Forty-eight hours after I had said 'I do' to the woman of my dreams, I said 'hello' to the honeymoon destination of my fantasies. As Kenya Airways hovered in a teasing fashion over the rising humid air that engulfs Seychelles International Airport, my wife and I peered through the window to take in the inviting coastline of milk-white beach.
This is Victoria on Mahe Island, the capital 'city' of the Republic of Seychelles. It is a scorching little island tucked into the seascape of the Indian Ocean. Its main airport is situated right on the beach and as one flies in, you spot a scenic presentation of newly installed wind mills placed on a man-made island a few metres away from the natural peninsula.
Getting through customs was as easy as smelling a spring-time flower. For starters, it is refreshing to fly to one of very few countries where a Kenyan like me does not require a visa. The subsequent transfer to the hotel was equally painless.
It was a Sunday afternoon and we were met by Mr. Wao, a round fellow of Chinese descent who is the concierge at the Coral Strand Hotel in the Beau Vallon area of the island. He got us settled into one of the deluxe double rooms facing the sea from the third floor of the newly renovated establishment.
It was not long before we were sitting on the deck right on the beach listening to a local band playing Seychellois harmonies in tune with the sound of salty waves crashing against the relaxed tourists sprawled on the beach. The fruit and alcoholic cocktails served by a flowered-hair waitress put a stamp on the early island experience.
Our first night was a honeymoon disaster. A throat infection kept me tossing and turning. I barely slept as I made several trips to the bathroom to gurgle salty water in the hope that the disinfecting procedure would have instant results. It didn't.
Wao informed us that the nearest private clinic was quite far from the Hotel and so I braced myself for a long journey to relief. No sooner had I settled into the backseat of the cab than we were pulling into the parking at the destination! I guess if you live in an island 27 kilometres in length, the term "far" is decidedly relative.
Antibiotics and other sleepy forms of medication meant that I was literally out of action for the rest of the afternoon as my caring bride nursed me to health before dinner.
We took a walk down a serene path that evening to an expanse consisting of a selection of restaurants. We dined at 'The Boathouse' where our hosts treated us to a Creole barbeque consisting of roasted fish served with a selection of authentic local sides. The food and ambiance were great but a bill of close to R600 (approx. USD65) was very much on the high side. We found out during the rest of our stay that this was one exorbitant isle - possibly a consequence of the proportion of free spending tourists who are on the island at any given time.
The following day, Wao arranged for a driver to chauffeur us around the island. We visited some amazing beaches on the way to the Seychelles National Park. Gate fees are pretty cheap but there is not much to see. The most memorable feature was the Coco De Mer which is the biggest nut in the world that is endemic to the Praslin Island of the country. The fruit resembles the female form and for this reason it is also called the love nut.
Our driver was oozing local knowledge as he manoeuvred left and right in the narrow tarmac that cuts across Mahe. He informed us that the country consists of 115 islands of less than 100,000 people, most of whom occupy the three largest islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. The French were the first inhabitants having arrived in the 1700's followed soon after by the British. Slaves from mainland Africa and parts of Asia were brought to attend to agriculture and today's inhabitants therefore trace their heritage to three continents. They speak French, English and a language called Creole which is very similar to the language spoken in Mauritius, Reunion and parts of the Caribbean.
We visited a viewpoint with a great view of a number of islands including a man-made one called Eden Island where a three bedroom apartment costs about a million dollars. We moved on to the less glamorous location of Venn's Town which was a missionary school for the children of freed slaves. Not much is left from centuries ago other than the rock foundations of what were believed to be classrooms.
Our next stop was a tea factory en route to a fountain where young boys were taking dangerous dives from high trees into a deep part of the river. We had a brief stop at a market in Victoria where the wife bargained for a few mementos before settling at Chez Batistas, a restaurant serving the most delicious king clip on tables rooted directly to the beach sand. On our way back, we toured the Takamaka Bay factory. This is a distillery where the world famous rum of the same name is brewed.
On arrival at the hotel, Wao wowed us with a brochure of a boat tour he recommended for the following day. We were sold to the idea and set sail from a station not too far from central Victoria. About a kilometre in, we paused to take pictures of a small island inhabited only by birds and their poo.
Further in, we were able to spot various schools of fish through the glass bottom of the boat and went snorkelling with these racing creatures for about an hour. We then proceeded to Moyenne Island which was purchased by Briton Brendon Grimshaw for GBP 8000 in 1962. He is said to have turned down an offer USD50 million for the island prior to his death and rumours abound that there is a massive pirate treasure buried somewhere on the land. We walked around it in about half an hour escorted by Grimshaw's dog that still lives with one of his workers after which a delicious barbeque was set up as a preamble to lazy relaxation on the beach.
That evening the band played a number of Kenyan tunes which was not surprising given the number of my countrymen we encountered in Seychelles comprising immigrants and tourists.
The rest of our stay confirmed Seychelles as a perfect destination for a romantic getaway. There may not be a great variety of activities but you are unlikely to get bored of the sight of stunning strand, the warmth of hospitable natives and the taste of delightful local cuisine.