Exploring the Indian Ocean Islands
For several weeks, we have been exploring the islands of the Indian Ocean, starting with two that were new to us. First was La Reunion, a department of (and favorite vacation place from) France. Even in rainy season, we could see the extraordinary beauty of the steep volcanic mountains (one is still active!), waterfalls, calderas and cirques (which are calderas in which one side has collapsed).
It is a small place, 207 km in circumference, with 850,000 residents, where everything grows, grows, grows, including tiny pineapples so sweet as to be addictive. We travelled through neck-craning mountains, past waterfalls that cascade down 7 km mountain faces; visited tiny villages, including the oddly named Hell-bourg, which has been declared one of the most beautiful villages in France; and went to a vanilla plantation (did you know that vanilla is a form of orchid?) to see how they must hand pollinate every flower, and wait 6 years from the first planting to the first bean sale.
Then on to Mauritius (in French, Ile Maurice, and once known as Ile de France), land of the extinct dodo, which by legend came to the island in migration, and found much to eat, and no predators to eat them, and so became fat, flightless birds that thrived until humans brought them to extinction. We visited galleries and the home of 78-year-old Vaco, the island’s most prominent artist. We were fortunate to visit the preserved southern areas of the island, again with dramatic landscapes, waterfalls, the 7-color earth, and the world’s largest statues of Shiva and his wife. On our last day, we went to the Blue Penny museum, where two rare stamps worth millions of dollars are on display, as are old books and maps. One, an atlas from 1670, recorded every detail – how local ink was made, the strong market for red beads, and one highly intriguing notion – that land was valued not by acre or hectare, but rather by how much rice it could produce. Kind of sensible.
After several welcome sea days, we arrived at Victoria, Mahe, capital of the Seychelles – not much has changed here in 4 years, but a return to the Botanical Garden, the tiny city and the countryside made for an interesting day. Then there is the completely out of context Eden Island, where we were told a Seychellois passport comes with the purchase of real estate. It is exclusive, expensive, and self-contained…strange in this country once known as SeaShells.
We continued to two more islands, first La Digue, where the oxcarts of our last visit have been replaced with bicycles and tiny cars, although the reef remains lovely — then Praslin — where we finally found the beach and restaurant (called Bonbon Plume, which looks like the dock must have looked in the 1970s) we had hoped to rediscover. This is among the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen and we enjoyed our afternoon there to the max.