OnSafari: Seychelles Style

OnSafari: Seychelles Style

JimAtHonestyBarDown one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Anse Lazio, past the boyfriend doing a photo shoot of his girlfriend, past the Rasties selling organic coconut elixir, through gorgeous sand paths around huge artistic boulders leading from one spectacular beach to another, to the end of the cove is Honesty Bar.

Reached only by foot, tucked into the thick mangrove and wild mango forests of Praslin, you find the price list, stand behind the bar, make your drink or pull it out of the fridge, and put the cash in a plastic dish labeled “change.”

We’re coming to the end of a 25-day trip to all the major African islands of the Indian Ocean here in the Seychelles at one of the swankiest resorts on earth, Praslin Raffles. We each have a multi-room villa with its own swimming pool and large outdoor deck overlooking the Indian Ocean. Laundering a pair of underpants costs $13.

The island before this was Madagascar. We could launder our entire wardrobe for $13, which in fact we had to do repeatedly because it was never done very well. In the Seychelles, all dirt is replaced by beautiful white granules of sand. I have yet to see a single vehicle in either Mahe or Praslin that is not squeaky clean and shimmering with wax.

(Susan pointed out that all the cars seem to carry cleaning materials in the front seat.)

Throughout the other islands we often saw malnutrition, even in Reunion which is wholly subsidized by its country, France, and is in most respects quite affluent. But in the Seychelles, and notably very unusual for Africa as a whole, there are a lot of obese citizens.

It rains and shines the same in all the islands. The remarkable island ecology is striking throughout. From Madagascar’s Spiny Forests to the Seychelles Coco de Mer Palm, from Reunion’s paradise flycatcher to Mauritius’ pink pigeon, the uniqueness is exciting and surprising, sustaining constant curiosity.

So why is this one, the Seychelles, so rich compared to the others? Madagascar has some of the world’s most precious minerals. Mauritius holds enormous bank reserves. Reunion’s singular beauty ensures a growing tourist industry.

The Seychelles has no natural resources. Yes it’s beautiful, but in my opinion the beaches of Mauritius and northern Madagascar equal it.

What differentiates the Seychelles from all the others is the remarkable tourism infrastructure that it has created.

The same distance from London that Hawaii is from New York, the Seychelles has everything that Hawaii has except volcanoes. Its founding president, James Mancham, recently died to a very low fanfare from local residents who universally believe that he was hardly more than a jet-setter playboy.

He served for hardly a year before a Marxist coup ousted him and sent him into exile in Britain. But in that short time he managed to squander the national treasury to host royalty from around the world, putting himself and his island on the map of style.

He remained in exile until 1993, but constantly worked to build the Seychelles into the land of the hysterically rich and famous. Even the Marxists finally gave in, altering foreign investment laws to some of the least regulated on earth.

It wasn’t exactly over the moral high road, and I think that’s a key to understanding the bitter-sweet success of these remote islands.

A half century ago, ten years before the island’s independence from Britain, no one could have imagined that this tiny, scattered, pretty impoverished remote archipelago which I knew back then only for its tortoises, flying foxes and giant palms, would be the home to the only Raffles Hotel outside Asia or Paris.

We had to fly here in the late 1970s because the border between Kenya and Tanzania was sealed in a dispute. Our third country corridor between them was the Seychelles.

There were, indeed, a few resorts on the main island of Mahe hardly as good as those found up and down the Kenyan coast. In Praslin, an island saturated today with over-the-top resorts, the fan in our rooms rarely worked and the door to your room regularly fell off.

For someone like me the transformation takes my breath and intellect away in equal proportions. James Mancham may have traveled in the moral underground, but he wove style with imagination and attracted the world’s richest, who brought their friends and kids and now investments to create the destination for the super rich and famous.

I figured my clients needed this after Madagascar.