Barbara & Stu's Excellent Vacations Great trips we have taken

In a world of exotic islands with picturesque beaches, crystalline waters and balmy sea breezes, why travel halfway around the world, amassing a gargantuan case of jet lag, to a remote outpost of the Indian Ocean just to soak up some sun and fun? Picture an archipelago of islands with great geological diversity, from mountainous isles with granite-strewn beaches to low-lying coral atolls with vast inner lagoons, ark-loads of native animal species, from rare birds to giant land tortoises, unusual plants, from the sensuous Coco-de-Mer palm to the martial Cannonball tree and teeming coral reefs, from sleek, muscular sharks to minuscule cleaner shrimp. You’re beginning to get an idea of the extraordinary Republic of the Seychelles and why it’s worth the trip.

Getting there is no picnic, although you consume mass quantities of food along the way. You have to connect via Europe or Singapore. We spent the night on a flight to London, landed at Heathrow early Saturday morning, and checked into a shabby, but serviceable, hotel on the Strand. After an invigorating shower and change, we headed to the venerable British Museum to get our fresh socks knocked off by the Egyptian Mummies. Although we’d both been to London on many occasions, we focused on the art museums and somehow missed this. Though mid-October, the weather was mild and sunny so we strolled over the Thames and had a leisurely lunch in an outdoor café on Gabriel’s Wharf. We stopped by the restored Globe theater, but we didn’t have quite enough time for the tour since we had reserved seats at the Old Vic for a production of Antigone with Tara Fitzgerald. It was interesting, but not as absorbing as we’d hoped. We really wanted to see the Royal Shakespeare Company, but we visited just after their Stratford season ended and a week before their London season began. Next visit.

Starbucks on the Strand! What’s the world coming to? We had some coffee and rested before heading back to the hotel to gather our bags and hop the train to Gatwick for our British Airways flight to the Seychelles by way of Nairobi, Kenya. The Seychelles islands are in the Indian Ocean averaging about 800 miles east of the African nations of Kenya and Tanzania.

We arrived at the main island of Mahe on Sunday afternoon and were kept waiting for another whole day (or so it felt) for our lift to the hotel. Fortunately, this transfer, the unnecessary transfer through Nairobi and our underwater strobe light dying, were the only real glitches of the trip, which would have been perfect otherwise, and how boring would that have been?

We booked a room at the Northolme on the Northwest coast in a peaceful area called Glacis. Former hideaway for writers, like Somerset Maugham, the Northolme is perched on a stony ridge overlooking the rugged coast. Our spacious but austere room included a wide balcony with an expansive ocean view. Though not the most luxurious hotel on Mahe, it is certainly one of the most charismatic and we found the staff to be charming.

After settling in, we skipped dinner, opting for sleep. We never left the property the next day, snorkeling and swimming from the small, but very pretty, hotel beach and eating in their open-air dining room with glorious views of lush gardens and the sea.

Petite crimson birds, the adorable Madagascar Fody, perched on the nearby railings hoping to sneak a few table crumbs. We saw these birds throughout the islands and never failed to be delighted by them.

Sitting in the bar area waiting for our lift to the boat dock the following day, we met a young British couple, Suzie and Jeremy, who turned out to be headed for the same dive boat that we were. Both avid photographers, Stu and Jeremy immediately began discussing photo equipment. We discovered the Indian Ocean Explorer on the Internet and had booked it at least a year in advance, thereby snagging the most spacious and comfortable cabin and one of only 2 with a double berth rather than bunk beds. Since there are only 8 cabins, it pays to plan in advance. The Explorer is a marine research vessel owned by a consortium of marine biologists, divers and businessmen, they run liveaboard dive trips in the Seychelles to offset the research operating costs. During most of the year the boat is up in the northern (or Inner) islands but when the seas calm in the spring and fall, they cruise down to the southern (or Outer) islands and run dive trips until the change in weather obliges them to head back to Mahe. We signed on for a two week trip, motoring from Mahe to the southernmost island of Aldabra - a National Heritage Site and remote ecological paradise - an itinerary that is only offered 4 times a year (down and back twice a year).

