Seychelles. a bay promising relaxation in the pink sunset light, lined with palm trees and takamaka trees. on the sunbeds on the sandy beach the last bathers are sipping their sundowners. as the sun sinks into the sea behind the granite rocks, suddenly a dark brown hump appears in the shimmering water a few meters in front of us, dives away and lifts itself out again in seconds in enormous size, a stingray with a long tail. it jumps probably half a meter high over the water before it disappears in the floods towards a bathing couple.
screaming at the dreamy bathing bay. the couple pitches out of the water. the servants of the Lémuria Hotel on the island of Praslin reassure them: "we know this guy, he just wants to play." rays are not dangerous, not aggressive, do not attack people. unless, one might add, they feel threatened, then their poisonous spiny tail is definitely a life-threatening weapon.
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The Seychelles, known as the islands of the rich and beautiful with expensive hotels, are above all an extraordinary natural experience. Nowhere else in the world can you find oceanic granite islands like in the Seychelles - with their typical, rounded rocks and the mountains towering over 900 metres high from the sea. A good dozen of the more than 116 Seychelles islands are of granite origin, including the main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. What they have in common is an almost exploding tropical vegetation with plants and animals that can only be found here. The famous sea coconut in the Vallée de Mai on Praslin, for example, with nuts weighing up to 20 kilos, the largest seed on earth. Or giant turtles that lay their eggs on the fine sandy beaches of several islands, black Seychelles parrots and paradise flycatchers that swarm through the treetops of palm forests.
1770 the first settlers arrived, today language and food are creole
One of the most beautiful bays in the Seychelles is Anse Lazio at the northern tip of Praslin: turquoise sea and a pristine sandy beach framed by granite rocks, it makes you happy to swim endlessly in this crystal clear warm water and afterwards eat delicious fresh fish in the shade of tall takama trees in the beach restaurant.
the islands were uninhabited until modern times, serving at best as a shelter for pirates. the first settlers came from france in 1770. to cultivate the land, they had slaves work for them. if you drive up the steep sans souci road with 66 hairpin bends to the pass of the national park morne seychellois on the island of mahé, you will see a plaque on the viewing platform commemorating the release of 2409 african slaves between 1860 and 1870. after the english annexed the archipelago in 1811, they abolished the slave trade, but slavery itself continued for decades. it was the anglican church that initiated a school for liberated children in this remote mountain region. the colonial government provided 20 hectares for the project, but after a few years the venn's town school was closed again.
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White colonial rulers and abducted black Africans are the ancestors of the Creole island people. Today 86,000 people live in the Republic of Seychelles, which has been independent since 1976, 90 per cent on the island of Mahé. The former French military base developed into the capital Victoria, named after Queen Victoria, more of a cosy village with the only traffic lights in the Seychelles and a clock tower that is a small copy of London's Big Ben. There is a lively market when the fishermen come back with their catch, two cathedrals, one Anglican, the other Catholic like the majority of the population, and in a beautiful old wooden house the seat of justice with a front garden where prisoners weed, guarded by a dark-skinned warden.
late in the afternoon, when the alleyways are bustling with activity, a visit to the terrace of the Pirates Arms restaurant is recommended, where creole food is also served. even better is learning to cook creole. as an appetizer, chef Alfonce mixes a salad of smoked marlin with tomatoes, onions, watercress, sea salt and pepper in olive oil, accompanied by roasted toast. the first main course is fresh fish, a red snapper that Alfonce calls "bougeois". he dribbles a spice paste of tomatoes, onions, ginger, chilli, herbs, soya and olive oil into the carved fish skin, then it is cooked in the pan. on a grindstone in the garden, we grate coconuts for the chicken curry. this is used to make the sauce - refined with kukuma, curry and cinnamon leaves. for dessert, we have papaya in lime and passion fruit juice with honey, cinnamon and mint.
No building may be taller than a palm tree, this preserves the originality
we discuss that there are also problems in the island paradise over dinner. during the great economic crisis, the republic of seychelles, governed by the socialist state party, was almost bankrupt. the international monetary fund ordered a drastic devaluation of the seychelles rupee and a tough stabilisation programme. hotel prices remained constant. however, tourists can now pay in rupees at a fixed rate. "for the locals," says island guide alan, "life has become better, but more expensive." better because free market is now allowed and there is no shortage. more expensive because prices have risen two to three times, including bus fares. however, wages have also been increased. "the motto now is 'lève debouquer' - get up to make a difference."
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the effects of the crisis are still noticeable today. there are fewer tourists. the airlines are saving money and direct flights have been cancelled. however, life in the seychelles has hardly changed in recent years. nowhere may one build higher than a palm tree. the aim is to preserve the originality. when you arrive on the island of la digue by ferry, oxcarts wait for the passengers as they have always done. by bicycle or on foot you can reach the famous beach anse source d'argent with its large rock formations, between which palm trees tower like a miracle. scattered around the island's interior are traditional plantation houses, overgrown with banana trees in the middle of tropical gardens.
It's hard for us to go back on the last ferry, but we could stay! Alan consoles: "It's always too early to leave, but never too late to come back.