I can’t believe that we have already been in the Seychelles for 6 weeks and am so sorry about the big gap in blogs - I don’t even have the excuse of poor internet connections, but, having had visitors, I do now at least have photos of myself up on the blogsite! The weather has continued to play with us and now we really understand why the pirates have run away from these waters.....the south east monsoon is a time of much wind, rain and big seas....a little different we must admit to what we had been expecting of the Seychelles. But, had it not been the windy season here, then we would have been instead battling the seas down south around Mauritius/Reunion, likely to have been cold and miserable and would have missed this beautiful group of tropical islands.....our timing was indeed perfect and if the local press is to be believed, the pirates will be back in a couple of months with the change of monsoons trawling these oceans once again.
Right now though, after a couple of great weeks out sailing with my parents, we are once again ensconced at Eden Island (more exciting loads of washing in the machine....how sad am I!!) – my parents have headed back to Perth, Rob has gone to Dubai for 10 days of work and the boys and I are having a much needed catch up on schoolwork!
We have really enjoyed getting to know the beautiful main island of Mahe with its lush mountains and its very tiny capital city of Victoria. Victoria is a great and colourful town nestled below towering mountains with only a couple of main streets lined with old, colonial plantation style houses of wood with pitched tin rooves. Sadly a lot of these buildings are in various states of disrepair and are now filled with the usual Indian and Chinese shops that sell ‘everything’. Alongside these are numerous small shops selling brightly coloured textiles, shirts and various shell and coconut husk curios. Reprovisioning for food requires frequenting at least 6 different local supermarkets scattered across town on a regular basis as things come and then quickly disappear from the shelves never to be seen again. We had been warned of this phenomena by other yachts and so when the cheddar cheese and butter appeared one day we bought kilos! The great, vibrant Victoria Markets which are open daily, have an incredible array of fresh fish for sale plus whatever fruit and vege is in season. Unfortunately this is not the season for most tropical fruits so have had to stick to imported apples and oranges, the odd papaya and even the usually abundant bananas have been scarce. The locals however use most of the fruits through their green period in curries and unripe bread fruit and bananas make great chips as does the green mangoes sliced thinly into salads. Unlike in the Maldives where there was a decided lack of any agriculture, there is a lot being produced on the islands here for local consumption which is great to see.
Beyond Victoria are many villages mostly scattered along the coast with a definite wealthier end to the north around the spectacular Beau Vallon beach. Impressively the Seychelles have kept a tight control on the establishing of resorts and hotels so, unlike Mauritius, there are no multistorey hotels lining the beaches and you never get the feeling that the place is overrun with tourists. There are however, many incredibly expensive resorts on Mahe and the outer islands which are generally well hidden from view blending into the vegetation typically using lots of natural timbers with thatch rooves - the Seychelles is no cheap travel destination and like the Maldives does not cater for, or encourage, the budget traveller. To the south is the ‘poorer’ end (apparently) and was great to drive down around that part of Mahe to really get a feel for life on the island. The majority of people do not have a lot and struggle with the rising cost of life here but, they take great pride in their homes, have beautiful gardens and seem to just get on with life.
The Seychellois are a mix of Creole (African/European mix originating from the slave trade), French and English and the country reminds me very much of the Caribbean with lots of Rasta hair and Bob Marley emanating from everywhere. The Church plays a very significant role in people’s lives with the majority being Roman Catholic and every small village has a very impressive and large church which is always well open with beautiful wooden shuttered walls for cooling. The cemeteries are kept in incredible order and all graves always have fresh flowers on them so that the whole cemetery looks like a florist shop. Driving around the islands there are shrines to the virgin Mary in a few different locations and the Bishops house in town looms like a huge Monastery, very austere and looking down the main street of Victoria. To counter this is a magical and brightly coloured Hindu Temple in the middle of town. We were lucky to visit on a day of some religious importance (we never did find out quite what) with much fanfare, ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and burning of incense and offerings to the Gods. Unfortunately we have not really had the opportunity to meet and discuss with many locals about life, government and the very obvious corruption that keeps the big wheels turning here but, there is definitely no restriction of freedom in the press with the some of the funniest and most bizarre articles we have seen in a long time. There is much open slandering of the prime minister and his government (a popular pastime here it seems) and last week’s front page news was about a Belgium man of African descent (which seemed to be important.....his ethnic origin that is), with his full name provided, who had been charged with drug trafficking offenses and had now been let out on parole. He happens to be HIV positive and so the article proclaimed that he was a great public liability and that he would be roaming the streets of Victoria willingly infecting the local population with AIDS!
