SHE SELLS THE SEYCHELLES

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY HE­LEN HAYES

One of the best ways to dis­cover the is­lands of the Seychelles is on a yacht.

One of the best ways to dis­cover the is­lands of the Seychelles is on a yacht.

Iam look­ing into ET’s eyes and tick­ling him un­der his long, wrinkly, ele­phant skin neck. He makes a throaty, purring sound and moves a lit­tle closer, his eyes deep pools of wis­dom that I lose my­self in. And wise he is, be­cause this Aldabra gi­ant tor­toise on Curieuse Is­land could live for

200 years.

Even af­ter our first day, spent ex­plor­ing some of the tourist hotspots on the is­land of Mahé and the day beds by the pool at the ho­tel at Eden Ma­rina, the prospect of liv­ing 200 years in this Juras­sic-like play­ground was tempt­ing. With 115 is­lands cre­ated out of gran­ite, artis­tic boul­ders dropped on white­sand beaches as if placed by a Dis­ney imag­i­neer, wa­ter the colour that you see on post­cards – that al­lur­ing turquoise blue – and lo­cals that are so laid back they make Aus­tralians look stressed, there is a hell of a lot to love.

With is­land hop­ping on our agenda, we or­gan­ise a yacht char­ter through Sun­sail and my yachtie hus­band plays with his nav­i­ga­tion charts for weeks in ad­vance and plans a rough itin­er­ary con­cen­trat­ing on the In­ner Is­lands group. We gather a crew of boaty friends who are as in­trigued about the Seychelles as we are, and be­fore we know it, we are board­ing a beau­ti­ful Sun­sail 444 Robin­son and Caine cata­ma­ran, pack­ing away pro­vi­sions, put­ting co­pi­ous quan­ti­ties of wine and beer in the fridges, and sail­ing out of Eden Ma­rina, look­ing up at the thick jun­gle-cov­ered spine of Mahé with its loaded mango trees, palms, cin­na­mon and a ver­i­ta­ble riot of green.

We an­chor off Beau Val­lon, the long­est and most pop­u­lar beach in Mahé and the first of the conga line of gob­s­mack­ingly beau­ti­ful beaches we stop at, swim in and ogle. We be­friend our first bat fish, who be­come reg­u­lars around the yacht over the week, swim joy­fully in the warm wa­ter and ba­si­cally smile our­selves silly. Later, we head to Baie Ter­nay, a de­serted bay where we watch the sun­set with a lo­cal Sey­brew or Eku beer on the back deck, pinch­ing our­selves that we are ac­tu­ally here, in this place, on this yacht, on this day. And it wasn’t the beer talk­ing.

Af­ter our first and long­est is­land hop, we find our­selves an­chored off what surely is Nir­vana – Anse Lazio, in Baie Che­va­lier on the is­land of Praslin. This beach is a reg­u­lar in

‘best beaches of the world’ lists, and de­servedly so. The canopy of trees over­hangs the squeaky white sand, boul­ders at each end, and that aqua­ma­rine wa­ter is too good to be true. We swim and snorkel with the en­ergy of 12-year-olds, fin­gers turn­ing into prunes.

We screech with de­light when we see tur­tles com­ing to check us out, and put-put into the beach in the trusty in­flat­able dinghy or on the dou­ble kayak. We find a res­tau­rant hid­den be­hind the trees, owned by an Aus­tralian woman who serves up de­li­cious cre­ole fish and other seafood. She dou­bles as a bank, let­ting us change some Aussie dol­lars into Sey­chel­lois ru­pees at a rate of 10 to 1 – bet­ter than the banks. We spent some of that money at the Hon­esty Bar, only dis­cov­ered when we spot­ted other peo­ple dis­ap­pear­ing down an over­grown

track off the beach. The bar is like some­thing out of Robin­son Cru­soe, and we pry some beers from the fridge and leave the money as per the price list on the hand carved wooden bar. The views out through the trees and over the post­card-pretty beach are price­less.

Praslin’s de­lights don’t end there, and we find our­selves off Anse Gou­verne­ment, with our ded­i­cated bat fish fans wel­com­ing us into the wa­ter as we frol­icked and splashed and gen­er­ally en­joyed our­selves. The ho­tel on the beach, the L’Archipel, has a bar that looks quite tempt­ing, and in­deed it was as we toasted our good for­tune with a Pina Co­lada or two be­fore tucking into a de­li­cious bar­be­cue lunch served by the lovely, friendly staff. The concierge even books us a cab to the UNESCO World Her­itage Val­lée de Mai, which we visit the next morn­ing af­ter an­other star-span­gled night on the yacht.