Interestingly, not all of the passengers came to dive. We had a couple of snorkelers and a young couple, Jon and Catherine, who came to fly fish. Jon owns a fly fishing operation based in Manhattan, Urban Anglers, and often leads fishing expeditions well off the beaten path. They enjoyed the fishing so much that Jon is trying to organize a group to book the Explorer next year for a fishing trip. At first we were surprised that a dive operation would host fisherfolk, but since their policy is to catch and release, it seemed less odd. We had 3 of the boat co-owners with us: David runs the Explorer dive operation and he and his wife co-manage the land-based Seychelles Underwater Centre, a 5-star PADI facility on Mahe and Praslin. Les is an accountant turned marine biologist in his second career who came along with his wife Beryl, one of the snorkelers. Peter is a partner with Deloitte Consulting in Switzerland and he lends a hand as a dive instructor when Dave needs him. Rounding out our intrepid group were Phil and his dive buddy, Jerry. Phil is a travel agent/dive master who booked everyone on the trip but us and was on a working holiday. Jerry is a retired asset manager who pretty much spends all of his time traveling. He’s in Thailand for the next couple of months. Lady Hermione, also a snorkeler, is authentic British peerage and she also runs a clever Christmas crackers business. Jay and Monica are from Lichtenstein - he is a businessman of some kind that we never caught, and she cares for their home and hearth and grandkids. The crew was terrific, primarily ex-Navy sailors. We never had to hook up our equipment. Meals were simple but tasty and way more than we could eat. It is a very well run operation - thanks in large part to David’s hard work and emphasis on service quality.

After boarding the boat, Dave delivered a briefing, we settled into our cabins and then had lunch while making everyone’s acquaintance. We did an orientation dive off Mahe to check out our equipment and, we imagine, so David could check us out. Then we hauled anchor and headed down to Desroches.

The seas were rougher than expected, so not everyone had an appetite for dinner and most people headed to their cabins to retire early. Fortunately, for the rest of the trip the seas were placid and the weather was ideal - warm and sunny with 2 or three brief showers.

David divided the scuba divers into two groups, he led our group, which included Jeremy, Suzie, Phil and Jerry. Suzie ended up with a painful ear infection and stopped diving pretty early on. Bridget, the other divemaster, took Les, Peter, Jay and Monica as well as administering Jon’s Open Water Certification dives - he earned his C-card on the trip. Jon and Catherine only dove in Aldabra since fishing is prohibited there. We dove off Zodiacs (large inflatable rafts) - ours ably piloted by Andy, a native of New Zealand, Bridget’s by Jerry, a Seychellois. We did 2-4 dives a day depending upon our travel schedule. Both David and Bridget are superb dive masters, giving us freedom to explore according to our abilities, but also enhancing the experience by pointing out cool critters and identifying different species.

And what diving! Even though the infamous El Nino ocean current killed miles of coral, tragic in such unblemished and bountiful reefs, there were still huge swarms of fish and fascinating sea critters of all types. One of our favorite discoveries was a 9-foot shovel-nosed ray, also commonly called a guitarfish due to its odd shape. He was just parked on the sandy bottom at about 93 feet, patiently tolerating our impertinence as we ogled, photographed and pet his silky gray hide. We saw many more typical rays, and their cousins the sharks - southern and spotted stingrays, graceful winged eagle rays, torpedo rays with a jolt of electricity for anyone foolish enough to touch them, hammerhead sharks (with a mouthful of sharp teeth for anyone foolish enough to touch them) abrasive-skinned nurse sharks, as well as white-, black- and gray-tips. On one dive, while riding a swift current through a narrow channel, David spotted a humongous bull shark heading our way. Bulls are serious predators with chests like bodybuilders on steroids. Dave buzzed us to take a look (he had a device on his inflator hose that he used to get our attention). Startled, the shark contorted his cartilaginous body in that odd pretzel-like way that sharks do when they’re bothered, and then shot over the top of the reef and out of sight.

