Not S&M but M&S
Jan 9, 2003
- a diary of the trip
Madagascar and the Seychelles Islands beckon. We have made the first leg of our
trip from LAX to Paris Charles DeGaul Airport and are now in the Courtyard by
Marriott. We landed around 11:20 am but didn't reach the gate until 11:40; it is
a large, spread-out airport, perhaps even worse than Chicago. We came from 80o
weather in Los Angeles to 23o weather here. We were knowingly unprepared for the
cold. This is the only place where we could need warm coats and we have a severe
luggage restriction on a charter flight in Madagascar.
The Air France 777 was ok however the seats were thinly padded and not
especially comfortable. I think Boeing must have copied their design from
Douglas. The service and meals were also ok. The most outstanding thing about
the 777 occurred when I was settled in my seat and looked out the window. The
one engine I could see was huge! This is the first twin engine plane that was
approved for extended flight over water. At engine start there was excessive
vibration however when the engine reached operating rpm it was quiet.
We had to stand outside in the cold to wait for the shuttle to the hotel. After
it arrived we were "treated" to a drive around the rest of the airport, stopping
at the various terminals. There are terminals of various size and style
scattered in a seeming haphazard manner about the area. It took at least 20
minutes to reach the hotel that is adjacent to the airport. Technically, we can
no longer claim we have never been to Paris however I don't believe an overnight
stay at the airport counts.
1/11. Here we are in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The Air France A340 was 1:45 late
leaving Paris Charles DeGaulle because the fire brigade was conducting a
work-to-rules strike which impacted loading luggage on the plane???? We arrived
in Antananarivo around 1:15 am and got into the hotel around 2. The first
members of our group who passed through immigration had a problem since they
could not show evidence of a means of departure that was acceptable to the
inspector. We were leaving by ship but all he wanted to see was an airline
ticket. When our turn came it had all been straightened out. We selected the
"Nothing to Declare" line at customs. When we approached, a man grabbed our bags
and put them up on the counter. The man behind the counter said, "Nothing to
declare?" We said, "No," and he waved us on our way. When we finally escaped
from customs we were met by our guide for our land tour, Jonathan Rossouw. His
companion, Holly Faithful was also there and led us to the bus.
Our room in the Hotel Colbert is interesting. The door opens into a foyer which
contains the closet. One door off of the foyer takes you to the toilet which has
an electric water heater hanging on the wall. It has a slight leak which drips
on the toilet seat. I don't know if it is our own personal heater or if we share
our hot water. The other door out of the foyer goes into the main room which
contains three beds, a desk, a mini refrigerator, and a dresser. We also have a
nice balcony. The remainder of the bathroom is off of this room. It contains two
sinks and a bath/shower. We have been advised to drink nothing but bottled water
since the tap water is loaded with bacteria.
1/12 Yesterday was not very exciting, perhaps best given our jet lag. In the
morning we went to the city zoo which had a good collection of lemurs from all
over the island in rather miserable cages. There is also a museum in the same
complex that has, among other things, a skeleton of an elephant bird which is a
very large verison of an ostrich. It was still existent when humans arrived on
the island however it was exterminated. There is also a display of the various
ancestral tombs from the various parts of the island. I think that the whole
point of the zoo complex is to provide the children with a perspective of their
island as it once was and as it now is.
We also visited the burned out remains of the former queen's palace that
dominates the city from the top of a hill. It was a wooden building that had a
stone exterior built around it. Since the building contained many rare artifacts
which have not been recovered, it is suspected that the building was looted then
At an overlook we encountered children playing an unusual board game, called
Madagascar chess. They drew the board on the ground and used stones or bottle
caps as the playing pieces. The same game is played throughout the country by
children and adults.
In the afternoon we visited a local market which is slanted towards tourists and
then went to Lake Anosy which has an island in the middle which is loaded withe
various egrets. One of the items offered at the market was a musical instrument
consisting of a bamboo tube fitted with steel strings around most of its
circumference. Movable bridges allow tuning. The strings are plucked with the
Today we left the delightful hotel and drove for 5 hours to Vac“na Lodge in P‚rinet.
Since it was Sunday morning we saw many people heading off to church. Madagascar
is 90% Christian, mostly Catholic. The lodge is a delightful facility on the
edge of Andasibe National Park. After we checked in and had lunch we went off on
a drive and walk into the park. We saw lots of birds and some bamboo lemurs. We
returned to the lodge and had a delightful cocktail hour (actually 45 min) on
our veranda while a powerful thunder storm swept the area. During the storm a
close lightening strike caused the electricity to fail, however it came back on
just as we went to the lodge for dinner. It was quite nice sitting on the
veranda listening as the rain approached through the surrounding rainforest.
