Ah Seychelles, that beach lover’s paradise which is on any traveler’s dream list. I always associated Seychelles with an ultra-premium image, a playground of the uber rich.
Imagine my delight and excitement when I got the opportunity to visit Seychelles. Admittedly it was on the off peak season, but what I have realized by being a “seasoned budget-traveler” (if there is such a thing) is that off seasons are rarely as bad as the term “off-season” makes them sound to be.
For many destinations, off-peak corresponds to a time when the weather is unfavorable. For example, the monsoon season is considered off season in Goa. On the face of it, it makes a lot of sense because the monsoons are quite heavy in Goa. In practice, one still sees good tourist inflow into Goa even during the monsoon season, as tourists do other “touristy” things like visiting the heritage parts of Goa and of course, the liquor flows freely irrespective of the season!
Seychelles, being in the Indian Ocean can get hot and humid and ostensibly that would make some months of the year off-season. In practice, I do not believe there is a bad time to visit Seychelles. A bit of sweat is good to flush the toxins out of the body, they say!
I went about researching on Seychelles on the know-it-all of the Internet, Google. In 2015, the missus and I did a cross continental tour of Europe, and we learnt many tourist hacks in the process. One “hack” to minimize accommodation expenses was to pick a hotel outside of the main city. For example, if we wanted to stay in Lucerne but found the hotels expensive, we would look at villages / cities nearby. In addition to being more affordable, these villages had a rustic charm that was indescribable. Of course, staying in a youth hostel is an option, but I had a few “fun” stories (or horror stories depends on your perspective) from my stays in hostels so I thought of giving them a pass. As Baldrick would say if he heard of my cost cutting plan, “It’s a cunning plan actually”.
Being the bright spark I am, I decided to apply the same hack to Seychelles. After extensive research, I found excellent accommodation at reasonable prices at a place called La Digue. La Digue, sounded mysterious and enchanting. It was a quick boat ride away, so I planned to stay in La Digue and visit Mahe and Praslin for sight seeing. (Regular visitors to Seychelles are probably shaking their heads in surprise now) I got visions of being a modern day buccaneer carelessly crossing the might seas for my tourist-ic conquests.
With much excitement, the missus and I got on the flight to Seychelles. The Emirates flight was full, so much for off-season. As we touched into Seychelles airport, the sight from the airport was truly something to behold and whetted the tourists’ appetite. The airport directly looks onto the sea and we just got out of the aircraft and walked across the tarmac for passport control.
Seychelles airport is truly one of the most photogenic airports I have been to and sets the tone for things to come. From the tarmac, we could see the majestic expanse of the Indian Ocean. One can also catch the sight of uninhabited islets full of lush greenery from the tarmac. The sight of two majestic Emirates Boeing 777-300ER aircrafts enhanced the setting and provided many picture worthy moments.
After taking copious amounts of pictures, we turned to enter the airport. The entrance to the Seychelles airport, painted in light yellow colour, instantly transports the traveler to another era. An era of large villas, relaxed martini filled lunches and relaxing days. Unlike the impersonal glass and chrome of many modern mega airports, the Seychelles airport has a rustic French charm.
Once we got into the line for Passport Control, it can get a tad crowded and one appreciates the reasons for modern mega airports doing what they do!
We picked our luggage and headed to the cruise port to catch the ferry to La Digue island. The drive was beautiful, with lush greenery and Colonial style houses dotting the way. I got into a reverie where I was living in one of these majestic houses, sipping a juice full of tropical fruits, before heading out for a swim in the beach.
My reverie was rudely interrupted when the driver announced that we had arrived. We went to get tickets in the small booth and was taken aback by the prices. The inter island ferry is not cheap and at that moment, I realized whatever benefits I had achieved from my “cunning plan” were more than wiped out by the ferry prices. The buccaneering sea faring rogue of my dreams, was now replaced by a bumbling husband explaining the snafu to the Home Ministry!
Seychelles is a wonderful wonderful country which has many virtues, chief of them being the ability to lessen the traveler’s stress. I do not mean it as a complaint, but purely as an observation. The timings of inter-island ferry are, to put it politely, fluid. The time table is a high level document indicating the number of probable services. After that, the exigencies of the day’s operations probably take over and one must give enough buffer for delays. It is what it is.
Coming back to Seychelles, while waiting for the ferry, we started sweating bullets due to the failure of another “cunning plan”. It was cold when we left for the airport in Dubai, so Lady of the House and I were wearing thick clothes. A seasoned airline flyer once told me if you are well dressed, the chances of getting a business class upgrade improve (it has NEVER happened), but this thought has struck to my head and I usually wear a blazer at least, even when I travel for leisure.
It looked like the rest of the travelers, had spent time in Seychelles and were then proceeding to La Digue. They were dressed in the minimum amount of clothing required, allowing for the sweat to not drench their clothes.
In comparison, we looked like we were headed to the Debutante’s ball and in no time our clothes were drenched with sweat. Point 1 to off-season.
Finally, the ferry boat arrived and a collective gasp of relief could be heard amongst the now fast dehydrating travelers. We boarded the ferry which then dropped us of at the second biggest island of Seychelles called Praslin and then we proceeded to La Digue. The water was choppy and we were happy to get off the boat at La Digue.
The wear and tear of the journey immediately evaporated on setting foot at La Digue Pier. Soothing Turquoise Blue waters surrounded the traveler everywhere. In the distance, lush greenery could be seen dotting the island’s borders. Ah Paradise!
As we walked into La Digue, we realized that everyone cycled here. There were cycle stands to keep the bicycles. The main office at the pier is a charming big shack. “Cut off from the world” and “Island Getaway” were the words that came to one’s mind.
