At this point, no words can describe the exotic Seychelles – different from any other place I’ve experienced! Seychelles isolation, weather, and culture are a drastic change from South Africa. I spent the first few days befuddled and struggling to acclimate.
The Seychelles is a remote archipelago consisting 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 small islands are uninhabited.
The archipelago has forty-three 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 eclectic population is a mix of French, African, Indian, and Chinese immigrants. English and French are spoken widely, 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, and Roman Catholicism is dominant. It’s observed by over 90 percent of the population, but there are also Anglicans, Buddhists, Hindus, 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 those 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 Seychellois 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
A young nation of forty years, Seychelles is a “presidential republic“. Danny Antoine Rollen Faure, the President of Seychelles since 2016, is head of state government in a multi-party system. The government shares executive and legislative powers with a National Assembly.
Seychelles has a “command economy” – a socialist “economic system in which the government controls production and distribution of goods and services, and industry is publicly owned”. The system sounds confusing to me…
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 whopping 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 exactly where you’re going, and I’m still learning this new 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’s 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. Visitors should prepare for adversity and significant communication challenges.
I’m not in a hurry, and delays are a chance to mingle with the locals. 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 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 if you rely solely on local advice, it’s likely you may never get to your destination! Apps are helpful but in Seychelles, not accurate or effective or maybe I’m using the wrong ones? Basically, it’s extremely isolated, more so than any country visited.
I learned that Sunday is a day when nothing happens quickly, so it’s best to go with the flow and not try to follow a time schedule. Except for a few neighborhood markets and restaurants near the beaches, everything closes 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 drastically changed there in the 90s.
Art and Activities
During the first few days I explored Victoria and Beau Vallon. Beau Vallon is a beautiful beach area, and Victoria’s a small bustling town with interesting people, art, and architecture. Most local artists have their own galleries. Michael Adams is a favorite. He specializes 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 – daily heavy, warm, tropical rain. Weather in the Seychelles is hot but nice year-round. There’s always rain, and the storms are dramatic 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. You need to be cautious, because after heavy rain, many of the trails become muddy and impassable.
Val Riche-Copolia trail passes a variety of interesting tropical 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 then trapped inside its “pitcher”.
In the heat and humidity, you must start hiking early – around 6 am or earlier. When the sun is 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 the heavy undertow. So far, I haven’t seen surfers on Mahé, so maybe there is better surfing on other islands.
Seychellois cuisine is a combination of flavors 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’ll visit Praslin, 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 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 honor 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 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 impressive Victorian building.
Seychelles Internet is slow and dicey, but I’ll post more later, when possible…