1/13. We arose early and had a breakfast of bread. This seems to be the usual
fare both at the hotel and here. Our early departure from the lodge was to get
into the forest to hear the indri lemurs sing. We picked up Patrice, a local
guide and hiked into the forest. (Patrice knows the area quite well since he was
born and raised in the forest. His father was a park warden.) We paused shortly
after entering since he knew that a tree boa lived in the area of an abandoned
trout farm. He found him and we all had a chance to handle it. It was quite
docile. We also encountered several Parson's chameleons. They are an intensely
bright green which I would think would make them easy prey however they seem to
On the way out we deviated from the trail to scramble up a muddy hill to view
two collared night jars (birds) that Patrice had found. They live under the
shelter of a pandanus tree. I could not see them until I was less that 3' from
them. They blend into the ground litter perfectly.
Then we hiked up to the top of a low ridge and searched for the indris. We could
occasionally hear their strange howling or calling which is used as a
territorial demarcation. Eventually we got close enough and struck off into the
bush winding up right under a troop. They would sit quietly then swing from tree
to tree, often appearing that they would miss and plummet to the ground but
never. Finally they began singing. They shape their mouth into a peculiar,
almost oval opening and cry, sounding something like the song of the humpback
Eventually they moved on and a small group of brown lemurs came through.
The rain forest is quite dense however it is not impenetrable.
Before supper we went down to visit some captive lemurs that the lodge has on a
small island nearby. Lemurs will not cross water. They were primarily white
ruffed and brown and are quite tame. We fed them and let them climb all over us.
Then we went back to the road that marks one edge of the park and walked along
looking for frogs and found a few. The bus met us at the park entrance where we
waited for dark. While we were waiting Patrice found several small chameleons
and a tenerak, a small hedgehog-like animal. After dark we walked back down the
road and spotted a pigmy lemur and a couple of greater mouse lemurs, the latter
being the smallest primate. All sat quietly in the light of the flashlight and
allowed us to view them through Jonathan's spotting scope.
All in all, we have seen the following lemurs; brown, red-bellied brown, black
and white ruffed, greater mouse, pygmy, diadem sifaka, grey bamboo, and indri.
1/14. It was a long drive back to town, partly because we opted for the bus that
would stop for pictures. There are charcoal kilns throughout the countryside.
Charcoal is the principle fuel since only labor and wood are required to produce
it. Some kilns are made of brick, others are simple mounds of earth. One problem
is there are not a lot of trees left. The principle form of transportation are
ox (zebu) carts. Zebu are also the expression of wealth for many country people.
They buy or obtain zebu with any excess money, a kind of walking and working
We brought box lunches from the lodge. After procuring soft drinks in a town we
stopped at a likely spot to eat them. There were a number of tree stumps that we
used as tables. All was well until a downpour forced a retreat into the bus.
1/15. We met the rest of the group, those who had not been on the extension,
last night and then we all went to a dinner at a local restaurant. Although
quite elegant, it was also quite hot. The meal was good, consisting of many
This morning was our charter flight to Mahajanga on the chartered Air Madagascar
Dash 8. This was the segment of the trip that required the limit on the amount
and weight of our luggage. For added insult, Air Madagascar placed some of their
passengers from a cancelled flight on our charter and attempted to throw some of
our luggage off to make room for theirs. Jonathan had a heated argument with the
air line which resulted in his physically removing the other passengers' luggage
and putting ours back on.
Mahajanga was very hot, both climatically and sexually. There are signs in the
airport, "Stop sexual tourism." It seems that the town welcomes foreign visitors
who come for the express purpose of sex vacations. It seems to be a local
We left Tana early since there wasn't anything to do there then didn't have much
to do at the other end. The hotel is located or commingled with a Toyota agency.
Our room was in a second building in back that contains more rooms. Access is
via a path by the large swimming pool which passes some caged lemurs, crocs, and
ducks. The room was pretty nice with a remotely controlled air conditioner.
After lunch we had a tour of the town. There was little to tour, especially a
local market whose inhabitants seems to resent our visit.
The next morning we arose at 4:30 for a 5 am departure to Ampijoroa Forestry
Reserve. It was a 2« hour drive along winding, pot holed roads through rolling
country. There were few trees but all was green because of the ongoing rainy
season. About midpoint we began overtaking more and more locals walking, riding
zebu carts, riding bicycles, and carrying things, like live chickens for
example. Eventually we came to a village and discovered that the weekly market
was just getting underway,
Eventually we reached the park and after a breakfast of fresh fruit set out on
into the deciduous rain forest with a local guide. We spotted some sifaka lemurs
and a couple of sportive lemurs. Back at the start we rested a bit then set off
to see some brown lemurs however pouring rain drove us back to shelter. When the
rain stopped we set off again, only to have it return. By this time the box
lunches from the ship had arrived, along with the passengers from the previous
cruise. We knew some of them and found out that they had a very rough trip
because of weather.
After eating our lunch and milling around a lot we started back. We again
encountered the market people, this time returning home. Most of the road was
pretty good however one section was nothing but giant pot holes.
We arrived at the waterfront around 4pm and had to pass through some sort of
strange immigration on the boat ramp. After a very long wait three zodiacs from
the ship arrived with life jackets and filled up. We did not get on the first
ones. It took over a half an hour for them to return and by that time it began
to rain. The ride out to Le Ponant was rough and splashy so we were quite wet by
the time we arrived. I hate to think of the labor involved in transporting all
our luggage to the ship by zodiac.
