Monday, December 17, 2012

African Indian Ocean Islands – OCT 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012:  Fly Antananarivo, Madagascar to Moroni, Comoros
Our tour of Madagascar had come to an end and our group was off to tour the African Indian Ocean Islands.

The hotel in Antananarivo provided each of us a box breakfast in a bag at 03:30.  Most of us did not eat everything in the bag so we passed the uneaten boxes and bags of food to our guide, driver and hotel staff to pass out to the beggars in the street.
When we arrived at the Antananarivo Airport we encountered a very long line at the Air Madagascar check-in desk.  Our 06:00 flight to Comoros was going on to Nairobi so it looked as though it would be full.  Air Madagascar had another flight scheduled to leave about the same time and the three agents on duty were handling both flights.  After waiting in the very slow moving line Cathy was able to get one of the agents to perform a group check-in and we were able to buck the line.  Those of us checking bags were served first.

After I received my boarding pass I proceeded to the Immigration Desk.  The line was short and on the other side I had to pass through Security.  There was only one agent on duty and when the x-ray alarm sounded when I walked through they were going to have to stop the belt and come around to pat me down.  I lifted my pant leg to show the scar on my knee and he nodded his head and waived me through so he could keep watching the monitor to check the bags.
The terminal had no air bridges so we walked to board our plane, a B-737-300.  I was in the first group processed to board.  Usually I take a picture of the plane’s ‘tail number’ but the guards on the ramp guiding us to the plane told me “No Pictures”.

Boarding was a fun time to watch people with their large bags and odd shaped packages try to get everything in the overhead compartment.  My seat was on the aisle and the woman sitting by the window didn’t even try to put her bag in the overhead and tried to tuck under her legs because it wouldn’t fit under the seat in front of her.  Soon a lady wearing six hats piled on top of each other and a large bag came down the aisle to sit next to me.  This was going to be something because she couldn’t get her bag under the seat and had a large purse in addition.
The overhead above our row appeared full and the bin door closed but I opened it and by rearranging the items in the bin I was able to fit both ladie’s bags and the stack of hats in the compartment.  Neither lady spoke English so I never got their story during the flight.  I guess they sell goods in the Comoros market and were stocking up in Madagascar.

Comoros is an independent nation of three islands in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique and north of Madagascar; which declared independence from France in 1975 and is a member of the United Nations.  Air Madagascar did not have any Arrival forms onboard so as we entered the Comoros Airport (Prince Said Ibrahim Airport) a man at the door handed us two forms to complete and then we had to have two ladies process the forms and then stand in line to obtain our visa.  Our picture had to be taken and we paid 30€ for the visa.
A doorman from our hotel the Cristal Itsandra Beach Hotel was in the arrival area and helped us load our bags into a small truck and had us get into two SUVs for the twenty minute trip to the hotel.  I sat in the back row of a three row SUV and found the ride to be very rough.  The island of Grande Comore is ruggedly beautiful with the landscape dominated by Mount Karthala, the largest active volcano in the world.  There was a lot of lava rock along the route and at a quarry we could see small lava tubes.

At the hotel we were given a welcome drink and as we were waiting for our room keys we met an American State Department employee from the Madagascar Embassy who services the American ex-pats that live in Comoros.  He was just completing his bi-monthly visit to Comoros and briefly talked to us.  The Cristal Itsandra Beach Hotel is a resort hotel located in a cove near the village of Itsandra, north of the capital city of Moroni.  It has a nice small beach, a large pool, children’s play area, boats to paddle about in and a Night Club.
At 10:00 we met, Zakaria, our local Tour Guide, and started a tour of the northern end of the island.  We rode past the Airport and to the village of Hayahaya, stopping to buy water at a small store.  Next we rode through N’Tsaoueni which is believed to be the final resting place of Caliph Mohammed Athoumani Kouba, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, and one of the founders of Islam in the Comoros.  Our next stop was at the beach across from the Soccer Stadium in Mitsamiouli where we watched both boys and girls running wind sprints in the sand at the direction of their coach.  Since it was Friday and the country is 98% Sunni Muslim we saw a lot of people dressed in Arab robes walking along the side of the road to the large ‘Friday Mosque’ in the village.  We rode through Bangoi-Kouni and the Miracle Mosque.  According to a legend Zakaria told us the inhabitants of the village wanted to build a mosque and the next day they woke to find a pile of stones at the site.  The following morning they woke to find walls constructed from the stone and the third morning they found the mosque constructed overnight.  A short distance later we stopped at 'Lac Sale,' the salty lake where we could throw small stones in the lake for good luck.  That was our most northern stop and we turned around and traveled the same road back to the hotel.  During the tour our guide in excellent English gave us a running commentary on what we were observing and on the history of the island and the areas we were riding through.