Once when David had some boat repairs to supervise, he sent us off with Jeremy to scope out a reef (Jerry and Phil sat out the dive). While Jeremy was taking an artsy photo of an enormous stream of fusiliers, we suddenly looked up to find ourselves at the center of a big school of sizeable barracuda. They circled us about 3 or 4 times, all eyes trained on these odd bubble-blowing creatures, before getting bored with us and rapidly disappearing. We had seen a larger group of barracuda earlier on the trip, but this was really exciting. You don’t often get to be at the center of a barracuda-go-round.

We really enjoyed the tiny animals, transparent shrimp dotted with bright colors, delicate porcelain crabs, gaudy nudibranches (sea slugs) adorned with feathery gills, the leafy rockmover wrasse, spirally Christmas tree worms, googly-eyed blennies shyly peeking out of crevices.

There was no shortage of big animals either. We dubbed one dive Turtlemania because of the sheer number of green and hawksbill turtles, from extra-small to mammoth, careening over the reef. Of course, we saw even more sea turtles on later dives, and couldn’t resist touching them as they’d zoom by so temptingly close. Lots of huge, grinning moray eels, some spotted, as well as a rare black ribbon eel. Clusters of big, flat bumphead parrotfish, ocelot groupers, VW-sized potato groupers, striped blacksaddle (tiger) groupers and torpedo shaped dogtooth tuna plus jacks and bluefin trevally. All of this along with scores of brightly arrayed reef fish - powder-blue surgeonfish, oriental sweetlips, fire gobies, neon fusiliers, many varieties of angelfish and butterfly fish, checkerboard and bird wrasse, bannerfish, pufferfish, etc. We’d need a book to catalogue all the fish we saw. After each dive, we’d hit the fish ID books, eagerly finding names for the new friends we’d found.

As is customary, most days started with pretty deep dives, often 120 ft. or so (we didn’t exceed a depth of 128 ft) and got progressively shallower. On the last two days, the dives were mainly shallow as we readied our bodies for the flight back to Mahe. On the last morning, we had the extraordinary experience of doing 3 dives on one tank of air and still having almost half a tank left.

The southern atolls have large inner lagoons, fed with ocean water through narrow channels. When the tides change, the water rips through these channels at high speeds, making for some thrilling drift dives. Just before a tide change, huge arrays of fish will aggregate around the mouth of the channel waiting to enter. One of the most exciting dives we experienced was an aggregate dive off Astove Island. The sheer mass of sea life was astounding. When the tide is right, you are pushed through the channel along with hordes of rays, sharks, turtles and fish.

We did several very fast channel dives at Aldabra. David would precede us, dragging along a bright orange surface buoy that Andy could follow in the Zodiac. Most of the time, we were able to board the raft fairly easily. On the last morning, we dropped into a ripping current through a narrow, shallow channel. Andy moored the Zodiac just on the other side of a mound. The idea was to grab the anchor line and one by one surface to the raft and climb aboard. We cleared the mound and saw Dave pointing out the anchor line. It was on the right side of the channel and we were on the left side. After swimming hard to cross the channel, we grabbed the anchor line. The current, pushing hard from behind, forced us up the line to the surface, where the current was even stronger. Stu, Phil and Jerry grabbed onto the side of the Zodiac while Andy and Michel, a tall, muscular Seychellois, helped them remove their tanks and BCDs. It was difficult enough boarding the raft without current as the sides were high and you had to haul yourself straight up then get a leg over. With the current pulling your body into a horizontal position, looking like a cartoon of a guy in a windstorm, boarding was really a challenge.

