23/10/2014 - 2:00 am

The Seychelles. Vasco da Gama’s Discovery

Written by

The Paradise Islands near Africa, with French title and the English capital. Prior to that, until 1770, only some unusual animals and birds lived here.

When I said "near" Africa, I meant the distance of 1600 km. Other continents are even further away from the secluded Seychelles. It so happened that when prehistoric Gondwana split and part of it floated to the North, its 115 other little pieces were excluded from the drift. For the next 150 million years these pieces of land were surrounded by the Indian Ocean and grew some vegetation. The archipelago was far away from civilization and the "mainland" and was fully settled only at the end of the 18th century, even though the islands first appeared on the map after the expedition of Vasco da Gama in 1502. The British have given the Seychelles the name for its capital Victoria as well as the hottest newlyweds in the world Prince William and Kate Middleton, who spent their honeymoon on one of the islands. For a very good reason — this secluded archipelago is an ideal place for lovers.
The largest island of the coral and granite archipelago is Mae. That is where the Seychelles begin for many tourists who fly into the capital's airport. Want to know what the local hustle and bustle looks like? This is when the locals slowly drift along the two-story houses and leisurely sell souvenirs to tourists. And it's all the same on weekends. When you are in Victoria, it seems that even the clock is slowing down, especially the one on the main tower of the city, which is almost an exact replica of the English Big Ben, only in miniature. In hotels the time stops altogether, the tranquility there can be periodically interrupted only by the visits of unusual guests such as birds, bugs, and fruit bats from the nearby National Park Port Launay. Thanks to their respect for nature, the Seychelles is the only place in the world that still has such rare species as the paradise flycatcher. The International Birds Preservation Organization has bought the Cousin Island so they can protect its birds. In general, the islands are home to 16 endemic species, most of which settled on Praslene, the second largest island. After having seen the unspoiled beauty of this area in 1881, a legendary British General called this piece of land (38 square km) the last piece of the Garden of Eden. We still call the island, or rather its unique prehistoric natural park Valley-de-Mai, the Paradise Island due to its famous coco-de-mer palm grove with seven thousand trees that grow only in the Seychelles. What are these trees, pictured on the coat of arms of the country, famous for?
It turns out that these 30 meter high palm trees have the largest coconuts in the world reaching 15-25 kg in weight. The locals even say that these nuts were the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve tried. They remained a secret for centuries. Some even believed that these mysterious coconuts were born in the sea (hence the name), because at times they were washed ashore by the ocean waves on Indonesian and Indian coasts. A bowl made from the coconut was thought to serve as an antidote against any poison. But when the French discovered the giant Seychelles palms in 1756, all myths were dispelled. Today these expensive and rare fruits that ripen in 6-7 years are credited with "virility", because of their unusual shape that resembles female buttocks. The palm trees that grow this miracle of nature can reach 200 years (female) and up to 1000 years (male) and start producing fruits only when they are 30 years old. It is against the law to take coco-de-mer nuts, along with coral, shells and tortoise shells out of the Seychelles.
Another unique and endemic to Seychelles species is hiding on the second largest atoll in the world, Aldabra. This is the only desert island in the Indian Ocean that has flightless birds and a colony of 150 thousand giant turtles, ten times more than in the Galapagos. These rare 250 kilo tortoises were once found on many islands in the Indian Ocean, but now the Seychelles is their last refuge. To protect them, Aldabra has a research facility and strictly controls entry to the island. The atoll that consists of four coral islands is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list and protected by the Seychelles Foundation. Good for the giant tortoises of Aldabra! The atoll islands visually form a ring with a warm lagoon inside, protected from the waves. With this much sun, sand, and sea, the turtles can live up to 150-200 years.
Another hallmark of the archipelago is located on the island of La Digue. Remember that picture with pink sand, green palm trees and bizarre rocks resembling lying dinosaurs? This is the most beautiful beach in the Seychelles (the locals would say, in the world) – Source d'Argent meaning "Silver Spring". Some unique granite stones have been gently lying here for millions of years. For centuries, the wind and the waves have been polishing their walls. They say that the rocks came here before the people, when our continents only started to acquire familiar contours. Life on the island has not changed over the last couple of centuries – the inhabitants still use ox sleds for transportation and fish the old fashioned way. Turtles still bask lazily in the sun while the bread trees ripen fruit. The President of the Seychelles has his suburban 18th century residence on La Digue. And what do the heads of states usually choose? Right. Only the best!

Login to post comments
Top

Friday's Newsletter with the best stories of the week.

Your email address: (required)