Tuesday, September 01, 2009

August 28, 2009 - Beau Vallon, Mahe, Seychelles

At the end of our visit to Praslin, Bill and Laurie opted to hitch a ride back to Mahe on Mata'irea, instead of riding the CatCocos (aka, the VomitComet). With the swell rolling into all our usual haunts, we were concerned about how to get them and their luggage safely and dryly on board. In the end, we anchored off of Anse Possession, a shallow beach, somewhat protected by a reef. Bill and Laurie took a taxi there to meet us. To everyone's relief, the pickup went off without a hitch. The passage would prove to be a bit more challenging.

The wind was consistently strong (as it is this time of year) throughout Bill and Laurie's whole visit. Occasionally, a squall would crank up the velocity beyond the standard 15 to 20 knots. Unfortunately, our run to Mahe happened to land on a rainy day (or maybe it was fortunate . . . Bill and Laurie had said that they wanted to share in the experience of cruising; the high winds, big swell and short, steep wind driven waves around here this time of year create conditions that are as uncomfortable as almost any that we face offshore). So, our guests got to share in the excitement of a 30 knot squall at sea.

We double reefed the main sail before we left Anse Possession; but, as soon as we cleared the west coast of Praslin it was apparent that we were still overcanvased. We let it ride for a few minutes, but then a squall hit, setting Mata'irea on her ear and scattering loosely stowed items around the salon. We furled the jib part way in and were soon riding comfortably again. For the next two hours Bill and Sten chatted while Laurie took a nap and I laid in a mal de mer induced stupor in the corner of the cockpit, wishing I'd taken more than half a Stugeron. As soon as we got into the lee of Mahe, the seas smoothed out and the sailing became much nicer.

Late that afternoon, Bill and Laurie checked into their accommodations on Beau Vallon. They would spend the next few nights at the Clef des Iles, a self-catering apartment situated right on Beau Vallon beach. It turned out to be a great choice for all of us. Their rooms were right in the middle of the action. Each morning while we sipped our coffee, local families would be hauling in fishing nets literally within twenty feet of the front steps. Within a few yards of the hotel are several reasonable (for the Seychelles) restaurants, including the Baobob Pizzeria (home of the full carafe of rose) and the Boathouse (for a stomach extending creole buffet). The weekly Wednesday night street market is just down the beach. There are several little stores nearby supplying cold Seybrew and locally produced snack food (fried banana chips, breadfruit crisps and addictive little tapioca twists). Each morning the fruit guy would set up his stand next door. Every afternoon the fish mongers would set up their tables and nearby men stood around and played dominoes, slapping down their tiles with authority. The Clef des Iles is a great spot for travelers who want to get a taste of the local scene. For those who prefer to be more isolated and sheltered from local life, there is a gated Hilton and a Le Meridian nearby.

Helping with the daily haul
Sten checks out the catch of the day

That first night at the Clef des Iles, we cooked up the squid that Sten and Bill had caught the day before in Anse Lazio as a Thai green curry, loaded with veggies from smiling Mike's shop in Beau Vallon. After two and a half years of cooking in a galley on a boat I've gotten too used to throwing all my decomposable rubbish overboard. Standing in a kitchen on land, faced with a pile of eggplant, tomato, cucumber and green bean trimmings, I was momentarily stumped. Where do people who live in houses dispose of their vegetable rubbish? I almost walked down to the beach to toss my scraps in the surf, but then I remembered that people who live on land use these convenient things called garbage pails.

Doesn't everyone buy their eggs from the back of a truck?

Dinner was great. Sitting at the table, chatting and drinking wine, while looking out over the water, our masthead light twinkling in the distance, Sten and I were the most relaxed that we'd been in days. After all the logistical challenges and to-ing and fro-ing in Praslin, it was such a relief to just sit and talk.

Mata'irea anchored off of Beau Vallon, Silhouette Island in the distance

Our days quickly fell into a pattern of breakfast at Clef des Iles, followed by an excursion. One day we rented a car and toured around the island, stopping for lunch at Anse Soleil, but most days we took Mata'irea down to Anse Major, a stunning little bay that can only be reached by sea or hiking trail. We would do some snorkeling, have lunch, read, talk, enjoy an afternoon cocktail (as one does on vacation), then up anchor and head back to Beau Vallon for the evening.