After the tour we had a late lunch at the hotel.  I had a delicious lobster salad and several of our group had pizza.  Terry had a 24 inch lobster pizza and passed out pieces to several of us at the table.
After lunch I returned to my room and wrote in my journal until the sun was starting to set.  I grabbed my camera and walked down to the edge of the cove to take a picture of the sunset only to find that it had already set.  Bob, Cathy and Mike were at the bar and told me that if you order the wine special you get a free thirty minutes of internet time.  Since the hotel was charging $20 for a 5 hour block of internet time I thought it was a good deal and ordered the special.

At 19:00 the buffet dinner started.  They had many choices and I took a little of many of the dishes and was just starting dessert when the Chef came out with lobster for each of us followed by skewers of shrimp and fish.  This was followed by a performance of local traditional dancers performing.  I was stuffed when I retired at 21:30.
Saturday, October 20, 2012:  Tour Moroni, Cosmos

Breakfast included an omelet (even if you didn’t order it), French bread and pastries and fresh fruit.  At 08:30 we started a tour of the rest of the island.  Our first stop was at the port where we walked out on the jetty.  Alongside was a rusty old ship and across from the harbor was the Ancienne Mosquée de Vendredi ‘Old Friday Mosque’ dating back to the 14th century.  We walked by the Mayor’ Office and entered the old narrow streets of 'La Medina’ with buildings dating back to the 14th century.  We saw little shops and people in colorful dress.  The women would not let us take their pictures except in a few cases.  We observed a school classroom in session.  I saw some beautifully carved Swahili doors on some of the houses.  We stopped at a goldsmith’s store called the “Top Style” and watched them fashioning jewelry.  Exiting the narrow streets we came upon the “Horizon Bleu – Equipment and materials for Security” full of flak jackets and camouflage uniforms.
Back on the bus we rode south out of the city and stopped at the Sawaprix Supermarket to purchase water and cold drinks.  The next stop was in Iconi, the island’s oldest settlement and original capital.  The ruins of The Sultan of Bambao’s palace are in the center of the village.  We walked around the palace and our guide pointed out a plaque commemorating an incident that took place in 1978 when the Dictator, Ali Soilih’s youth gangs massacred unarmed citizens protesting against his policies forbidding Comorian tradition and religious fervor.  Across a small bay from the place was a high bluff where in the early 1800’s Comorian woman used to commit suicide so as not to be taken as a slave by pirates.

Leaving Iconi we rode back into the center of Moroni and visited the Museum of Comoros.  The museum had a display of historical pictures documenting the history of the archipelago; a display of the volcano that formed the archipelago; and a display of bats and fish native to the region.  One of the interesting features of the museum was how they treated Mayotte as if it was an integral part of the Comoros nation.
Our next stop was Moroni Bazaar and Old Market.  It was similar to other African city markets but had more colorful “chromani” (cloth wraps) on display.  Another difference we observed on the island was women with their faces plastered in yellow sandalwood paste.  The photographers in our group had a difficult time finding a woman that would agree to have their picture taken, let alone one that had paste on her face.  I was able to get a picture from the van of one of the women that nodded her head when I pointed my camera at her.  I think the women are more reluctant about peer pressure and male pressure to not be photographed than their personal belief.  When we asked a woman that was isolated from others if we could take her picture they often agreed.

From the Bazaar we boarded the bus and rode past beautiful beaches to our hotel for lunch and an afternoon of relaxation.  The sunset was spectacular and dinner with lobster again was outstanding.  It was a nice end to our first African Indian Ocean nation visit.
Sunday, October 21, 2012:  Fly Moroni to Dzaoudzi, Mayotte and take a ferry to Mamoudzou, Mayotte

We checked out of our hotel at 09:00 for the short ride to the airport.  The airport check-in counters were slow.  I had a cart with my bag and Edna’s plus she was also on my e-ticket.  When I got in line with the cart outside the door I was near the front of our group but once I was inside the terminal the line snaked around and the rest of the group jumped in front of me.  A policeman was trying to line us up across the terminal parallel to the door to allow more people into the terminal.  He wanted my cart to be next to Bob Prada and when I tried to stand behind Bob a local pushed between us.  At this point it was a double line but as we approached the turn toward the check-in counters it narrowed to one line.  Edna was ahead of Bob and I knew we would have to check in together.  The local was pushing his bag along the floor and as I lined up behind Bob the local kept pushing his bag into me so I finally turned and in a load voice told him to stop it and that I had to check-in with the lady in front of Bob.  The local gave me a dirty look but the policeman came over and told him to back off.
Edna and I were finally able to check in and at security they found she had a bottle of water in her bag.  They let her drink the water but kept the cap.  She was in the habit of refilling the bottle when we went to a meal where a large bottle was usually placed on the table and not always emptied. Airport security operates in strange ways.  She could keep the empty bottle but without a cap – go figure.

