Day 1,391: I Sell Seychelles

Wed 24.10.12:

Country 2-0-0. Friends, can you BELIEVE IT? Nope. Neither can I, which is good, because Seychelles is quite an unbelievable place. In a good way. Unlike The Maldives, it’s not just flat flat flat as far as the eye can see: these are volcanic islands (over 100 of ’em) spread out slap bang in the centre of the western Indian Ocean.

Honestly, it was love at first sight. Its vibe: it was Tonga, it was Samoa, it was Fiji… but in the Indian Ocean. Coming out from strict, religion-lovin’, fun-avoiding countries like Sri Lanka, India and Maldives where you are supposed to be in bed (on your own) for 9pm and there are simply no local girls out having a good time, Seychelles was a blast of ice-cool crystal-clear fresh air.

We arrived at Victoria, the capital of the country, around 1pm. Victoria is situated on the east coast of Mahe island (not to be confused with Male’ island in the Maldives). My departure off the ship was filmed by Steve and Amy, a couple from Californ-I-A, who I met at the talk I gave yesterday. Off the gangway, I threw myself on the hallowed ground of the TWO HUNDREDTH COUNTRY of The Odyssey Expedition and rolled around a bit. Probably caused a bit of a scene, but I don’t care. THIS, my friends, was the moment I’ve been waiting for since October 2009 when I first attempted (unsuccessfully) to get to The Seychelles from Diego Suarez in Madagascar, since June 2010 when I attempted (unsuccessfully) to get to The Seychelles from Salalah in Oman and since June 2012 when I first started trying to get across the Indian Ocean from Colombo in Sri Lanka.

IT TOOK THREE YEARS AND TEN MONTHS, BUT I’M FINALLY HERE.

Well, what else was there to do but go for a celebratory drink? So Steve and Amy and I headed to The Pirates Arms for a swift half, where I was introduced to the joy of SeyBrew, the local lager, possibly made by the same guys who set up SolBrew in The Solomon Islands. Crisp and cold, I give SeyBrew three thumbs up. Later we took a stroll around Victoria’s beautiful botanical gardens – home to a group of Aldabra Giant Tortoises. And when they say ‘giant’, they mean ‘G-I-A-N-T’. Just one of these Koopa Troopers could eat Mario for breakfast and still have room for Luigi, Yoshi and Peach.

Sorry to use a stock image, but you cannot correctly gauge the sheer giganticness of a Aldabra Giant Tortoise from my photos.

It’s funny, my Plan X, had Costa not allowed me on the ship, was to take a yacht from Nosy Be in Madagascar to the Aldabra Islands in order to ‘tick off’ The Seychelles. The Aldabra Group are a protected wildlife sanctuary and you need special permission to get there… and they are home to over 100,000 of these Giant Tortoises: a staggering number. I can only hope I live long enough to do that trip for real.

Later we jumped on the bus to the west coast and a place called Beau Vallon, a beach town on the other side of the mountains. The driver drove like his pants were on fire, swinging around them switchbacks like the endings of both Wages of Fear and The Italian Job (neither of which ended well for those on board), but we (thankfully) got there in one piece. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset and discover just how amazingly helpful and generous with their time the people of The Seychelles (the Seychellois) really are: we were escorted down to the beach, the music guys who were on the quayside this morning said hello and the owner of the Boat House Restaurant and Bar in Beau Vallon gave us free shots Takamaka Coco-Rum (think marshmallows and coconut – I think I’m in love). We were joined by Ramone and Kelly, a Canadian couple, and the night descended into the usual drunken chaos you’ve come to expect from The Odyssey Expedition, with Steve and Amy supplying more than their fair share of alcoholic delights. Thanks Steve & Amy!!! USA! USA! USA!

The next day I intended on going for a hike up the mountain to help walk off my beer gut from the night before, but unfortunately it was pouring down with rain, so instead I headed down to The Pirates Arms and sought refuge in the company of the internet and beer. On the way there I found a bit of a commotion going on outside the Supreme Courthouse of The Seychelles. Asking around, it transpired that on trial were 10 Somali pirates that The Seychelles navy had caught operating in their waters. Well that’s one in the eye for the old Jolly Rogerers eh? Serves them right for making it next to impossible for me to reach The Seychelles without flying. Oh, and being pirates.

