SEYCHELLES: A rich and enduring history
ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who was in Seychelles writes on the alluring nature of the must see island, nestled against the Indian Ocean
The wish to see Seychelles has for long been etched in one’s memory and for two occasions, one missed making the journey when the opportunities came begging due to prior engagements, which couldn’t be re-adjusted. Perhaps the most painful missed moment was the opportunity to see its carnival, Victoria Carnival, which over the years has risen to be one of the signature calendar events attracting the world to this island, which is seen as one of the world most fascinating archipelagos.
So when the opportunity presented itself again last year December for a trip to Addis Ababa and Seychelles courtesy Ethiopian Airlines and Seychelles Tourism Board, alongside some travel and aviation journalists, one couldn’t helped but jumped at it.
The over three hours trip from Addis Ababa to Seychelles on this fateful Wednesday was a smooth one with no turbulent to contend with. The landing was also nicely done. Our team was met, greeted and assisted through immigration by Natasha from Seychelles Tourism Board, who thereafter handed us over to Celisse Zelime from Mason’s Travel, which is the oldest travel outfit in the country.
Zelime, a very pleasant and likeable personality was our tour guide during our one night and two days stay while Joel was our driver. Calm and quiet but never to be taken for granted. Both of them, especially Zelime, displayed their vast knowledge and experience of the island, its rich history, culture, people, social and entertainment life as well as colourful tourism offerings. The airport at Maha commissioned in 1972 by Queen Victoria though small but very functional, is built on a reclaimed land at the shore of the ocean.
The island, a former colony of Britain, which got independence in 1976, was said to have been discovered at about 1717 by a group of people, 28 of them, from the east coast of Africa. With Victoria as the capital city, which in the words of Zelime is the ‘smallest capital city in the world,’ the region has about 115 islands with about 22 of them habitable. Mahe, Praslin, La Digue and Silhouette are some of the most popular and patronised of the islands.
Prince Williams and the wife, Kate, were at Silhouette for their honeymoon some years ago. It entire population is put at 94, 000 with rich a ecosystem, a fascinating landscape presenting a serene picture of a well – blend undulating landscape of mountainous, hilly ranges and huge rocky boulders as well as an attractive vegetation, exuding a picture of alluring wildlife enclave.
Your discovery is that the country presents an impressive collage of a captivating tourist haven of some sorts with basketful of savoury elements, with sea, sun, and sand in abundance and easily the most enchanting for tourists.
It international tourists arrival for 2016 was put at about 200, 000 while that of last year is expected to cross the 300,000 mark. English, French and Creole are the official languages spoken in the country. According to Zelime, the country is predominantly inhabited by Christians with those of the Catholic faith reaching about 98 per cent while Methodist, Anglican and other dominations make up the remaining two per cent.
One of the Catholic churches is headed by a Nigerian priest from the Eastern part of Nigeria. Unfortunately, our guide couldn’t tell precisely which part and pronounce the surname correctly except the first name, which she said is Father Fidelis.
Besides tourism, the country depends on craft, agriculture and fisheries for its economy. To drive home this point and the fact that these four economic endeavours are celebrated by the people, a monument is built on their honour, ‘unity monument,’ which is stationed at the roundabout in Victoria City.
The country’s tourism is all year round with the Germans and French said to be among the highest visitors to the country while the big spenders are Britons, followed by the Swiss, Arabs and those from Eastern Europe. Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Ethihad, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airline as well as Kenyan Airways are some of the airlines that operate into the country while British Airways is expected to join the fray this year and this would increase the flow of traffic from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe to the country.
Christmas is one of the most celebrated festivities in the island with everyone looking forward to the Christmas mass, after which the entire people emptied to the beach to have fun till the early hours of the next day. This tradition is well – kept by the people and even the priests realise the importance of this as they make sure that the service hours does not interfere with this legendary past time of the people. Another widely celebrated event in the annals of the people is the Creole Festival, a yearly cultural fiesta evolved by the people over the years and its draws a number of tourists to the island.
Few years ago the people created an annual carnival, Victoria Carnival, which has since gained root and followed across the world. To entrench and make it more endearing just as the Creole Festival, the tour guide revealed that it has been fused with the celebration of the Creole Festival, which now holds in October. This period is one of the best tourism seasons for the country.
We drove down the single highway from Mahe through Victoria City to Beau Vallon axis, where Savoy Hotel and Resort, our hotel for the night was located. A four star rated hotel but very enchanting and built on an undulating landscape that is nestled against the beach, presenting picturesque scenery full of natural elements. Zelime spoke glowingly about the colourful, rich and entertaining night life of the people. Wednesday is perhaps one of the nights that the muse of entertainment is at it bloom at the Beau Vallon beach front where the people come together to give free rein to the muse with a local market holding here and then giving way to night activities after sun set.
Zelime got the team excited when she said that virtually ‘everything,’ from the sleazy to the best of music, cuisine and entertainment could be obtained here as it has become a den for both locals and tourists to ‘hook up.’ It never dawn on Zelime and the team that the day was a Wednesday and when it did settle in, everyone let out shout of joy with expectation etched on the faces of many.
Night life in Beau Vallon Dinner time was 6.30pm at the Boathouse Restaurant, which is down the road leading to the beach and a walking distance from the hotel. After checking into the rooms and refreshing up, a number of us went to the beach to sample the environment.
The beach front was already alive and agog with activities as tourists and the locals intermingled, catching fun while the local market that Zelime spoke about was getting ready to make way for the night’s simmering entertainment offerings. One even tried his hands on grilling fish. It was an exciting experience for one to be taken through the rudiments by one of the vendors.
