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Archive for the ‘Seychelles life’ Category

62006441If I felt more industrious this Sunday afternoon, I could easily list at least 50 things about this country that could come as revelations to newcomers and visitors, but it’s a lovely day and I’ve already put in time feeding birds, cleaning tenrec dens and picking up dog poop.

Funnily enough, the fact that people living here deal with such mundane things startles some who assume days on these lovely islands simply must be passed in sun-soaking, wallowing in the warm sea and strolling down sandy shores as birds sing and clouds drift overhead.

If only.

I’ve written before about the Disneyland mentality of some visitors and how annoying it can be when assumptions are made that we here are responsible for the weather and have nothing more important to do than make a holiday perfect, and new residents can be almost as exasperating in their giddiness at actually living in paradise.

“My toilet is broken. Do you know a plumber who’ll come out on a Sunday night?”

“I’ve been looking all over for authentic pork pies. Where can I find some?”

“The power’s gone out! What do I do?”

(The answers are, 1) No, 2) Yes. In England, 3) Hand wash the dishes … in the dark)

So … in an effort to help some stumble the Seychelles path (Watch out for potholes!) as they learn to negotiate their way around, here are 10 things to know about the country and the people who live here:

1) We don’t go to the beach nearly as much as you think. Often we choose to stay home, indoors, and do exciting things like laundry.

2) There are virtually no addresses. Although roads do have names, house numbers exist in only a very few areas, so if you are invited to visit someone’s home be prepared to take directions. You may want to write these down, as they’re complicated. For example: Turn left at the shop with half a mannequin by the door (a right turn will put you in the sea), drive up the road, pass the 5-to-10 guys sitting on a rock under a mango tree drinking, then look for a dirt track to the right just after the place where the road is white from squished breadfruit, etc.. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be going along a trail of spilled paint … which is helpful.

3)  When we do decide some beach time should happen, choosing a beach is done by committee. Not just any beach will do, even though they are all lovely, so much consideration goes into the choice. Micro-climate has us calling people who live on the other side or up north or down south to check if it’s raining. If it’s rough on the east coast, perhaps it’s calm on the west. If we’re bringing kids, the shallow or inside-the-reef options are taken into account. If snorkeling is desired, we all have our fav spots. If it’s a Sunday and we don’t want our meditative communing with nature disturbed by picnickers with a generator hooked to fridge-sized speakers blasting crap music to distortion … well … we know where to avoid.

4)  We use the airport as a pee stop.

5)  We swap entertainment … books, movies, TV shows … so if you have any, share.

6)  We are annoyed when there are more than 10 people on a beach.

7)  We get really excited by new products. This isn’t quite as big a thing these days, so we hardly ever, now, call all our friends when we find mushrooms or nice cheese in a shop, nor do we tend (as much) to buy up the whole stock of whatever to share out or hoard. We do, however, continue to be right chuffed at discoveries of rare or never-to-have-been-available-in-Seychelles items, and given how much shopping we do when overseas, it’s a given that there are a lot of things that fit the category.

8)  We ALWAYS have candles.

9)  People are as recognized by the number plates on their cars as they are by their faces. Driving someone else’s car can introduce you to a whole load of people you’ve never seen before. (And it is amazing how many people you’ve never seen before on this tiny island.)

10) Mahé is 17 miles long … Praslin and La Digue even smaller … yet the idea of driving to the far end of the island takes almost as much contemplation and preparation as a plane ride of 12,000 miles. I live in the south and get to Beau Vallon (in the north), on average, once every 2 years or so. Friends in the north visit me about as often. Meeting up in town used to happen, but that was before Victoria became a traffic and parking nightmare and options outside that hellish perimeter were available.

So … that’s it for today. Hope it helps.

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The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lovely, lovely rain on my veranda!

Lovely, lovely rain on my veranda!

Longfellow was a pretty smart guy, having grasped the reality of the world being big and the fact that communication between humans from different lands can be difficult when he wrote: Music is the universal language of mankind.

Is it wrong to wish it was more often employed as a replacement for words? (I know that’s rich coming from a writer who can barely carry a tune, but bear with me.)

More than two decades of life on an island touted as a ‘tourist destination’ can sure test one’s patience with … well … tourists, and nothing brings out the worst, the grumpiest, the most bellyaching sniveling in people on holiday than rain.