One thing you learn early on is, that everything works on ‘Seychelles Time’ and that nothing is too organised and you are paying, often, a huge amount of money, for the pleasure of just being here! Most shops shut at lunchtime and all are packing up by at least 4.30pm, definitely not open after 5pm and there is none of this working on the weekend caper......this pace of life is wonderful and should be used as an example to the rest of the work crazed world......how long have we been on holiday for....?!! The service in restaurants or shops is fairly shocking to the point of being amusing – the people really don’t give a damn and if you do, well that is just too bad! Food takes forever to be served and mostly, only half of any given menu will actually be available. Eating out can be hugely expensive so finding the local eateries is the only way to go. Soon after arriving we met some fellow cruisers on ‘Obsession’ with 2 boys Matthew and Joshua who the boys became great mates with (before they headed east for the Chagos) – they were in an anchorage opposite Eden Island so the boys would use the dinghy to ferry themselves to and fro for play dates. They also introduced us to the wonderful ‘Fairyland Hotel’ down the coast with its amazingly good value Creole buffet including the local specialty Fruit Bat stew and an amazing array of seafood, salads (heart of palm, mango, papaya), Creole curries and meat – our first meal there was soon after we had arrived and the boys could not get enough fresh food onto their plates! We went back again for Rob’s birthday with my parents and some local expats we had met, drank lots of the delicious local Takamaka Rum and chilled out as the kids swam and played on the beach....this country really has it sorted when it comes to beachside dining - the restaurants have sand floors, are under barasti, right on the beach and have a strict dress code of no bathers and shirts on!
After a couple of weeks of luxuriating at Eden Island and having our fill of endless loads of washing and crisp, white linen covered beds, we were desperate to get going again. My parents flew in from Perth laden with lots of wonderful home products like boxes of ‘premiums’ (good salted, dry biscuits for rough passages), salami, fresh coffee beans, seeds for bread making, yoghurt starter and the most important chocolate! Dad was soon put to work sanding and oiling all the teak (he completed it the day they were leaving ......what a star) and Mum got caught up in the post Chagos passage cleanup that I had been ignoring from the comfort of the apartment! Having grandparents as guests was wonderful especially for the boys and we were so impressed with their ability to mellow into the daily rhythm of life on the boat and how well they coped with the lack of showering.....its fine when you all stink together!!
The whole engine repair process took a lot longer than we thought it would......why were we not surprised!! We once again had to have parts flown in from Dubai, then parts brought in with an Emirates Airlines pilot and then the final part arrived 3 weeks later with our friend Kez just in time for him to sail with us for the weekend to Prasline. The whole engine debacle was very costly and should have never happened but at least it happened as we were heading for a destination that had repair facilities and of course the ease of an ‘along side’ berth.
