Monday, August 31, 2009

August 22, 2009 - Anse Lazio, Praslin, Seychelles

[Our Chagos pictures are finally up. Sorry about the delay. Due to the slow internet here it took ages to load them all. There are some fantastic shots (although the photos of the sharks munching on the whale may be a little gruesome for some of the younger kids) and lots of witty commentary (if I do say so myself). So, even if you've read them before, click on this link and go check out our new and improved Chagos posts: Chagos]

When planning for Bill and Laurie's visit, we had expected to be able to anchor Mata'irea in Anse Volbert, the bay in front of their hotel. Upon our arrival in Praslin, we realized that there was so much swell moving through Volbert that it was not possible for a monohull to comfortably anchor there. So, we spent a few nights in Anse Petite Cour, the bay around the corner from Anse Volbert. However, the swell wrapping around the point made sleeping a real challenge. The first few days of their visit, we kept expecting Bill and Laurie to show some signs of jetlag, but they were doing remarkably well. We, on the otherhand, were wiped out by the poor sleeping conditions. We've discovered that this time of year there are really only two calm anchorages in Praslin: Baie Ste Anne, the shallow main harbor, and Anse Lazio, which is where most of the charter fleet ends up each evening.

After our second rough night in Anse Petite Cour, we were anxious to check out Anse Lazio. After breakfast, we raised the anchor and motored around the corner into Anse Volbert. I kept Mata'irea in the deep water while Sten dinked into the beach to pick up Bill and Laurie. Climbing from the dinghy up onto the swim platform takes some practice (preferably in calm water) to do gracefully. To do it for the first time in an open roadstead with the transom of the big boat and the bow of the little boat pitching up and down takes guts; to do it and stay dry takes balance and timing. Luckily our guests had all of the above.

While munching on buttery croisants, which Laurie liberated from the breakfast buffet at their hotel for us, we motored around Ilet St Pierre, a striking little island of strangely shaped rocks topped with swaying palms, then continued on up past Anse Lazio to Anse Gorgette, a phenomenally gorgeous stretch of white sand, bordered by striking boulders. We'd hoped to anchor off of Gorgette, but it was just too rolly, so we backtracked to Lazio. As we approached the anchorage, we could see that the boats at the left side of the bay were sitting nicely with their sterns into the swell, riding it gently, while those to the right were sitting side to the swell, their masts flopping back and forth. We found a hole for ourselves among the boats to the left and dropped anchor.

As soon as the anchor was down we saw big squid in the water next to us. Sten has had a squid lure rigged up for months, just waiting for an opportunity to use it. He grabbed his rod and in moments was hooked up. Well, the squid let us know what he thought of that by sucking in a load of water, then squirting it and a mess of ink out in a fifteen foot arc of black goo that hit Mata'irea broadside (right onto her pristine white hull, which I'd bleached the week before). We were under attack! Again and again he gushed out inky water at us as we tried to figure out how to get him on board without making a complete mess of the decks. We eventually got him into a bucket with a cutting board over it.

While Sten dispatched the squid I extracted a promise from him that all future squid catching will be done from the dinghy. Meanwhile, we put Bill and Laurie to work cleaning the ink off of Mata'irea's hull while I went down below to wash the stinky squid ink out of Sten's clothes. Then we turned the squid into a wonderful Thai glass noodle salad, tossed with a pungent dressing, a little chili and aromatics like basil, cilantro and mint. Washed down with a round of dark and stormies, we were pretty sure that there was no finer lunch being consumed on the island that day.

Late in the afternoon we arranged for a taxi to take Bill and Laurie back to their hotel, but first we had to get them ashore. The shore pound was pretty big from the swell wrapping into the bay, but there was a promising looking spot in the far right corner of the beach that looked somewhat protected by several large rocks. Unfortunately, we didn't realize how steeply the sand shelved. In our hurry to get them ashore and to back the dinghy away from the beach before the next wave broke, Sten ordered them out a bit too early. I'm not sure whose face showed the most shock as they sank up to their armpits. Sten was horribly embarrassed and we were sure the taxi driver was going to refuse to let them in his cab. We were relieved when they called from their hotel to report that they had gotten home safely.

The following day we headed over to La Digue, a small island a few miles to the a east of Praslin. We repeated the prior morning's nailbiting but successful open roadstead pick up and motored across the channel to La Digue. We checked out the small harbor at La Passe, but found it too crowded for us. So we anchored outside the harbor. For half an hour we attempted to anchor in the shallows, dragging repeatedly, until we found a spot in deeper water where the pick would set.

After travelling in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India, the total lack of litter in the Seychelles is incredibly refreshing.

Once ashore we were faced with the option of renting bikes or taking a taxi. We opted to have a taxi take us up into the hills to the end of the road. From there we hiked up to the Eagle's Nest (a bit of a misnomer as there are no eagles on La Digue). The hike was short but a bit technical, as it involved scrambling over boulders and there was one point where the trail was not very well defined as it wound through a field of rocks. We spent an hour climbing up through the shade of cinnamon and takamaka trees, then all of the sudden we were on top of the mountain, out in the sun, surrounded by custard apples and cactus. Within a few meters the environment had completely changed. At the top, there was hardly any dirt left on the trail and the footing was a bit tricky as we tried to find purchase on loose gravel scattered over rock. By the time we made our way back down off the mountain and were seated on the deck of the Bellevue Cafe, sipping passion fruit and mango juices, we felt a real sense of accomplishment.