Yes, we here do understand that you’ve been looking forward to a getaway on a tropical island for yonks, that you may have scrimped and saved for a long time to dig your toes into sand and will be so disappointed if you don’t return to wherever you come from tanned to a crisp that will make every pasty friend you have back home go viridescent with envy. Yeah … we do get that.

We also get that your ideas of a great vacation may be based on trips to Disneyland where, yes, it does sometimes rain, but accommodation has been planned for visitors when it does and advice is available in advance:

Whatever you do DON’T BRING AN UMBRELLA! It’s a pain to carry around, and you will end up poking someone in the eye. DON’T DO IT!

We may even feel sorry for you when it rains every single day of your short holiday.

But …

This isn’t Disneyland! Not everyone is tasked with making your vacation perfect in every way. In fact, no one is. Really.

Those who may think hounding hotel staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, shopkeepers … anyone who lives or works here … need to get a grip on their own umbrella … because you will need one. And none of us can answer the oft-repeated question: When will it stop raining?

The sound of the rain needs no translation. ~ Alan Watts

You see, we know it’s raining, and we’re often really, really happy about it. We’ve lived through the dry periods when water restrictions force anyone without a big collection tank to round up buckets and pots and all sort of vessels in various shapes, sizes and colors, then stand on the roadside waiting for a water truck to show up and fill said vessels. We’ve seen our gardens shrivel up, fruit wrinkle on the vine and fruit bats searching long and hard for a bite or two that still has some moisture in it. We’ve shared out cups of hard-won liquid with birds about to tumble out of trees from dehydration. We’ve had our houses invaded by ants and spiders driven to the few damp areas inside.

See? It rains in the tropics!

See? It rains in the tropics!

Most of us would like to work up more sympathy, but, quite frankly, we rather tire of hearing the whinging. We would be happy to lead you to information you should have checked before you decided to holiday in the tropics, but we are too nice to rub it in. And if you catch us on a bad day you may have our take laid out like this: (1) Welcome to the tropics (2) How do you think this place stays so green and lovely? (3) It’s not like you’re going to freeze.

Climate Characteristics: Constant high temperatures throughout the year. Average monthly temperatures are very similar – yearly range is about 2 to 3°C (36 to 37°F). Monthly precipitation is evenly distributed and annual amounts are usually greater than 1500 mm (59 in.). These climates also have frequent cumulus cloud development with some of these clouds becoming air mass thunderstorms. Humidity tends to be high.

So …the sea is warm and swimming in the rain is a lovely experience that presents little diamonds of splash that bounce around before your eyes. We need the rain. We have no control over it or the timing of your holiday.

After all, when we come to your country do we complain … or did we do our homework and prepare? (Disclosure: okay, we complain in England, but isn’t that just adapting to the local culture?)

As Kermit so eloquently sang … It’s not easy being green.

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Victoria ... shopping“I need to run into town to pick up a few things.”

These are dreaded words. Hated. And although ‘progress’ has made it a more simple process to find some of the necessary items, the process itself continues to be … well … an adventure?

Victoria, being very small for a national capital, may seem like an easily navigable undertaking, and it possibly could be; park the car, walk all over town and someone named Robert is your mother’s brother. Being, however, the only game in town … or rather the only town in country … makes it the de rigueur destination of the entire population of Seychelles, including that Robert guy and your mother, on any given day.

No parking ...

No parking …

Twenty years back there were fewer cars, so easier parking, and since the increase in autos dictated changes (apparently designed by a schizophrenic crack addict) the traffic flow doesn’t and parking places are few, far between and difficult to get to. There has been additional parking added — that near Marine Charter, for example — but getting there requires a spin of the Trois Oiseau roundabout, now perpetually blocked by the addition of a stop light near Caravelle House a couple of hundred meters further down the road, and if your search turns out to be futile it’s a long and frustrating way back to try again.

Shopping is easier, though, as there is more stuff. Much more stuff. It’s been years since fights broke out over buckets and fans, as items like those are now almost ubiquitous, albeit expensive and not likely to last long … and come with user guides explaining in Chinese why your fan just broke.

The egret is optional

The egret is optional

Shops can be jammed with a bazillion different and non-related items, so it still takes local knowledge to discover which shop might have what when. Still not as confusing as the days when the only shop that sold women’s undergarments had a stack of car tires at the front door. Need eyeliner? Try the Chinese shop on Market Street with the running shoes in the window. How about a haircut? Up the stairs next to the place that sells hammers and washing machines, down the hall, last door on the right. Looking to get a tattoo? The place in the souvenir shop across from Bank of Baroda, up the stairs in the back might still be operational. Out of nail polish remover? Sorry. Napa.