Finally we managed to set sail with the journey to Praslin very rough, uncomfortable and wet pushing back out into the wind and swell. Probably the most disappointing thing about this monsoon time is the lack of choice of anchorages due to the weather and so we spent the first week in Anse Lazio on the north side of Praslin. This is a most spectacular small bay lined with the usual coconut palms and takamaka trees and the hills above fantastic for trekking around. On our first weekend there with Kez, we went looking for the hiking trail to Anse Georgette (the next bay around) but ended up following the wrong track (yes yes assured the smiling local as he sent us completely the wrong way.......a very familiar trait that we often came across in our travels through Africa where people were just desperate to please you by smiling and always agreeing with you when they often had no idea what you were talking about!) So after much hectic walking, the bay was eventually reached (via a luxurious golf resort!) and sat on for 10 minutes before turning and heading back the same tortuous route to reach the boat by nightfall. Not to be thwarted in our endeavours to find the correct trail, we headed out once again 2 days later and this time met another local who did know what he was talking about and sent us along the correct path beneath his property. It was a spectacular walk crossing over valleys and walking through magnificent palm tree forests with amazing views across the bays which no matter the weather are always a spectacular blue. The shore break on Anse Georgette was great and the boys caught some wild waves – the boys have loved the rolling shore surf breaks here in the Seychelles and Sam, after one very spectacular dump finally understands the need to dive under waves!. We spent a day visiting the ‘Valley De Mare’ famous for its sexy looking coconuts (coco de Mare) and enjoyed being entertained by the guide, who charged us way too much, but had wonderful stories to tell of this impressive World Heritage Site. It was rather shocking to see the new ‘Raffles’ development going up on the north side of Prasline with an entire hillside totally denuded of all vegetation – as the taxi driver explained to us as we drove past shocked at its ugliness, there are strict conservation rules in place in the Seychelles but none that are ever above the might of the dollar. Island hopping in the Seychelles is expensive- there are only 2 outer islands that are free to visit – one being Prasline and the other La Digue. The rest are either private (mostly foreign ownership), government owned or part of newly established marine reserves all of which generally charge US$25 per person to anchor and then more on a daily rate to visit on the island. We were unimpressed at the amount we would have to fork out and so, enjoyed Prasline and La Digue and just sailed by the rest!
LA DIGUE ISLAND
After saying we were going to head out over 3 consecutive days, we finally managed to drag ourselves out of Anse Lazio and off to La Digue. As is often the way with cruising, there is always a reason not to leave on any given day – maybe the water was just right for snorkelling or maybe morning coffee took longer than expected, or maybe, we were feeling sad at leaving our resident bat fish population who were much bigger and more vociferous than those in the Chagos – obviously used to the flash Charter boat fare that is tossed overboard! We headed over early so that we would have plenty of space to manoeuvre ourselves into the tightly squeezed anchorage of La Plasse Harbour on the west side. This required reversing in, which is never a ‘straight’ job with Muneera, to go stern too in front of the inner harbour wall, anchor down and then ropes tied on shore. Before sunset there were 5 other boats all tightly squeezed around us and this was our first experience of an anchorage with such close neighbours. It has been quite strange coming from the Chagos where all yachts are cruisers and naturally friendly and keen to interact with each other to, the world of charter boats where people resist eye contact and maintain a frosty, haughty air – maybe they don’t appreciate us looking like a Chinese laundry in their midst or watching us do our dishes off the bow....how appalled they would be to know that, unlike them, we have water restrictions and hence do not have the luxury of regular washing let alone showers!
La Digue was as quaint and as lovely as we had been told and we were most excited by the fact that we could go to the ice-cream shop and buy pastries for morning coffee! The island has very few cars and most get around by bike or in oxen drawn carts. We hired bikes one day to cycle all over the island on probably the wettest day we had had. Dad forgot he had a basket on the back and as he tried to disembark in front of the dive shop promptly fell off leaving wounds bleeding as Rob rushed back in a deluge to shut the roof of the boat which had been left open. With all the calamity, we retired to the posh La Digue Resort for coffee to wait for the rain to pass and then were totally appalled at the price of a filter coffee at 4 Euros.....we love our Fremantle coffee on our back deck! After all this excitement we spent the rest of the day riding around the island which was fantastic, stopping for yummy fresh fruit juices road side on the way and getting absolutely soaked. Unlike anywhere else in the world, one needed no bike locks, no bike helmets and the returning of bikes at the end of the day involved leaving them under a palm tree – there is something wonderful about countries with few rules and regulations to dictate ones every move in life.......yes a dig at over governance!! La Digue is a beautiful, lush island with a wonderfully laid back feel to it and gorgeous looking guesthouses nestled amongst the trees. We hiked up to the top of the island one day and were rewarded with a spectacular view and more fruit juices at a local cafe – it was a long steep climb and we were well pleased it was raining to keep us cool.