We accomplished most of our unpacking before dinner, interrupted by safety
briefing and other formalities. We finished after dinner, showered, and died in
1/17. Le Ponant is a motor sailer designed with a shallow draft to get close to
beaches. As a result she rolls quite a lot, even at anchor. We went into
Mahajamba Bay, a very large bay, and made stop in the morning where we walked
briefly along the beach then did a zodiac ride. There are some very large baobab
trees there. Along the way we saw a sea eagle and a very pretty small spread-out
After lunch we moved and visited Anjema, a small fishing village and did a
zodiac cruise in a mangrove swamp. Jodie had a great time with the Polaroid.
This is a very small village of perhaps 100 residents who live by fishing. They
dry their catch and take it to Mahajanga every week or so. The village is
located adjacent to a mangrove swamp and river mouth. The stop by the ship on
the last cruise was the first ever so the people are a bit shy. When we entered
the village they were all huddled together and didn't mix at all, with the
exception of one man who welcomed us with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek.
We wandered around a little then went back to the beach for the start of a
cruise in the mangroves. While we were waiting the women and children came out
in a group. I think that the women were all dressed in their finest. Several
wore gold jewelry and had gold teeth. This is where Jodie had so much fun with
the Polaroid, taking their pictures and giving the pictures to them.
1/19. Yesterday was our last day in Madagascar. We spent the morning at Nosey
Komba, a village of 1,000 residents, and the afternoon at Tanikley Island. The
local authorities required that we use local boats rather than zodiacs. Each
held around 14 passengers but could not land on the beach so we had to wade in.
As we approached I thought that it was wash day since there appeared to be
clothes lines with sheets hanging on them. Actually they were elaborately
decorated table cloths for sale. There was elaborate embroidery and/or cut work.
We walked through the village to see some black lemurs at the edge, past all of
the handy craft for sale.
The lemurs were not captive, except to the easy access to food. The males are
black and must hang back until the larger, more dominant brown females have had
their fill of bananas. After the lemurs we shopped. We successfully resisted
buying a large embroidered table cloth because Jodie doesn't like to iron.
After shopping we rested at George's Bar. George is a large black originally
from Chicago who came here a couple of years ago after several years on the
Seychelles. A departing German either gave or sold him the bar.
After lunch we had a very poor snorkel at Tanikely Island. The water was too
turbid and there were few fish.
Probably the most spectacular part of the day was our sailing from Tanikely
Island. .Le Ponant is a sailing ship although most of the trip has been powered
by the motor. It was announced that we were going to depart using wind power
alone so all the passengers were on deck. When the ship is under sail the
secondary bridge on the top deck is used so that the captain may observe the
sails. When departure time came all was in readiness. The captain was at his
station. One of the crew was stationed at each of the sail winches. At the
completion of anchor raising the captain gestured dramatically, pointing his
index finger upward. Immediately all three sails slowly ascended their masts.
Even though the winds were slight the ship began moving. Dramatic music filled
the air from speakers throughout the ship.
All sail positioning is controlled from the upper bridge and accomplished by
hydraulic pistons. The only lines involved are the halyards that raise the
sails. Soon we were making from 9 to 10 knots. Under sail, the best possible
speed is 15 knots, faster than with the motor.
As a fitting accompaniment to this spectacular departure we were presented with
a beautiful sunset with a scattering of high level clouds. It was truly a
1-19. Unfortunately our afternoon in Mayotte, part of the Comoros Island group,
was not as outstanding. It is an island surrounded by a reef. We entered through
one of the reef passes around noon and anchored. There were two shore excursion
offered: a walk around a volcano followed by an ocean swim, and a visit to the
market and a bus tour. We opted for the market and tour. The market was
interesting however we couldn't take any pictures since the people are Muslim.
The bus tour was pretty much a waste of time and very hot besides. Those who
opted for the volcano walk found it quite hot, and to their great disappointment
found that the ocean swim was like sitting in a hot bath. There was no shopping
since it was Sunday. You wouldn't think a Muslim country would care about
These island is a French possession and flourishes under the French support. All
health care is free and various other things are subsidized. A referendum is
held every two years to see if the residents want to join France. The women are
for it since they will get other benefits; the men are against it since polygamy
will be illegal.
A few words about our cabin, #12. We have a double bed that is fairly low to the
floor however there is enough room so that our suitcases fit under it. We had to
open the Sampsonite for it to fit. The ship will store luggage for you. There is
a narrow, 2-door closet with four small drawers. The drawers limit the length of
things that may be hung. There is also a small refrigerator which is filled with
stuff for sale. Two very small night stands with two extremely shallow drawers
are on either side of the bed.
The bathroom is extremely small with no orthogonal surfaces. There are no towel
bars. Fresh towels are on a small shelf. Used bath towels must be thrown on the
floor. The shower is the one bright spot. It is round, and rather than the
infuriating shower curtain that sticks to you, there is a sliding door. The most
extraordinary thing is that the shower temperature is unvarying! I've never been
on any ship where this was the case.