The flight to Dzaoudzi, Mayotte only took forty minutes.  Dzaoudzi, is a small island off the main Mayotte island of Grande-Terre.
Mayotte was ceded to France along with the other islands of the Comoros group in 1843. When Comoros voted for independence in the 1970's, Mayotte decided to remain a French "collective". In March 2009, the islands voted overwhelmingly (95.2%) to become France's 101st 'departement' effective in 2011. The island is 95% Muslim and many Muslim customs such as polygamy, Islamic-inspired law, and male dominance are commonplace, although all will be reversed in accordance with French law by 2011. A large amount of the island's population is composed of illegal aliens from neighboring Comoros. Despite the islands French ownership, less than half of the population understands French and very few speak French fluently.

Since it is a French 'department' no visa was required.  We were met by Celine, a representative from the local tour agency.  She gave each of us a booklet on the island and background during a short ride to the ferry.  We had to take a short ferry ride to Mamoudzou, the capital city on the main island.  Celine is from France and immigrated to get in on the ground floor of a new French ‘department’.
At Mamoudzou we boarded a smaller bus for the ride to our hotel.  As the bus driver approached the hotel down a narrow downhill street he discovered that it was closed due to street construction in front of the hotel.  He somehow maneuvered around the narrow streets to an open car park a short walk from the hotel.

Celine assisted in our check-in since the desk clerk did not speak English.  Lynn and I were among the first to get our room key (2610) and Lynn took the elevator to the second floor while I got my bag and followed.  When I got off on the second floor Lynn was standing there and told me there was no room 2610 on the floor so we returned to the reception and were told that the hotel had two buildings and we were assigned to the other building across the courtyard.  Why we were not told that in the beginning I don’t know?  Lynn again got to the elevator first and as I dragged my bags across the courtyard I had to wait for the elevator to return.  When I finally arrived on the 6th floor of building 2 Lynn was standing there to tell me that there was only one bed in the suite of two rooms.
I immediately returned to the front desk and ran into Cathy and Bob on the way.  Cathy joined me and we were able to catch Celine before she left.  The receptionist was confused since her computer listed the room as containing twin beds.  She called housekeeping but since it was a Sunday there was limited staff on duty.  After a lot of discussion in the local language they decided to assign me a separate room on the fourth floor.

It was a nice room and since I had not had lunch, I dumped my bags and headed out to find a place to eat.  Celine had told us that the only places open on Sunday were at the ferry landing and that we could get there in a short walk turning left out the door of the hotel and then turn right and walk to the landing.
I followed her directions and ended going down a long hill to a ‘T’ intersection.  Not knowing which direction to take I turned right towards a construction crane which I thought was at the dock.  I soon was on a highway and followed it to a traffic circle and then on to the port.  It was not the shortest way.  I didn’t see a place that appealed to my taste buds so when I got to the ferry landing I followed the route the bus had taken to get back to the hotel – again not the shortest walking route but I got there.

At 1900 we met in the hotel to go to dinner.  The hotel has a super cab pickup truck that could only take four at a time to the restaurant.  I was in the second wave and discovered we were back at the ferry landing in a restaurant I had walked through earlier.  The meal was a delicious local fish.
We returned to the hotel by 2130 and I obtained a Wi-Fi username and password.  I discovered I could not use both the laptop and cell phone on the same username so I had to get a second but was not able to get the cell phone to work on the Wi-Fi.  I was able to get the laptop working on the internet.

Monday, October 22, 2012:  Tour Mayotte
Breakfast was a little unusual since this was the first hotel where we didn’t have eggs as an option.  I had a slice of meat and of cheese plus yogurt and fruit.  They also had an assortment of French pastries and cereal.

At 0900 we met our local tour guide, Christophe, a Belgian who immigrated to Mayotte several years ago.  We had to walk through the road construction in front of the hotel about a block to board our tour bus.  The bus driver, Atoumani, was also a guide but had limited English skills so we had in effect two excellent local guides.  The tour started with a ride south of Mamoudzou along the east coast on RN 2, one of the two main highways on the main island of Mayotte (RN 1 runs north of Mamoudzou).
At Passamainty we turned west on a secondary road up the mountains through jungle terrain to the village of Combani were turned off onto a dirt road up a mountain to Le Relais Forestier - Gites Bungalows, a mountain resort in the jungle.  Atoumani parked the bus and he and Christophe started pointing out various plants and trees.  We walked past the office where Christophe obtained some bananas and then on a path into the jungle.  Christophe let it be known that he had bananas and dozens of brown lemurs came out of the trees above us and clustered around Christophe as he fed them bananas.  We were able to take close-up photos.  We noticed that many were mothers were carrying babies in a pouch on their side like a kangaroo pouch.  It was really cute.

