[This is the third post of a three-part trip recap. Previous post: The Food Chain In Action, from a Spectator’s View [Tanzania]]
October 12, 2017 – Trading for Tropics
The safari portion of our trip had come to a sunset, and it was time to trade in the khaki shorts and brimmed hats for tank tops and swimsuits. Early in the morning, we headed to Nairobi’s dated airport for a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Nairobi airport had several layers of security beyond what we typically see in the West. Before you enter the building, you have to scan your suitcase and belongings. Then, you have the standard layer of security lines and scanners. Finally, before you enter the seating area at the gate, you go through another screen. Check-check-check and we were on our way to Ethiopia to catch a connection to Mahé, the largest island of Seychelles [pronounced SAY-SHELLS].
If you’re wondering where Seychelles is, the 115-island archipelago nation is in the Indian Ocean more than 900 miles east of mainland Africa. It is the smallest country in terms of both size and population on the continent of Africa and ranks 182 out of 196 countries in the world in terms of size.
The flight to Mahé was four hours from Addis Ababa, and the landing on the islands was beautiful. Mahé has a mountainous terrain with pristine beaches that line its perimeter. After landing on the narrow runway, we walked off the plane to the small terminal. We hailed a cab to our lodge, which was on the other end of the island. In Seychelles, drivers drive on the left side of the road, and the main road goes around the perimeter of the island due to its mountainous interior. We found our lodge on the southwest side of the island, surrounded by palm trees, tropical flowers and the hot sun. An Italian couple owned the lodge and showed us our room, which was only a three minute walk from the beach. The beach, known as Anse Takamaka, was quite private with large granite boulders at each end. After settling our things in our room, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach, finding a bunch of beach glass pieces and witnessing the sunset. We returned to the lodge and had a fresh veggie dinner before heading to bed on the islands in paradise.
October 13, 2017 – Day at the Beach
Before we left to explore the island, we had a great breakfast of coconut water, cereal, coffee and slices of coconut. We then took the bus, only 10 Seychellois rupees, to the nearest grocery store. Most of the island speaks Seychellois Creole and French with only a portion of the island knowing English. The language barrier wasn’t too much of an issue, as we shopped for some drinks and snacks for our day at the beach with no problem. One of our most interesting purchases was Takamaka rum, a locally distilled brand made from local sugarcane. It was really delicious when mixed with Coke!
After the supermarket, we headed back to our semi-private beach. It was incredibly hot – the islands are only a few degrees south of the equator. Robyn spent most of the afternoon looking around the beach to add to her collection of beach glass. She ended up with more than a bottle-full of the polished pieces to bring back to the States. I spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and reading a book.
At the shore, you could see whitetip reef sharks roaming around the clouded water. They apparently are typically harmless unless provoked, but seeing and feeling any kind of shark near your legs was a bit unnerving. After reading a bit, I walked the length of the beach in the soft sand and saw a few reef sharks within a few feet of me from time to time. At the entrance of the beach was a gated area of giant tortoises eating fresh fruit from the island. We spent the rest of the day at the beach until sunset before returning to the lodge. A shower was needed to get all of the sand out of every crevice. There was limited Wi-fi available on the island, only accessible through pre-paid minutes on iSurf, similar to pre-paid phone call minutes.
October 14, 2017 – Visiting the Market in Victoria
It was time to get a little more active, so we took the bus around the island to the capital city of Seychelles, Victoria. The 5-rupee per trip fare delivered us to the main bus terminal in Victoria. Our main point of interest was the Sir Selwyn-Clarke Market, a popular island destination to buy fresh fish, spices, vegetables, prepared food and clothing. It was Saturday, so it was a busy place to be.
Seychelles is known for vanilla, coconut, coconut oil, cinnamon, lemongrass, creole spices and fish, and there was plenty of that to go around at the market. I purchased some vanilla tea and essence from the market for about $5. We continued walking around the market and saw a band playing local music and a few token drunks dancing for the crowd’s enjoyment. The architecture and music of the area reminded me of New Orleans.
We took the bus back to the lodge and snacked on some Ohmypop honey butter popcorn. The bus drivers were confident and precise in Seychelles. The two-way roads are narrow enough for standard cars. One side of the coastal road is often a cliff and the other is a growing tree line. On top of that, many of the roads weave up and down the mountainside.
The rest of the afternoon we spent at the beach and watched the sunset again with a Savanna cider and Seybrew beer in hand. Back at the lodge, we had our laundry done for 20 Euros because we were getting short on clean clothes. Shoutout to the poor staff that had to deal with the dirty and soiled safari clothes!
October 15, 2017 – An Island and a Plane Smaller
As part of our time in Seychelles, we decided to island hop a little bit. We headed back to the airport in Victoria via bus. It was Sunday, so a lot of people were dressed up in bright colors on their way to church. The security checkpoint at the airport was probably the smallest I had ever seen. We were unsure what kind of plane we would be on for a short trip to another island. Pretty soon we were on our way to Praslin [pronounced PRA-LAY] island in a small propeller plane that sat a total of 14 people. The two pilots were within arm’s reach, and we watched them press the handles forward as we lifted off the ground toward Praslin, which was about 20 minutes away.
Praslin is northeast of Mahé and is the second-most populated island with about 8,000 people. We landed and walked about half a mile with our suitcases to Seashell Beach Villa. The villa was owned by a local family and hosted a few guests. It was also right next to the beach, with the front “yard” being essentially the ocean. We needed to grab some food, so we went to the local store, however, it was closed on Sundays. We found a villa with a restaurant and then went back to our villa to spend the rest of the day oceanside at Grand Anse. It again was so incredibly hot, and my skin tone surpassed the darkest tone it had ever been. Another chapter passed in my book and sunset came. Back in our room, we caught up on texts and news with the Wi-fi provided.
