Monday, November 28, 2011

Just a Batburger in Paradise

So admittedly this is poor form.  It has been almost a month since I got home from my latest wanderings – the standard assortment of work stuff - teaching a course in the Kingdom of Swaziland, checking in on my nomads in Ethiopia, potentially getting myself tangled in an unholy mess in Kenya -  and then 10 long sunny relaxing days doing shit-all on islands of the Seychelles. 
For those of you not familiar with the Seychelles, it is an island chain that split off from Gowana about the same time Africa and Asia decided to go their separate ways.  Therefore, unlike most small island nations which are volcanic, the Seychelles is granite.  And as those of you who have recently installed countertops (or been dragged to 1001 Long Island granite showrooms with loved ones who recently installed countertops) know – granite is nice.  Particularly when mixed with stunning powder soft white/pink sand beaches and sunsets.  One of the beaches we visited – Source d’Argent – was recently voted the nicest beach in the world by National Geographic.  I was skeptical.  I don’t know about these NatGeo guys – but this chick has been around a bit.  There are some nice beaches out there. 
Then I was converted.  If it isn’t the nicest beach in the world – it is damned frigging close.

I was joined for this adventure by my favorite travel sidekick – whom you may remember from such adventures as Drunk Flying and Subsequent Central American Adventures and Drive and Dive 2010 – Roommate.  (Roommate’s wife also came along for the first few days but she had to return to work.  Interestingly, we met her boss on the flight back a week later.  I’m not saying nothin’ I’m just sayin’ is all.)  Our goal was to do the trip on about 100 USD per day each (excluding diving - which is worth selling a kidney every time).  It involved a fair bit of haggling, some public buses, and a few home-cooked meals that were straight out of the dark days of undergrad (as a bonus we got to open a can of tuna without a can opener – also just like college), but we basically made it.  We were greatly assisted by the fact that there is a law in the Seychelles that – while you can buy as much property as you want up until the shoreline – beaches are public property and therefore you must allow public access to them.  Oh – hello $2000 a night Four Seasons patrons – we are just going to walk down to your magnificent white sand beach and pop a squat with you.  That’s cool right?  (Note: don’t fear – the 1%-ers got their pound of flesh when we bought drinks at the bar… a single sandwich cost more than the day’s car rental – add the gas too if you wanted fries with that.) 

Okay, more fun facts about the Seychelles.  First, they were found uninhabited by the French in the 1700s, though at least one old cemetery indicates that sailors had been passing through from a few centuries prior.  As a result, the entire population had to be imported – from Africa, France, South Asia.  The language and culture has evolved into a Creole mix – which if nothing else – knows how to make fish.  (The written Creole language is similar enough to French that I can read it.  As far as understanding spoken Creole – it is hopeless.  Though in a very telling moment about a number of things in my life – one Seychellois, after listening to me speak French with my hybrid New Yorker-West African accent, asked me where I learned to speak Creole so well.  *sigh.)

More Seychelles stuff – the main islands used to be home to super huge giant turtles, but various sailors, explorers, pirates, navies, etc ate them all.  (Slow and tasty is apparently a pretty tough evolutionary combination when you mix with things with opposable thumbs.)  But the native population was sad when there were no more turtles, so they brought over some just-regular-huge giant turtles from one of the other really remote islands.  So now those guys ‘roam’ (albeit not super fast) around the island.  Or more accurately the penned enclosures that every tourist establishment – regardless of size or function – conveniently has out front/back/in the parking.  And these things get old – routinely into their 130s-140s.  (Which led to a priceless moment in which we overheard an Italian tour guide admonishing a 120 year male turtle for bumping shells with a 30-something female – the guide jumped on the enclosure wall yelling ‘child abuse! child abuse!”) 

So in the spirit of conservation – we didn’t eat any turtles.  But in my grand tradition of suspending my vegetarianism to try local delicacies – we did have sautéed flying fox (pteropus megachiroptera for Elin, fruit bat for everyone else).  Eating the world’s largest bat – which can have a wingspan of up to 6 feet but weigh less than 5 pounds – is a good story.  It makes less appealing meal.  I said it was reminiscent of overcooked half-starved duck.  Roommate suggested monitor lizard.  (I swear sometimes he does these things just to show me up.)  In any case it came with a buffet that included all you can eat fresh grilled tuna – so we didn’t linger on the bat. 

Keeping with the rather non-linear stream of conscious nature of this post – let’s talk about pirates.  So the Seychelles is in the middle of the Indian OCean, and just about the only thing the island produces are tuna and coconuts (more on the latter in a minute).  Everything non-tuna is imported.  There are two main components of import prices – shipping and insurance.  Insurance prices are directly related to how likely Lloyd’s of London thinks it is that Somali pirates will jack the boat.  So the Seychellois hate pirates.  Every time those crazy SOBs grab a tankership – the cost of a car in Victoria doubles.  But do you know who else hates pirates?  Americans.  Americans hate pirates so much that they put a drone base at the airport to hunt down the pirates (and whatever else drones might get up to in the Yemen/Horn of Africa region).  In addition to that – these awesome Americans *pay* the Seychellois to have the drones there.  Bar none – there is not a country in the world that loves us as much as the Seychelles.  Every time we got in a cab and the driver figured out we were American, they thanked us for the drones and asked us if we worked on them.  We always said they were welcome but alas we were just tourists. 

Then the last day of the trip Roommate and I were picking up a pizza to go at one of the beach joints.  There was a young (early-mid 20s) clearly American guy sitting by himself.  As single people in the Seychelles are rare – it is the honeymoon capital of most of Europe – and Americans are even more rare – and because I am insatiably curious – I asked him what his story was.  He was from Alabama, contractor, working ‘out at the airport.’  I was so excited!  After 10 days – a real life drone guy!  When I said as much this guy almost had a heart attack.  SSSHHHH!!!  That’s classified information.

Someone better brief the taxi drivers.
Now from pirates to coconuts.  Seychelles is also home to the Coco de Mer coconut – the world’s largest coconut.  This is a fact that would probably be relegated in importance somewhere with Minnesota’s World’s Largest Ball of Twine, or Suffolk, England’s World’s Largest Rubber Ducky, had it not been for the rather unusual shape of these nuts.  The female coconuts are shaped like a woman’s… ahem.  And the male - long thin phallic stalks.  For those of us not down with the Divine Plan – this seems like one hell of a coincidence… Moving on – the coconuts are found only in this one forest preserve.  And fittingly they grow on oversized trees.  But the trees are shaped like giant weeds – so the whole reserve has a distinctive Honey I Shrunk the Kids feel.  Very cool to say the least.  (And I really like this photo that Roommate took of me.)

Other than that – the trip was lots of driving around the islands, taking ferries to other islands, eating fishing, diving, hiking, drinking beer, reading books – generally relaxing.  It was a bit of a bummer in that some of the dive sites were closed and there were bright yellow shark nets ruining the landscape on one of the most beautiful white sand beaches on Praslin Island – but two people had been attacked and killed by sharks there in a span of two weeks in August – so I guess that it was a necessary precaution.  We saw some sharks while diving but they generally didn’t bother us.  I guess they only eat French food.  Snobs.

I think that is about it – though one of the dangers of waiting this long to post is that I am sure that I am forgetting things.  My apologies.  Should any of you independently wealthy readers like to bequeath me a huge sum of money so that I can quit this statistics crap and become a professional travel writer – I’ll let you know where to send the check!

1 comment:

Jen Bienstock Cohen said...

Great blog post! Well worth the wait. You make an excellent travel writer, it is definitely your calling.