After the feeding we stopped in the restaurant area and were served refreshments.  I had a cinnamon flavored ice tea which was very delicious
After this great experience we continued on riding south to intersect RN 2 again in Cocoril.  We stopped at a market outside of the village to buy water, snacks and other drinks.  It was a small market but Atoumani picked it because the next village with larger markets was Sada which is the Muslim capital of the island and their markets don’t sell beer.

At Cocoril we stopped at the Botanist Park and we got caught in a rain shower.  When the rain subsided we toured the park and Christophe pointed out and identified various plants and flowers.
From there we rode south to an Ecological Museum and after a tour of the museum we had lunch overlooking the sea.  We were served a salad of cabbage, tomatoes and cucumber, three kinds of rice, one with beef and then fish on a skewer.  It was a very mild white fish.

After lunch we continued down the west side of the island to RN 3 and around the south end and started back up the east side again where we stopped near Bandrele at a park with a 600 year old baobab tree.  Down the way from the park on the beach was a group of kids.  Some were having kayak lessons, some snorkeling lessons, some swimming lessons and some sailing lessons.  It was fun to watch from a distance.
There is a tradition in these islands that when a boy turns 13 he builds a bangas (hut) next door to his family’s home and lives in it, especially if he has sisters.  We stopped to see one of the more colorful bangas as we continued north on RN 3 to RN 2 and back to the hotel in Mamoudzou.

The tour was over by 16:30 and I returned to my room to discover that my keycard didn’t work.  Back at Reception they fooled around and finally reactivated the card and I was able to get in my room.  I still had some time on my internet activation so I checked my email, answered some messages, wrote Judy and started to write my journal.
At 19:00 we met in the lobby to go to dinner.  I was in the first truck to leave.  It was a Chinese decorated restaurant but the food was not pure Chinese.  We had potato salad, rice and skewers of beef and chicken with ice cream for dessert.  They served a beer from Reunion titled Dodo on the menu but the cans said Bourbon on them with a dodo bird logo.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012:  Take a ferry from Mamoudzou to Dzaoudzi and fly to Port Louis, Mauritius via Reunion Island
This was the morning of the last Presidential Debate.  Several of the group woke at 04:00 to see it on BBC.  I slept through and saw the hi-lights on the 07:00 news broadcast.  The consensus of the BBC and those of our group that watched it was there was nothing new and they didn’t think it would change any undecided voter’s mind.

After breakfast I returned to my room to pack and update my journal.  The maid was bugging me to clean the room so I figured I could work on my computer just well in the lobby as I could in the room so I checked out at 10:30, an hour before the rendezvous time.  Several members of the group wanted to buy stamps and found that the post office didn’t open until 10:30 and they didn’t want to risk having to wait in line and not get back to the hotel before the 11:30 departure.
Our luggage was carried to a small truck that would take it to the airport.  Celine arrived with a bus that was parked a block away and we walked down the street under construction to board the bus.  She had the bus drop us off at the market, a large building at the port.  Those wanting to purchase stamps walked back to the post office while several of us walked through the market.

The market was huge with many stalls about 10 feet wide and 15 feet deep.  They sold everything the locals needed, much like a department store in the US.  One aisle would be clothes, another shoes, etc.  There were many isles but in the middle was a wide open area for the food vendors.  Produce, meat and fish were for sale.
The whole market was similar to markets I have visited all over the world.  The interest for me was to see if the people of this island brought their goods from an outdoor market like many African countries, a department store like Singapore, a souk, or an organized indoor layout.  Mayotte is like the latter.

I did not spend much time in the market and I found on exit that the Tourism Office was in the next building and several of our group was sitting in there waiting for the ferry.  I toured the office and then walked over to the ‘5/5’ restaurant and bar that we had dinner in the first night.  Mike was in the area and we decided to buy a beer and wait for the ferry.
About the time we finished our beer the ferry was ready to load and we joined our group and walked on board.  At Dzaoudzi had the bus driver take us on a sort of site seeing route to the airport which was different than the direct route we had taken when we arrived two days before.

Check-in at the airport went smoothly.  We obtained two boarding passes because we had to change planes in Reunion to get to our next destination of Mauritius. The flight to Reunion was the continuation of the flight we had flown in from Comoros, so there were many passengers on board when we boarded.  I was assigned seat 12D and when I got there I put a small bag and my ticket on the seat and found the overhead to be full so I turned and put my laptop bag in the overhead on the opposite side, then turned back and found a young man sitting in my seat.  I was confused and concerned to what happen to my small bag, passport and boarding pass.  The young man told me he had moved them to 12C and that he needed to sit in 12D since the two young ladies in 12E & F were “family”.  He had a hand written boarding card that had 11E on it.  I told him I would be willing to switch if he had an aisle seat but not to a middle seat.  By this time Lynn and Laurie had boarded and sat in 11D & F.  The young man got out of my seat and all of a sudden his boarding pass read 11D and he was attempting to evict Lynn so he would have an aisle seat to exchange with me.  Lynn was going to call the flight attendant when I told the young man to sit in his assigned (11E) seat.  We were not falling for his game.
Laurie did not enjoy the situation since throughout the flight the guy was turning towards her in an attempt to talk to the two young ladies in back of him.  The one next to me was listing to music on her iPhone throughout the flight and not paying the guy any attention (some family!).