(Napa … Creole for ‘we-ain’t-got-none-but-did-last-month-so-you-should-have-bought-seven-then-and-no-I-don’t-know-anywhere-there-might-be-some-so-bugger-off.)

Friends visiting Seychelles would sometimes get a bit bored with beaches … or burnt … and need a day doing something a bit more active. I would give them a list of 10 items, normal-sounding things like tweezers and shoelaces, and send them off to town to find as many as possible. Having no idea what they were in for, and scoffing at my description of the day as a “Scavenger Hunt”, off they’d go, only to return many hours later exhausted, sweaty and sheepish as they’d hand over maybe two or three of the ten.

One of those "Look what I found" shopping moments.

One of those “Look what I found” shopping moments.

Shops in town are still bewildering, but not quite as bad as they were. The tendency of importers to buy whatever was going really, really cheap in China and India still appears to exist, but it’s been a long time since I’ve stumbled upon entire sections of shelving chock full of windscreen de-icer and “9-11 Super Funny Children’s Toys”. (A tiny track to race around with George Bush in a tank and Osama bin Laden on a skateboard.)

Today cheese is available and it’s been years since we’ve run out of onions or toilet paper. Shopping can be done without setting foot in Victoria proper, which is a blessing, but …

I need to run into town tomorrow to pick up a few things.

Sigh …

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As yet another power cut finds me with time, and no little sweat, on my hands, it occurs I actually have something to write about. (Yeah, yeah …)

Getting ready for a feed.

Getting ready for a feed.

While perspiration gets the better of me I’m watching adult fodies on the feeder teach their second clutch of chicks how to take advantage of the easy sustenance, the occasional myna bully notwithstanding. The dogs are flat out and panting. The cat has long since lost interest in the poor skink he tortured to death earlier. Even the plants have thrown in the towel, or the leaf, or whatever.

The only member of the household with any energy at all this early afternoon is Sparky, the tenrec. At the moment she’s scampering around behind me on the couch and trying to skootch her way up into my lap, a position not terribly comfortable for me when hunching over my Mac on the coffee table in front of me.

You see, tenrecs are pokey; not in the move-real-slow-and-slug-like pokey, but rather the ouch variety. They have quills. In fact they’re covered in short, sharp pointy hair-like structures meant to ward off the many animals that would enjoy making lunch out of them.

Unlike British hedgehogs, tenrecs cannot roll themselves into a ball for protection, so along with the pointy body armor comes a mouthful of tiny razors that can make hash of absurdly large centipedes and yank giant African Land Snails from their baby-shoe-sized shells.

Some scale on size.

Some scale on size.

The most fecund of all mammals, litters of tenrecs can number well into double digits, 32 little ones being the known max with 10 to 20 the norm. Mom leads them from the birthing nest into the wild very early and protocol dictates they follow her in single file, so it happens that those at the end of the line sometimes take a wrong turn and end up where they shouldn’t be, like in the mouth of a dog or cat or at the bottom of a ridge they have no chance of conquering. This would be the reason I’ve ended up raising 11 of them over the past few years.

The first that came to me was a little guy we called Riki. He was somewhere around two weeks old and very obviously not in a good place for a baby tenrec; along the side of the road trying like hell to scale a 12’ tall sheer wall of rock. Stopping the car to pick him up was a reflex action on my part, having no idea how I would care for this odd, spiky dudelette or if it was safe to handle one.

I had, of course, seen them in passing here and recalled a pair who lived at the Sacramento Zoo when I worked there, but those were kept in the Education Building and out of my sphere of knowledge.

Google being my go-to source, I went to and was surprised to find the top search results had nothing to to with caring for tenrecs and everything to do with cooking them. Although a recipe for wine sauce sounded nice, it was certainly not helpful under the circumstance. (Native to Madagascar, they were introduced into Seychelles by settlers from Reunion as a food source. They still eat them there and in Mauritius. In Seychelles, no.)