The ship itself is small as you would expect given the total number of
passengers. The soaring masts give the illusion of size. Access to the dining
room is only via open decks. I don't know what happens in rough weather. The
passengers on the previous cruise could have told us since they had a rough
trip. They missed a consecutive dinner and breakfast. Our experience has been
that the ship rolls a great deal, more so at anchor.
1-21. We were at Assumption Atoll yesterday afternoon. This is the first of
several atolls we will visit. The primary purpose for stopping here was to clear
Seychelles Immigration. There is a landing strip on the island and the officials
flew out, at Zegrahm's expense. We snorkeled from the beach out over white
gleaming sand and patches of grass to some coral. It was quite good with clear,
warm water and quite a nice selection of brilliantly colored fish.
After snorkeling we returned to the ship, changed to dry clothes and immediately
returned to the island to look for tortoises. It was a hot, unpleasant hike over
lava fields with no sightings. This island was once the home of countless
seabirds. Then the guano harvesters came, stripped the island of all vegetation,
and then removed the guano. When the company failed the miners left, leaving
structures and equipment behind. The ruins and a small pile of guano remain.
Guano is a brown, almost odorless powder composed of decayed vegetable material,
bird droppings, and top soil. It was used as a fertilizer and also an ingredient
for the manufacture of gun powder.
Time for a bit of geology: on this trip we visited two kinds of islands.
Madagascar and the granitic islands of the Seychelles were once a part of the
parent continent, Gondwanaland. When India moved away from Africa they were drug
along but eventually left behind by themselves. Many of the other islands are
atolls. The theory of their formation is that volcanos thrust up from the ocean
floor then coral formed on their perimeters. As the volcanos receded the coral
grown kept pace with the slump. Finally all that was left was the coral ring.
Today we were at Astove Atoll. An Englishman named Mark Veevers-Carter moved
here in the 1960s with his wife and children and started a copra harvesting
operation. He developed a dental problem in March, 1979 and caught a ride to
Kenya on a freighter. He died in the dentist's chair. His wife and children left
as soon as they received the news.
We went ashore early, because of tides, and searched for his residence. When we
found it, it turned out to have been a rather nice hacienda-kind of building
arranged around a central courtyard. Of course, there was no running water or
electricity. The tin roof is now almost totally gone. It didn't look like there
ever were any glass windows, just shutters. The coconut trees are still present
however much of the native undergrowth has returned. It appears that someone is
still harvesting copra occasionally. One of the remaining buildings in better
shape is a small chapel. Someone has placed flowers on the alter in the past.
There are two wooden candelabra that have been recently used.
When we returned to the beach Anna Henderson, one of the naturalists, had found
a green sea turtle laying eggs. By the time we arrived she had finished and was
just returning to the ocean. While we were waiting for the zodiacs to return us
to the ship a tropical shower arrived and soaked us.
We returned to the ship for a late breakfast and then started snorkeling from
zodiacs at 10. The fish were very good. As yesterday, we were at a "wall" or the
edge of the reef. Again the water was clear and the variety of fish outstanding.
For the first time I saw a scorpion fish.
We've spent the remainder of the day going north. We will have an opportunity to
photograph the ship under sail from the zodiacs this afternoon.
1-23. As it turned out, we did quite a bit more than just photograph the ship
under sail. After we boarded the zodiac, Ingrid Nixon, the driver and one of
four naturalists on board, announced that there would be a little interval
before the ship was ready so we were going to visit some boobies on a nearby
island. The island is Pagoda Island, part of the Cosmoledo Atoll. It was teeming
We passed slowly by the island and then the ship was ready. We photographed the
ship from various angles then Ingrid asked who wanted to go back to the ship and
who wanted to go back to Pagoda. All but three passengers returned to the ship.
Those remaining had a very rough ride back to the island. By the time we arrived
Rob McCall, another naturalist, had found a good landing place so all three
zodiacs discharged their passengers. It is a very small island, too small to
merit formal protection and also too small to merit much attention. As a result
there is a large nesting population of red-footed boobies; very large flocks of
ruddy turn stones flashing about; and various terns. There was also a large
number of hermit crabs, some of whom were up in the low bushes, apparently
We spent yesterday, the 22nd, at the fabled Aldabra Atoll. This is the second
largest atoll in the world and the largest in the Indian Ocean. It is 34 km long
and 14 km wide and essentially consists of four primary islands. There are
narrow passes into the inner lagoon. These are so constricted that there is a 3
hour difference in the tides from the outside and inside.
It was a day of clothing changes. The day's first activity was a visit to the
wildlife wardens station at Picard, the settlement on West Island. The ship was
anchored off the island in a considerable swell. After we boarded the zodiac a
large swell broke against the stern of the ship, cresting up and drenching us
from head to toe. Thus baptized, we made our way ashore through the reef. We
were met by some of the wardens plus Guy Esparon, the station manager, or Le
gardien r‚sident. During the course of our tour we encountered some of the
Aldabran giant tortoises, many birds, some coconut crabs, and the flightless
Some of the tortoises enjoy being scratched and will rise up to the full length
of their legs, stretching their necks out as far as possible. It feels like
scratching a piece of rough leather. The one we encountered was named Cake,
apparently because of a liking for cake. This behavior is the result of small
birds who will pluck parasites and bugs from the tortoises. They rise up to
allow the birds to have full access.
