With the exception of ‘Prom Night’ pictured here on Tuesday evening, activities around the ship have been normal & routine since leaving Sri Lanka 3 days ago. Although we have traveled 1,700 miles, our arrival in Victoria, Seychelles later this morning still leaves us nearly 1,000 miles off the African coast. We’ve seen no cruise ships, no cargo vessels, no military fleets, & NO pirates – the only other floating object spotted was a small fishing dinghy late yesterday. Of course, many folks thought we might be confronting pirates because of our isolated location in the ocean – but the boat drifted off to our stern as peacefully as it sailed at us. The weather has been mainly cloudy, mid-80’s with a few brief showers – but the seas have been calm and at times, like glass – amazing to experience the ocean so tranquil for such a long stretch. I monitor marine weather via the internet (specifically wave heights) and we’ve been very fortunate to date. As I look at the southern tip of Africa & areas west however, we’ve got some potentially challenging days ahead – but not for another two weeks, and conditions can change one way or the other quite rapidly. I write this with a little smile because we really enjoy high seas and look forward to the ride – since January 5th, we’ve only had a handful of ‘fun’ days & nights!
So it’s 4:30am – sitting outside on our deck as we approach Victoria – first time visit. I can just now start to see lights. The Seychelles are a group of about 115 islands 1,000 miles off the coast of east Africa. The three central islands – Mahe, Praslin, & La Digue are granite (we are told) while the outlying islands are coral atolls. Victoria, on the island of Mahe, is one of the smallest capital cities on the globe and the only major port in the Seychelles. They tell us we’re in for a real treat – that the islands and beaches here are rated the most beautiful in the world – hard to believe after some of the magnificent coastlines we’ve been fortunate enough to visit. We’re scheduled to dock at 8:00 – our tour leaves at 8:05 and is listed as 9 hours – we’ll be touring the islands on small boats and venturing into the various jungles & rainforests. Sounds like a great photo day, though the forecast is 90 degrees with chance of rain. I’ll be waking Cheryl around 5:00 so we can get our backpacks ready, have breakfast & enjoy the sail-in. More later!
At approximately 6:30am, the Captain announces we’ll be slightly delayed in docking as a warship is occupying our berth – he also said that while the delay is somewhat disrupting, it was nice to see a military presence in the area given the pirate activity. We drifted in the outer harbor, yielding as the warship made her way out. We were docked by 8:15, only a few minutes overdue.
Our tour was the first to be released – only 20 of us. Our chartered catamaran was moored next to the ship – literally. Just a few steps off the ship and we were onboard the miniature vessel. Our group was small for two reasons. One, the price was steep – however, we didn’t have to pay anything as this was a complimentary excursion given to us by Holland America – each World Cruise you can elect one free tour from a pre-published list. This saved us $700, though I doubt we would have gone to begin with. Second reason, the 2-hour trip (each way) to Praslin Island has a reputation of being very rough. Once again, we were very fortunate – the ocean was very calm – Cheryl and I actually sat on the hull of the boat with our feet dangling in the sea mist for the entire trip to the island – it was great! Once we arrived at Praslin, we boarded a small bus for the short trip to Vallee de Mai – this is the UNESCO World Heritage Site and if I were asked to describe it in two words, my reply would be… Jurassic Park. Literally everything on the island is oversize. It’s also home to one of the world’s rarest birds, the black parrot. We spotted two, & managed to photograph one, but we’re not sure yet about picture quality. At any rate, the island is like a magical forest, thick with tropical vegetation, and many species of rare, endemic palms. One such palm is the giant Coco-de-Mer, reaching heights of 100 feet. These trees produce a rare ‘double-coconut’ which take 7 years to mature before they fall, and can weigh up to 60 lbs. Amazing! You also find here, the insect-eating pitcher plant, as well as a veritable bouquet of HUGE orchids, bougainvillea’s, hibiscuses, gardenias, and frangipani. Our pictures don’t begin to capture the relative size of the vegetacian – again, Jurassic Park on steroids – unbelievable, like something you’d see in a fairytale or Hollywood-produced movie. As we were walking through, I commented to Cheryl, “This is like something out of the movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” We were so tiny against the vegetation!
Around 12:30, we went to the main village and had lunch at the Indian Ocean Resort. The facility was nice but as you would expect on an isolated tropical island, without air-conditioning, so the dining area was quite muggy. The food was OK – not great. The buffet consisted of fish, chicken, beef, rice, & salads. The beef was very tough – I’m not convinced it came from cattle. We generally stay away from salads in these strange places for obvious reasons, but particularly today as looking up at you were octopus parts, with the suckers still attached! Sorry, no sale!
Back on the bus, we were off to visit one of the famed beaches and while it was very nice, it definitely wouldn’t rank as one of the top beaches in the world, as they advertise. The water was very colorful and warm, but an abundance of smelly seaweed was quite commonplace. There were huge boulders in some areas giving it a very unique appearance, but otherwise it was just OK. We were more impressed with the giant tortoises lumbering around, many larger than me, and quite friendy!
By 3:15 we were back on the catamaran for the trip back to the ship, once again hanging our feet over the hull. Several other folks discovered our ‘special place’ and joined us for the lengthy, but scenic trip home. Another warship entered the harbor, this one equipped with helicopters. While this certainly makes you feel safe, it also makes you now wonder WHY there are TWO such vessels in the area. Published ‘all-aboard’ time was 5:30 – we pulled up next to the ship at 5:25 – the shore excursion director (Leslie) actually came to greet us with clipboard in hand…we were sailing in less than 5 minutes…”let’s hurry, people.”
Hot, sweaty, & tired – we showered, had a short, very casual dinner in the Lido, and were back in our stateroom by 6:45pm. The evening theater show was still over an hour away – we decided instead to watch an old ‘Colombo’ movie in our room… and fell asleep. Such party-poopers!
Next stop…Madagascar…800 miles south – scheduled to arrive Saturday morning, March 30th, 9am.