Many people travel on “working vacations.” The best ones are those when you are not the one working. A number of years ago I had the pleasure of joining my husband on his architectural photographic assignment to the exotic Seychelles Islands.
The idea of traveling to the Seychelles Islands had been his dream assignment list for years. With the encouragement of a travel agent friend, he decided to try and make it a reality and succeeded.
The Seychelles Islands are a chain of granitic islands located in the Indian Ocean “a thousand miles from anywhere” between Africa and Madagascar. Once occupied by the French and then the British, they gained their independence in 1976. The language is French Creole and French with some English. The primary religion is Catholic, though voodoo exists. The people are an amalgam of races, a true melting pot and utopia. It is very tropical, near the equator and is out of the cyclone zone. Europeans flock to the pristine beaches as a true tropical paradise. Prime ministers, royalty like Kate and William, rock stars like Mick Jager and Barbra Streisand choose it as an escape. Few Americans travel the distance or pay the high prices at the exclusive resorts. Development is restricted, as are the number of tourists allowed to visit. We were lucky.
Lucky is an understatement when you purchase round-trip airline tickets and fly to the Seychelles with only a letter of recommendation from a resort chain.
We flew to JFK in New York City for an eight-hour flight to Paris. From Paris, we embarked on the ten-plus hour flight to Mahe, Seychelles. We had an amazing flight over the continent of Africa, viewing the Great Pyramids of Giza from the airplane as a highlight. We disembarked at a small “international” airport in Mahe, Seychelles, exiting from the plane on stairs to the tarmac. The heat and humidity were stifling. We had left a Cleveland, Ohio winter blizzard and this was quite a change.
In the Seychelles, you have to have room reservation in advance or you are not allowed on the islands. We had a letter. From the airport, my husband called the resort chain. I was concerned. The resort chain said that they were expecting us and would send a driver to take us to the first property on the photographic list.
The first resort was located on the famous Beau Vallon beach, a stretch of glimmering sand on the sapphire to turquoise Indian Ocean. A five-star property, resorts in the Seychelles are not as fancy or pristine as those found in Hawaii or other tropical locations. There are zoning and height restrictions. Ecology and conservation are taken seriously. The remote location and the stifling humidity take their toll. The accommodations, however, were very nice and upscale.
While my husband met with his clients and proceeded with photography shoots, I was able to “play.” I made friends with another tourist and we hung out together. Her husband had a private car take us into the only town, Victoria, for shopping in the Indian-run stores and local market and lunch. We enjoyed high tea at the resort. I spent afternoons swimming at the beach where the pristine ocean felt like bath water. The staff called me, “Madame” and were at my beck and call. I felt like a celebrity. Citronelle tea and fried breadfruit became my favorite snacks. I tried Sega dancing, the local art form that combines Middle Eastern, African and South Pacific dance technique. One night, my husband and me attended a spectacular concert in the soccer stadium, the only tourists at the event.
Because of my husband, I had another perk. I joined he and his client in a fancy Jet Ranger helicopter for an aerial photography shoot over the island of Mahe. I was able to view more than the resorts from the air, the lush green scenery over the mountains, the long ribbons of beach. It was a view of the island that most tourists never see.
We transferred to another resort on the other side of Mahe for more photography projects. This new resort was located on the rocks and from the water resembled the bow of a massive white cruise ship. The view from our room was breathtaking. It was enchanting at night with the black sky sparkling with stars and the crash of the waves below as a lullabye.
While my husband worked, I swam in the pool and toured the island with the resort’s tour director, Bessye. She was a young, thin woman of mixed race and we had fun taking the public bus to the tea plantation on one excursion and walked to the church, orphanage, and waterfall on another. I was able to learn about the local lifestyle, culture, and customs. During my free time, I played with the Adalabra tortoises. These massive tortoises are only found on this island chain and in the Galapagos Islands. They were kept in pens. I was able to feed them bread, treats for them since their main diet consists of vanilla leaves. I also rubbed the underside of their necks (the equivalent of a tummy rub for dogs), which made them stand high on all four squatty legs. Some of them were well over 200 years old. Loved them! I did go snorkeling as well, a new experience for me.
The next photographic assignment involved our taking a commercial schooner ride on the ocean to the island of Praslin. More remote and less inhabited than Mahe, it offered another perspective of the fascinating island chain. We had an apartment-like suite and I loved having his and her bathrooms and a living room. My husband had a day off and we rented a car. They drive on the right like the British. We visited the Vallee de Mai, a World Heritage site and a place Captain Cook called the original Garden of Eden. This primeval rain forest was too incredible for words. It is home of the famous coca de mer nut, the largest seed in the world. Actually, we purchased one, had to get a permit and I carried it home in my carry-on bag. It’s a giant coconut that literally resembles the female pelvis.
We also managed a day trip by schooner to the island of LaDigue. Only bicycles and ox carts were the local form of transportation. We rented and ox cart and driver, Ronnie, who took us on a complete tour of the island and its amazing beaches. This was very non-commercial and pristine, a true tropical paradise. Incredible.
Of course, I kept a journal of copious notes and observations. I even wrote three chapters of a novel I called “Paradise Found.”
After three weeks in paradise, the photography shoot was complete (the film sent regularly for processing to Singapore) and we were to go home. The last act was checking out of the resort and getting the bill.The hotel manager, Mr. Montcherry, tallied up our stay and the computer kept spitting out pages and pages of expenses, well over $11,000 worth. The best part?
We owed nothing! Nothing!
Everything was paid for except for out $1,200 per person airfare.
Yes, this was truly my Paradise Found!!!!!!!!