October 7th ’13: (Inflatable) Starfish in the Seychelles

SAM_2165Kazakhstan,  geographically and politically positioned halfway between China and the UK, seemed an unlikely location to meet up with Rachel, our friend from Shanghai with whom we’d experienced many a Chinese adventure.  So we settled on the Seychelles. Not halfway, but an equal pain in the arse for all of us to reach.

The guidebooks (well, TripAdvisor.com) refer to the Seychelles as perfect for those seeking the best beaches in the world.  ‘Best’, is of course subjective, with some visitors preferring near-shore coral, some seeking white sands to reflect the sun’s glare for that complete tan, or some demanding beautiful scenery for the perfect photography backdrop.  Our perfect beach was just outside our hotel in Mahe.  Three grown
adults, floating in the sea anchored to an inflatable starfish, drinking flavoured rum purchased from the nearby Regatta festival.

Probably the closest I’ve ever come to a ‘beach holiday’; we spent most of our time in the water. I doubt there are many places in the world where you can rent a car, go for a random drive and find so many completely deserted beaches.  In one location, we had a local takeaway meal on the beach before once more deploying the starfish.  A picturesque scene entirely for us until the old couple turned up and proceeded to get changed out on the beach.  White bottoms reflecting the sun beautifully.

View from Burj Khalifa - it's real, honest.

View from Burj Khalifa – it’s real, honest.

Before reaching the Seychelles,  Bron and I had the bright idea of spending a day in Dubai, since that’s where our connecting flight originated.  A bright idea until the 8am arrival time (6 hour flight from the UK = no real sleep) and the 2am next day departure started to take its toll.  Dubai is as I think we expected; sandy yet curiously clean; hot outdoors but freezing indoors; ostentatious yet reserved.  A curious mix of cultures and styles,  where the world’s tallest man-made structure allows visitors to clearly observe the Sim City approach to building all that lies beneath it.  We landed on a Friday, the Islamic day of prayer. I assume the locals choose their mosque early in life, as a churchgoer in the UK does likewise.  Otherwise the multitude of simultaneous calls to prayer from the minarets’ loudspeakers would cause a degree of cognitive (religious?) dissonance given the sheer number of mosques to choose from.

We met up with one of Bronwen’s old university friends in the evening, as you do whilst in Dubai, and explored one of Dubai’s few but densely populated drinking districts.

Waiting for us in the Seychelles was Rachel, having arrived a day earlier.  Very fortunate for us as for the first time in 2 days we had a bed to sleep on, sneaking into Rachel’s hotel room before checkout. I say sneak; Rachel’s ploy of giving us the wrong room number didn’t work as we had the foresight to check.

Apparently one of the most photographed beaches in the world (La Digue)

Apparently one of the most photographed beaches in the world (La Digue)

We spent our 8 nights in the Seychelles on three different islands; Mahe, La Digue and Praslin.  Mahe is like paradise,  if paradise were run by the most grumpy staff on the planet. A place where asking for a menu is met with silence and a 180 degree turn away from the customer.  A place where cocktails with missing ingredients are served without apology (“You want me to go all the way to the kitchen to find chocolate syrup for your chocolate cocktail”), and where requests for additional contents are met with “You want this?  You want this?  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS” (I’ve never before been so threatened by a bottle of Angostura Bitters).  A place where the local language is supposed to be Creole but turns out to be a series of sighs.  Our hotel had a casino but an attempt to gamble at 7.30pm was met with shouts of ‘We closed! We closed!”.  Another more helpful member of staff explained: “Sorry, he’s Korean”. Bizarrely, a local law (not hotel policy) decrees that men looking to gamble after 6pm must wear long trousers.  Our helpful member of staff explained: “It’s OK, 3/4 length trousers would be fine”.

As well as vampires, we discovered the Chinese only come out night.  With perhaps only a few exceptions, dusk on the beaches heralded the arrival of Chinese tourists, safe to enter the sea without exposing skin to the sun (since a tan on a Chinese person is considered a very bad thing in China).

After three nights in Mahe, we took a two-part ferry journey to La Digue, the smallest island of the three we were to visit.  An island so small that cars are rare and cycling around the whole island in a single day is possible (as we did).  A beautiful island, made all the better once our upgraded room had been awarded (long, protracted story, better explained by Rachel’s blog.

Our final three nights took us to the island of Praslin, home to some of  the world’s most photographed beaches.  With the current too strong to deploy the starfish, we headed out on a “private” day trip with 6 other people we think were also expecting a little more privacy.  From giant tortoises roaming free to fighting crabs that walk forwards, not sideways, Praslin and its smaller neighbouring islands gave us the opportunity to experience a little more of what the Seychelles really has to offer.  And with wonderfully warm and welcoming staff, Praslin definitely wins as the place to visit in the Seychelles.

On our last night we eschewed the bars and restaurants, instead settling for a few hours sat on the edge of our semi-private pool, finishing what was left of our snack food (Monster Munch gets everywhere) and our remaining rum.

The snorkeling wasn’t a patch on what Bron and I had experienced in the Philippines,  but we think the Seychelles wins for beaches, calm waters and local rum (and in Praslin – the people).  A fantastic 10 days away, and of course great to spend some time with Rachel, despite a few funny looks from the honeymooning couples.  Ben – that’s what happens when you have to work during Golden Week…

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