My first snorkeling in Seychelles

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Article by Francis Doku

I saw on the itinerary that there would be snorkeling, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. This is because as someone who doesn’t know how to swim, I didn’t think deep diving, scuba diving and snorkeling are among the experiences that should be on my bucket list to tick.

It should be obvious that I was not one to be looking forward to such an experience, never mind that I was going to the island republic of Seychelles, a haven for such an activity and it had been boldly added to the itinerary. Others would do it, not my cup of tea.

We arrived in Seychelles on Wednesday, and we had many and varied experiences from the get-go: from mountain and mangrove hiking to bicycle riding to heritage and cultural tours across three islands during the three days that we had been in the archipelago nation and snorkeling had not happened. Perhaps I had been saved from it.

Wait, not entirely. On the night of the last of the three days for the trip, that’s Friday to be precise, I received an envelope with a receipt indicating that a marine and boating experienced had been booked and paid for me for the following day – Saturday. I was to meet Jack the taxi driver at the reception of the resort who would take me to the marina to join the boat.

This was the last day of the journey as I would be leaving the resort at 9pm to make it to the airport one hour away, go through check-in and immigration and fly out to Dubai at 2:40am on Sunday. “So why would they put such an experience on the last day,” I asked no one in particular.

Jack and I arrived at the marina on time and located the boat that would be taking me to sea. The young man in the boat said I should wait for a while as they were waiting for the other passengers before setting sail. I went to the coffee shop and ordered a cup of café latte and sandwich, as I would rather miss breakfast than miss the 9am rendezvous with Jack.

Eventually the boat was ready. The small boat could carry up to six or so passengers. Besides myself, there were four other passengers, a man and wife from Zambia and two gentlemen from Germany. There was a crew of three, the pilot (a Rasta man who said we should just call him Rasta or Jack Sparrow) and two of his mates. I would find out they were all as witty as most Seychellois can be and they made the trip as fun as it could be.

Before they would start the two outboard motors that propel the boat, Rasta gave a small lecture on the route and the dos and don’ts for the journey. We set of at a few minutes past 10am (the sun was up and the sea was calm) and we were to return to the dock at 4pm; a whole day on the blistering turquoise blue sea? I like it!

Rasta was a great tour guide. He knew every inch of the sea (if you could apply inches to sea lingo) and everything around the hills and valleys and the islands that surround the Seychellois landscape.
For instance, he told us about those red roofed estates that it was the only place foreigners were allowed to buy real estate, showed is the huge mansions of some sheikhs from Abu Dhabi jutting out atop the mountain and overlooking the sprawling sea and beaches below, and also told us about the significance of each island we passed by. Primarily, Rasta and his crew prepared us for what to expect when we arrived at our destination island.

About 30 minutes into the journey and having had just the tip of Seychellois marine experience, Rasta announced that this was the spot for the snorkeling and that his two colleagues would aid and guide the passengers while he manned the boat. He told me that I was going into the water too. I declined. I was neither ready physically and mentally nor well kitted for snorkeling. “I’ll pass,” I said.Rasta and everyone else on the boat were disappointed that I wasn’t going to snorkel.

Of course, you can force a horse to the river but can’t force it to drink from the river (my sarcastic side thought this was the most appropriate maxim at this point in time), so they gave up after I had insisted I wasn’t going to do snorkeling.

The four passengers and the two assistants of Rasta slid into the water, swam away and left Rasta and this water phobia man from Ghana on the boat. We soaked Rasta’s playlist of reggae and Seychellois folk music from the TCL boombox and a lot of chatting in-between. The only lady on the trip would later tell us she heard our chatter even from under the sea.

All this while Rasta kept looking into the sky, obviously monitoring the weather pattern. After about 30 minutes of snorkeling Rasta called the team and asked that we move on to the island where we were going to have the barbecue as, according to him, the weather didn’t look good. We set off again, made a small stop to feed the fish with bread, while trying to catch the big ones, and then headed to Long Island for our barbecue and shallow water swimming.

We arrived safely at our destination island. Rasta instructed us on what to do and what not to do when we get down. For example, we should never step on those green seaweed because he can do many things, but when anyone gets a cut he cannot stop the blood. He also told us to be mindful of where to walk along the shallow channel from one island to the other so we don’t drown in the deep area.

He led us to the shade which would be our rendezvous point to leave whatever we want to leave behind and before you could say “Jack Sparrow” Rasta and his crew had assembled the grill, cooking pots and pans and all the accoutrements needed for a good barbecue fromn where they had stowed them.

Finally, Rasta gave us leave to go roam and swim, and oh get some drinks and refreshment from his friend the vendor known as Coco Rasta, but we should be back at 2:00pm by which time the barbecue and meal would be ready.

