Monday, January 9, 2012

Kerala might be God’s own country, but He lives in Seychelles: Day 7: Glass boat trip to Sainte Anne National Marine Park

It is the last day of the year 2011, and I woke up early and excited about going on a glass boat trip to the National Marine Park near Sainte Anne and Long Island.
As I did yesterday, stepped out of the room, got myself a cuppa, took my laptop and went to the beach to write about my trip. Sitting on the beach with the cool breeze blowing, put all my thoughts in the freezer, I just sat and stared at the mesmerising ocean for about an hour without writing and enjoying the experience. It felt like a guilty pleasure.
We were to leave at 12:45 when Mr. Sonny asked us to meet him at the beach. Mr. Sonny took us to the pier and we started our ride in the small glass bottomed boat.
View from the glass bottomed boatIt was a sunny and a humid day and the ride, once our skipper opened up the throttle, was extremely pleasant. We introduced ourselves to the rest of the passengers: A beautiful young Feeding bread to the fishesItalian couple, a Mauritanian couple and their teenaged daughter who were living in Kenya and the two of us. The teenager looked bored and embarrassed to be seen with her parents. I guess it is the same everywhere: Teenagers hate to be seen with their parents, no matter where they are on the planet. After a 20 minute ride, the skipper stopped the boat suddenly and poured (some petrol, I suspect) on the glass inside so we could see below and suddenly, the world underneath the boat opened up. Sea Urchins, Zebra fish, Parrot Fish and multitude of other fish. The skipper brought some bread along and all of us fed bread to the fish. It was a wonderful new world for me. I had never seen so many fish in the middle of the ocean and it was a wonderful sight. There was also a lot of coral that we could see clearly through the boat.
We then moved ahead close to the Sainte Anne (St. Anne) island where the snorkeling is supposed to be really good. The waters were calm and the skipper anchored the boat. Anyone who wanted to snorkel, could. The young Italian couple and the Mauritanian man decided to get in. The young Italian girl changed into her bikini and the talk veered around top how cold the water could be. She took her dive and uttered just one word: Bellissima! It means beautiful, wonderful to the un-initiated! (Not that I knew Italian, it was just one of the few words I did know!). The other two followed in the water while the rest of us sat in the boat taking in the stunning views that Sainte Anne offered us. It had a small hill and a 5 star resort and is surrounded by lush greenery! One would be disconnected from the rest of the world, if they would stay there.  Sainte Anne island
Eden island with private mooringsAfter about 20 minutes, we left the gorgeous sight and moved on to a private island called Moyenne island. This was purchased by an Englishman for a paltry sum of 10000 GBP in the 1960s. The skipper anchored there and here I was, on one of the most stunning beaches in the world. The sand soft beneath my feet, cool breeze ruffling my hair, bright and sunny, and crystal clear aquamarine waters. If the water wasn’t salty, I wasn’t averse to bottling it and drinking it. The waters are so clear that I could see my feet even after wading in about 4 feet. The waters were so calm that it felt as if I could walk through the waters to Mahe. We spent some of the most glorious time of of our lives. We waded into the waters and walked hand in hand to the National Park (the smallest in the world). There also was a restaurant Jolly Roger, which was unfortunately shut. We left with a heavy heart from Moyenne island with a heavy heart. We passed by Long island which was used a jail a la Alcatraz, which is now shut.
The skipper took us back through another route to Mahe and there is an island, aptly named, Eden island with some magnificent villas which provides private moorings for personal yachts. How the rich enjoy life! I was insanely jealous of the Englishman who owned Moyenne island and owners of the yachts moored at Eden island!
We were back at Berjaya Beau Vallon Hotel & Casino and hit the pool until the prayers start again(refer my earlier blog Smile)!  We went for a quick shower and came back down for the last dinner of the year. It was a long dinner where M and I sat talking sweet-nothings. At 10:30 PM, we decided to call it a night – the first time I did not usher in the New Year since 1984! It was a glorious holiday and we had just one more day in the wonderful country of Seychelles. We planned to take the road trip of Mahe the next day and our flight was late in the night back home.

M in the water at Moyenne island

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kerala might be God's own country, but He lives in Seychelles: Day 6: Car search, Berjaya Beau Vallon Hotel & Casino, Swimming pool and beach

Woke up early to pen some thoughts on Seychelles. Came down to the restaurant, picked up a cuppa and went to sit on the desolate dawn beach with only the soothing sound of the waves to help me with the thinking and writing. The air is very fresh and a bit salty, a gentle but cold breeze blowing. Dawn was just breaking, I decided to, at least, get my feet wet. The water is cooooold. Sent a chill down my spine. Beauty never affected me as much as it had done on this particular trip. I don’t know if it is the effect of Seychelles or of the Neuro Lingustic Programming (NLP) course I had just attended with Sue Knight where I was told to open up my senses. Probably was both. I could hear the birds chirping, the wind blowing softly as it seemed to have caressed my very soul! I spent close to half an hour just staring at the hypnotic and mesmerising ocean in the serenity that surrounded me while the leaves of the trees, under which I was sitting, were being gently ruffled by the wind.