The flight was almost an hour late departing because they had discovered six passengers had tried to board with bogus passports after they were discovered the airline had to unload their bags.  When we landed in Reunion we were met on the end of the air bridge by police checking our passports just in case additional passengers with bogus passports had been on the flight.
The flight from Reunion to Mauritius was in an ATR-72-500.  I knew that my laptop bag would just fit in the overhead from flying in ATR’s earlier in the year, but several of the group had bags about the size of my bag but the bulge of the outside pocket would not fit in the overhead.  They were attainment about not checking their bags and it was a little bit of a problem as they had to do re-arrange items after we boarded to get their bags in an overhead or under a seat.

We landed in Mauritius at 20:30 and had no problems passing through Immigration and Customs.  Strange since it is a nation but didn’t require a visa.  We were met by a local agent who recommended that we exchange money at the airport before getting on the bus to the hotel.  There were many Money Exchange booths outside baggage claim but due to the late hour only one was still in operation.
Our hotel, Blue Lagoon Beach Hotel was close to the airport and we were able to eat before checking into our rooms.  It was a buffet with chicken and fish with Indian spices.  It was very good.

Feast or famine – after being assigned a room with only one bed at the last stop this time our assigned room had three beds.
Wi-Fi only worked in the lobby so I used my cell phone Wi-Fi to check email and answer Judy’s questions.  It was after 22:00 that we finally retired.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012:  Fly from Port Louis to Rodrigues Island
I was up early to eat breakfast and return to my room and pack the items I would not need on Rodrigues Island into a bag that I would check at the hotel.

I then took my laptop to the lobby to connect to the internet and processed my email.  We departed for the airport at 09:30.  Check-in and Security was fast and easy.  We were bussed to the aircraft, an Air Mauritius, ATR-72-500 with the same configuration as the Air Austral ATR-72-500 we had flown in from Reunion on.  We didn’t have any seating problems like we had the day before.  I was a little surprised that Rodrigues is almost 400 miles from Port Louis and it took us an hour and one half to fly there.
Rodrigues Island, named after the Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues, is the smallest of the Mascarene Islands and a dependency of Mauritius.  It is a very mountainous island located in the Indian Ocean with a succession of valleys plunging to a lagoon.  Measuring only 11 miles in length and 5 miles at its widest point it is entirely surrounded by coral reefs offering world-class diving and snorkeling.

Our hotel The Cotton Bay Resort was on the opposite end of the island from the airport and even though the island is only eleven miles long the up and down road across the island took us 45 minutes to get to the resort.  The hotel resort is by itself down a steep hill from the nearest houses.  It had a beautiful white sand beach.  Our room had a balcony with two chairs and a small table overlooking the beach.
We had no tour scheduled for the afternoon and I was able to relax, write in my journal and enjoy the location.  The hotel provided and very good dinner

Thursday, October 25, 2012:  Tour Rodrigues Island
Although a tour of the island was not on our original schedule, Cathy negotiated an all day tour for us with the driver that had met us at the airport.  It turned out to be the best full day tour of the trip.

About 08:30 we started out riding up and down the barren hills to the Louis Dominique Information Center for the Grande Montagne Nature Reserve and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.  It is dedicated to the conservation of the native ecosystems of Mauritius and Rodrigues.  In Rodrigues, it has a specialization in habitat restoration.  Rodrigues is part of one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities.  Its original fauna and flora is unique; however, it has suffered from the onslaught of four centuries of degradation, which has destroyed much of Rodrigues’ rich biodiversity.  Surviving plants are reduced to a single individual or a handful of individuals or small isolated populations.  To address species decline and forest fragmentation, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has focused much of its expertise on habitat and species restoration.  The Information Center had displays on the habitat and species restoration effort.
As we left the Information Center we rode through parts of the Nature Reserve and observed the fruits of the restoration project with a lot more plants and foliage than we observed on the climb up the slope from the hotel.  Our next stop was Mont Limon, at 1,300 feet; it is the highest peak on the island.  We all climbed up to the peak to the breathtaking panorama views of the island.

From Mont Limon we rode up and down to the north coast and stopped at the Memorial Monument at Pointe Canon.  During the Second World War, troops were garrisoned on Rodrigues to protect a cable station on the island from a Japanese attack.  A six inch gun, an ammunition store and officers housing were built at Pointe Canon.  What remains today is the canon, the memorial, a statue of the Virgin Mary and a community center.  Across the road was the island’s Meteorological Station.  Again the panoramic views were spectacular, especially of the capital city of Port Mathurin and the coast below the point.
We rode down from the point around a number of hairpin curves to the coast and along the coast to the city where we stopped at the pier.  The pier was covered and we observed the morning fish sale with buyers from the restaurants and markets bidding on fish in a basket hanging from a scale.  The purchaser would pay the fisherman and load their purchase into the back of cars and vans parked nearby as the next catch was loaded in the scale basket.  We watched the proceedings for a few minutes and took pictures and then moved on toward the city.  Everyone in the group seemed to go in a different direction.

