiful Indian saris may have looked out of place to some. But not to me. We were, after all, neighbours, albeit millions of years ago. If I had to nit-pick then the traditional maharashtrian nine-yard sari may have been more appropriate!
And then it was time to catch the ferry to Praslin.
If one was to list the negatives of Seychelles then, coming a close second to the premium prices it would have to be the weather.
October is supposed to be a ‘cool’ month, but it was hot and humid and rained frequently. The rain was usually a mildly irritating light drizzle but we did experience the occasional thunder shower. The silver lining here, as expressed by one of the local cab drivers, is: “Seychelles ees always fresh an’ green, maan!”
I must say, the Bliss Hotel at Praslin is a great location with beautiful landscaped surroundings that attracted a number of birds. From the comfort of the outdoor deck of our room I got several images of the ubiquitous red fody, the endemic Seychelles sunbird and the endemic Seychelles blue pigeon.
On our second day (the first on Praslin) the rain played spoilsport and washed out my plans to take images of the sunrise and sunset.
On the third day we had pre-booked a morning boat trip to Curieuse island. The previous day’s rain had us a bit nervous about the weather… But I’ll just let the images below as we prepared to get onto the boat speak for themselves!
It so happened that the boat tour started from the property adjacent to the hotel and so we literally stepped out of the hotel and onto the boat!
It was a glorious day.
On reaching Curieuse beach the boat dropped us off at Anse St. Jose beach on the south of the island.
Curieuze was a leper colony in the 17th century up until 1965. Just off the beach is a fairly large, wooden two-storeyed house called the ‘Doctor’s house’. In bygone days it housed a doctor who attended to the medical needs of the resident lepers. It is now converted into a museum for tourists visiting the island.
The initial part of the island’s tour was a walk (follow the red dots on the map above) that took us northward, over a forested hill and then via a protective boardwalk through mangrove forests skirting the Old Turtle Pond.
The walk was conducted by our Seychellois guide Albert, a highly trained biologist. Although with his long dreadlocks and green bandana one couldn’t be faulted for mistaking him for a Curieuse Island pirate of old.
He peppered the hour long trek with highly entertaining stories about the island’s history. About the leper colony, for instance, or how sailors set the entire island on fire to facilitate the harvesting of the coco de mer fruit. Every once in a way he would stop to point out a tree or shrub. Some were indigenous like the takamaka tree or the coco de mer palm. Others were planted by visiting sailors for their nutritious value, like the almond tree, or for their medicinal properties that ranged from the treatments indigestion to skin infections like ringworm.
Thanks to Albert the time flew and before we knew it we arrived at a clearing that held yet another surprise.
There were giant Aldabra tortoises roaming freely everywhere!
In the mid ’70s, as part of a conservation project, many of these creatures were brought from Aldabra to Curieuse. There are now over 300 tortoises that wander freely on the island most them concentrated at this beach.
One can’t help but fall in love with these strange gigantic creatures as they slowly lumber up to anyone offering them a leaf. Inexplicably preferring to gently take the offered foliage from a person’s hand rather that choose from the hundreds that lay strewn on the sandy beach.
In a fenced-off area on the beach lunch was being prepared. On the menu today was grilled chicken with creole sauce, barbecued barracuda and papaya salad.
The reason why it was fenced was immediately apparent and while the giants looked over imploringly for titbits…
… fodys and doves queued up for left-overs!
I took advantage of the hour-long post lunch ‘rest’ to take images of the spectacular granite boulders that define the Seychelles…
…and a few great crested terns perched on them.
The final leg of the tour was snorkelling the clear blue waters off a couple of locations including the small rocky island below.
In complete contrast to the day before we could not have asked for better weather. We did hit a bit of rain but it was perfectly timed as we were getting back onto the boat post-snorkelling and heading home. The stinging rain drops as we sped back adding to the overall excitement of the day!
That evening, as part of the Creole Festival, there was a fair on one of the beaches on Praslin. We guffed fried chicken, chicken burgers and takamaka rum as we strolled through.
A few kids were swimming in the sea and, together with a few moored boats, they made an awesome picture silhouetted against the evening sky and its glowing reflection that turned the water’s surface into liquid gold.
We enjoyed the trip to Curieuse so much that we decided to try to book a last minute trip to La Digue for the following day. Fortunately, Angela Tours, that had organised our Curieuse Island trip, agreed to a ‘drop off and pick up’ at 10am for a reasonable fare.
Which was great as it gave me time to grab a few early morning images on the beach.
…and yet have some time left over the chill out on the deck outside our room from where I did get some nice images including the ones posted earlier in the blog and the couple below.
Seychelles is very animal friendly. This little kitten below seemed to have adopted us. (The saucer of milk we put out every day probably contributed to the decision making.)
The kitten had parked its butt of questionable cleanliness in Vanessa’s hat. The fact that all she did was look on and smile benevolently has convinced me that out here there is absolutely no need to ‘smoke’. Simply inhale the clean Seychelles air and you are guaranteed the same result!
At 9.45am we assembled at the boat on the next morning and boarded the boat and headed for La Digue. This time I sat in the fighting seat at the back of the boat and between marvelling at the changing colours of the water and imaginary battles with a variety of gamefish I was one happy trooper.
The images below were taken as we approached La Digue jetty and disembarked…
La Digue has narrow roads and, with a relatively small area of around 10sq. km, the most convenient form of travel is by bicycle.
In days gone by ox-driven carts were the next best alternative, but those have since been replaced by brightly coloured, multi seater trucks.
La Digue is home to the critically endangered black paradise flycatcher bird and I was hoping to get a chance to sneak away from the group and try and sight one. Sadly that was not to be and we headed straight for the beach.