I got to the top of the anchor line and grabbed for another line, lost my grip and went shooting under the right side of the Zodiac where Stu and the guys were struggling to hold on. There had been no time to pump air into my BC and with an almost full tank, I was somewhat overweighted.

Fortunately, Dave had attached the buoy to the front of the Zodiac on a long line and was hanging off the end of it. I swam as hard as I could to reach the line, grabbing it just a couple of yards before the end. Now I was exhausted, buffeted by the current, dunking like a doughnut, and dangling off a line at some distance from the raft, trying to figure out how I’d have the strength to hand-over-hand my way back up the line against this raging current. At this point, Dave shouts, "Help her, Michel" and Michel started pulling the line, hauling me in like a big flopping tuna. I am still awed by his strength. I reached the end of the raft, next to the outboard motor and grabbed on while Andy unsnapped my BCD and hauled it and the attached tank over my head, then reached down and unhooked my weight belt and took that on board. Then it was my turn to climb in, but I was feeling like a sack of mush and breathing like a Lamaze practitioner in full labor. Suddenly, Michel grabbed me under the armpits like a rag doll, lifted me straight up, turned me around and sat me in the raft.

As soon as everyone made it aboard, we motored back up the channel to do the same dive again. This time, I knew what to expect. As soon as we saw the underwater mound we moved to the right of the channel so we didn’t have a hard swim to the anchor line. I pumped air in my BCD before grabbing the line. When I got to the top, Michel motioned for me to come to the left side of the Zodiac and grabbed my hands, holding on to me until Andy could come over and grab my tank. This time, I was able to unhook my own weight belt, but Michel still had to drag me into the raft.

Because these dives were so fast, they each took less than 8 minutes, and because they were so shallow, less than 40 ft., we had more than half a tank of air left, so we motored to a different channel nearby for our third dive in a row. This was less rapid and we were rewarded with 2 blue-faced African Angelfish, which we'd been trying to spot for days. Getting on the Zodiac was a breeze.

We were lucky to have a great crew and a quality dive operation. The first morning that we awoke moored off Aldabra, we watched a frisky pod of spinner dolphins cavorting nearby. One exuberant juvenile couldn’t seem to resist leaping out of the water and spinning continually, living up to his species name. On the way back from our first dive, the pod surrounded us. We jumped in with snorkels but they weren’t in the mood to play and quickly outdistanced us. While dunking our gear on the back deck, we heard some shouts and saw some divers surfacing between our boat and the shore. We spotted Jerry’s Zodiac some distance away following Bridget’s dive group so we determined that they came from a lovely sailing yacht moored a mile or so away. Andy hopped into the Zodiac to retrieve them and bring them back to their boat. They were an Italian group - their boat driver had dropped them in the water near the yacht and was still waiting there, even though the current had carried the divers a mile or more away. Not a good dive plan. There turned out to be more to this story. Catherine and Jon had encountered the guy running the yacht trip in Mahe prior to boarding the Explorer. When they told him they were going to Aldabra, he told them that it wasn’t possible, that his was the only boat visiting Aldabra. When they said that they were on the Explorer, he told them what a terrible outfit it is, awful crew, don’t know what they’re doing, the boat won’t make it, etc. etc. His boat was the only way to go according to him.

First, they abandoned their divers. Then, days after returning from our dive trip, we ran into Phil and his wife, Joyce, on the island of Praslin. Phil met one of the Italian divers from the yacht. He was grateful that we’d helped them during that dive, but the worse was yet to come. On the way back to Mahe from Aldabra, the Italian yacht sunk and they spent 28 hours in rafts until a Seychelles fishing boat rescued them. They were lucky - in the 15 days that we spent in the outer islands, we only saw 2 or 3 other boats. How often do you see the Greek concept of hubris so aptly illustrated?

As exciting as the environment was beneath the sea, it was equally interesting on land.