I walked past the city hall and up and down several streets, past a cute little church and on to the Regional Assembly Building that dates back to 1873.  Across from the Assembly Building I stopped at the Information Centre to see if I could obtain a map of the island.  They didn’t have any and told me that some of the tourist stores sell them.
As I walked back to the group’s rendezvous point in the pier parking lot a saw a lone statue of the Solitaire bird.  The birds were initially very common on Rodrigues, and were named Solitaires as they were usually found on their own. It was a large, flightless bird with a large hooked beak and tall neck. They weighed up to 20 kilos and lived mostly in the woods where they fed on leaves and fruits. They made nests of palm leaves which were heaped up to half a meter high in clear ground. Both parents looked after a single egg.  Solitaires could never be tamed and when caught and caged they refused all food until they died.  As the foliage on the island disappeared and dogs and cats became prevalent it was believed that the two factors caused the demise of the birds.

At 11:00 we boarded the bus and rode out of the city.  The roads for the most part are well paved but about forty minutes from town we turned off the paved road and rode up a steep unpaved road toward the top of one of the many peaks on the island.  Near the top we stopped and climbed down a rugged path to on outcropping of rocks where our guide started to throw rocks on the trees below.  Out from the trees emerged a swarm of bats and they flew over our position until they settled down in the trees again.  Very few of us were able to get a sharp picture of them in flight but it was a good experience and visual scene.
Back on the paved road we rode across the island to the south shore past the lone light beacon (there is no lighthouse on the island) and on to Petite Butte.  There our guide drove us into Chez Perle a home with a large patio and a long table set up for our lunch.  We were served a delicious meal.

After lunch we rode to the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve.  The Reserve was dedicated five years ago show how the island was 300 years ago, before the island was colonized.   During the last 300 years all of the native forest of Rodrigues has disappeared and many species of plants and animals have become extinct while many others are still threatened, making Rodrigues one most environmentally devastated ecosystems in the world.  The 20-hectare nature reserve, which until recently was almost entirely overrun with introduced plants, is an ongoing conservation project, working on re-wilding the lowland savannah of the area; planting shrubs and trees that once grew there and reintroducing key animal species to recreate the lost links between flora and fauna that make up the unique ecosystem.
When we entered the reserve we walked through an area of an emerging forest, some very rare plants and full of giant tortoises.  We had a great time with the tortoises, scratching them under their chins.  They had over 300 tortoises in the reserve.

At the end of the area we climbed up stairs to take a guided tour of the caves.  Extending below the surface of the reserve, there is a network of eleven caves, the largest of which, at 500m in length, is called Grande Caverne.  Inside we followed walkways on the guided tour of the cave.  The cave has beautifully illuminated stalactites and stalagmites, formed over thousands of years.
Unlike the other islands in the Mascarenes which was composed of volcanic basalt, Rodrigues has a limestone plateau, called Plaine Corail created by the action of the wind blowing coral sand to form calcarenite or limestone rocks.  Over time, parts of the limestone were eroded by rainfall and underground streams, forming large caverns.  In some places the roof of the cavern collapsed, leaving steep-sided canyons, such as Canyon Tiyel in the reserve where the giant tortoises live.

On exiting the caves we walked along the edge of Canyon Tiyel top view the flora and tortoises from above to the tortoise hatchery where they keep the baby tortoises until they are old enough to enter Canyon Tiyel.  Some are also sent to other islands and Zoos around the world.
From the Reserve we rode back to the center of the island where we stopped at the church of Saint Gabriel which seating 2,000 parishioners, is the largest Catholic Church in the Indian Ocean.  The construction of the church started in 1936 and ended in 1939.  During the long period, every parishioner contributed to the construction of the edifice.

That was the last stop on our full day tour of the island.  Tracing our route on a map we had ridden over almost every road on the island and saw sites that even their tourist web site does not describe.  We watched the sun set from the bus before we reached the hotel.  It was the best day long tour of the trip.
Dinner was at the hotel and although it was good it did not measure up to the lunch.

Friday, October 26, 2012:  Fly Rodrigues Island to Mauritius and explore the island
We had an early wake-up so we could get to the airport by 08:00 for our 09:25 flight back to the island of Mauritius.  I was assigned a window seat and was able to observe the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve from the air.  It was clear to see how Canyon Tiyel was formed by the cave-in of one of the caves.  I was able to get a good photo of the reserve.  The flight took us an hour and forty minutes.  The hotel was close to the airport and after we checked in several of us that had not visited the island before decided to take a local tour.