On leaving La Digue we had wanted to do some snorkelling off the outer Cocos Islands but again as soon as we went out in the swell it was all too rough. So we footed off for Beau Vallon on the northern end of Mahe and had probably the best sail we have ever had with Muneera – perfect wind speed and good swell. We had the engine going as well to run it in after the overhaul and next minute the oil pressure went crazy and there was oil pumping out the top of the engine.....will these engine dramas never stop! When the guys had replaced one of the oil seals here they creased it as it was replaced and it then promptly blew out and we lost almost all the oil. So once again, thankful for good winds, we continued on our way to Beau Vallon and into anchorage next to ‘Mattarea’ who had arrived from the Chagos with the wonderful Sten, engineer extraordinaire on board. As it was late when we arrived and, yet again everyone was starving having eaten nothing all day (or anything they had had gone overboard to the fish!!), we all got in the dinghys and headed for the great Baobab Pizza restaurant on the beach. Visiting this restaurant is a little like visiting ‘Faulty Towers’ - it is always packed and one gets the idea that perhaps they think if they are really rude and take forever to bring out the food then you will just go away and make less work for them. This of course results in everyone being well lubricated before the meal arrives on the carafes of cheap wine and then any pizza tastes good! The next morning Sten and Rob were back in the engine room and pulled out the offending seal to be rebuilt with super glue – what a great invention! The next night was the weekly Beau Vallon night street markets which reminded us a lot of the Mindil Beach Markets in Darwin - lots of great food stalls and curios which the boys loved. The place was humming with a reggae group playing on the strip and plenty of locals and tourist alike enjoying the great local eats which were for once good value for money. Getting back to the boat through a big swell was, as always, an interesting exercise which saw Dad flat on his back in the Dinghy and us all soaked as a wave caught us – Mum was very pleased with her clean getaway on ‘Mattarea’s’ dinghy!!
This bay, just around the corner from Beau Vallon, is the most magnificent, small bay inaccessible by road with spectacular walking in the hills above it and a beautiful beach. The snorkelling was disappointing as it has been for most of the Seychelles – people blame El Nino but there just isn’t the coral around dead, alive or bleached but instead, granitic formations with a fantastic array of tropical fish. We could have sat there looking out to the spectacular Silhouette Island for weeks but unfortunately Rob had to get to Dubai for a weeks work and Mum and Dad had to get a flight home to Australia so after a couple of days we reluctantly pulled up anchor and headed back to Eden Island.
So where to next.........
Well there have been yet more changes of plans for the sailing weights.......how unusual!! We have decided to finish our sailing journey for now and leave ‘Muneera’ in the Seychelles. Yes all a bit sudden, but, have had some interest in her here and have realised that if we do want to sell, then there is probably a better market in the Seychelles rather than in SA in a couple of months time. There are also no importation or tax issues in the Seychelles unlike SA or Australia. We are all a little sad and apprehensive at the thought of leaving her and the boys not particularly happy about leaving their ‘home’ but we always knew that this was a short term adventure for this year and maybe she won’t sell and we will come back and sail her further another day!
So, ‘plan B’ is to don backpacks and head for Africa. We will fly in to Kenya and then overland down through Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and into SA through all the game parks to show the boys ‘Africa’ for the next couple of months............the journey is what is important, not whether it is by land or by sea. We plan to be in Cape Town early November and then spend a blissful couple of months and Christmas with family in the boys’ most favourite place in the world – Grannies house at Simons Town!
This being the case we will keep up the blog site with our continuing land adventures and post again before we leave hopefully by the beginning of next month. Scroll down for more photos below this and blogs from the boys about their travels.