We didn’t do much exploring on the scenic islands of Desroches, D’Arros, Alphonse, tiny Bijoutier, St. Pierre or Astove, though we dove this area. We went ashore on Cosmoledo to see raucous colonies of boobies. There were handsome Masked Boobies nesting on the ground, one or two precious eggs tucked between their olive green feet; gorgeous Red-Footed boobies with their pastel pink and blue faces nestled in low leafy mangrove trees with their white fuzzy chicks; and drab Brown Boobies high atop the taller trees. Back at the boat, Brown Boobies comically attempted landings on the ship’s masts and riggings. We also saw the resplendent Souimanga Sunbird, with its iridescent head and copper throat, and colorful crabs scampering on the rocks.

This just whet our appetites for Aldabra. Our first excursion was to the research station. They hadn’t gotten any rain for months and their desalinization apparatus had broken, so they were desperate for fresh water. Our crew brought huge barrels of water ashore and also managed to find a replacement part for their water-processing equipment. A young research assistant walked along the beach with us discussing the endemic species. Aldabra is the last habitat outside of the Galapagos Islands for giant land tortoises. We found clusters of huge, scaly tortoises with sweet E.T. faces beneath trees enjoying the shade, as well as scattered loners contemplating the sea from comfortable sand ditches on the beach. Just off the beach, baby blacktip reef sharks cruised the shallow waters. During our short walk we also spotted Pied Crows, Turnstones, the endemic jet-black Aldabra Drongo, and Comoro Blue Pigeons with their bushy heads and bright red eye rings. We followed an elegant white Egret as it stalked the shoreline and watched a feisty Malagasy Kestrel, a small handsome raptor, chase a larger crow away to protect its nest.

Another day we landed on a different side of the island to look for the rare White-Throated Rail. The Rail is the last flightless bird in the Indian Ocean and one of the most endangered species in the Seychelles. They are very appealing little birds with russet heads, dark green bodies, white throats and a long curved beak for foraging. They are surprisingly gregarious, approaching us without fear and pecking at our shoes. When we could tear our gaze from the Rails, we looked up and saw a pretty pair of Malagasy White-Eyes high in a tree.

The head of the research station met us in a small boat another day and lead us into a protected area which hosts extensive colonies of Great and Lesser Frigatebirds. Male Frigates have a brilliant red pouch at their throat that they inflate like a Valentine balloon to attract females.

Female Frigates nested in the mangrove trees tending to their goofy-looking chicks. In this area, the Frigates nested side by side with Red-Footed Boobies. Motoring through the lagoon, we also saw Brown and Lesser Noddies and Red-Tailed Tropicbirds.

After the morning dives one day, David took us into a mangrove area to visit the nesting Boobies and to snorkel. Sea turtles, eagle rays and small sharks patrolled the waters, while Grey Herons, Frigatebirds, Boobies and Noddies dominated the air. A mating pair of Dimorphic Egrets, one dark gray, one white, courted on the bank. We went back to the research station at dusk to drop more water and to see the coconut crabs that swarm out in the evenings. Burly crustaceans with powerful claws that can literally crack open a coconut, they are either bright red or deep purple.

Our last land stop was on Assumption Island. We visited a defunct copra plantation and processing facility and witnessed the most spectacular sunset of the trip. Assumption has a small airstrip from which we caught our charter flight back to Mahe the following morning. The 15 days seemed to fly by and we were sad to part company with David, Andy and our fellow adventurers. But we didn’t miss everyone for long. As it turned out, we met Jeremy and Suzie in the bar at the Northolme that evening and they invited us to join them for dinner the next night, so we reserved a table at La Scala, which has to be the best restaurant in the Seychelles. It has some Italian food, but mainly specializes in seafood, which is very expertly prepared and presented. Earlier that day, we happened upon Jerry walking down the street in Victoria, the capital city, and we had ice cream bars together. As previously mentioned, we ran into Phil at the dock in Praslin and got to meet his lovely wife, Joyce, who joined him after the dive trip. We spoke with Jay and Monica while waiting to catch a ferry to Praslin - they were going for a day trip. Jon and Catherine invited us to dinner in Manhattan after we returned and we had a terrific time at Eleven Madison. Jon is a friend of the chef, Kelly Heffernan, who is a fly fisherman, so the meal was really special - he threw in lots of little extras and came to chat. We also got a note from Lady Hermione with some recipes and sent back some of our favorites. David is off on the Explorer’s millennium trip, but we sent him some photos and hope to hear from him when (if?) business slows down. We were very lucky to have such a congenial group on the boat.

