Review of our fantastic three-week holiday in the Seychelles, staying on Bird Island, Denis Island and Frigate Island.
Our second trip to the Seychelles. They said if you ate the fruit of the breadfruit you'd come back, and we did. Our plan was to spend a week on Bird, a week on Desroches, and a week on Frigate. However, a week before we were due to leave, a violent storm tore the roof off the hotel on Desroches. Initially the holiday company wanted us to spend two weeks on Frigate, however, we had our hearts set on three islands, so they offered us a week on Denis Island instead.
Excellent scheduled BA flight to the Seychelles. Big delay at Bahrein, because somebody couldn't count properly as we got back on the plane after a refuelling stop. So they unloaded all the baggage onto the tarmac, and we had to get off and identify our suitcases, and then get back on again.
After landing on Mahe (the main island of the Seychelles), we were transferred to the Reef Hotel near the airport for one night. It was ok, but we felt like we were marking time, waiting for the out-islands.
NB: Bird Island has been renovated since we were there. The rooms now have hot water and locks on the room doors and such-like modern conveniences, and the old Lodge buildings have been replaced by new ones. Please bear this in mind when reading our account. But the island, and the wildlife, seem to be just as beautiful as they were.
The following day, we went back to the domestic departure lounge to get our flight out to Bird Island. The small aircraft only contained eight or ten passengers, with the remainder of the load space being taken up by sacks of potatoes and onions. The airstrip on Bird Island was just a grass strip cut through the trees from one side of the tiny island to the other. The "Arrivals Lounge" was a small A-frame thatched hut, with a White-tailed Tropic Bird nesting underneath the arrivals desk. These birds are so fiercely protective of their eggs, that it didn't move even when the island's owner sat at the desk above it, giving a welcome speech to us new arrivals (see photos). The island was owned by a French couple who bought it for a song in the mid-1960's - their personality is stamped on the island. They kept telling us that we were their guests, we should treat their island as our own. The luggage transfer equipment was a tractor and trailer, and we followed it across the grass to our cottage.
The cottage had a large bedroom, and a huge bathroom, with a sunken (cold) shower and a separate door to the verandah. No glazed windows - just wooden slats, no locks on the doors. No air conditioning, just a ceiling fan. There was a large gap for ventilation between the walls and the roof, with fishing line stretched horizontally across the gap to keep the birds out (ha! - see later). Huge mosquito net over the bed. Nice verandah, with a low table and easy chairs. Dressing table, an enclosed space behind a curtain for hanging clothes, and a shelf behind /above the bed. It sounds spartan, but it was comfortable, and in the surroundings it was paradise.
There were no paths anywhere - just grass to walk on under the palm trees. We went exploring, and soon found out why the island got its name. Everywhere you went there were birds. The Lesser and Common Noddies were hilarious - the Common Noddies had a habit of suddenly bending their heads down to inspect their feet with great solemnity. The Fairy Terns, snow-white, with blue-black eyes and beaks, were so beautiful and delicate. The Sooty Tern colony at the end of the island was deafening with the raucous sound of tens of thousands of the birds, with their nests every few feet on the ground. There were loads of other birds on the island as well - waders, bridled terns, herons, egrets and so on.... The beach was fabulous - wide, deep, soft coral sand, with no-one on it, and the blue Indian Ocean waves breaking on the shore in a shower of white foam.
We strolled around the island, taking our time, stopping to look here and there - it took about an hour. We found that there was a vegetable and herb garden in the middle of the island, next to the fresh water well which supplied all the island's needs. On the other side of the island was a small jetty and a boathouse, and an area to moor boats inside the fringing reef. This side of the island was more sheltered from the trade wind - we tended to sunbathe here on the narrow beach.