I took off my shirt and pants and stuffed them together with my shoes and phone in the Tourism Seychelles branded satchel bag I was carrying and then went to splash and swim in the shallow waters. But first I grabbed a cold cocktail of passion fruits and other fruits mixed with Takamaka from Coco Rasta for SCR150. It tasted good and refreshing.

We gathered back at Long Island at 2pm and as promised by Rasta, our barbecue of tuna, beef and shrimps accompanied by rice, bread and potatoes were sizzling and ready. We had a good meal with accompanying cold soft drink of Coke or Sprite and chilled water. It was good meal.

After the meal, Rasta and his crew cleaned, packed and stowed the grill, pans and pots and the foldable tables away and we got into the boat and headed for our next adventure on the much talk about places of giant tortoises, Moyenne Island.

Moyenne is a small island (9.9 ha or 24 acres) in the Sainte Anne Marine National Park off the north coast of Mahé. Since the 1970s onwards, it has been a flora and fauna reserve. From 1915 until the 1960s, the island was abandoned until it was purchased by a newspaper editor from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, England, Brendon Grimshaw for 10,000 dollars. There are plaques that show all the previous owners before Grimshaw gave it back to the government.
Grimshaw was the only inhabitant of the island until his death in July 2012. His grave along with that of his father as well as two unknown pirates are on the island. The island is now a national park and can be visited as part of organized trips.

According to records, Grimshaw and a local youth René Antoine Lafortune planted sixteen thousand trees, built 4.8 kilometres (3 mi) of nature paths, and brought and bred Aldabra giant tortoises, intending to create an island of extraordinary beauty. Apart from a wide variety of plant and bird life, the island is home to 50 of these giant tortoises.

Rasta and crew left us to tour the island and asked that we tour as much as we could, but to be back at the beach for our pick up in one hour. Since none of the five of us on the tour would dare not disobey Rasta’s orders, we toured the island, appreciated trees Grimshaw had planted, wondered at the breathtaking view of the sea from the island, fed the giant tortoises with leaves and descended to the beach at exactly an hour and Rasta and crew were just arriving with the boat for the pick-up. Swiss clock precision!

We got back on the boat and set off. A few knots into the journey, Rasta announced that it is round two of snorkeling and this time “I am going into the water with you, Mr. Doku.” Every single person on the boat – all seven of them – looked at me and appealed to me to do it this time. Rasta assured me that in will be safe in jacket and he would let me hold the life buoy as he directs me. Watertight insurance policy, excuse the pun.

Well, I wasn’t going to disappoint them and disappoint myself the second time. I am in Seychelles and if I don’t get the opportunity to come back this may be the only one for me to do snorkeling in this beautiful blue waters of the Indian Ocean. “If I perish, I perish,” that was me quoting Esther from the Holy Bible.

So, well, yeah, I plucked up courage from wherever it was, stood up, got strapped and fitted and when Rasta entered the water, I followed him. I had been prepared and instructed to only breath through the mouth, not the nose. Never the nose. But I failed that and gulped a few beads of salty Indian Ocean water. Rasta said that was normal. But as I continued to swim holding on to the life buoy and following Rasta and paddling with my legs and looking at the bottom of the sea and seeing all the beautiful things down under, my confidence grew and I loved it. Jesus Christ, I am snorkeling!

As we moved along I saw all the colourful coral reefs, clown and trumpet fish, and then we spotted a sea turtle and Rasta called everyone to come see and it was beautiful. But there was so much more that can be discovered while snorkelling in the pristine blue waters of Seychelles. The uniquely beautiful underwater world of Seychelles is breathtaking and it was for me a very wonderful experience to have and I’ll do it again if I have the chance. There, snorkeling has made it to my bucket list.

For travelers and tourists dreaming of white, deserted sandy beaches, round granite rocks and turquoise blue water they are guaranteed to find what they are looking for in Seychelles. The beaches of Seychelles are uniquely beautiful and it could give the satisfaction that the traveler is on a desert island of their own.

After a while and after spotting a shark and everyone rushing to go see it, I asked to go up and up the boat I went. It wasn’t long before Rasta announced that the tour was over, and we were headed for the Marina. It was an amazing tour, a great climax to all the fun we had over the past three days of our hosting by Tourism Seychelles.

I arrived in time to meet Jack waiting at the dock to drive me to the Constance Ephelia Resort. I got back, took the buggy to my room, had an hour-long hot bubble bath, completed packing, had dinner, checked out and joined the bus to head for the airport at 9pm.

Indeed, Seychelles is a haven for people seeking to enjoy the cool and calm waters of the Indian ocean and a warm sunny tropical weather off the African continent.

However, Seychelles is not only about the sea, turquoise blue pristine waters, sandy and rocky beaches, and beautiful coral reefs below the waters, it is a place to get lost in the culture and essence of the 100,000 or so people on this beautiful island nation.