We spent a couple of nights at the Northolme again and rented a car to explore Mahe. We started in Victoria, which is a clean, pretty city. We found an interesting produce market and really enjoyed the beautiful Catholic church with its lovely stained glass windows. Then we headed south, following the coast around the island, stopping for the scenery. We stopped for lunch at a small seaside café. Returning to the north of the island, we cut across lush Morne Seychellois Park, the highest point in the Seychelles. At the hotel, we met a journalist from Zimbabwe. He was writing a piece on the economy of the Seychelles, which is very healthy - good per capita income and good education.

We arose early to catch a fast catamaran ferry to Praslin (1 hour). Our agent had booked us seats on the upper deck and it was really nice enjoying the view, the terns flying around and the sea breeze.

We went directly to our hotel, L’Archipel. It’s an attractive place, with bungalows on the hills overlooking the beach, each housing 1or 2 suites with private balconies and sea views. After settling into our spacious, comfortable room, we threw on bathing suits and headed straight to the beach. We just read, listened to music and swam, stopping only to don cover-ups and have lunch at the hotel’s restaurant on the beach. Hummingbird-like Seychelles Sunbirds busily harvested nectar from flowers in the tree over our heads, diverting out attention from the glorious seascape before us. Dinner at the hotel was OK, but not as good as we’d hoped.

We arranged for a rental car and the next day after a relaxing breakfast on our balcony, we headed out to explore the island, stopping for photos all along the way. We started at the Vallee de Mai, a nature preserve for the remarkable Coco de Mer palm tree. We hired a guide, which turned out to be an excellent decision. He was very knowledgeable and interesting. The Coco de Mer grows only in the Seychelles and is the world’s tallest species of palm tree with the largest nuts. It was close to extinction but has been nicely revived and grows primarily in this reserve on Praslin now (they have some in the botanical garden in Mahe also). When the unusual nuts washed up on the shores of the Maldives islands many years ago, the natives thought that they grew in the sea, hence the name, which means "Coconut of the Sea".

Coco de Mer trees are either male or female, but it takes 35 years or more before the sex of the tree is known. The females grow the double nuts and are fertilized by the males, which sprout long flowering appendages for this purpose. When the nut is ripe and falls, it will usually fall in the shade, since mature Coco de Mers have wide crowns. It sends out an underground thermo-sensitive shoot which surfaces in a sunlit area since the tree must grow in the sun. The nut nourishes the shoot until it takes root and draws nutrients from the soil. The nuts are famous for being shaped like a woman’s pelvic region, and were therefore considered a highly prized aphrodisiac. Since they are a protected species, they are no longer eaten, but our guide told us that they are delicious.

There were several other species of rare palms in the reserve that our guide pointed out and described. We were exceedingly lucky and saw much of the wildlife that inhabits the forest. Not only did we spot 5 native Seychelles Black Parrots but we witnessed a pair mating, a rare event according to our guide, plus Seychelles Bulbuls, decorative Seychelles Blue Pigeons, Golden-Eyed Geckos and a cute little green tree frog.