Perry and Gerry are few of the vendors one interacted with. For them, business at the period of visit is at its low ebb but nevertheless, they are able to meet their needs from what they reek in daily as they are there daily beside this fateful Wednesday. Marvis is one of those that operate marine cruises to the different islands and he also spoke of a rich harvest.
Dinner at the Boathouse Restaurant in the company of Natasha and the representative of the tourism board in South Africa was a delightsome affair with enticing local and continental dishes, buffet, served. One is not really a foodie but I enjoyed the basmati rice, the fresh fish and the sauce as well as the French fries, which for some reasons one had one too many.
As the night waned, many of us drifted back to the beach front to partake of the fun that was already at its peak. It was fascinating scenery with the people gathered around the bonfire, dancing and singing to the local music otherwise known as Moutya and Sega. The night spent at the beach front was certainly one of the high points of the day.
Because it offered a prism to gauge the pulse of the locals who were quite enthusiastic and came out in their numbers to catch fun late into night and it was a real colourful blend seeing the tourists and locals dancing, singing and having fun, all in one breathe.
Thursday morning, we had to bid goodbye to Savoy but first had breakfast at one of the restaurants with the swimming pool overlooking it. One didn’t quite feel up to the continental breakfast but enjoyed the mood and discussion.
The Nigerian spirit was at play, as we took over the main restaurant, filling the air with our animated discussions from one subject to another. Somehow, every other guest quietly took to the outer part of the restaurant overlooking the swimming pool, as if by prior arrangement, left us to our devices in the main restaurant.
Even the waiters were fascinated at the unfolding dramatics, asking questions to know where we were from. On learning that we were Nigerians one of them went to the kitchen to alert his Nigerian colleague of our presence. Odu Samson, a chef with the hotel, the Nigerian from Benue State, was glad to see us as he came to exchange pleasantries with us and share in the joyous moment. He has been in Seychelles for about a decade and married to one of the nationals with children. He told us the country is a calm country and the people are nice and loveable.
They are outgoing and fun to be with as they are very excited about life and enjoy the outdoor and the sunny side of life, which their environment has delivered at their doorsteps. Victoria City Done with breakfast and check out formalities, we headed for the Victoria City with Joel on the wheels and Zelime back as the tour guide. We rode through Beau Vallon, feasting on some of the city’s monuments and other attractions, such as Big Ben Tower, Victoria’s status and some of the notable buildings and government offices with the President’s office situated on Albert Street.
We made a stopover at Sir Selwyn Selwyn – Clark Market, which is the major market in the city, with most of the shopping outlets located within the area. It is indeed a busy spot and you get most of the items you need from this region. Somewhere around the market is Sri Navaskthi Vinayagar Hindu Temple.
We spent some minutes at the temple before getting back to the market for some shopping and then exploring other parts of the city before making a detour to the highest peak of the city for a photo shot.
Anse Aux Pins
Thereafter we headed for Anse Aux – Pins, one of the most notable regions of the island. On the way is Sey Brew industry, producer of the country’s only local brew, which is very popular with the people and easily recommended to tourists as you find it in almost all the outlets in the island.
This part of the island is the home of Takamaka rum, a most popular spirit produced by the people and also very highly recommended. The location has an enduring and rich history to it. The complex, known as La Grande Maison, was once home to one of the earliest settlers in the island, a French family, wealthy and commanded high number of slaves who waited on them. The main building, which has been renovated and retains vestiges of the original owners and elements associated with it, such as the living room, balcony, bar, store and restaurant, is said to be over 200 years old.
The place was taken over by the government years after the demise of the original owners and in 2002 two brothers took over the property and turned it to a home for brewing Takamaka. Fiorela, one of the workers at the place took us on tour the complex, which is opened to tourists and residents who not only visit for wine taste or to purchase wine but also have their meals as the restaurant is opened to the public subject to availability of space.
The complex has its own plantation where it grows sugar cane and other requirements for the production of rum but it presently depends on supply from the locals. It produces about six different variants of rum, they include: White rum, Dark rum, St Andre Premium, Cocoa and Pineapple rum, each containing different levels of alcohol.
The wine tasting session was turned into another dramatic event, as to the amusement of others, including the two South African tourists (A man and his girl friend) and other visitors who came later, all the members of the team but for two persons, went the whole hug having a feel of the entire variants that Fiorela treated them to and at the end spontaneously busted into singing ‘we are a happy people,’ in the Nigerian style thus leaving indelible impression on the people who were sad when we had to take our leave.
The last port of call was Eden Island, which is built on a reclaimed land by the seashore, some distance away from the airport. The island with marine facilities, offering cruise services among others, is a serene and enchanting spot to behold and houses a number of different outlets, ranging from Eden Bleu Hotel to eateries of different kinds. We had lunch at Bravo Restaurant within the island, a well – appointed spot, airy and breezy with a view of the marine front. Continental dishes with rich appetizer and dessert served.
They have a special prawn that is mounted on a stick and quite a sight to behold but was lavishly consumed by about two members of the team that went for it. I ordered for chicken and prawn curry soup served with French fries. At first when one was going to give up on the meal because of the colour of the curry soup that looked soured but after having the first bit, I couldn’t let go, especially the French fries.
Seychelles Tourist Board Manager in charge of South Africa market, Lena Hoareau, Group Branding and Communication Manager, Mason’s Travel, Nicole St. Ange and Senior Sales Executive of Mason’s Travel, Hilda Camille, were with us during the lunch hour and shared some exciting moments with us, regaling us with stories about the country and their work.
It was an eventful, exciting and fulfilling two days and one night of discovery, exploring the entrails of this dream island. Though not fully as one would have loved to due to the hurried nature of the trip as we needed to meet up with prior schedule in Addis Ababa, however, it was a long time dream fulfilled and a tick on one’s basket of must see destinations.