We started off riding past the airport past a row of seven pyramids.  I had not heard that there were pyramids on the island and when we asked our guide he told us that the pyramids were merely stone piles, thrown together in efforts to clear the fields for growing sugar cane.  They looked too well-formed and too large to accept his description so after the tour I did some research on the internet and found the following discussion:

The seven small pyramids on the island of Mauritius are located on the south side of the island, in a plain known as Whillem, between the Indian Ocean and Creole Mountain and Lion Mountain.  Their foundation is rectangular and in height, and do not exceed twelve meters; they have between 6 and 11 terraces.  In appearance, they are similar to the pyramids located on Tenerife another volcanic island off the – western – coast of Africa; similar structures also exist on the Mediterranean island of Sicily, which is also volcanic in origin.

There are many parallels between the pyramids of Mauritius and Tenerife. On both island, the pyramids are part of a complex: a series of pyramids grouped together in one location. On both islands, the pyramids are made from lava stone and the construction does not use any mortar or other connecting agent. Some of the structures on Mauritius have been partially dismantled, with the stones reemployed nearby. In one coating of basalt rollers, there can be found limestone blocks underneath, no doubt of coral origin.

Some of the Mauritius pyramids, with their platforms, could have been used for astronomical observations. This too would be on par with Tenerife, specifically at the Guimar complex. If this correlation were to apply to the Mauritius pyramids, these pyramids should be aligned to solar phenomena, and specifically the terraces associated with the pyramids should be aligned to the two solstices. Initial calculations suggest that this is indeed the case, though on-site verification needs to occur. Specifically Mauritius Pyramid 2 is likely to be aligned to the summer solstice (which in the Southern hemisphere occurs on December 21) and one should be able to observe a double sunset. The first sunset would occur behind the Creole Mountain, the second behind the neighboring Lion Mountain. A double sunset behind a mountainous horizon is also a phenomenon observed at the Guimar complex in Tenerife.

Locally, the people claim these pyramids are merely stone piles, thrown together in efforts to clear the fields for growing sugar cane. Even the dismissals are therefore shared with those of Tenerife, where other complexes on the island (e.g. Icod de los Vinos) are equally labeled by locals as the result of farmers clearing their fields from unwanted stones.  If this were true, the question is why some of the pyramids on Mauritius still have official panels, dating from the first half of the 20th century, which identifies the site as a protected site of historic interest?  Remarkably, however, since, the site has lost its protected status, no doubt the consequence of a change in government (Mauritius was under British rule until 1968). It is clear that those dismissing these pyramids as “piles of stones” are afraid to see their agricultural lands repossessed, or having to conform to certain regulations that come with protected archaeological sites. It is nevertheless clear that with proper help, the government should be able to highlight the economic benefits of tourism to the local economy, which will hopefully result in scientific research carried out on the site.

The man responsible for the identification and promotion of the Guimar complex was Thor Heyerdahl, a pioneering sailor of Norwegian origin, who argued that our distant ancestors were able to navigate the oceans and organized various expeditions to prove his point. Heyerdahl found a pyramid in the Maldives, on Gan. This pyramid was aligned to the sun and measures 8.5 meters in height. It was baptized “Hawittas”. Heyerdahl argued that the Maldives were located on an Eastern maritime trading route that was used by various ancient civilizations, coming from the Middle East.

The ancient Egyptians used the Phoenician fleet to carry out expeditions, and it is known that the Phoenicians constructed astronomical temples that were perfectly aligned to the cardinal points and solar phenomena. With the discovery of identical pyramid complexes on Tenerife, Sicily and now Mauritius, it is clear that these are remnants of a seafaring culture, which has left traces on islands on various sides of the African continent.
Past the pyramids we saw the remains of sugar cane processing plants and fields of sugar cane.  We were riding northwest on the highway from the airport to the city of Port-Louis.  It was a four lane divided highway but at the city of Curepipe we exited and drove into the city and stopped for picture taking at the City Hall.  From there we rode to an old house complex we initially thought was a museum in an 1800 era plantation.  It turned out to be a tourist site selling rugs and antique art work.  On the grounds outside the building was a 100 foot high replica of the Eiffel Tower.  We quickly toured the premises and boarded our bus without stopping for a sales pitch.

Our next stop was a vista above the city with panorama views of the area and supposedly a view of the Kanaka volcano crater.  Unfortunately the crater view was blocked by high foliage but we still had great panorama views of the southern half of the island.
From there we rode to the Saint Clement church and then on to Ganga Talao or Grand Bassin a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne.  Is the most sacred Hindu place on the island of Mauritius.  Our first site was the impressive Shiva Statue a 108-foot-tall Hindu god, standing with his trident at the entrance of Ganga Talao is a faithful copy of the Shiva statue of Sursagar Lake in Vadodara, Gujarat, India.  It is also the highest known statue in Mauritius.  In back of the statue I walked to a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and other Gods including Hanuman, Lakshmi, and others along the Grand Bassin.  We spent about forty five minutes walking the grounds taking pictures of the statue and touring the place.