Anyway, as it was the end of year and the tourism traffic, I guess, peaked and so we did not get a car to hire here at Mahe. M was disappointed and I wasn’t! We decided that we will spend time on the beach right outside and chill in the pool and see where tomorrow takes us. We took some towels, went to the beach and there were these 2 touts that we struck a deal with. One of them was to take us on a glass bottomed boat and the other for a tour on the 31st December of the Mahe island on the 1st January 2012. Since we had decided, we thought we would as well enjoy the rest of the day.
We had bought a CD from Sue Knight called :The Discover your Excellence Coach” and Meera asked me to listen to it. We spent the next couple of hours talking about the excellence that we see in all the people that are closest to us. I had said things that I had never even thought of before and it amazed me. M did the same too and, I think, it got us closer. We got to hear each other’s perspectives and made me realize that there are so many things that I don’t know about M and it was a great learning experience.
Had lunch at Le Canton, the Chinese joint at Berjaya Beau Vallon and had fried rice. They gave us a green chilli chutney (maybe a sauce), that M and me ate with gusto as the two of us really wanted to eat something spicy and both of us overate. It was really funny to see M pack food! How the two of us were laughing, we asked for the green chilly thingy at least 4 times and by the the 5th time, the waitress just got the bowl of the substance, that they seemed to have prepared for the whole day, and dump it on the table. We were just laughing at ourselves. It was quite silly.
After the copious amount of food we ate, the only thing that we could do was to get a siesta. We went up to sleep and fell asleep watching the TV (thankfully had more channels on than the one at Praslin: that had 1 channel, for God’s sake!), when I was just about to fall asleep and then someone knocked on the door like the goddamn heaven was falling on us. It was the housekeeping for changing something and that killed my sleep.
Aida, the talkative mermaid, from Northern England,
living in Abu Dabhi
We decided to have coffee and went to the glorious pool. I never knew that a pool could make me feel the way I did. Made me feel liberated, free. M tried to teach me swimming and she got me to hold my breath underwater and to float with my stomach in the water, without holding anything. That felt like being weightless. I was floating! Can you believe that? I mean, with my weight? It felt so good, so relaxing, so powerful, like I could do anything! I am so scared of water, and I don’t know why. I mean, I tried to learn swimming when I was like 10 or so but never did and somehow ended up having a mortal fear of water. So to be able to float in the water was priceless! Thank you M for teaching me to do that.
Aida, remember her, she came over again and made me feel miserable. She is all of 6 years old and can swim like a mermaid in the water. She is the one of the most adorable kids I have ever met, but she made me feel really inadequate. So I made a promise to myself: learn swimming in 2012. I hope that I live up to that promise!
Phew! What a day!!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kerala might be God's own country, but He lives in Seychelles: Day5: Cataraman ride, Mahe island, Berjaya Beau Vallon Hotel & Casino

We said ourgoodbyes to the staff at Chalet Côte Mer and hopped onto the Catamaran at 8:15 AMsharp and started the ride back to the largest island in Seychelles, Mahé.The ride back was far calmer than earlier even as the ocean was just asundulating as earlier. There were fewer people falling prey to sea sickness onthe boat. We were quiet for the duration of the ride and the 45 minutes wasspent in peace. I was contemplating on how small we human beings were in the vastness of things (the ocean, in this case, it scared the bejeezus out ofme!).