I'll try anything once, but the local blood sausage (or black pudding) is definitely an acquired taste
Green papaya destined for a Thai papaya salad; Bill and Laurie were really good sports about eating all the new Thai and Indian dishes we made for them.

Snorkeling with Bill and Laurie has been so good for us. When we first got in the water here, fresh from the amazing free diving in Chagos, we were both so disappointed with the lack of coral and cloudy water that we basically wrote off the diving here; Sten so much so that he initially told Bill and Laurie not to bother bringing snorkeling gear with them. Seeing the underwater world here through the eyes of those who haven't been to Chagos has not only served to remind us how amazing it was there, but also encouraged us to look harder to appreciate the monochromatic and yet interesting rock formations and the new varieties of reef fish that we are seeing here.

One afternoon at Anse Major we were just finishing up a lunch of curried chicken salad when we saw a big school of mullet busting out of the water next to the boat. Right behind them were a pod of six dolphins, chasing them into the bay. Bill and Laurie grabbed their snorkeling gear and Sten dropped them into the midst of the action while I took pictures from the bow. All around them dolphins were grabbing mullet in their mouths and beating them against the bottom. Then the dolphins would take up a motionless mullet, and rub it on the sandy bottom. We're not sure, but it looked like they were rubbing the scales off the stunned mullet to make them more palatable. After a few minutes the dolphins swam out of the bay, each with a fish in their mouths. We piled into the dinghy and followed them into the next bay where we watched the same sequence of events unfold again. Neither Sten nor I had ever seen dolphin behave like this before, and it was very cool to share this new experience with Bill and Laurie. By this time we were half way to the marine park in Baie Ternay, another gorgeous isolated spot, so we checked that out. There was an abundance of tropical fish in among the rocks; many more than we'd seen elsewhere on Mahe.
Bill and Laurie, swimming with the dolphins

Sten, keeping an eye on his flock

One morning I got a call from our friend Kate and learned that her family's cruise on Muneera was coming to an end in the Seychelles. She and Rob had decided that spending the next few months traveling around Africa would be a more valuable experience for their three sons than continuing their cruise down to Cape Town. Muneera will be staying in the Seychelles (if anyone is interested in a yacht charter in the Seychelles, you can contact Kate and Rob via sailingweights.blogspot.com); so, Kate was cleaning out Muneera of anything that could rust or rot and she invited us over to take what we could use. A few days later, we all went over to Eden Island to check out Kate's leftover "tins and treasures" as Bill so accurately and poetically dubbed them. While Kate was grinding coffee beans by hand for an afternoon cuppa and chatting with Laurie, and Sten and I were sorting through the bountiful selection (truly more extensive than in any shop we've been in here in the Seychelles), Bill played Blokus with the blokes. He gave no quarter (much to Tom's surprise as he is used to being the house Blokus champ). Well, the game must have fired Bill's competitive juices because next time we played Cribbage there was so much trash coming out of the man's mouth that I hardly knew him!

Bill's expression pretty much sums up our luck at slaying Seychelles fish - good thing squid are dumber than fish!

One of the best things about this visit has been the opportunity to get to know Bill and Laurie better. We heard stories about Bill's Navy days that we'd never heard before. With plenty of time to chew the fat, we got to connect in a way that is just not possible over the occasional dinner. One of the most unexpected and appreciated benefits of this voyage is that it has allowed us to connect with friends and family in a new way. Although we have been gone from home for almost three years, between long visits home over the winter holidays and long visits from family and friends in far away destinations, we actually feel closer to many people back home than we did before we left. We may not see our people that often, but the quality of the visits are much greater. Part of that is the uninterrupted stretches of time we have to spend with them, but another factor is that we aren't consumed by work stresses. When we were working, anywhere we were, we were only partially present. Wherever we were, a huge percent of our energies were still focused on the office. Out here we've learned to be 100% in the present, which makes it much easier to connect. When we get home and return to the working world, it will be a challenge to see if we can hold onto that skill.

The biggest threat to tourists in the Seychelles - having a coconut fall on one's head

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