One of best things about The Seychelles was that, despite the rain, everybody I spoke to off the ship absolutely loved the place, many saying it was the highlight of their trip so far. To be honest, it’s one of the highlights of mine. It’s definitely in my top ten destinations in the world I want to return to as soon as possible. Seychelles: worth its wait in gold.

Day 1,396: Neptune Strikes Back!

Mon 29.10.12:

I knew it. I knew it was unwise to mock Neptune, that most capricious of Olympian Gods. Odysseus’s punishment for a perceived slight is what caused him to take 10 years to get back to his Penelope. All I had to do was to get off the Costa neoRomantica in Diego Suarez, Madagascar and I would almost definitely be in South Sudan in November and home for Christmas.

But then I had to be funny, didn’t I? Had to dress up like Neptune, yeah? Pose with his trident, play Gods and Monsters. You smart-assed sceptic, MONKEY MAN WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE!!!

Neptune, Poseidon-self with anger (see what I did there?), did what he always does when he’s pissed and sent an unseasonable storm our way. The ship pitched and rocked and after the Costa Concordia disaster, you can understand the captain’s decision not to risk taking a high-sided ship in high winds into the Madagascan port of Diego Suarez.

Yep you read that right: THE SHIP DID *NOT* STOP IN MADAGASCAR!!

Oh Neptune, will this grim fandango of ours never end? The horrible truth is this: in the first year of The Odyssey Expedition, I visited 133 countries. By the end of the second year of The Odyssey Expedition, I had been to 184 countries. In the last TWO YEARS I have been to (wait for it, wait for it…) 16 new countries. SIXTEEN!! Battling King Neptune, shipping schedules and Somali pirates every step of the way. Of course I’ve been to many more countries than that (most of SE Asia and India in fact), but only virgin soil counts towards the goal.

And so I found myself heading to the French island of Réunion, a place I had already been to TWICE on this journey… and it’s not even a country!!!

Darn and blast. A few hurried text messages to Mandy (who’s still helping me out behind the scenes cos she’s the best) and she had organised for me to stay with Michael Obrenovich, the French graphic designer and artist that I stayed with here EXACTLY THREE YEARS AGO TO THE GODDAMN DAY.

If you had told me three years ago that I would be here, in Réunion, and have STILL not finished my quest I would have laughed you out of the pub. But, dear reader, here I am! Réunion!!

Maldives, Seychelles: IN DA BAG!! Thank you Costa Cruises!!!

My thanks goes out to all the people at Rooster PR and Costa Cruise that made this trip possible. A huge shout out to Steve and Amy, Ramone and Kelly, John, the Welsh massive, Josie the hostess with the mostess and everybody else who went out of their way to make the journey a happy and pleasant one.

You’ll be glad to hear my team won the grand trivia competition (by a golden mile) despite one of the questions being ‘which film won the most Oscars in 1975?’ and me answering CORRECTLY “The Godfather: Part II” and them saying “no, it was Star Wars“.

Now, there are two things YOU *DO NOT*ARGUE WITH ME about.

One is geography. Seriously, don’t go there, I will wipe the floor with you.

The second is Star Wars. Seriously, I’m the type of (incredibly handsome and well travelled) geek that knows my B’omarr monks from my Corellian Bloodstripes. Again, don’t mess with me on this.

The WTF? factor was ramped up to overload when you consider the following: Star Wars *did* win 6 Oscars (the most that year)… in 1978. You know, since in 1975 THEY HADN’T EVEN STARTED FILMING THE DAMN THING!!!

*Tears hair out*

Let it go, Graham, you won anyway. Let it go…….

The ship got to Le Port in Réunion on the Monday morning. It was a grey and overcast day, which is sad for the people on the ship, because the following days it was blue skies like you would not believe. Off the ship I met an Irish girl called Chloe who was volunteering with a group encouraging tourism in Réunion. One of the things you need to know about Réunion is that when I say it’s a French Island, I mean *IT’S A FRENCH ISLAND*. I’d wager that out of the 839,500 people who live here, Chloe and I might just be the only native English speakers. Time to brush up my bon mots, methinks!

That afternoon I headed to the main town of Saint-Denis, found the Saint Hubert pub (which I remembered from last time had free why-fhy (or ‘weefee’ as the French adorably say)) and set about trying to organise my way off this rock. In the evening as the good ship Costa neoRomantica pulled out of port I met with Michael and headed off to his gaff for a good old-fashioned reunion in Réunion.

It was bound to happen sooner or later…

Nice! Now, where did I put those shipping timetables…?