Took a taxi fromthe pier to the Berjaya Beau Vallon Hotel & Casino ( is situated on the other side of the island from the pier and we had afabulous taxi ride. The ride took us through the smallest capital in the worldVictoria. It is a quaint little town with small shops and even one temple thatwe saw while driving to the hotel. The island of Mahéis small and to cross over from one side of the coast to another, one has tocross pone of the many hills that are on the island. Once we reach the top ofthe hill, the view of the pier is just fantastic. The view on one side is thatat of the pier and the other side is lush greenery that is on the hillside. Asthe cab driver told us, Seychelles has about 90000 people. He also told us thatSeychelles is an expensive destination and that fuel is very expensive on theisland. They have to import everything from outside. There are a lot ofrestaurants as we pass by and for some reason pizzerias seem to be very popularand not the corporate kinds, small restaurants that offer pizzas. We arrived atthe hotel at 10AM.
My entry for the cover of the Sports Illustrated,
Swimsuit edition
Aida, the talkative kid
The Berjaya,where we were staying at, is a large hotel with over 200 rooms, 3 restaurants(a Chinese, an Indian & Creole and a Pizzeria), a superb pool, and ofcourse, a casino as the name implies and is situated on a beach. The view fromthe room is that of hillocks on one side, while it is that of a beach and theocean from the restaurant. The hotel is surrounded by lush greenery. However,the hotel has the most ridiculous policy of giving out the rooms only at 12PM!So if you arrive before 12 (as I saw the next couple of days, people arrivingat 7AM had to sit in the restaurant), the hotel just refuses to give you aroom. As we had 2 hours to kill, before we could get a room, we had breakfastat the restaurant, a buffet spread consisting of a variety of breads, jams andmarmalades, different fruits and they look so colorful when together (apples,oranges, peaches, plums, kiwis), choice of eggs made for you, bacon, ham,sausages, mixed fried rice, cold cuts, variety of cheeses, coffee, tea and juices.We then proceeded to see the pool. The pool is large and is filled withchildren, with their parents lounging on the comfortable wooden pool chairs. Wewalked over, took a couple of towels and went to see the beach which is rightoutside. We requested for some lounge chairs right under a large tree, which ison the beach, which is wonderful as one can sleep on the lounge chair withoutthe fear of getting sunburnt. There were quite a lot of people loungingcomfortably, either listening to their own music or reading. We also saw a lotof people sun bathing and looking extremely happy, while others were out for aswim in the, once again, lovely colored ocean.
Finally, theroom was ready, we changed and hit the pool. Spent the whole day at the pool aswe decided that today was the day when we do nothing and stay in at the hotel. Oh, and we met the most adorable little 6 year old from Norther England, Aida, who would speak so much that it amazed me! She would ask a question, not wait for a response, move to teh next until she got tired!
Had dinner at the Pizzeria and retired for the night.

M at the Pizzeria at Berjaya Beau Vallon

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kerala might be God's own country, but He lives in Seychelles: Day4: Valee de Mai, Pirogue Restaurant, Anse Volbert

Ealry morning view of the pool
As I had already said in the previous post, we were to to go to the Valee de Mai today. Woke up bright and early so I can enjoy the glorious viewfrom the balcony and to catch the English guide at Valee de Mai. Had breakfast,chilled by the pool took a quick shower and we left for the Valee. We reachedthe place at 945 AM sharp and it was no surprise that we were among the firstto be there. While we waited for the guide, got myself a cuppa to refreshmyself. We then walked out and started to look for English speaking people andthere weren’t any and just for the two of us, the guide was asking 50 Euros so wedecided that we could go on the trail by ourselves.

Thick vegetation in the Valee de Mai

Coco de Mer Female and Male.
Need I say which is which?
Valee de Mai is a UN World Heritage site for the Coco de Mertrees which grow only in the Seychelles – specifically on the Praslin andCurieuse Islands. They are tall trees that look like palm which bear fruit. Infact, they are the only case of gigantism in fauna on the Seychelles islands. Treescould be male or female based on the type of fruit that grows on it. The classificationof male or female can only be made after the tree bears fruit and this typicallyhappens after 8-10 years after the seed is sown. The female fruit resembles thehuman ovaries and the male fruit resembles the human phallus! It is absolutelystunning! We talk of life imitating art, but here was life imitating life.

Sunlight streaming through the palms at
Valee de Mai
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
at Valee de Mai
The valee was very picturesque. Thick vegetation was allaround us. It was so thick that sunlight was barely piercing the palm frondshigh above us. I was looking for a bright yellow gecko that is present only onthis island, and a nail sized frog that is really loud unfortunately I did notspot either one. We could hear the birds chirping, frogs croaking and, Isuspect, various other reptiles making sounds. While the Valee did not looklike the garden of Eden that people claim it to be, it certainly looked likethe forest scene in the movie Jurassic Park. This, in my opinion, is probablyhow Jurassic period forests would have probably looked like all those 65million years ago. We walked a long, winding 2 KM trail in the Valee.

M at Valee de Mai

Anse Volbert
We got back on the road towards Anse Lazio where on Day 2while driving we took a wrong turn and saw a restaurant called Pirogue which iswhere we wanted to head for lunch. This is probably the most professionally runrestaurant (or any other establishment) that was run on Praslin island. We hadlunch and M wanted to go to Zimbabwe, a high point on Praslin island. However,I wanted to see the beach that is right opposite Pirogue called Anse Volbertfirst before we left for Zimbabwe. We walked to the beach and here it wasprobably the most gorgeous beach I had ever seen. It was so beautiful. We thendecided to stay at the beach, despite not having clothes. So we went to a shopthat was selling souvenirs to see if they sell any bikinis and shorts for us toget a dip. We shopped and spent the next couple of hours in the ocean. The mostfun I have had in the cleanest beach I have ever been on. While Anse Lazio isextremely pretty, it probably is rated so high because it is privatelymaintained, but this one, is not and yet is so gorgeous and so inviting. Thesea was calm, the beach very clean and white, the water was a azure, the sky abrilliant lapis lazuli with some white clouds floating through, the steady coolbreeze blowing wonderfully caressing M’s hair. This was a feeling of pure andimmaculate bliss. I promptly proclaimed this to be my best beach in the world.