I was in Seychelles on the invitation of the nation’s tourism board to be part of its inaugural Mega Familiarization Trip. And as all 65 of us tourism trade and media partners from around the world hosted by Tourism Seychelles would find out, there is more to Seychelles than the sea and beaches. It is a nation of many cultures exuded through a warm and welcoming populace providing different experiences for the visitor.

This was emphasized by Sherin Francis, Principal Secretary of Tourism Seychelles when she led a team of officials from Tourism Seychelles to welcome the 65 guests to the archipelago nation for a three-day Mega Familiarization Trip.

“For those of you who have been here seven years, I know somebody who just told me seven years ago he was here, probably you did not get to experience this. But today, with, focus on product diversification, having more cultural experiences, we have also, encouraging our visitors to make time to discover more of the Seychellois culture,” she said.

“The gastronomy, arts, dance, crafts, artisan, all this today are on offer, and you are able to experience and immerse yourself in more cultural experiences, activities, entertainment in general.”

Highlighting on the range of accommodation offering, the Principal Secretary said, ‘’You would know we have a wide range of accommodation in Seychelles. We have beautiful resorts like this one, the Constance Ephelia, but we also have homegrown properties, self-catering apartments and guest said houses. We want them to provide exceptional services, we want their products to be of higher standards, so that they can attract better kinds of visitors that will benefit the whole destination at the end of the day.

She said the kind of visitors Seychelles is targeting to attract are those that would give high value, such as visitors who “will want to go out and discover, and go out and do an excursion, go to a hiking, experience a cultural product, living more than just, the waste that it would probably produce like we all do when we travel and also lower impact.’’

Dubbed the “Mega Familiarization Trip”, the inaugural hosting by the department responsible for tourism in Seychelles, Tourism Seychelles, invited these trade and media partners from over 15 markets from all six continents and hosted them from 29th November to 2nd December 2023.
The meticulously curated itinerary for the hosting was designed to enhance every moment of their journey across the 115-island archipelago nation. This includes a three-night stay at the 5-star Constance Ephelia Resort, experience on Silhouette Island by Hilton Labriz, rum tasting, snorkeling, fishing, boat rides, sundowners, heritage experience at Mission Lodge, city tour of Victoria, market experience at Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, lunch experience at Marie Antoinette and a special Creole Rendezvous night at Cap Lazare Nature Reserve.

“The primary goal of this marketing endeavour is to provide travel agencies with firsthand experiences and comprehensive information about our destination, enabling them to more effectively market and promote it to their clients,” said Bernadette Willemin, Director General of Destination Marketing at Tourism Seychelles.

She added at the official welcome event at the Cyann Restaurant at the Constance Ephelia Resort at Mahe that “this familiarization trip is intended to showcase aspects of intellectual discoveries, cultural discoveries, which our destination has to offer. It is not just a trip. It is an immersive experience designed to deepen your understanding of our unique offerings.”

Tourism Seychelles spared no expense to give its guests the most wonderful experience as it hosted them to some of the best things the nation has on offer from accommodation, to tour packages, gastronomy, drinks and beverages and local Seychellois cultural experiences. Thus, while it provided an opportunity for networking by the guests, the Fam Trip also showcased the breathtaking beauty and sleuth attractions that Seychelles has to offer those who wish to visit.

Mega Fam Trip hosting got substantial backing from local partners, such as Constance Hotels & Resorts, Constance Ephelia Resorts, Hilton Seychelles, and Laïla, Seychelles, Creole Travel Services, Masons Travels, 7 Degree South, Summer Rain Tours among others.

These concerted efforts to build partnerships with travel agencies and media outlets within and outside reflects Seychelles’ comprehensive approach to destination marketing. The success of this hosting and other initiatives would help Seychelles’ ambition to position itself prominently among the world’s premier island destinations aiming at attracting high value visitors to boost their tourism drive.

Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off East Africa. It’s home to numerous beaches, coral reefs and nature reserves, as well as rare animals such as giant Aldabra tortoises. Mahé, a hub for visiting the other islands, it is home to capital Victoria. It also has the mountain rainforests of Morne Seychellois National Park and beaches, including Beau Vallon and Anse Takamaka.

Tourism is the topmost contributor to the economy of Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
According to the World Bank, Seychelles has a population of 107,000 inhabitants, three-quarters of whom live on the main island of Mahé and it has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Africa, at $ 15.8 billion (2022). Its economy is highly dependent on tourism and fisheries.

The Mega Fam Trip had representatives selected from 46 travel agencies and 19 press partners across the world. The participants came from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, the Americas, the Middle East, China, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, and countries from the Indian Ocean, and Africa.

The writer is media professional with over two decades of experience in arts, tourism and travel writing and the executive producer and host of Africa Rising, a podcast on travel and tourism in Africa.

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