Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 18, 2009 - Anse Petit Cour, Praslin, Seychelles

Yesterday morning Sten's father, Bill, and his fiancee, Laurie, arrived on Mahe. They flew for about two days (including an 8 hour layover in Paris) to get here, but looked none the worse for wear when they got off the plane. Months ago, they bought airplane tickets to join us in the Seychelles. When it looked like we might not show up due to the pirate activity in the area they booked rooms on Praslin and Mahe. When we reported that the anchorages were pretty rolly, they decided to keep their hotel reservations. We met them at the airport then took them on a whirlwind tour of Victoria, including stops at the News Cafe and the local produce and fish market. After seeing them onto the ferry to Praslin (the swell was running strong enough that I wished I could join them!), we brought Mata'irea across. Our route brought us past Cousin and Cousine, two islands off the west coast of Praslin that host large populations of nesting sea birds. Flocks of hundreds of black noddies fed on clouds of small bait fish. We kept expecting some bigger game to break the surface, but there was no action.

Just around the corner from Bill and Laurie's lovely hotel, set in a lush, tropical garden, is a small bay that is protected from the full blast of the southeasterlies by a high hill. We dropped anchor there, dragged a bit, reanchored in deeper water, then went ashore to join them for a celebratory glass of champagne. While we were toasting the distance they had traveled to get here, the heavens opened and rain poured down. Afterwards, we grabbed a few umbrellas and wandered down the road to the local pizza joint and gelateria for dinner and dessert. By the end of dinner, everyone was yawning and ready to call it an early night.

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain beating down on the hatches. It was starting to look like the day was going to be a washout, but by 10am, the weather was clearing up enough to head into the Vallee de Mai. The valley is a World Heritage Site. Although a few introduced plants grow in the valley, it is primarily virgin forest containing the types of plants that would have been endemic to the region when the Seychelles' granitic islands were part of Gondwanaland, the super-continent that disintegrated over a hundred million years ago. The valley is truly primeval. Bubbling streams snake their way among huge granite boulders scattered along the hillsides. Several varieties of palms, screwpines and hardwoods grace the canopy. But if that isn't a big enough draw, the valley is the home of the mythical coco de mer palm.

The fruit of the coco de mer is unlike any other coconut. The male and female flowers occur on different palms. The male grows a long catkin, which can be as thick as a human arm and nearly as long. The female palms produce a large green heartshaped fruit, which can weigh up to 20kg, making it the heaviest plant seed on earth. A few months after the green fruit falls to the ground, the husk disintegrates to expose a hard, bi-lobed brown nut, which strikes a remarkable resemblance to a woman's rounded bottom. For centuries, these hard brown nuts were found washed up on the shores of India, Sri, Lanka and the Maldives. However, coco de mer trees did not propagate around the Indian Ocean. The nuts were called sea coconuts as the people of the Indian rim believed that they were the fruits of enormous underwater trees. These mystical nuts became the prized possessions of rulers all over the world. The kernel of the nut was believed to be an aphrodisiac, a cure for ailments, and an antidote to poisons. The Japanese considered the nut sacred.

In 1769 a surveyor found the source of the nuts here on Praslin. In 1881 a general visited the island and was convinced that he had found the Tree of Knowledge in the coco de mer. He went on to write a dissertation expounding that the Seychelles were the original Garden of Eden. While this theory gained even less traction with the scientific world than Intelligent Design, it has served the Seychelles Tourism Board well ever since.

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