After we returned to the ship we removed our wet clothing while it repositioned
to South Island where we snorkeled. It wasn't as good as our previous dip, fewer
fish, deeper water, and a little more sediment. The variety of fish was
different, and perhaps a greater variety. We discovered a group of perhaps 20
parrot fish vigorously feeding from a small patch on the bottom. In unison they
all moved off, defecated sand, and then went back to the same patch to feed. Our
view was interrupted as two rays majestically floated across the scene. They
didn't even seem to be swimming, just drifting like clouds.
The ship moved further down the island to Dunes Jean Louis to see more giant
tortoises. Since this island is more arid, the vegetation is more sparse and the
tortoises are smaller. We went ashore as the Sun was lowering in the Western sky
and hiked to the top of a small dune. We watched as one by one the tortoises
emerged from under shade and started grazing on the short grass. They were
viable as shiny spots on the plain as the Sun reflected off of their backs. We
also visited one of the wardens' huts where they stay when on monthly patrol. It
was not a very plush place.
1-25. Yesterday was somewhat of a bust. We visited Alphonse and Bijoutier
Islands. As we approached early in the morning we could see various ship wrecks
littering the reef. Bijoutier is a tiny postage stamp tropical island. White
coral sand surmounted by green vegetation with a dominant coconut palm poking
above all the others. We went ashore by a cirituous path to avoid the reef. The
island is surrounded by turtle grass in very shallow water. There wasn't much to
see although a medium sized hawks billed turtle did swim with us.
After the snorkel the ship moved close to Alphonse Island where we were offered
to option of snorkeling or a shore hike. We opted for the hike and saw almost
nothing. We hiked along the air strip that services the elaborate resort on the
island. It is a long strip made of cement. The resort is very expensive and
offers fly fishing for bone fish. It was very hot and the birds were smarter
than we were. They stayed in the shade deep in the forest.
Today we made an early landing on Desroches Island. This is a former copra
plantation, as was Alphonse yesterday, that has been turned into a resort. It
appears that the copra operation is still active. The resort is currently
undergoing renovation. We hiked across the island, viewing a few birds and crabs
on the way. We found some small rays in a tide pool on the other side.
During lunch the ship moved to St. Joseph Atoll where we snorkeled from zodiacs
and also did a zodiac cruise.
1-26. In the morning we hiked Vall‚e de Mai, a national park on Praslin Island
in which are located many coco de mer palm trees. The female of this tree
produces the largest nut in the World, weighing somewhere around 40 pounds. The
fronds are also enormous. It was raining when we left the ship so we wore our
Gortex. Soon it made no difference. I sweat so much that I was as wet as if I
was in the rain so I took it off. The paths in the park go up and down many
uneven stone stairs.
The coco de mer palm nut has other interesting attributes in addition to its
size. Its shape is suggestive of a human female pelvis. The male tree produces a
catkin that is quite long and could be thought to resemble a male human penis.
Legend says that the trees must physically couple to reproduce. This only occurs
on dark, stormy nights however any human to witness this would go mad. Actually,
the catkin produces pollen that insects carry to the female. The suggestive nuts
form later, taking several years to develop. After the nuts fall they take a
year to germinate. The trees must be at least 25 years old before reproduction
may occur. They grow on only three of the Seychelles Islands.
The next adventure was a snorkel at Ava Maria, a small granite outcropping. The
ship dropped off the snorkelers and then moved to its anchorage. Conditions were
poor - rough water and poor visibility, but Jodie did see a shark.
Our final adventure was at La Digue Island where we rode ox carts to a very
small nature preserve, home to paradise black fly catcher. The male has a
spectacular long tail. It is one of the most endangered species in the World
with perhaps no more than 50 pairs existent. We saw several. After the hike some
jitneys took us very rapidly through a copra plantation and a vanilla plantation
to a beach and then back to the ship.
We dined with the captain at his farewell dinner. He has been building a 50 foot
wooden sail boat for 14 years and expects to launch it next May.
1-27. We have now "turned around." We have bid goodbye to our friends of three
weeks and are working on a new set. We arrived in Victoria on the island of Mah‚,
early this morning. This is the capitol of the Seychelles. After all the
good-bye hurrah on the ship we all boarded some buses and went off on a town
tour. As part of the tour patter we learned that there are 115 islands in the
Seychelles of which 42 are granitic. One third of the land is set aside as
national parks or preserves. Of the 82,000 residents, 90% are Roman Catholic.
We toured the downtown area and had a brief stop for souvenir shopping then we
went off to the botanical gardens. It was very hot but the trees were
interesting. Then we drove up to a higher elevation to visit the ruins of a
school for freed slave children. It was delightfully cool and populated with
dragons' blood trees. These are trees whose sap is a bright red, just like
blood. We drove around some more and had tea at a elegant resort hotel, once the
site of the Miss Universe competition. It currently has 23 guests. The Bush
recession and war threats have really put a damper on travel. We then drove to
another resort for a Creole lunch then to a model boat factory then to the craft
center where we left the group and returned to the boat on our own private bus.
