At this point, no words describe Seychelles – different from any other place experienced! Durban is diverse with a subtropical climate, but the isolation, weather, and culture here are a drastic change. I spent the first few days befuddled and struggling to acclimate.
The Seychelles is a remote archipelago of 115 tropical granite and coral islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s near the equator, northeast of Madagascar and 1,000 miles east of Kenya. Many of the islands are small and uninhabited.
The archipelago includes 43 inner islands clustered around the three largest islands – Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue. The 72 “outer islands” are coralline cays, atolls, and reefs. Victoria is the capital and largest city in the Seychelles. It’s on Mahé Island, where 90 percent of the country’s 95,000 people live.
Diverse Population and Religions
Seychelles population is an eclectic mix of French, African, Indian, and Chinese immigrants. English and French are spoken but Seychellois Creole is the official language.
As with the people, there’s a diversity of religions on the islands. Religion is an important part of life in the Seychelles, and Roman Catholicism is dominant. It’s practiced by over 90 percent of the population, but there are also Anglicans, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. Last Sunday, traffic on the main street in Victoria came to a total standstill with hundreds of Catholics marching and praying.
Seychelles is a “melting pot” of the many people who settled the islands:
- 17th century pirates hid in coves around Mahé and Praslin.
- French settlers established spice and coconut plantations.
- Tamil and Chinese merchants started businesses.
- British colonists transformed the economy.
“Each wave of new residents contributed something unique to the remarkable blend of language, music, arts, and religion that characterizes the Seychelles.”
Seychelles Government and Politics
Seychelles is a young nation of 40 years with a “presidential republic“. The President of Seychelles since 2016, Danny Antoine Rollen Faure, is head of state and government in a multi-party system. The government and National Assembly share executive and legislative powers.
I’ve observed grumblings from locals who seem unhappy with the government, especially business people. Apparently, there’s abundant red tape for businesses and the government adds a 15% tax to everything.
Getting Around and Weather
For now, I’m living without a rental car. The SPTC (Seychelles Public Transport Corporation) isn’t well-organized, and buses are frustratingly erratic. None of them drive the steep hill to my accommodation. It’s a half mile to the main road – good exercise but in the heat not always fun….
With the buses, you must know where you’re going, and I’m still learning the territory. Bus stops aren’t always marked with signage, and drivers are unfriendly and don’t communicate well. A few times, I missed my mark by several miles. There is zero tourist support in Seychelles, so unless you’re staying at a fancy hotel, you’re on your own. If you’re adventurous and not rushed, the experience is interesting. Be prepared for adversity and difficulty communicating.
I’m not in a hurry, and delays are a chance to mingle with the local people. Some of them are very shy. The hot, humid weather makes walking long distances difficult – at least until you adjust to the climate. I will be here through December and am considering a change in accommodation – another island or closer to the beach.
Seychelles accommodation is very expensive compared to South Africa. High import costs and operating expenses make prices in the Seychelles extremely high for foreigners. Tourism is an important but very unorganized industry. I’m learning again not to ask locals for directions – you get different info from each person, and it’s likely you may never get to your destination! Apps are helpful but in Seychelles, not accurate or effective – maybe I’m using the wrong ones?
Learned that Sunday is a day when nothing happens quickly, so it’s best to go with the flow and not follow a time schedule. Except for a few small neighborhood markets and restaurants near the beaches, everything is closed on Sunday.
On Saturday, most shops shut down at noon – primarily a religious practice encouraged by the Catholic Church. This is the way South Africa was under the influence of the Dutch Reformed Church, but things changed significantly in the 90s.
Art and Activities
During the first few days I explored Victoria and Beau Vallon. Beau Vallon is a beautiful but touristy beach area, and Victoria a small bustling town with interesting people, art, and architecture. Most local artists have their own galleries. Michael Adams is a favorite. He specialises in colorfast watercolors and silkscreen prints of Seychelles people, land, and seascapes. Nigel Henri is another popular local artist whose acrylic paintings “decrypt the soul of Seychelles“.
I’m deciding which activities are best in this climate. It hasn’t been beach weather since my arrival – lots of warm, tropical rain. Weather in the Seychelles is hot but nice year-round. There is always rain. December is north-west winds monsoon season. You must forget your hair and makeup – it melts in minutes!
There are several national parks and interesting hikes through the small mountain on Morne Seychellois National Park. Exploring cloud forests with exotic orchids, rare birds, palms like the coco de mer, and other endemic tropical plants is appealing. During rainy season many of the hiking tails become muddy and almost impassable.
Val Riche-Copolia trail is said to pass a variety of interesting plant species like the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. I saw one years ago in Borneo, and watched it devour an insect fatally lured by the flower’s beauty and trapped inside the “pitcher”.
In the heat and humidity, you must start hiking early – around 6 am. When the sun this close to the Equator it’s fierce! I was told to expect my skin color to change before I leave the islands – without sunbathing…. Snorkeling is on the agenda and maybe some kayaking. They say swimming is dangerous because of heavy undertow. So far, I haven’t seen surfers on Mahé, so maybe there is better surfing on other islands.
The cuisine that is uniquely Seychellois is a combination of flavours from African, French, Chinese, Indian, and English cooking.
The beaches have shark barriers, but I’ve read conflicting information about how effectively they protect swimmers. The sand is soft and clean with interesting pinkish boulders along the shoreline. The water is picture-perfect turquoise blue! I plan to visit Praslin and La Digue and some of the closer small islands but have not yet taken the ferries or ventured out on the sea.
Marie-Antoinette Creole Restaurant
Seychellois food is unique, and so far, my favorite restaurant is Marie-Antoinette, where they serve delicious authentic creole cuisine. I enjoyed a long, lingering lunch there last Saturday. Surprisingly, many of the restaurants on Mahé are quite expensive. Guess I got spoiled by the delicious, comparatively inexpensive food in South Africa.
At one time, Marie-Antoinette was a hotel built in “colonial style architecture with a high roof and polished wooden staircase”. The building dates to the 1800s. It became a national monument in 2011 and is home to the Livingstone Gallery, in honour of the late American adventurer, Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley stayed there often during the 1870s and named his accommodation Livingstone Cottage, after Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary presumed lost in Africa.
Some of the Creole dishes on Marie Antoinette’s menu include golden apple and pumpkin chutney, fish stew, chicken curry, aubergine fritters, and an unforgettable spicy mango salad. There’s a beautiful flower and spice garden surrounding the gorgeous Victorian building.
Seychelles Internet is slow and dicey, but will post more later, when possible…