Further digging eventually led me to articles on basic care and feeding, as well as sites that sold tenrecs as exotic pets in the US, the UK and other lands far distant from all tenrec roots in the Indian Ocean. They were, however, helpful and informative and I was happy to learn that due to import restrictions and such tenrecs had been tested for just about every ailment known by and contagious to mankind. They neither get nor carry rabies, foot-and-mouth or leptospirosis, and although it wasn’t mentioned I quickly found out they’re not even popular with fleas.
Successful raising and eventual release of Riki was followed by the same for Rocky, Rinny, Tiny, Tango and a handful of others, some with me for short times, others longer, depending on how big they were when rescued and how adept they were are sorting things out for themselves. All were released in my garden, which may account for an increasing number of babies needing help right at my doorstep, but given the benefits of tenrec control on snails, centipedes and baby rats, it seems a fair trade.

Plus, each has been different in its own way and all have taught me more about their care. I’d syringe fed all at the beginning, so none were ever aggressive with me, but it was clear being handled stressed them and it never occurred to me that actually taming might happen, which was fine. They’re primitive creatures, one of the oldest mammals on the planet, and haven’t changed much at all since they shared the Earth with dinosaurs. Their evolution happening before there were humans, it made sense that my species would hold about as much significance for them as a column of sentient light would to me, just blending into the general scenery and only scary in cases of direct contact.

IMG_0045_2

Cozy time.

Then came Sparky.

It may have been the case that the dogs discovered a nest. When I glanced out the kitchen window and saw my dog, Flee, playing with something on the drive it seemed too small to be anything but a rhinoceros beetle or some other big bug, but I went for a look anyway. (I do like rhino beetles, so would have saved one of those, too.)

What it was, of course, was a baby tenrec about the size of my thumb, probably less than a week old, and, thankfully, not worse for the wear it had experienced as a squishy toy. Flee dropped her at my feet and I brought her inside for what was now the usual treatment.

I keep a small wire cage just for the purpose, so kitted it out in banana leaves and other browse and half a coconut husk as a den, then put the baby in, closed the door and let her recover from her ordeal. (You’ll note I’m referring to Sparky as ‘her’, but at the time I had no idea of the gender. Sparky actually started out as Spartacus, dubbed so by my son, Sam. He’s 12, so no surprise there.)

A few hours later, she took well to the syringe … I feed yogurt with a bit of egg yoke to start with and provide water … and continued to settle in nicely. I worried a bit because she seemed a bit less robust than others I’d raised, less skittish, so watched her for any signs of internal damage Flee have have caused.

She loves being petted.

She loves being petted.

All of the other tenrecs extended great effort in evading my hand when retrieving them from the cage for feeding. Most would rifle under the leaf letter, then climb the wire to monkey-bar along the top in brief panic as I wrestled them out, only settling when enclosed in my palm. Sparky didn’t do this. In fact, it was only about a week before I noticed her actually approaching me.

I must admit I went a bit Sally Field for a while … She likes me! She really likes me! … but it was a tremendous privilege to have this amazing little creature respond in ways even a puny human like me could interpret as a connection.

That was five months ago, and the connection continues. When I walk up to Sparky’s house now she wakes up, gives a big yawn, then waddles from her coconut husk, or wherever she’s been lounging, and greets me at the door. She wanders on to my open palm when the door opens and we cuddle on the couch for a while. She loves to be petted and scratched, so I dig my fingers into her quills and give her skin a good tickle, removing loose spines as I go, then stroke her soft underbelly as she closes her eyes and gets into the mood.

In the evenings she joins Pat and me on the couch for movie time and meanders back and forth between and behind us, occasionally pushing the cat out of the way to do so. Her nose perpetually sniffing the air, quills raised on the back of her head when she tries to climb up the back of the sofa and always grateful for a hand up.

She even likes the cat ... sort of.

She even likes the cat … sort of.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever enjoyed the honor of tenrec love, but would not be surprised to learn that Sparky is one of a kind.

She’s five months old now, growing as she should, and just as sweet and funny a critter as I could have imagined. I’m hoping this continues and, with a potential lifespan of 8+ years, that she’s with me for a long, long time.

(Sparky’s diet consists of just about everything, her favs being cherry yogurt and roast chicken. She also gets egg, liver, papaya, banana, fish and whatever else we have on hand. She also always has fresh water and a small dish of dirt that she enjoys. Minerals! She may be a bit spoiled, as she has no interest whatsoever in snails, but, then again, I’ve never cooked them in garlic for her.)

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