We continued to walk down the hill back into town, passing tidy homes surrounded by colorful gardens. We stopped repeatedly to marvel at the profusion of tropical blooms growing in each yard. In short order, we found ourselves back on flat land, looking for a place to have lunch. After an excrable meal at Chez Marston (fish and chips should never be made with tuna full stop), we wandered back to the docks where an interisland schooner was unloading its cargo. We watched as a load of rebar passed over the heads of a crowd of locals and tourists, with nary a hard hat in sight.

Back at Praslin we tried to anchor Mata'irea in Anse Volbert so that we could spend the evening with Bill and Laurie, but it was too windy and rolly so we gave it up. We still had to get our guests ashore, but the situation was complicated by the dinghy being stowed on the foredeck for the crossing from La Digue. Using the spinnaker halyard, I winched up the dinghy, which began to swing around once it was off the deck. Sten and Bill maneuvered it over the lifelines, and I began to lower it. Mata'irea rolled with the swell, which caused the halyard to slacken just enough to allow the halyard to override on the winch. Sten was yelling at me to finish lowering the dinghy and I managed to free the line without losing a finger or losing the halyard in the rigging. By the end of the procedure I was completely over the whole open roadstead dinghy launch experience. By the time Sten got back from the beach, it was getting dark, and we hurried around the corner to Anse Petite Cour to anchor for the night.

The next morning, after another sleepless night at Petite Cour, we picked Bill and Laurie up again off of Anse Volbert, and returned to Anse Lazio for a relaxing day at the beach. Once the pick was set, I put in my ear plugs and laid down for a nap while Sten and our guests went snorkeling. After a solid hour of sleep, I was once again ready to be the hostess with the mostess. Every restaurant in the Seychelles seems to offer a smoked fish salad, so I tossed together lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, locally smoked fish, drizzled a creamy lime dressing over the works, and served it with an unoaked chardonnay. Delicious.

Bill and Laurie wanted to treat us to a big night out (and we were happy to oblige), so we all returned by taxi to their hotel, where Sten and I enjoyed taking long, hot showers, using with reckless abandon gallons of fresh water that didn't have to be produced by our watermaker. Throw in a big fluffy towel and a blow drier and I started to feel like I was on vacation too. That evening at Cafe des Arts, reputed to be the best restaurant on Praslin, I enjoyed wearing lipstick and high heels for the first time in months. I felt like such a girl. After dinner, we changed out of our dry, salt free clothing, and took a taxi back to Anse Lazio. While launching the dinghy from the beach, we mistimed a wave and completely swamped the dinghy. We were just lucky not to flip it. As I stood on the beach, soaking wet, freshly blown out hair dripping with salt water, waiting for the dinghy to drain, I knew just what Cinderella was feeling as she watched her carriage turn back into a pumpkin.

The next day after a spot of souvenir shopping in town, Bill and Laurie took a taxi down to Anse Lazio. Sten picked them up on the beach with the dinghy, and brought them out to Mata'irea. They had just stepped aboard (much easier in flat water!) and Sten was tying up the dinghy when he saw a school of squid hanging out next to the boat. I passed Sten his rod and Bill climbed back in the dinghy and they headed far, far away from Mata'irea (far enough away that a squid couldn't get its ink anywhere near the hull) and picked up two squid. Laurie and I stood on the back deck watching and laughing as the squid tried to hose the guys down with its inky spray.

After a very standard Mata'irea lunch of chicken salad and cucumber, we all piled in the dinghy and headed around the corner to Anse Georgette where the surf was still dumping on the shore. The Rhode Island kids, Sten and Laurie, were immediately in the thick of it, body surfing the waves. It took Bill and I a while of watching them to get comfortable enough to give it a go. Soon, all four of us were riding the same wave into the beach, getting washed up like seals on the fine powdery sand. It was such a blast. We could have stayed and played all afternoon, but after an hour or so, the intense tropical sun reflecting off of the sparkling, crystal clear water and white sand was causing us all to go a little snow blind. So we swam back to the dinghy and headed back into Lazio for some snorkeling along the rocks. It was a great session and we spotted a silvertip shark, turtle, and free swimming moray eel. Back on Mata'irea we enjoyed a round of Mai Tai's before catching a taxi back to Anse Volbert for dinner.

A few nights before, at La Goulue, Bill and I had an amazing fish dish that we'd been talking about ever since. We mentioned it to our taxi driver, who agreed that it was the best meal on Praslin. The chef takes a whole fish, deep fries it, and serves it with a creole sauce of tomato, onion, lime, ginger and a myriad of local spices. This dish is listed on the menu under the unassuming moniker "grilled fish." It was a stunner and we were all anxious to have it again before we left Praslin. It was just as good the second time around and a great way to end our visit to this lovely island.

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