University At Sea travel blog

Female coco de mer

Male coco de mer

Winnie holding husk of coco de mer.

Dense growth

La Digue, Granite formations



Seychelle Lily blossom

Aldabra Giant Tortoise


Barbed wire on Discovery aft

Friday, February 26, 2010


More than 100 islands and islets make up the Seychelles archipelago, yet the total land area is a mere 175 sq miles; so if you’d like paradise on a remote island this is the place to come. Most of the land is composed of granite outcroppings where some of the formations are spectacular.

On Thursday, we visited two of the islands, starting in the morning with Preslin (Praylin), the second largest in the group. We came especially to see the male and female coco de mere palm, unique to the Seychelles and abundant in Vallee de Mai within Preslin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our guide used the set-up display to let us examine the female seed, which is the largest in the world inside a very large and heavy husk that is very suggestive in its appearance, as are the structures of the male palm. The vegetation in the park is gigantic and creates a dense shade. We walked along paths, noticing other palms, especially the pandanus, whose fruit is supposed to enhance virility. A group of Aldabra Giant Tortoises who have escaped extinction due to their isolated location and conservation efforts, were great to photograph because of their closeness to us and were slow movers.

We were tendered back to the ship for lunch while the ship made its way to La Digue, in about one hour.

Some in our group had been to the Seychelles before and told us to be sure to bring our cameras to capture the giant granite formations. They weren’t exaggerating one bit. The outcropping looked like primitive creatures magnified many times. Our mode of transportation was an ox cart as we slowly made our way along shady lanes, with a gentle cool breeze. Again, the size of the vegetation astounds me. Walking alongside our cart was a woman naturalist, who was very articulate in explaining some of the processes used in obtaining coconut products. We came to a kiln where the coconuts are dried so the meat can be removed from the husk easier. She pointed out the three “eyes” of the coconut and said that the soft eye is where a new shoot would develop. The coconut is cut in half with a machete and the loosened meat is put into a wooden drum with a weight that is moved by oxen going around in circles to extract the milk which is collected from a trough at the bottom. There is no waste of the coconut plant. The hulls are used as mulch, the fronds are used in roofing, the wood is used for poles and other wooden products. The trees are cut when productivity wanes.

We rode back in a motorized open van and along the way our guide pointed out a vanilla plantation mulched with coconut shells. The plant will have a blossom in three years but it takes seven years to get a good crop. Staggered pruning will assure a more steady production.

After a refreshing coconut juice drink (the liquid from unripe coconut; it is almost clear), our naturalist guide asked if anyone wanted to see the rock formations, as if you really needed a guide with those huge formations all around. But they weren’t as obvious from where I was standing. I followed her along a path and they loomed in front of me with such majesty. But it’s not enough to just look ahead; looking behind revealed just as much beauty. I went all the way to a small beach where many of our group were getting a short swim before we had to leave. The boulders provided some shade as they formed coves along the beach.

Our entertainment in the evening was a group that boarded the ship from the island of four musicians, four women and two men dancers performing folk dances. They invited audience participation that those who took part really seemed to enjoy. The information about the group said that their music incorporated not only their folk melodies, but waltzes and polkas. One of the tunes really sounded a lot like “We Left Our Wives At Home”.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Through the night the ship sailed to Mahe, the largest Seychelle island, into Port Victoria, the smallest capital in the world. Today we took in the Botanical Gardens, that looked like someone’s back yard when our van parked, but had a beautifully laid out landscape when we entered. Tina was an excellent guide and pointed out plants and trees along the way, and many birds for the birders in our group.. This is the way I enjoy a garden. Our group was divided between two guides and we were just about the only ones there. There was a school group, but we were not in anyone’s way. Again we saw the Aldabra Giant Tortoises, but this time we could get next to them. I think I got too close. When one started moving, I couldn’t believe the force it exerted as it almost pushed me over, and then it stepped on my toe!

Next we stopped at a fruit, vegetable and fish market to see more interesting things that people eat; there were also post cards and craft items for sale. We had a short rainfall that cleared up by the time we were ready to leave.

We drove to a hotel for a mixed fruit drink and use the beach. I was so sweaty that taking off my clothes and putting on a bathing suit seemed like too much effort. But I did get into the Indian Ocean up to my knees and almost got knocked over by a wave. I had a book along, so I got a chair under a tree and watched swimmers’ belongings. They didn’t have a very long swim before the sky opened up with a real downpour. We scurried into the hotel open lounge, while I continued to read until it was time to head back to the ship. This was really the first time we really had a significant rainfall during my trip.

We departed at 6:00 PM for Mauritius, and we’re picking up speed as we enter pirate territory. The Captain said communication would be halted at 10:00 PM tonight.

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