We boarded the ship just minutes after the crew had finished unloading 15 tons
of supplies. Some of the unoccupied cabins were used as temporary store rooms.
1-29. We are now well embarked on the second part of our trip. Yesterday we were
at St. Joseph Island for some snorkeling. In the morning we worked along a
drop-off and saw quite a variety of fish. There were clouds of tiny juveniles
clustered around the coral heads. We also saw a tail-less ray of some kind
laying on the bottom and almost blending perfectly with it. A hawks-bill turtle
swam through, looking at us with some curiosity.
A second snorkel was scheduled at Poivre Atoll. As we boarded the zodiac we
found out that there were a number of manta rays in the area and we were going
to have a look at them. There were at least 6 of varying size all patrolling
back and forth in the rich plankton layer draining out of the lagoon. The only
snorkeling that was done were brief forays into the water to attempt to swim
with the rays. The rays quite easily swam away from the humans in the water.
Although the rays seemed to tolerate the presence of the zodiacs they moved off
when people entered the water. We did, however, have long, excellent views of
them "flying" gracefully though the water.
1-30. Back to Alphonse Island. Last time we were here we went ashore for the
birdless bird walk and to view the island. This time we snorkeled. But before
that, as breakfast was underway, a very large pod of spinner dolphins passed by
the ship, intent on reaching some unknown destination. Occasionally one of them
would leap especially high and execute a spin. No one really knows why they do
The snorkeling was quite good, almost the best of the trip. It was a long
journey from the ship, through the reef pass to the location along a coral reef.
There were many fish, a lot of giant clams, some tube worms, and some very
small, baby stripped eels. The coral was very healthy and rose almost up to the
surface. You could swim up to one of these surfaces and view the fish as if on a
After all were on board we set of for legendary Aldabra Atoll.. In the afternoon
Joe Valencic presented the first of his digital photography seminars. He teaches
oceanography at Saddle Back college in Orange county and in addition is a gadget
freak. He has both a kite and a parasail that may be rigged with a small video
camera. A similar camera with lights may be lowered into the ocean. He has also
rigged a Mead spotting scope with a video camera and a 35mm camera mount. The
video is connected to a portable miniature monitor and also may be connected to
a microwave link.
1-31. For the morning at Aldabra we started out at 6:30 with a zodiac cruise
into the lagoon as the water was rushing out on the falling tide. We were
surrounded with frigate birds and boobies, all calling and screeching. We
frequently saw fish is the clear waters. We also saw many turtles, some swimming
with incredible swiftness. There were also some spotted eagle rays, some other
ray, and some nurse sharks.
After the ride we went ashore and strolled a bit. There were the usual giant
tortoises plus blue pigeons, doves, sunbirds, etc.
When we returned to the zodiacs the sea level had dropped quite a lot and the
lagoon interior where we had been boating was now almost completely out of the
water, however the water was still racing out through the pass. The zodiacs had
to be walked out a considerable distance to reach water deep enough to run the
engine. Then we surfed out through the pass on the rolling waves created by the
draining waters meeting the ocean tide. It was really quite a thrilling ride.
For our afternoon we snorkeled along the edge of the reef. Although it wasn't
great there were a number of nice fish. It was worthwhile.
At 6 pm we went ashore at Dune Jean Louis, the same sand dunes visited on the
last segment, visited the tortoises, drank some sangrias, and watch the sunset.
After dinner Capt. R‚mi Genevaz hoisted the sails and we moved on around the
atoll. In the morning we will be off of the station at Picard.
2-1. Sure enough, around 6 am the anchor rattled out and we were at Picard. At
6:30 we went ashore and started a hike at the old settlement. Through the years
the Seychelles government awarded franchises to various companies to exploit the
resources of the islands. There were probably a maximum of 100 residents at the
old settlement over the years. Now there are a number of buildings in various
stages of collapse. The current residents are giant tortoises.
Although Aldabra has become a United Nations World Heritage site, the government
would still like to exploit the atoll. A resort operator, Wilderness Experience,
with government encouragement, is trying to build an exclusive resort where the
station is. There would be 12 chalets, a staff of 100, and, of course, an air
strip. The Seychelles Island Foundation is the nominal caretaker of the island
and employs the wardens however it is dominated by the government.
As we hiked we saw several endemic birds, including the Seychelles kestrel. The
zodiacs picked us up at 8 as we reached the station and ferried us back to the
ship for breakfast.
At 10 we left the ship again to snorkel on the outside of the reef. It was
terrific! In addition to a large variety of reef fish we saw a sleeping nurse
shark, had several close passes from small black-tipped reef sharks, found an
octopus in a crevasse. We had been promised a drift snorkel in one of the passes
between the ocean and the lagoon as an end to the morning's snorkel however the
current was judged to fast so we went back to the ship for lunch.