Another view of Anse Volbert
M at Anse Volbert
Had to go to the pier, as I had to change the timing of ourreturn catamaran ride to Mahe island to the morning run instead of the eveningone and I had to also return the car. When I asked around, I was informed thatI had to leave the car at the pier, with the car keys under the mat! Left the carat the pier with trepidation and started the walk back to Chalet Côte Mer, which isnot very far, but the road to reach the hotel is at a 20% incline, and boy Iwas busted walking back! We were leaving for Mahe the next day at 8:15 AM andgiven that the reception at the hotel does not open until later, I settled thebill and went back for a dip in the pool. It was with a heavy heart that Irealized that I won’t get this view again from a room, at least not for theduration of this trip.

M in the pool

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kerala might be God's own country, but He lives in Seychelles: Day 3: Valee de Mer, Capricorn, Anse Kerlan, Le Monde


View from Chalet Côte Mer
We woke up to a bright and sunny day on Praslin to hear so many different birds tweeting. There’s a bright orange little bird, called the Madasgascar Fody, that is amazingly pretty. It was cloudy the couple of days earlier so it came as a pleasant surprise. Headed down to the restaurant for breakfast and then to a dip in the pool. M tried again to get me to float J! Apparently, I was breathing too heavily and not giving in to the experience.

View of the jetty from Chalet Côte Mer

The Jetty

We left the hotel at around 1015 AM to go to the UN World Heritage site: Valee de Mer. It supposedly feels like Jurassic Park in there. By the time we reached the English guide had already left with a bunch of tourists so we decided to come back the next day. We went to the café and I had a cappuccino (I need my cuppa!) and decided to explore the only other coast left on the island.

View of the Chalet Côte Mer and the Jetty 
The road is among the prettiest road I have ever driven on. Vegetation is so thick on both sides of the road that there is barely little sunlight that reaches the road. The road is winding and with steep inclines that it is wonder to drive on. The moment the road flattened out, we could see the ocean with its awesome azure color. It’s a color so pretty that I begin to wonder why only a few islands have it. A sobering thought then strikes, if it was everywhere, it probably wouldn’t have been such a wonder.
Love this pic of M on the bench

I wanted a pair of shades, so we would stop at every place that was selling souvenirs to check if they sell shades. We drove further until we hit an area which had a bit more people and, a mall! I completely fell in love with the mall. From a person who hates malls because of the sheer number of people who throng it in other cities, it came as a shock, there were maybe 10 people in it apart from the sales persons. Oh and what brilliant work life these Seychellois have! Shops open at 10 Am, lunch is from 12 to 1 (or 2 whatever the owner decides) and they close by 4PM. I loved it! This is a dream destination to retire from the vagaries of work. I digress, so let me get back to the topic. It was 12 so the shops were shut and we drove down further in search of a restaurant called Capricorn which is on Anse Kerlan (Ans Kerlan). We finally found it, shut, for Christmas and New Year. Oh, there was a small little beach and what a beach! Super soft white sand, turquoise waters, marvelous, with nary a soul anywhere close by.. Either nature or the restaurant had made a small cove, where stones have been placed to look like a fashion ramp. At the end of the ramp, a wooden seat had been placed for people to sit and watch the lovely ocean. In my opinion, it is the most ideal place to sit and contemplate Life, Universe and Everything (with apologies to Douglas Adams). I was very glad that I spent some of the best 30 minutes of my life here.
Breathtaking Anse Kerlan
Found a supermarket where we bought some water, some biscuits and cigarettes. Well, we had to eat and there wasn’t a place that was open and we remembered that we passed a French restaurant that seemed open so we drove back and there it was, cute little French restaurant, Le Monde, so we parked our Sirion, went in and ordered food. It was a hot and balmy day. Sitting in the portico of the restaurant, with no fan on, made me a bit uncomfortable, but we had to eat. Waitresses seemed to be all on vacation so there was only the owner, her daughter (?) serving food. Tables got mixed up and meanwhile on a table next to us, there were 6 Italians who all ordered Lobsters, and they were among the largest I had ever seen. We ate to our hearts content and drove back to the mall. M and I bought a pair of shades and some other knick-knacks and drove back to the hotel. We hit the fantastic pool there and spent the rest of the evening at the hotel.