The Seychelles islands, that lie 5 degrees south of the equator in the Indian Ocean, were discovered by the Portuguese. They were occupied by pirates until the French took over in the 18th century and then by the British in the 19th until 1976, when they became independent.
The hundred or so Seychelles islands occupy a total area of only 410 square kilometers. The three largest, Mahé, Praslin and Digne host eight tour operators, two dozen major resort hotels and an equal number of government approved guest houses. Tourism provides more than half of the gross national product. The government has encourages jet set tourism and tries to exclude budget travellers by setting minimum prices on all tourist accommodations.
On the way in, I met an expat resident who tried to bring me to the home stay where she was paying 15 $US but I was turned down by the owner whose licence allowed only legal residents. After many telephone calls I considered myself very lucky to find a room for 35 $US at the Calypha Guest House in Anse Étoile north of Victoria.
The beaches are beautiful with huge boulders breaking the monotony of flat expanses of sand. The Seychelles deserve their reputation for beauty but they are so expensive that I really cannot recommend them to shoestring travellers who don't care for the snob value of "having been to the Seychelles".
|CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs|
The capital, Victoria, on Mahé island is really just a big village of only 27 000. Big vacation cruise ships tie up just south of this Yacht Club in the center of Victoria harbour. The ferries to Praslin and Digne leave just north of here .
The Seychelles offer fewer underwater diving sites than the Maldives but they are said to be just as beautiful. I did not verify that because the cheapest rate I found was 60 $US per dive, more that twice what I paid in the Maldives and four times the rate in Sri Lanka.
The size of the Ministry of Tourism, the yellow building behind this modern sculpture at the eastern end of Independence Avenue, gives you an idea of the importance given to that industry by the Seychelles government.
This replica of the clock tower on London's Vauxhall Bridge was set up here, at the western end of Independence Avenue, when the Seychelles became a crown colony in 1903. This corner could be called the center of town.
Of course, colourful market street leads to the market.
The century and a half of British occupation did not eliminate the French heritage as the people speak Créole (kreol seselwa) and most are Catholic. Ethnically, the Seychellois are a complex mixture of European, African, Indian, Chinese and Arab genes.
Markets are always colourful and this one is no exception as you can see.
What impressed me the most about the Seychelles was how clean it was everywhere, even in the market where there were no bad odours at all! Perhaps the fact that I had just spent over a month in India explains why I was impressed.
Victoria's modern bus station is the central hub of a very efficient public transport system that covers all of Mahé island. Note how clean it is!
There's no denying it, the beaches are great, the water is crystal clear and the tourist infrastructures are perfectly adequate. If you have a lot of money to spend, this is a good place to do it.
The Seychelles are famous for its beaches but also for a unique coconut tree called "coco de mer" that grows only Praslin island. The tree bears a large double fruit, like siamese twins that looks strikingly like a bum on one side and that has a tuft of fiber growing naturally in the right place on the other side.
One of those would have made a nice souvenir to ship home but the prices ranged from 400 to 500 $US each, so I passed. Moreover, you need a permit to export them, I didn't bother to ask the price of the permit.
Coming here after India, I was impressed by the cleanliness and frustrated by the prices, but I must recognise that the Seychellois are right to keep prices high and to forbid camping. Otherwise these beautiful islands would be overrun with backpackers like me, looking to get the most for the least.
Everything looks very peaceful in the Seychelles but it was not always so. The first government after independence headed by James Meecham brought in jet set tourism but the opposition led by France Albert René felt that the new prosperity did not benefit the poor Créoles so he seized power in 1977, brought in Tanzanian and North Korean troops to defend his one-party regime and threw out the "grands blancs" who had all the money.
The arrival of communist troops here put the Seychelles on the cold war map and gave CIA, MI5 and KGB agents a chance to play their little games in this particularly inviting environment. The ideal setting for a James Bond movie!
René's communist kingdom was a very tempting a prize to seize and in 1981, a band of mercenaries led by Colonel Mike Hoare of Congo fame tried to do just that. They tried but they failed, there was a shootout at the airport and two were killed before the rest got away by hijacking a plane to South Africa.
Those exciting days came to an end with the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and the end of the cold war. Time had come for a change and René thought that he might as well bring it rather than someone else so he held free multi party elections which he won in 1992 and again in 1993.
I spent five days in the Seychelles but only visited the main island Mahé.
I appreciated the calm atmosphere for I needed time to digest my Indian adventure that had moved me profoundly. I started to write my impressions of India while they were still fresh in my mind.
I was lucky to meet Taz Mussard (with the red skirt) while waiting for a bus at the central station one day. She spoke Créole, French and English. We had an interesting chat and she invited me to a barbecue party at her home the next day.
It was lovely to meet her 10 year old daughter, who took this photo, and her friends: Paul Laurence, Madeleine and Errol Diaz. The Créole specialties were delicious and we had a ball. I left the Seychelles for Réunion with good memories of their warm hospitality.
I was indeed very fortunate to meet her and her friends because I have found that, in very touristic places like this one, the local people tend to keep tourists out of their private lives for they have seen too many of them while selling them something in the shops or catering to their whims in the hotels.