At 2 we did the drift snorkel. It was like flying over the ground in a small
airplane. There is a very deep channel with shallow coral on either side. Quite
a number of very large reef fish were patrolling the channel. The first drift
was at a rather leisurely pace. We re-boarded the zodiac when we reached the
lagoon and went back to the entrance. This time the pace was much faster since
the ocean tide had risen and was more anxious to fill the lagoon. It was great
fun however if you found a fish that was of interest it was almost impossible to
spend any time looking at it.
The last activity of the day is a visit to the station.
2-2. Astove Island. See previous comments. Last time we went searching for the
plantation villa. This time we walked across the land to the lagoon. Along the
way we found a pig skeleton. There are feral pigs on the island. There are also
some transplanted Aldabran tortoises, of which we saw two. I wonder if the pigs
will prevent the growth of the tortoise population?
It was quite hot when we reached the lagoon. There were a number of shore birds
and a number of large fish swimming in the shallow water near the shore. They
finally succeeded in driving a number of smaller fish into a very small bay
where a feeding frenzy ensued. A dimorphic egret joined in. It would have been
fun to watch however the heat and sun were unbearable so we headed back to the
shade of the forest and to the outer shore and the ship.
After breakfast we snorkeled the arch again. This is a terrific place! The coral
rises up out of the abysmal depths to reach the surface. There are two or three
arches in this growth. We watched a sting ray dive down into a hole and
disappear. I swam to the edge and discovered that it had swum through an arch.
As it turned and came back I alerted Jodie so she could take a photo as it came
back up out of the hole. We also found a large grouper hovering at a cleaning
station while two large cleaner wrasse removed parasites from it. This was
certainly the best snorkeling of the trip, perhaps the best I have ever had.
The ship then repositioned to Cosmoledo Atoll for an intended sail photo op.
When we arrived there was no wind however the very clear water immediately
suggested a snorkel opportunity from the zodiacs with a landing again on Pagoda
Island to view the nesting boobies. Because of the current the snorkel turned
into a drift snorkel, this time in deep, clear water. We could see from the
surface what the scuba divers see.
2-4. After a day at sea we approached Desroches around 9:30. The north wind that
had kicked up the seas during the night made our intended landing on the north
side unacceptable so the ship moved on around to the lee of the south side. We
went out for the intended snorkel however didn't enter the water. It was too
rough and the wind was pushing things around. So we went back to the ship and
changed for the shore visit.
The point of going ashore was a bar-b-que lunch at the former resort, on the
north side. Everything was brought ashore by zodiac and then hauled across the
island by a tractor that is part of the island facility. The tractor and trailer
also transported passengers. We chose to walk and had a very nice view of a fody.
Lobster, ribs and chicken were the main course items along with baked potatoes
and grilled tomatoes. It's been so long since I've had a baked potato that it
was the best item on the menu. We walked back to the landing site through the
plantation, barely escaping tropical showers at either end.
2-5. Silhouette Island. At last, an island we haven't been to before. An early
morning (6:30 am) walk was offered so we turned out for it. We were the only
passengers to show up. So we and four naturalists headed off in the zodiac. I
think they were wanting to go since none of them have been here before. We were
met at the dock by Ron Gerlach, an artist resident of the island who, along with
his wife have a tortoise recovery program on the island. They are trying to
restore the population of Seychelles giant tortoises with no government help.
The government feels that there are a bunch of Aldabran giant tortoises around
so there needs to be no concern about a subspecies. In addition to the tortoise
recovery program, Ron produces very nice batik.
We set off on the hike which led us into the upper reaches of the island. The
lower area had been cleared and replanted into productive crops. These have been
removed and an effort is underway to eliminate all non-endemic plants from the
upper reaches. We saw little unusual however the stark granite structures and
dense forest was quite attractive. One of the non-endemic trees is the cinnamon
tree. It is apparently very hard to kill. If cut down to the ground it simply
sprouts and grows again. It must be killed chemically.
When we returned from the hike, we decided to stay on shore when the rest of the
passengers came ashore for the walk rather than go back to the ship for
breakfast. We toured the tortoise recovery facility. We also toured the exterior
of the old plantation house. When Ingrid came ashore from one of her ferry trips
she brought a care package for us and for Rob and Anna since we had been ashore
without any breakfast. When we returned to our cabin we found a tray of goodies
waiting for us so we had a second breakfast then.
The ship moved to Desroches over lunch and we did another hike in the forest of
coco de mer palms. We also had pretty good views of the blue pigeon. Although
its body is blue, its head is red and it has a white collar. We also had
fleeting glimpses of black parrot.
2-6. Aride Island is the home of countless fairy terns, lesser noddy terns, long
tailed tropic birds, and 7 humans at the research station. It was once a copra
plantation however Christopher Cadbury, of the candy company, bought it in 1973
and presented it to the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. This group has
eradicated most non-native vegetation, reintroduced almost all of the previously
existent birds, the most recent being the magpie robin, and is trying to
eliminate the remaining barn owls and rats.