October 16, 2017 – Spending Monday Lazy
Not far from our place was a pseudo-Whole Foods. It had a the same logo, but the ‘o’ in ‘Whole’ was replaced with a coco-de-mer, the official symbol of the island. (The nut has quite the suggestive shape – Google it!). We grabbed some food and drinks at the market, enough to get us through our time on the island. On the way back to our place, we saw a great deal on Takamaka dark rum and snagged a bottle.
You guessed it, we spent the rest of the day at Grand Anse beach drinking rum and Cokes. The beach had a lot of seaweed that washed ashore. There was little-to-no foot traffic on the beach other than some couples walking holding hands at sunset. For dinner, Robyn and I made spaghetti with a side of fresh fruit. At the villa, we also became big fans of Nespresso instant coffee.
October 17, 2017 – Anse Lazio Dazzles
Okay, it was time to get a little more active. We had breakfast and planned a trip to Anse Lazio, one of the best beaches in Seychelles and in the world. We planned to take the bus, however, our villa host Cindy was super kind and had her brother pick us up and take us to Mont Plaisir, an overlook on the north part of the island. We walked up through a forested mountain and then down a dirt hill until reaching the beach. The beach is known for its massive granite boulders and pristine clear waters. The granite boulders were so unique from its formation as an island thousands of years ago.
Anse Lazio was much more touristy and had lots of foot traffic. We found a spot to post up and lay out. Here, the sun was the hottest I had ever felt. Luckily there were clouds here and there to break up the intense heat. We’d go about 30 seconds with unfiltered sun before it got unbearable and then root for a cloud to filter the heat. I certainly added to my darker-than-usual skin tone this day!
As a refreshment, we grabbed a Coke before leaving and then walked up and down steep hills to Anse Boudin to catch the bus. A bus ride cost the equivalent of $0.75. Anse Boudin was quite small, but it had incredible views of other islands in the archipelago, most of which were uninhabited. We jumped on the bus and went clockwise around Praslin, so we did get to see the majority of the island, including the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a well-preserved palm forest that included the iconic coco-de-mer. Much like Mahé island, the buses on Praslin hauled a** around the island’s narrow winding roads.
October 18, 2017 – Island Number Three
Why not island hop one more time?! We did some research the night before and planned a day trip to La Digue [pronounced LA-DEEG]. We took the bus to the jetty in Baie St. Anne and got tickets at the pier for $34 for a roundtrip excursion to La Digue island. The ferry ride was 20 minutes to the island. La Digue is the fourth-largest island in Seychelles, home to about 3,000 people.
La Digue only allowed vehicles for commercial purposes, so navigation around the island was either by bike or by foot. We decided to walk the island, with our main sights set on Anse Source d’Argent. The walk to the popular beach included shops, palm trees, schools and churches. To enter the area of the beach, you pay an entrance fee to the L’Union Estate Farm, home to giant tortoises, coconuts, vanilla orchid plants and other agriculture. The path led to Anse Source d’Argent, another beach with gigantic granite boulders that formed with time.
A coral reef protected the beach from waves, so we were able to swim out pretty far in shallow water. The water here was so incredibly clear, and we could see fish swimming in the clear ocean. After walking through a path of granite boulders, we found a shady spot and spent a few hours in this paradise. Eventually, we headed back toward the pier to catch our return ferry to Praslin. That evening, we finished off our dark Takamaka run and other foods, as our time on the elusive Seychelles islands was coming to a close.
October 19, 2017 – Back to Mainland
In order to get back to mainland Africa, we took a small propeller plane from Praslin to Mahé, and then caught a flight from there to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Before leaving the islands, I opened Google Maps on my phone just to relive how incredible it was to be exploring a place in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
After several hours on the plane to Ethiopia, we arrived safely and waited around for a connecting flight back to Nairobi. One memory I have from the airport there was the Nepalese army crowding an area near the bathrooms. I had to use the restroom, so I stood next to the soldiers when doing my business. As you might assume, the Nepalese are quite short, and several of the guys looked at me and my height with awe, some even sneaking photos. Why the Nepalese army was in Ethiopia? No clue.
We boarded a late night flight to Kenya, and once arriving, took a cab to our hotel in the Westlands neighborhood of the city, a commercial area of the capital. Across the street from our hotel was Havana, a restaurant night club. We did arrive at our hotel quite late, and this place was still lively and loud. We tried to force ourselves to sleep with the subs shaking the hotel walls.
October 20-21, 2017 – Baadaye, Africa!
The next day we relaxed a bit in the capital city, grabbing coffee nearby and checking out some of the discounted, knock-off brand clothing on the commercial streets. Being back in third-world Kenya was a bit of a change after being in Seychelles. The Kenyan presidential election was still being contested at the time, and the Elections Commission was under fire for corruption. Kenya eventually scheduled another election date, which would be held after our trip.
We flew back to Europe and then to Chicago to end our three-week journey in Africa. My first time in Africa was in the books, and I will never forget the wonderful memories we made on the safari and on the islands. It was a perfect mix of activities (safari to city to beach), cultures and experiences. Witnessing wildlife in its natural habitat was really rewarding, and this made my “Lion King” dreams as a kid come true. The people of these countries were incredibly welcoming to tourists and wanted to be known for their hospitality rather than for the typical news that reports them as a “troubled” part of the world. If anything, give it a chance and you will be rewarded.