Today we had the gentlest possible introduction to Africa in the form of the supremely peaceful island of Praslin in the Seychelles.
There are a number of reasons why the atmosphere couldn’t really be much more different from what we’re going to see in chaotic Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania on the mainland. Firstly, the Seychelles are 1,000 miles removed from mainland Africa – so remote that there are no problems of illegal migration. Secondly, the place is doing rather well (mainly from the tourist industry), with no extremes of poverty. Thirdly, the people are a comfortable mixture of races and colours that have all settled into the relaxed creole Seychelles culture.
Praslin itself has gorgeous beaches and an agreeably laid back atmosphere, but we took the ferry straight off the island, to neighbouring La Digue, where the pace of life gets even slower (if that were possible). There are no cars on the island, so everyone cycles around, or uses golf buggies – sadly, the romantic old ox-carts that used to be a feature of island life have recently been phased out (which I suppose is good news for the oxen).
There’s a real Caribbean feel to the island – with its colourful houses, African faces (also the descendants of slaves), beautiful beaches and chilled out atmosphere – although, this place seems a bit more organised and even more chilled than the Caribbean.
We were taken to a coconut plantation, where we learnt more about the humble coconut than we’d ever wanted to know, and we had an encounter with the Seychelles’ most famous residents – its lugubrious Giant Tortoises (the only things that move at a slower pace than island life).
But, as ever in the Seychelles, the star of the show was the beach – in this case, the unbelievably attractive Anse d’Argent – a stretch of powder white sand, bookended by huge rounded granite boulders. These granite rocks had been weathered into all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes that made them look like they came from a film set, rather than from nature. In fact, our guide told us that the beach was used as a film set on a couple of occasions – for the Tom Hanks film, “Cast Away”, and for one of the Emanuelle films (to me, it felt a bit more appropriate as a setting for a desert island rather than for a soft porn film).
So, after a bit of snorkelling, and a bit of luxuriating in this most idyllic of surroundings, it was time to catch the ferry back to the “bright lights” of Praslin. A stroll into town (Ste Anne) confirmed that this was anything but the bright lights of the big city, but it was another place with a really lovely atmosphere – friendly people and languid lifestyles.
Our day here confirmed my previous impression that I much prefer the Seychelles to the Maldives. I personally think it’s more visually beautiful, while the culture and people are much more welcoming, and the atmosphere much more of a “real” one (in that there’s no “Us and Them” feel).
What a great introduction to Africa!