Friday, May 13, 2011

"We Once Went To Africa - Part Three"

(Look what I can do now. Thanks, Anna.)

The “Republic of Seychelles” consists of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, 932 miles East of mainland Africa, just south of the Equator. The group’s primary islands are Mahe (home of the international airport), Praslin and La Digue. We briefly visited Mahe and Praslin. We spent three days on La Digue.

The Seychelles was as relaxed as Nairobi seemed tense. Here’s how laid back the place is. Shortly before our arrival, there was some sort of political coup. The Prime Minister at the time was in London attending some conference, the rebels said, “Don’t come back!”, they formed a new government, and that was it. It was a “bloodless coup.” My favorite kind.

That was the Seychelles. Their flag should have a big, “What, me worry?” smile on it.

We landed in the Seychelles’ capital, Victoria, on Mahe, and were driven to the hotel where we would spend the night, before winging to the next island the following morning. The cab drive there was over forty minutes long. Since we’d arrived after dark, there was not much to sightsee out the window, but the music on the car radio was distinctly memorable.

It was Hank Williams.

“Hey, hey, good lookin’

Whatcha got cookin’

How’s about cookin’ something’ up with me…”

When we arrived at our destination, we found an elaborate state reception in full swing in the hotel lobby. We were immediately invited to join in, which we did. We were the only ones in attendance not wearing a satin sash. Or medals.

The next morning, we were driven back to the airport, where we were flown to the island of Praslin, which features, among other botanical marvels, the “Vallee De Mai Nature Preserve”, a locale so lush, British General Gordon of Khartoum was convinced it was the biblical “Garden of Eden.”

We had a two-hour layover in Praslin, which we spent snacking on plantain chips (like banana chips, but not as sweet), and hiking through the “Valley De Mai.” We saw wildlife (most notably the Seychelles’ signature Black Parrots) and types of foliage we had never seen before, all of which we skillfully photographed, as we were trained to do in our thirteen-week “Photo One” course at Santa Monica College. It turned out we made one tiny mistake, which we discovered only when we were leaving the island.

We had forgotten to put film in the camera.

A mistake we never made again.

At the miniscule Praslin airport, we were informed that our names were not included on the “Passenger List.” Think about that a minute. This is not, you’re at a local restaurant, and they can’t find your reservation. This is, you’re on a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and the people have no idea who you are.

Finally, however, they located our names. Perhaps the whole mix-up was simply some Praslin prank they liked to play on fools who had just captured arguably the most beautiful terrain on earth with an empty camera. In some cultures, “rubbing it in” is extremely funny.

But there was more fun yet to come. Having now secured seats on the plane that would fly us to our destination, I then learned exactly what kind of plane we were talking about.

As we made our way onto the Tarmac, I noticed that the side of the plane facing us was open. It was just a matter of climbing into a plane, offering about thirty, front-to-back rows of two seats each.

And no aisle.

You get in, they flip down the hatches, and you sit there, unable to stand, or, in fact, move in any direction. Until you arrive.

It was a long, excruciating narrow – for claustrophobics, which I’d have raised my hand indicating, “That’s me!” if there were room in there, but there wasn’t – tube of a plane.

We were traveling in a Flying Pencil.

The island of La Digue had outlawed all gasoline-powered vehicles. As a result, we were transported to our hotel

On an ox cart.

I loved it. The ox, however, rolled his eyes at this transportational hypocrisy. “Stashed away?” he seemed to be telling me, “The driver has a moped.”

Our cabin was an exquisite exercise in thatch-roofed simplicity. The hotel dining room was open on all sides. And its floor was sand. And mere feet away, lapped an ocean of sun-heated, crystal clear, turquoise-blue water. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Where I went to camp, the lake water was brown.

The cuisine was mouth-wateringly delicious. Everything was fish. (Except for the fresh banana and chocolate mousse desserts.) To that point in my life, my familiarity with fish eating was limited to the ritual consumption of the mighty gefilte. With a round slice of carrot on the top.

This was not that.

This was delectably prepared courses of first, fish croquettes, then, fish curry, finished off with a large, magnificently grilled whole fish. Though all three courses were fish, each one had a different taste, a different tang, and a different texture.

And all of the fish were taste-bud dancingly fresh. How fresh were they? These fish were so fresh, they had all read that morning’s newspaper.

Only to be wrapped in it later in the day.

The snorkeling was sensational. It was like flippering around in an enormous fish tank, passing piscatorial cohorts of every size, shape and color, or combination of colors. It was, however, not easy looking them in the eye, having happily consumed their relatives during a previous meal.

“Have you seen Marcel?”

“I don’t know any Marcel.”

And in an upcoming meal,


La Digue was three days of heaven. Without the harp music. And the evaluation by God.

One day, in fact, there was beautiful music. A melodic verse and chorus, played on local instruments, and repeated again and again. I really liked it. Till the fiftieth repetition. When I wished it would stop.

The entertainment turned out to be coming from a Community Hall next to the hotel. There was a wedding in progress. And the tune we were hearing, I was later informed, was the traditional Seychelles Wedding Song.

I recorded the melody in my head. Later, when I had access to a piano, I wrote down the notes. By letter, not by musical annotation, which I don’t know how to do. When we returned home, Dr. M’s brother, a professional musician, transcribed it onto sheet music.

A year or so later, when Dr. M and I were married, the jazz combo, hired for the festivities, serenaded the newly married couple with the “Seychelles Wedding Song.”

It was now time to return to Kenya for our eight-day photographic safari. Before leaving La Digue, I caught sight of my packet of Travelers’ Checks (which I had not drawn upon on the Seychelles, because everything had been pre-paid, and there was nothing on the island to buy.) It was then I discovered that our formerly thick wad of Bank of America Travelers’ Checks was now startlingly thin.

I unsnapped the leatherette billfold, and, piecing things together, I realized that while we were sunning ourselves by the pool at the Nairobi Hilton, up in our room, every third Travelers’ Check in our packet was being scrupulously removed.

The Next Time: Heading Out On Safari. Almost."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Earl, part two is missing. Ken Levine noted that Blogger was having some problems; maybe it ate your story.

Maybe you could delete story one and start us off with story three. Then give us five and 6, wait 20 years and publish one two and three.

Oh, but be sure that the first three rock and the last three suck... or is it the last three that rock because they're later in the chronology?