It was a very long stretch of coastline separated in several places by massive granite boulders and one had to negotiate narrow pathways between the towering rocks to move from one beach to another. We were advised to walk to the very end as that held the best and safest beach.
This was obviously a popular wedding destination and we walked past two wedding parties where ceremonies were in progress. Both were set up on the common path that connected various stretches of beach and it was kind of surreal watching skimpily dressed tourists mingle with formally attired wedding guests as they sauntered through!
It was well worth the long walk! The beach was spectacular – (ho-hum what’s new) – but this place had a rocking bar and between swimming in the crystal clear water and guzzling copious amounts of – you guessed it – takamaka rum cocktails the time just flew! By around 2 pm we walked back taking pictures on the way as each section of beach had a completely different look!
Our truck dropped us a restaurant on the main street near the jetty were we had lunch before hopping on the the boat that took us back to our hotel in Praslin.
This was our last evening here and I was keen to get some sunset images. After a quick snooze to clear my head of any residual dregs of takamaka, I packed my camera bag with camera, polarising and ND filters, shutter release cable and tripod and headed for the beach.
A couple of fishermen in the water and a log of driftwood provided a great foreground against the setting sun and a dramatic sky.
And so ended our last day. If I had to pick a regret then it would probably be the fact that I would have liked to have seen and photographed a few more of the endemic birds.
Apart from the black paradise flycatcher on La Digue, another much sought after bird was the Seychelles black parrot. It is found only on Praslin and more specifically in the Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve. This is a huge palm tree plantation consisting of several species of palm trees, the most famous of which is the rare and endemic coco de mer tree.
Sensing my disappointment, despite the logistical issues of packing, checking out, and the complicated journey back home it was Vanessa who suggested we make a quick morning trip to the park.
It was a bright sunny day. On entering the park the first thing that hits you is the dense canopy of palm trees that significantly blocks out the sun.
We hired a guide who at the very outset warned us that the black parrot is rare and the majority of visitors do not get even a sighting of the bird let alone a photograph. I kept my fingers crossed and while I kept a ear on the interesting titbits of info the guide was rolling out during our walk through the plantation my eyes were on the look out for the bird.
The coco de mer tree is endemic to Praslin and Curieuse. It is unusual in as much as the sexes are separate as male and female trees. Male flowers and female fruit bear a strong resemblance to human sex organs and the seed from the tree is the biggest in the entire plant kingdom that can weigh upto 40Kg!
Pollination is a bit of a mystery but a common theory is that the various endemic species of geckos play a prominent role in getting that done. Local legend has a complete different different take on the process. They insist that on stormy nights the male and female trees tear themselves out of the ground and join together in passionate sex.
I’ll leave it to you to decide which one of the two you choose to believe!
The tour took us slowly down a designated path deep into the dense palm forest. I stayed at the back of the group keeping my ear on the guide (which was not a problem for she vocally loud and clear) but my eyes were peeled for a sighting of the elusive black parrot.
We did get a few flashes of the bird and often heard its whistling call but no clear sighting. Half an hour later the guide announced that we had reached the end of the tour and that we were free to explore other trails. Since we were rushed for time having to check out of the hotel that morning and we decided to call it quits and walked back with her to the entrance of the park.
On several occasions we had heard the sound of fruit and nuts dropping to the forest floor that, according to the guide, was indicative of a bird, most likely a parrot, feeding in the canopy.
On our way back, our guide stopped again and urged us to stay silent and listen. Right enough, we could hear the sound of fruit crashing through the leaves before thumping on the forest floor. The whistling calls of the black parrot indicated that it was them and not the more commonly seen Seychelles bulbuls that were feeding.
In absolute silence we scanned the canopy. The sound of the fruit falling on the ground continued as did the occasional whistling call. But hard as we tried, we saw nothing.
Then, in the distance about 100 yards away, through a small gap in the canopy I thought I saw movement.
I raised the camera and although I could hear the rest of the group, the guide included, pleading with me to point out the spot, I stuck to the dictum I have learnt the hard way:
‘Shoot first, talk later’!
Which was a good thing. Moments later the bird flew away but by then I had got my shot of the famed Seychelles black parrot!
Looking back it was a super trip!
5 wonderful days that had plenty of everything… fun, food, camaraderie, wonderful sights and sightings of landscapes, birds and other endemic creatures… you name it…!
At the Praslin jetty while waiting for the ferry to take us to Mahe this gorgeous rainbow (above) forced me to unpack my camera bag and reassemble my camera for one last time.
I posted the image above on social media and got a number of tongue-in-cheek queries as to whether I looked for the proverbial pot of gold at the rainbow’s end…
…and you know what…
…I really think I hit the jackpot this time…
….with not one but nine of them…!
Russell Pinto says
Relived the fantastic trip with your blog Ian! Takamaka Cheers!!
Ha ha! Takamaka cheers to you too! (Or now that we are back home Old Monk Cheers may be more appropriate)! It was truly a super trip! Thanks!
Rachael D'Silva says
Lovely! Added to my bucket list.
Thanks Rachael! Well worth it IMO! 🙂
Dr Sanjay phadke says
Wonderful narration as always
Anil Gadre says
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Remember a joke in the Reader’s Digest from many years ago. When a politician in the Seychelles signed a deal with some nation (USSR?)….there was a headline “He sells Seychelles on the sea shore.
Ha ha! Good one!
Anjali Kelling says
You have nailed it again. Lovely photography and personal narrative. Going to share it with one of my dear friends from boarding school who lives on the island
Thanks Anjali. 🙂