Back at our room, we realised it was time to make our way to the dining room for lunch. On the way, we passed Esmeralda - said to be the oldest (and biggest) land tortoise in the world. She (or rather he) is about 150 years old, huge, with a beautifully polished shell, and dreams her days away, browsing on tufts of grass. Lunch, like all the meals on Bird, was magnificent. Well-cooked, tasty meals, mostly based around freshly-caught, meaty fish, with fresh salad. Deliciously delicate sweets. Just because we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean, on an island half a mile long, didn't mean that the French owner's cuisine standards were going to be compromised. The bar consisted of a large fishing dinghy on the floor, with a polished counter around it. We sat on bar stools outside the boat, while the barman stood inside the boat mixing cocktails.
In the evenings, we would make our way from our room over the grass to dinner. We had to be careful - there were no lights, so we carried a torch to avoid stepping on the hundreds of Noddies roosting on the grass, and the crabs that emerged at sunset to crawl all over the island.
I said earlier that across the gap between walls and roof was stretched light fishing line, spaced about 30cm apart, to stop birds flying into the room. At least, that was the theory. One night, with the mosquito net draped around our bed, we were lying reading books and savouring a duty-free nightcap. Just about to doze off, suddenly there was a loud twang and a Common Noddy (seagull-sized) crashed into the mosquito net. Sleep-flying (?), it had managed to get between the fishing lines, and was now crashing around the bedroom, terrified, trying to get out.
Suddenly wide awake, I shot out from under the net in pursuit. The poor bird took one look at me (I don't own pyjamas), and rose into the air squawking. Eventually I grabbed it, folded its wings carefully, opened the door, and threw it out into the darkness. Unfortunately, its instinct when threatened, was to fly upwards as rapidly as possible. Once again, there was a loud twang as the bird crashed between the fishing lines, and landed back in our room. I once again pursued it around the room, trapped it in the bathroom, and threw it out of the bathroom door. Its instincts once more took over, there was another loud twang, and it was again hanging onto to the mosquito net flapping wildly. Linda squealed. I pursued the bird round the bed, and clearly feeling threatened, it regurgitated a semi-digested fish onto the shelf behind the bed to try and distract me. Once more I grabbed the bird, and this time I made sure that I threw it well away from under the roof. It disappeared, hungry and scared, into the dark. I got rid of the fish, and returned to bed. It's a macho life on Bird Island.....
Even though there's nothing to do apart from wrestle with noddies, the days passed quickly on Bird. Soon, alas, it was time to leave, and we boarded the Islander back to Mahe, and another overnight stay at the Reef Hotel. The following morning we went back to domestic departures for our flight to Denis Island.
Tip: From the domestic departure building back at Mahe Airport, the road winds down for a couple of hundred meters onto the main coast road. At the junction there was a minimarket. While waiting for your inter-island flight, you can stock up here if your duty-free supplies brought from the UK haven't lasted..... (Update: This mini-market may no longer exist, as there has been considerable development at Mahe Airport since our visit.)
Denis was, if anything, even more expensive and exclusive than Bird. At breakfast the first day, there were hard-boiled Sooty Tern's eggs on the menu. Our room was absolutely vast - it was clearly designed to be divided into two separate rooms, but wasn't. There were four double beds in it, with a bathroom at each end. Sitting on the toilets, we could wave to each other a hundred feet away.
The island's owner's dog always attached itself to a party, presumably for market research purposes. We saw our first Madonna Wannabee - with a pet Fairy Tern on her shoulder. On the bar counter there were always dishes of fresh coconut to nibble. At night, we lay under our mosquito nets, listening to insects munching loudly away at the high wood-beamed, thatched roof, wondering if the whole lot would come down on us at any moment.
The island was quiet, with nothing to do, except laze in the sun all day on the excellent beaches, or stroll around the island - this took an hour or more. This suited us down to the ground. In fact, we could have gone diving or deep-sea game fishing, but we weren't into that at the time. There was a marvellous beach near the restaurant area, although with a noticeable smell of diesel from the boats moored by the jetty. Another event was watching the daily flight from Mahe land on the bumpy grass airstrip cut through the trees.
On our return to Mahe, the Wannabee got back on the plane with us, complete with pet Fairy Tern on her shoulder. This time, no need for an overnight at the Reef Hotel, just enough time for a quick dash down to the capital, Victoria, to look around the market. This is well worth a visit - with separate areas for fresh fish and vegetables. The vegetable, herb and spice stalls all seemed to be run by buxom local ladies, dressed in their best Sunday frocks and hats. Then back to the airport and off to Frigate.