La Digue is unique in that cycle is the primary mode of transportation. There are only a handful of cars, for locals who are involved in transporting travelers from the hotels to the pier. Everyone gets around by bicycles!
A car arranged by our self catering accommodation dropped us off at our lodgings. Mom and pop resorts are the order of the day in La Digue and provide a deep personal touch. We stayed in a cottage set amidst lush tropical gardens. The resort was in between other homes and we could see locals going on about their lives. Talk about an immersive experience, we truly enjoyed this journey to another time, where life was simpler.
There is one major “road” or street which snakes it’s way through the island. If one needs to go to the La Digue pier, this is the only road to go reach.
We got our cycles and it took both of us sometime to balance, after all it has been many years since we cycles. But give it to the motor memory of the humand body, we hit our stride in few minutes and started to explore the land and more importantly look for a place to nourish the tired body.
Here’s the interesting thing. Though we were tired, just seeing the greenery, the tranquil environment of the place, the people quietly going about their lives, with smiling faces immediately rejuvenated us.
I have always believed there are two types of tiredness – one is a physical tiredness that comes after hours of physical toil and the other is a mental tiredness due to stress or feeling jaded. Physical tiredness can be cured with a quick nap, but mental tiredness can truly sap a human being and is not easy to cure.
The best cure for mental tiredness is to go back to nature. Frolic in the ocean, get drenched in rains, switch off that wifi and smell the flowers. That’s exactly what La Digue is… an antidote to the jadedness of urban life. Urban life is of course inevitable and it has many virtues, convenience being the chief of them.
But the human is an animal of nature. The elements that exist outside the human, like air, water, earth, fire exist within the human as well. Our bodies are predominantly made up of water, dehydration can kill us. Fire element exists in the form of the digestive fires. We have the term “fire in the belly” which denotes an ambitious person. Our skin, bones, tissues which are made up of carbon, constitute the earth element in the body.
We went to the Fish Trap restaurant, right on the main road. Being vegetarians, we were apprehensive, but the local creole curry with rice is spicy and filling. We had a lot of fun just cycling along the road and wherever we stopped a beach was not far away. I fantasized this was the closest that we were to get to a Robinson Crusoe experience of being in a remote island!
La Digue is great if you want to have long walks and deep conversation. We made plans to head to the legendary Anse Source de L’Argent, rated the best beach in the world.
IN THE LAP OF MOTHER NATURE
After a nice and simple breakfast in the garden, we headed to Anse (Beach) Source De L’Argent with much anticipation. We took the long route that snakes its way, through a hilly path. We could see beachgoers returning from the beach, drenched in sweat, dripping with sea water, covered with white sand but all in a merry mood.
At places, the mountain trail gets too steep to climb and we would have burnt all the calories of the breakfast by the time we reached the legendary beach.
But boy oh boy, was it worth the trip! The beach is every bit as legendary as the internet claims it is. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. As you step into the beach, you see the vast expanse of the ocean and something, something in your core, just connects. A natural sense of awe of Mother Nature arises within oneself. It is you, the infinite horizon and the calm, inviting waters of the Indian Ocean.
We jumped in right away and had a merry time. Grey and charcoal colored rocks seemingly rising from the sea provide photogenic views. But the overall theme is that of the Pure beauty of Mother Nature, majestically laid out, as a perfect picture in front of you. The sand in Seychelles is also different. Granted, beach sand can be annoying, but I have been to many a beach and the fine beach sand of Seychelles is the least annoying. It is exceedingly fine and has a soft texture to it. Even if you roll over the sand, there are no stones and it feels smooth and velvety.
After spending some time on the sand, we headed back. By now, we were ravenously hungry. There is a shack on the beach, but it’s pretty basic. If my memory serves me right, there is a restaurant nearby but was not open that day. I would recommend carrying a small picnic basket and having food near the beach.
WHILING AWAY AND BACK TO CIVILISATION
Sigh, the remaining two days were idyllic. Actually, I had “planned” a four day trip with one day at Mahe and one day at Praslin, but the island life caught on to us. Time was an abstract concept as we luxuriated in the simple, rural pleasures of the island. We would take the bicycle intending to go one way, but see a sign for Anse Something Something and head that way, but see another beach, park the bicycle, and while time away at that beach. We would eat somewhere and then decide to return to the Self Catering! Evening would be rinse and repeat of the same.
In these random wanderings, we came across a real gem, Veuve Natural Reserve. There is an adequate Information Center at the entrance which gave us the background of the Reserve. Set up to protect a rare species of a bird special to Seychelles, (readers will forgive me if I forget the species for I am no ornithologist, but I can assure you it isn’t a dodo), the reserve today is a wooded enclave in the La Digue islands and is one of the National Parks of Seychelles.
For us, it was a veritable treat exploring the Reserve. The Reserve is lush, densely populated with trees, rising to great heights. In the Indian mythologies, one reads of Great Saints who set up their ashrams in the middle of the forest and I could appreciate their motivation.
The air has the fresh smell of trees and if one is into Yoga and Pranayams, literally the lung fills up with some good air. After breathing urban air, with it’s pollutants, it feels like the lungs rejoice to breathe in the forest air. After an hour and half of walking around, doing Yoga, we set back to our accommodation.
The next morning as we left La Digue, it was with a desire to come back. Of course, the inter island ferry acted up, but I was in a happy daze.
To be honest, I have no clue where the time went. In our other trips, we would cover almost all the “attractions” and “highlights” mentioned on the internet. In this trip, we did not even visit Praslin, which arguably is the most interesting of all the three major islands and is literally next door to La Digue. As I write the travelogue, I still struggle to believe what I did for 4 days
But it didn’t matter. Turns out all you need for a great vacation are regular does of vegetable curry and copious love of Mother Nature!