“Seychelles: like seeing the world in colour for the first time” by Kishan Parekh (L6)

IMG_1530 (640x427) IMG_0482 (427x640) IMG_1175 (640x427)How was Seychelles? That’s the question everyone asks me now, and the answer is never easy to give; after all, so much happened, that it’s hard to fit it all into a single conversation.

When I first signed up for the trip, I was apprehensive, worried it wasn’t going to be as good as I had hoped, but that feeling was lost in the excitement of the departure, forgotten amidst the sleepy goodbyes and last minute rush.

Following a noisy but uneventful trip, spent partly in a book and partly in conversation, we arrived, tired and irritable, at the Elsjes Country Inn. As the only Lower 6 student that had signed up for the trip, I felt like an outsider, the other students already falling into groups, assisted by the fact that they were already classmates.

We awoke the following morning to bitter cold. Bundled up in our tracksuits, our blue tour caps atop our heads, we made our way to the airport, where, after a tedious check-in, we spent the latter half of the morning browsing shops, before rushing onto the plane, delayed by our large number.

The flight was long and tiring, a large portion of it was spent catching up on the sleep we had missed the previous night. After almost five hours we landed at the Mahe International Airport, stepping off the plane into hot and humid weather, running through a light drizzle to get to the airport. The sudden change left us slightly dazed. Sweating and uncomfortable, we made our way to the National Sports Council where we would be staying.

The next day most of us were better adjusted to the weather, which had continued to be rainy through the night, and we were subjected to a light drizzle while we awaited the boat ride to the Saint Anne Marine Park.

The mood that had seemed set for the rest of our stay took a sudden change in that moment.

A crane collapsed onto an empty motorway, marking the time the trip began to change, in my opinion; at some point while we stared in fascination, the drizzle stopped and the sky cleared, the equatorial sun beginning to beat down on us.

Sunblock was applied liberally, and before long the two boats – belonging to Creole Travel Services – that would be taking us arrived, and we piled into them. We were introduced to our guides for the day and to the glass bottomed boats, Christine and Nanette, which would be ferrying us through the Park.

We set off, cruising through the bay, taking pictures of everything we passed: the NSC, the other boats, the wind farm, and of each other.

We slowed as we passed over the coral reef, taking pictures through the glass bottom, or over the side of the boat, of the fish and of the coral, leaning about both, and even getting to feed the fish, that came in shoals, eager for a bit of bread. We left the reef, though the fish followed us for a few minutes after, and landed on the beach of Moyenne Island.

It was a significant occasion for me, because that moment I put my bare feet into the water and waded to shore was my first time at a beach of any kind, and I drank in everything around me, from the light breeze in the air to the sand between my toes, knowing I would not experience this for the first time again, so I made the most of that moment.

We walked along the beach, then up a staircase cut into the rock, to an enclosure of sorts, where most of the giant turtles were resting. We took a few pictures with them, as they lumbered around, allowing us to scratch their chins.

We walked through the island paths, being told about the history of the National Park, before stopping at the museum, where we examined collections of shells and coral, learning about the original owner of the island. We walked on, passing a few signs, before coming out of the foliage onto a headland looking out to sea.

We sat there for several minutes, snapping pictures, chatting, or otherwise simply sitting and enjoying the view. I found myself staring out to the horizon, a point where the world seemingly ended, a straight line marred only by a single distant island.

As I looked on, I wondered at how much there was to see beyond those horizons, beyond the old horizons I had once known, back home in Zimbabwe. Looking out further than the eye could see, learning so much, discovering places more vibrant, more complex than I could ever have imagined, I suppose it was in that moment I first gained a fervent desire to see the world, and every hidden gem it had to offer.

We moved on, walking down paths, hearing more about the islands past, and soon we returned to the beach, and I walked along it, back to the boats, the waves lapping at my feet. As the boats cruised out back to the reef, we were given a crash course in scuba diving, before we all plunged into the water one by one, underwater cameras in hand.

After a few moments of floundering, I figured out how to swim with the snorkelling equipment, and began paddling around the reef, snapping pictures and laughing with the others, almost colliding with them several times, distracted as I was by the scenery below me.