We drove up to Anse Lazio, reputedly the best beach on Praslin, but it was too crowded for our tastes. We stopped on the way back and treated ourselves to lunch at La Reserve, another fine resort. We preferred the quiet intimacy and superior beach at L’Archipel, but the meal was excellent, service was friendly and efficient, and we were entertained by a Green-Backed Heron snatching tiny transparent fish from the shallow water off the dock nearby. After lunch, we drove to the other side of the island to check out the main town and a small aquarium before heading back to the beach at our hotel to relax. Dinner was much better that evening and quite enjoyable - the kitchen seemed to be a bit uneven. Breakfast was great again, we liked sharing crumbs with our favorites - the red Madagascar Fodies - on our porch overlooking the water.

We checked out, headed to the picturesque harbor in St. Anne and boarded the quaint wooden ferryboat to La Digue, a half-hour ride.

La Digue is still small and sleepy and one of the most gorgeous islands on earth. The "main town" of La Passe is a charming little village spreading out from the scenic harbor. Until recently, the only transportation aside from bicycles and feet were ox-drawn carts. Unfortunately, now there are mini-vans to transport guests from the dock to the island hotels, but you’re still restricted to non-motorized transportation to get anywhere else. Ox-carts still wend their way along the roads, recalling a bygone era.

We checked into our suite at the La Digue Island Lodge admiring the view of Praslin from our patio. We didn’t waste any time and walked first to a nearby reserve for the rare Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher. Fortune smiled on us again and we found a couple of males and a female. The males sport sleek black coats with two long trailing tail feathers - a costume that earned them the nickname of La Veuve (the widow). Though very different in appearance, the females are also beautiful, with black heads, chestnut backs and white chests.

We continued down the road, passing through L’Union Estate, a former copra plantation that is now an outdoor historical museum, to the magnificent Anse Source D’Argent - indisputably the most incredible beach in the Seychelles. Huge, weirdly-shaped granite boulders frame dazzling, white sand coves gently lapped by warm, impossibly blue water. A Salvador Dali dream beach in living color. We spent a long time swimming, photographing and exploring all the nooks and crannies along this amazing coastline. As popular as this place is, we had no difficulty finding an isolated stretch of beach to enjoy. The weather gods must have overcompensated us for the disappointing weather we had in Alaska by delivering glorious sunshine and bright blue skies throughout our trip, never so much appreciated as in this location. We watched the sun set behind Praslin from our veranda, then headed over to the lodge’s lively outdoor barbecue.

The next morning we signed up for one of the lodge’s complimentary snorkeling excursions to nearby Cocos Island. The snorkeling was engrossing and the island was also - another fabulous granite-strewn beach with lots of interesting birds, such as the graceful White-Tailed Tropicbirds, black and white Bridled Terns, and aptly-named Fairy Terns. We returned to the lodge for lunch by the pool then rented bikes and rode across the island to Grande Anse, the other notable beach. It’s not as awe-inspiring as Source D’Argent, but it was still worth the trip. Surf was up on this side of the island and surfer dudes were wiping out up and down the beach. We took a quick dip to cool off before heading back through the green, flowery countryside. We swam in the pool until it was time to watch yet another lovely sunset and change for dinner, which was quite good.

The next day it was time to leave. We rode the ferry back to Praslin, then boarded a small plane to Mahe. We checked our baggage at the airport (the police maintain a storage area for a small fee) and grabbed a cab to the Botanical Gardens. We had missed this when we toured the island previously. It was well worth the visit, beautifully landscaped and peaceful.

The best part was an impressive colony of fuzzy, blond fruit bats in one section. Considering that fruit bat is a local delicacy, found on many menus in Mahe, we were happy to see so many of these gentle mammals still thriving.

We walked into Victoria to see if there was anything we couldn’t live without in the shops (there wasn’t), then stopped in a cafe to remedy our ice cream deficiency. Finally, it was time to head back to the airport for the looooong trip home. We landed at Gatwick around 5:30 am and had plenty of time to visit the British Airways lounge for a shower and change before boarding a bus to Heathrow for our flight back to the U.S. We’re still waiting for the jet lag to dissipate - hopefully sometime before our next trip.