Landing on the island is an adventure in itself. With the exception of one side,
steep granite cliffs surround the island. The fourth side has a beautiful white
sand beach however this side also has quite a surf. We left the ship in zodiacs
and rendezvoused with a red inflatable off of the beach. This craft has a solid
keel. With 8 passengers on board, Albert, the daring boatman turned the Tornado
toward the beach. When the suitable wave appeared he headed toward the beach at
full throttle, never slacking off until we had been thrust well up onto the
sand. Waiting helpers grabbed the boat and held it as we debarked.
We hiked along the beach and then up across a ridge to see the other side. The
air was filled with terns. We also saw some tern chicks perched on branches. The
terns do not build nests. They lay their eggs on a fork or a knot on the branch.
Somehow the egg does not fall off and, after the chick hatches, neither does the
chick. Rob commented that the ground is literally paved with skinks. After our
hike I must agree. When climbing up to the ridge and coming back down it was
difficult to avoid stepping on one. While I was sitting on a rock at the
over-look they were crawling over my shoes. On the way back we encountered a
female hawksbill turtle that had been driven off of the beach by too many
onlookers. Both Anna and Rob spent 3 months on the island, at different times,
before getting their PhDs.
The noddies nest in the pisonia trees on the island. Their nests consist of a
few leaves cemented to a branch. The trees exacts a harsh rental for their use.
It produces fruit that is very sticky. The idea being that it will stick to a
bird who will carry it some distance from the tree. However these small berries
form in widely spread clusters. Frequently a noddy will become completely
entangled and unable to fly, hence feed, and it dies.
The ride back out through the surf was as exciting as the ride in. The bow was
pointed toward the sea and the boat was pushed out into the water, then we
boarded and sat on the floor. The incoming waves broke over the bow, soaking us.
At the shouted command of the boatman the boat was shoved into the surf and he
jumped in and started the motor. We punched through the incoming surf and met
the waiting zodiac. As we were leaving the boat I turned to Albert and thanked
him, telling him that it was really a fun ride. He replied, "It's my job."
The ship sailed away to La Digue, by sail power alone. The visit there will be
the same as last time so I stayed on board while Jodie went ashore to shop.
2-7. Our last day on the ship was quite active. In the morning we landed at
Curieuse Island, another nature preserve. We first visited their tortoise
breeding project. After the eggs hatch the little tortoises are raised in
protected pens until they reach 5 years of age. At this point they are no longer
potential prey to the land crabs and other predators.
The station also has an excellent path through a mangrove swamp. The trail first
went up and down over some heavily weathered granite. When it reached the swamp
the trail became a board walk. As the tide receded the ground was covered with
large snails in black spiral shells. We occasionally saw some land crabs.
We reached a beach at the end that was once the location of a leper colony.
About all that is left are some ruins and the beautifully restored doctor's
house. It is now used as a museum and nature center.
After the beach visit we finally got our opportunity to photograph Le Ponant
under sail from a zodiac. It was exciting to race around the majestic ship,
trying to get the best view and also trying to keep the other racing zodiacs out
of the picture.
After lunch a small number of us went ashore at Cousin Island. I think the
majority of the passengers were turned off by a combination of heat and the
method of landing on the beach, somewhat similar to that used on Aride. The
primary difference being that fibreglass skiffs were used rather than the
inflatable Tornado. It is quite thrilling, waiting just outside the surf line
while the boatman judges the conditions. When he feels the moment has come he
heads the boat toward the shore at full throttle. The boat hits the sand and
slides up, well beyond the surf. The return trip isn't quite so thrilling, just
wet. You board the boat with its bow point into the surf, not quite afloat. Once
again, when the boatman judges that the suitable wave has arrived he shouts and
the helpers shove the boat out while he nimbly leaps over the transom and starts
the motor, and out through the surf we go.
Cousin is another nature preserve. One of the staff lead us on a little hike. We
saw numerous fairy tern chicks in various stages of development, perched on the
branch where they hatched. We also saw quite a number of nesting white
long-tailed tropic birds. They nest on the ground and seem relatively
unconcerned by our presence, if we don't get too close. This island is one of
the locations where they are trying to revive the magpie robins. We saw a
couple, a female and her almost adult chick. One of the guides scraped the
litter on the ground with a stick and the female dropped down from the branch to
check the scrape for bugs. After she finished she eyed the guide expectantly
until the guide turned over a large rock which the robin immediately attacked.
It was a lovely finale to our long voyage on Le Ponant.
2-8. We have been kicked off of the ship and are now at the Plantation Club, at
least an hour away from the airport. It is a nice, typical, beach resort for
this area. It also has a casino. If you are lucky you are paid in rupees however
you cannot use them to pay your hotel bill. It must be paid in foreign currency.
The government is desperate for foreign currency, preferably dollars or euros
and requires tourists to pay for most things with foreign currency.
Our room is quite elegant. Some of the passengers went directly to the airport,
some are here with us but will depart at 4 pm, and 8 of us will leave tomorrow
at 6:10 am for our 10 am Air France flight.
All that is left is the trip home. After our night at the Plantation Club Resort
we face a 10-hour flight to Paris where we overnight at the SAS Radisson hotel.
Then another 10-hour flight to LA.. As a part of this we are unwinding the
12-hour time difference between the Seychelles and California.