Forty-five minutes after we started swimming, we pulled ourselves back onto the boats, and were ferried off once more, this time to Cerf Island, where a delicious traditional Creole buffet awaited us – barbecued fish, chicken, and salad.

After the meal, we spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach, burying each other in sand, cracking open coconuts from a nearby tree, or otherwise enjoying the beach. Too soon, we had to leave, and for the last time that day we piled onto the two boats, which took us back to the port, from which we travelled back to the NSC.

Showered and refreshed, we joined in the National Day celebrations, though I returned to our dorms the moment I bought my dinner from one of the many stalls, not the type for huge crowds, and while the others wandered the food stalls, I chatted with those that returned early, beginning to make friends, though I eventually settled down with a book to read.

The day passed, we turned in for the night eventually, and awoke the next morning bright and early, rushing for the showers, before trooping onto buses, heading out. We stopped briefly on the roadside where we met a pirate hunter, a man who dedicated a part of his life to searching for treasure, braving poison, rock falls and flooding to get to the fortune hidden on the island. He told us of his difficulties in finding the treasure, of the indicators that they were on the right track, and the artefacts they had already found.

We set off again, this time arriving at the Beau Vallon Beach, where we swam constantly, interspersing those moments with walks along the beach, enjoying the local cuisine, interviewing beach vendors, or going for rides on jetskis. We spent the whole day there, and I will admit I was excited to build my first sandcastle on the beach, something more befitting younger students, though I didn’t care at the time, and still don’t, even now.

After our day at the beach, we packed up and left for Eden Island, a land reclamation project consisting of hundreds of beautiful houses and a few elegant shopping malls. We talked with the mechanic for the largest boat at the pier, before going on to the pizza place, where we chatted briefly over a scale model of the island, and proceeded back to the NSC.

On the fifth day of our trip, we made our way to the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, where we observed the trades in fish, fruit, and souvenirs – which some of us bought – before taking a tour bus from ‘7 Degrees South’ to visit the Mission, what’s left of a school for slave children. While there, we learnt about the palm and cinnamon trees and about the mission itself. We also sampled some cinnamon and coconut cake, made by the locals.

Before long we were on the road again, and I chatted idly with the other students. Without realising it, I had at some point made friends with them. When I had first signed up for the trip, I had hoped to make friends with people who had similar interests to me: books, reading, and the like. What I had not expected were for those friends to be the people I came with to Seychelles, rather than the people already here.

We arrived at the Seychelles Tourism Academy, where we were served a five star lunch while chatting with the students. It was my first conversation with anyone my age since I had come to Seychelles, and while talking with the other CBC boys was pleasant, it was refreshing to talk with students my own age.

After dessert, the Tourism Academy students demonstrated one of the local dances and a few of the boys took part, before sharing a demonstration of our own gumboot dancing.

We said our goodbyes and moved on to the next stop, The University of Seychelles, where we were given a quick rundown on the University, its courses, and the costs. We visited the Environmental studies department, where we are told about their efforts to educate the children of Seychelles on the environment around them.

After this we had a few minutes before departing for a quick snack and drink. I politely asked the ladies serving us if any of the juice was made from fruits from the Seychelles. They told me there wasn’t, but offered me Seychellois orange juice. To my surprise the lady who made the offer disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and returned with a tall glass of freshly squeezed juice, which tasted better than anything I’ve had before, and was likely better than what the other students had drank. Politeness, I learnt that day, could take you far.

The next day, bright and early, we arrived at the port, and boarded the Cat Cocos ferry to Praslin. If anything happened on the ride, I was unaware of it, having fallen asleep near the beginning.

Disembarking from the ferry, we made a brief stop at La Cuvette Hotel, to drop off our bags, before heading to The Vallee De Mai, the nature reserve where the famous Coco De Mer grows, and here we met a few students from Vijay International School, our host. We hiked through the rainforest, learning about the Coco De Mer and several other native plant species, as well as learning about the geology of the island, why exactly the beaches are as cool as we found them to be.

After a long and educational trek through the forest we headed out once more, to yet another beach, La Anse Lazio. We had a picnic on the beach, prepared for us by Mr Kennedy, the Headmaster of the host school, Vijay International. I spent half my time in the water, swimming with the students from CBC and from the International school, or on the beach, snapping pictures, walking in the shallows, or reading the book I had brought with me.

