The end­lessly ex­otic Sey­chelles

Is­lands in the In­dian Ocean home to gi­ant tor­toises

Medicine Hat News - - TRAVEL - STEVE MACNAULL

Tyson stretches his wrinkly, 120-year-old neck as an in­vi­ta­tion to stroke it.

It feels much like it looks: dry and leath­ery, yet ut­terly won­der­ful.

Tyson is a rare Aldabra gi­ant land tor­toise and my wife, Kerry, and I are meet­ing this gen­tle gi­ant in his nat­u­ral habi­tat, the end­lessly ex­otic Sey­chelles, the string of 115 is­lands in the In­dian Ocean off the north­ern tip of Mada­gas­car.

We’re on tiny Curieuse, in the Sey­chelles’ In­ner Is­lands, where th­ese tor­toises roam, al­beit slowly, in a na­tional park.

It’s the largest con­cen­tra­tion of such rep­tiles in the world.

There are 300 in all, from the tiny hatch­lings in the nurs­ery to the half-ton, 150-year-old rough-shelled male, the old­est be­ing on earth.

Tyson can eat the grass and low­ly­ing veg­e­ta­tion he can reach any­time.

That’s why, when tourists ar­rive with sea hibis­cus leaves, plucked from high branches, he gets as ex­cited as a cen­tury-old, lum­ber­ing se­nior can get.

He ac­cepts the of­fered leaves, one by one, grate­fully, chews me­thod­i­cally and ex­tends his neck for a pat and an­other mouth­ful of sea hibis­cus.

We’re awed to be hang­ing out with such a cool, old dude in such an in­sanely beau­ti­ful set­ting.

The ar­rival at Curieuse was also ex­tra­or­di­nary .

My wife and I have hired a 40-foot cata­ma­ran called Kosi­nathi, which trans­lated from South African is king.

It’s from Moor­ings, the com­pany with boat rentals in all the world’s sail­ing hotspots from the Caribbean and the Mediter­ranean to Thai­land and th­ese spec­tac­u­lar Sey­chelles.

We’ve also hired Hy­bert Hor­tence, a chill, dread­locked Sey­chel­lois to be our cap­tain for the week.

That way, we can have all the fun and he can do all the sail­ing.

He’ll also ferry us to and from shore in the dingy for ex­pe­ri­ences like feed­ing Tyson, loung­ing on de­serted beaches and seek­ing out restau­rants that serve the na­tion dish of oc­to­pus curry.

Af­ter all, the Sey­chelles are the for­mer English and French is­lands with African prox­im­ity and In­dian in­flu­ences, all pack­aged into a re­mote and unique Cre­ole melt­ing pot.

The cata­ma­ran has four cab­ins, so we could eas­ily have in­vited two other cou­ples to join us. But we’re selfish. We want the boat to our­selves so we can de­sign day-to­day itin­er­ar­ies with Hy­bert that in­volved lit­tle else be­sides plea­sure seek­ing.

Hy­bert stops when­ever we want, an­chors and takes us by dinghy, or lets us swim, snorkel or kayak, to the most in­cred­i­ble de­serted stretches of sand with French names like Anse Lazio and Anse Jas­min.

On La Digue is­land, we’ll have to rent bikes and pedal to Anse Source D’Ar­gent, the reef-pro­tected beach ac­ces­si­ble only by cy­cle and foot.

It also hap­pens to be ranked by Na­tional Geo­graphic as the best beach in the world.

It’s not just white-sand eye candy fronted by emer­ald wa­ters, but it has the geo­graphic in­ter­est of mas­sive, gran­ite boul­ders, cre­at­ing drama and invit­ing coves. We’ll ven­ture in­land twice. Once, on La Digue, to cy­cle as far as we can up­hill to­ward Belle Vue, be­fore we have to aban­don the bikes and con­tinue on foot for the panoramic view of the en­tire west coast of the is­land.

The other time, on Praslin is­land, we catch the bus in Baie Sainte Anne to the Vallee de Mai, the so-called Gar­den of Eden, where the palm for­est is primeval and su­per­sized.

It’s also home to the Coco de Mer, the palm that pro­duces a dou­ble­co­conut re­sem­bling a life-size fe­male pelvis.

There are lots of ex­am­ples of the unique co­conut that elicit gig­gling, point­ing and whis­per­ing, es­pe­cially when dis­played along­side the gi­ant phal­lic ap­pendage that grows on the male palm.

While we rev­elled in all the ac­tiv­ity, we were also en­thralled to sim­ply zone out on the front net of the cata­ma­ran.

With the sails flap­ping, the turquoise ocean be­low and the cloud-smat­tered azure sky above, it’s the per­fect way to view the world at seven knots.

Ethiopian Air­lines is ac­tu­ally the quick­est and eas­i­est way for Cana­di­ans to get to the Sey­chelles.

It flies non-stop Toronto to Ad­dis Ababa in 13 hours on a new Dream­liner jet with an aptly-named Cloud Nine busi­ness class with lie-flat seats.

Af­ter a two-hour con­nec­tion in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopian flies onto Sey­chelles’ main is­land of Mahe, where Moor­ings’ ma­rina is, in three-and-a-half hours.


Left: Tyson the 120-year-old tor­toise hangs out with Kerry MacNaull on Curieuse Is­land in the Sey­chelles. Be­low: Hy­bert Hor­tence cap­tained the Moor­ings cata­ma­ran hired by travel writer Steve MacNaull and his wife, Kerry.


Anse Jas­min is one of hun­dreds of the beaches in the Sey­chelles ac­ces­si­ble only by boat.

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