This pocket of green is like some­thing time for­got, and it is where you will find one of only two places in the world where Coco de Mer grow – the other be­ing Curieuse Is­land. These tall skinny palms grow the big­gest nuts in the world – they can weigh up to 30 kilo­grams – and their un­usual shape can be seen depicted in just about ev­ery­thing – even the pass­port stamp when you en­ter the coun­try. The Coco de Mer are just one of six palms that you will not find any­where else in the world. We take the long­est of the three sign­posted walks around the re­serve and can­not be­lieve the size of the palm fronds – they are ab­so­lutely mas­sive.

From Praslin it is a short hop to our first stop, Curieuse, where we splash ashore and I fall in love with ET and his

159 tor­toise friends that are mon­i­tored and looked af­ter by rangers on this un­in­hab­ited for­mer leper colony. The con­ser­va­tion pro­gram is vi­tal, es­pe­cially as 25 of 28 ba­bies were stolen from the is­land in July 2016. More have been born since, and hope­fully the species will be nursed back to a safe num­ber.

An idyl­lic af­ter­noon an­chored off Félic­ité Is­land fol­lows, the pri­vate do­main of the brand new Six Senses Zil Pasyon. We de­vour a won­der­ful lunch at the Ocean Kitchen – a no meat res­tau­rant, swim in the pool, laze by the pool, hang in the ham­mocks at the bar and sit on the tram­po­line seats over­look­ing the beach. We ab­so­lutely love the am­bi­ence of this five-star re­sort that will un­doubt­edly clean up in the var­i­ous ho­tel awards this year. The staff are so wel­com­ing to yachts – not all the ho­tels are, and with its fan­tas­tic snorkelling and in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion, it should be put on any yacht char­ter itin­er­ary in per­ma­nent marker.

A ris­ing swell cuts short our dream af­ter­noon and we mo­tor across to La Digue, yet an­other spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful is­land. We spend two nights here – one in the small har­bour and an­other out­side it, hir­ing bikes for the easy ride down the palm shaded roads to an­other poster-child beach. Source D’Ar­gent is ac­cessed through L’Union Es­tate – an old co­pra plan­ta­tion which is now a cul­tural cen­tre – and we ride un­til the road turns into a track and then to sand. It feels like we are on an ad­ven­ture, walk­ing down a se­cret path past tiny lit­tle beaches, un­der an­cient canopies and past boul­ders that look like sculp­tures. We keep walk­ing, silent in our reverie, un­til we find a per­fect spot un­der shady branches and with a rus­tic fruit bar not far away.

The wa­ter. Oh the wa­ter. So azure. So clear. So warm. I float end­lessly, eyes tak­ing in the breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful scenery but not re­ally be­liev­ing it. Back on shore, the hap­pi­est guy in the world, wear­ing Rasta clothes and a smile as big as it is bright, in­sists on giv­ing me fresh lo­cal fruit to try. Paw paw, mango, ba­nanas – one of 11 types that grow here ap­par­ently – and other di­vine fruits I haven’t heard of come my way. I or­der one of his ‘spe­cial’ fruit juices, and sit on a rick­ety wooden bench un­der an even more rick­ety thatched lean-to and sip my drink rev­er­ently, peer­ing out through the nat­u­ral win­dow of green to the white of the sand and the blue of the wa­ter. It is ridicu­lous how pretty it is.

“Back on shore, the hap­pi­est guy in the world, wear­ing Rasta clothes and a smile

as big as it is bright, in­sists on giv­ing me fresh lo­cal fruit to try”

Tak­ing our float­ing home, the good ship Seaing Dou­ble, back to the Sun­sail base, we are melan­choly. We have jumped off it, swum around it, snorkelled near it and watched the stars through the hatches in bed at night. We en­joyed lo­cal beer and South African wines on the back deck, in the salon and on the front deck, eaten like kings and just sat in our var­i­ous happy places on board, tak­ing in the views as we sailed be­tween and along the In­ner Is­lands with our heads snap­ping to at­ten­tion like meerkats.

And we think to our­selves that we have only vis­ited six is­lands – there are 109 to go. We will def­i­nitely need those

200 tur­tle years.

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