Whenever we — and we suspect others as well — set out to a warm-water, previously unknown island destination, in our mind’s eye we envision designer sand and smiling, beautiful local faces greeting us in a perfectly clean yet interestingly lived-in town.
We’ve been setting out on these kinds of journeys for many years, and for one reason or another never quite found that paradise. It was more than 30 years ago that Mike was working for a now defunct airline that happened to have service to Victoria in the Seychelles. We had actually gone through the process of applying for two of those free company tickets. Something in life — long since forgotten — got in the way of us and that trip to the Seychelles.
As we now set sail away from Victoria, Seychelles, heading for Mombasa, Kenya, we are looking back thinking how close we once came to visiting something so close to paradise.
OK, so now you know, we loved the Seychelles. The sand was really perfect. The most unusual massive granite boulders that roll into the sea reminded us of the rock formation back in our beloved home in New Hampshire. But this place was really different.
The town of Victoria’s most notable icon — the “Little Ben” clock tower in the center of town — is a bit gauche, but the rest of the town is charming. There’s a really great market, a big cricket stadium, a very nice family restaurant called “The Pirate’s Arm” and other essential service stores. There’s more than a few churches in town that seem to be well attended as well as a very interesting and beautiful Hindu Temple.
But while town was clean, friendly, nonthreatening and pretty interesting, the real deal out here is the beaches. We had two days at this lovely island, and while we spent some quality time in town, we really took full advantage of the island’s truly spectacular beaches.
On Saturday we took a bus up and over the cut in the spine of a chain of hills that splits the island. Baie Beau Vallon is really the closest good beach to the town of Victoria. The local bus took us up and over the saddle that separated the town and this beach. There are a half-dozen or more nice little hotel/inn properties over here. The tourist map makes it look crowded and intensely touristy. We were very pleasantly surprised. It was a very casual, low-impact beach life and just about as good as it gets.
We were not too ambitious. We got off the bus at the first stop that we saw turquoise water and found the Coral Strand Hotel. Many of our fellow staff and guests found it too. The restaurant offered a really great curry fish lunch for a couple of dollars. Add cold draft beer and that great sand out in front of the hotel, and life was wonderful.
Riding the local bus is an experience that — like local markets — we’re getting a feel for on this cruise. One of the really great travel journalists of the day, Rick Steves, once said that he gets a real sense of the local people by riding the local bus. Well, on both Saturday and Sunday we rode the bus and it certainly is the real deal.
On Sunday we headed off on bus #9 to Anse Barbarons. While it looked like a 20- to 25-minute ride based on our trek the day before, it turned out to be about a 1:05-minute ramble around the coast line of this nearly flawless place. Going up and over the “hump” was more than a little exciting each time, each way. This was a white-knuckle ride up the hill and at least as thrilling a ride down. Going up you always figure that gravity is working on your behalf and then as you crest the hill, you are suddenly praying — hoping that those screaming breaks are going to WORK!
The bus cost US 50 cents each way per person. We took the bus out on Saturday, and took a cab back for $15. Round trip — maybe three or four miles — for $16 total. On Sunday our farther journey it was probably 15 miles round-trip and still 50 cents each way per person. The ride was crowded, hot, noisy, up, down, lurch forward, swerve and slam to a stop. Exciting, local and yes, Rick, we got a real feel for the people and this wonderful island nation thanks to the “local bus” trip.
We are looking forward to returning to the Seychelles. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait for another 30-plus years.