We headed back to La Cuvette, where, after checking in properly, we were escorted to one of the local restaurants for dinner. On returning, we talked with our hosts for a while, before one conversation led half our number to bringing their phones to one of our hosts, who worked as a technician for computers and the like, in the hope that he could fix their splashed phones.

Eventually we turned in for the night, but not before a stern talking to about proper behaviour, being cooped up together for so long had led to some of us becoming restless and irritable.

The next day it was off to the tiny island of La Digue where we visited Anse Severe.

This particular beach was covered in seaweed, shells and bits of coral, especially in the shallows, which, combined with the strong waves, made it unpleasant for swimming. Thus, after a quick dip, most of us spent our time collecting shells, talking to locals – including an octopus fisherman – or building elaborate sand sculptures, including several cities, and two people, named Sandy and Andy, by their creators.

After spending the afternoon on Anse Severe, we headed back to Praslin. On the bus ride back we talked with our driver and discovered that not only was he a former policeman, but he also had a black belt in Karate and was a bodyguard to many diplomats. To us he seemed like a character that stepped out of the pages of a book. After a quick dinner, and making sure we were packed, we headed to bed.

The next day was our last day on Praslin, and we visited the International School, leaving our bags in their Library, we gave a quick presentation of the Media Club trips to Victoria Falls and Matopos, and of our school play. We split into two groups, and were given presentations of the local dances, the students’ art projects, and the history of Seychelles, before having a quick break, where some of our number joined in the students’ soccer game, and seemed to win, despite the lack of goalposts or any other way to measure their success.

After our break, we had the opportunity to exercise our artistic skills by making a few quick sketches of White, a baby giant tortoise owned by Mr Kennedy, while learning a bit about his life span – the four year old tortoise would outlive everyone in the room, living for at least another two hundred years.

After a quick lunch, we returned to the School Hall, where we listened to an anti-drug speech delivered by the Care Relay, a group of students from La Digue who first educated another schools’ student body on drugs, before passing the baton to them, to pass the message to the next school.

Finally we made our last performance; first a description of the Zimbabwe flag, in English, Ndebele and Shona, before singing the National Anthem, followed by the School song, both of which were conducted by Mrs Davies.

I don’t know when it had happened, but when we sang I realised that I no longer felt like an outsider, I had made friends, I had become a part of these groups, I had made my own group of friends. It was a profound moment for me, because I realised that, in those ten days of living together, we students had achieved what so many back home had tried and failed to do their entire six years of schooling – we had become a family.

We said goodbye to Praslin and to Vijay International School, and boarded the ferry for the last time, escorted to the pier by the owners of La Cuvette, the hotel we had stayed at. They saw us off, and we headed back to Mahe over choppy waves that drove many to seasickness.

Once at Mahe, we were able to do some proper souveneir shopping, where we found that our politeness earned us discounts from the vendors. After an afternoon of shopping, we returned to the NSC for our final night there.

We woke up well before dawn the next day, packed and ready for the flight to South Africa. After check in – and a quick stop by the bookshop on my part – we were on the flight and out of Seychelles, saying goodbye to the Tropical Islands.

After a four and a half hour long flight, we were met at the South African airport by Elsjes Country Inn, ready with a bus to take us back to the inn and freshen up for a lunch and an afternoon at the Eastgate mall. It was there I saw what was probably the most amusing thing during my trip to Seychelles – the CBC boys piled into bumper cars, driving around and having the time of their lives. We returned through heavy traffic to the Inn, where we worked through the night on our presentations.

The next day we spent entirely on the road, finally arriving at CBC after a long ten days away from home. We greeted our parents sleepily but enthusiastically, and we said our last goodbyes, heading home, the trip was over.

Seeing Seychelles was, to me, like seeing the world in colour for the first time, and coming back everything looks different, but it is not this place that has changed, it’s the way I see the world that has. Being back home, I want to leave once more, to see the rest of the world, now that I have had a taste of what it has to offer.

Last year I studied a poem, titled ‘People are made of places.’ Back then I never understood it’s meaning, but now I do. Zimbabwe was where I was raised, where I grew up, but in Seychelles I found a part of me that I never knew was there. I found a part of my identity.

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