NB: Frigate Island has changed completely since we were there. It is now one of the most expensive and exclusive resorts in the world - far beyond our humble means. It has completely new buildings equipped to the most luxurious specifications. Please bear this in mind when reading our account.
We were looking forward to Frigate, because we wanted to see the famous Seychelles Magpie Robin, at that time one of the rarest and most endangered species of bird in the world - just a dozen individuals, only found on this one island about a mile across. The landing was worrying - as we circled the island, we could see cows wandering across the grass landing strip stretched parallel to the beach. Fortunately somebody shooed them off before we landed. From the right hand window of the plane we could see the palm trees rushing past (with cows peering between the trunks), and from the left we looked onto the beach and the sea. The plane roared to a stop at the end of the airstrip, just short of the hotel buildings. Frigate, like Mahe, is a hilly granite island (and unlike Bird and Denis, which were flat coral islands).
The owner was a small, middle-aged woman, with a younger husband and an air of quiet desperation. She showed us to our room (very nice, but just off the dining area, so we asked for a transfer to another room away from the kitchen and tables). She then showed us round her vegetable garden (papayas and mangoes, beans and onions). She was proud that she was almost self-sufficient in foodstuffs, but this did mean that the meals were rather monotonous - consisting largely of papayas and mangoes, beans and onions.......
The dining room was well laid out, and looked a treat - well lit, white tablecloths, folded napkins, shining silver cutlery and so on. However, it was wise to inspect your napkin when you sat down at your table - there were often large specks of black material on it. Looking up at the ceiling revealed the largest geckos we've ever seen - the size of alligators (well, baby alligators, anyway). It was a common occurence while eating for there to be a plop, and another large gecko turd to arrive on your side-plate. Also, at breakfast, it was wise to take it in turns to go up to the buffet. If the table were left unattended, energetic finches descended on the table and jumped all over it, spilling the condiments and clearing it of anything edible.
The staff put out food for the birds in the garden every day at lunchtime to try and stop them pestering the guests. This free lunch attracted huge flocks of brightly coloured cardinals, ground doves, and.....the famous Seychelles Magpie Robin! We were delighted sometimes to see four or five individuals at once - which from a world population of about a dozen brought it home how vulnerable they were.
Our second room, overlooking the sea, was very comfortable, with a verandah at the front - but you had to run around in the shower to get wet. There was no beach where the hotel buildings were - just a sea wall covered in crabs.
The best thing about Frigate was the chance to explore the island. We have wonderful memories of climbing up, through bamboo, palm and banyan trees, to the very top of the island, and standing on a large flat rocky area with fantastic views down over the jungle to the beaches and the sea. On one excursion up along a jungle path, we came across a large and belligerent tortoise, a couple of feet long, which lumbered after us, hissing furiously, challenging us to stop running away, and to turn and fight.
There were also several other small and often deserted beaches where we watched mudskippers crawling over the rocks.
Unfortunately some of the other, smaller, inhabitants of the island were also quite belligerent, and after a few days Linda was covered in maddeningly itchy insect bites. When the bites started coming up in large lumps and blisters, we felt it was time to leave. We negotiated an earlier return flight, and watched in alarm as the pilot decided to do a down-wind take-off, dragging the aircraft off the grass strip just before it hit the beach and the sea. We booked into the Beau Vallon Bay Hotel back on Mahe, where we'd stayed in 1988. The weather also turned, and it drizzled off and on for our last couple of days.
Photos of the islands we visited. Each page is about 2Mb.
We loved the Seychelles even more than on our first visit, and are still determined to return, though not to Frigate, which is way out of our league now, even if they have negotiated a truce with the insects. The trouble is, they keep on opening up new islands. We'd nearly done them all - just Desroches and La Digue to do, but now there's Alphonse, Cousine, Aride and Silhouette to see as well. And some of these are seriously expensive too. We'll just have to win the Lottery first....