We then rode to La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, which is the most famous and unique attraction of the island.  We first visited the exhibition room, which showed the different attractions in the park.  Since the 23 different colored earth area was discovered on the 4th of July 1998, "La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park" has become one of the most famous and unique attraction of the island which fascinates Mauritians as well as foreigners.
Nature lovers are bound to like this place; it is a quite unique experience with the indigenous fauna and flora that abounds in the park. Visitors are treated to a range of natural landscapes including plateaus, mountains, valleys, craters and crater-lakes. First, there is the exhibition room, which shows clearly what awaits the adventurers in the park.  As I walked into the park I took a path along the river to see the three waterfalls: Cascade Vacoas, Cascade Bois de Natte and Cascade Chamouzé.  Each waterfall was higher than the previous.  Next I walked around the main attraction: the fascinating 23 colored earth whose origin dates back to millions of years following the eruption of the Bassin Blanc Volcano.  The ashes which bear witness to that event are unique in the world.  At the end of the colored earth was a view point that offered a breathtaking panoramic view of the South Coast.  On the way back to the exhibition hall I passed pens with tortoises, monkeys, peacock, swans and a Pink Pigeon.

Leaving the Park we rode to the coast where we stopped at La Roche qui Pleure Gris-Gris.  The only break in the otherwise perfect barrier reefs circling Mauritius occurs in the South.  At the point of the break is La Roche qui Pleure, also known as The Weeping Rock, and the Gris Gris at Souillac.  La Roche qui Pleure is a 10 meter high rock that’s covered with water.  At the foot of the rock, big rolling waves break against the cracks, before falling back into the ocean, giving the appearance of large teardrops.  The rock makes a shrieking noise as the waves break against it.  Nearby is Gris Gris, which lies in the proximity of La Roche Qui Pleure.  Gris Gris is known for its rough waves, which produce a beautiful sound as they crash against the cliffs, but make the area unsafe for swimmers.  It is a rock shaped like a “praying nun” or a “witch engaged in witchcraft” that lies between the cliffs and the barrier reef.  The name, Gris Gris was the name of the puppy belonging to Abbott de la Caille, a French cartographer who came to the island for a survey in 1753.
Visiting Gris Gris in September 1886, the poet Paul Jean Toulet found the place “full of terror and fatalism although not devoid of mildness.”  He wrote:

“Sweet beaches where my soul was born
And thou blooming Savanne
Soaked by the tears of the ocean
And the blazing sun.”

From Gris Gris we returned along the south coast to our hotel.  The sun set along the way.
Dinner in the hotel was a buffet which included a mixture of Indian dishes.

Saturday, October 27, 2012:  Fly Port Louis to Victoria, Seychelles via La Reunion
I was up early to eat breakfast and return to my room and repack my bag with the items I not take to Rodrigues Island.

I then took my laptop to the lobby to connect to the internet and processed my email.  We departed for the airport at 10:30.  The check-in and Security was easy.  We were able to check our bags all the way to the Seychelles.  We had a slow bus ride to our aircraft, an Air Austral ATR-72-500 for the short flight to Reunion.
When we landed in Reunion we were faced with a five hours before our departure to the Seychelles. I elected to exit the arrival area in order to visit the city of St-Denis.  Edna, Neal, Laurie and I hired a taxi to drive us into the center of St-Denis.  Laurie had recently spent five days there so she became our guide.  We walked along the Rue Marechal Leclerc which is closed to traffic.  At a small restaurant that Laurie had eaten in during her previous visit we left Edna and Neal, Laurie and I walked on to Rue de Paris/Ave de la Victorie and turned north to walk to the sea.  Along the way we saw old French style buildings similar to New Orleans, the former Town Hall, a large Cathedral and at the sea a row of cannons.  We had not eaten lunch so we stopped in the Le Roland Garros restaurant next to the Roland Garros Monument.

Roland Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and was an early pilot entering a number of European air races becoming a noted aviator before World War I, having visited the U.S. and South America.  He gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia.  A year later he joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.  He was instrumental in developing the ability to firing a machine gun through the propeller blades and he achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a propeller.

He was shot downed in April 1915 and was a POW.  He managed to escape in February 1918, resumed combat flying and was shot down and killed one day before his 30th birthday.

In the 1920s, a tennis center which Garros attended religiously when he was studying in Paris, was named Stade de Roland Garros after him.  The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Consequently, the tournament is officially called Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros (the "French Internationals of Roland Garros").

The international airport of La Réunion, Roland Garros Airport, is also named after him.
I had a delicious salad and after lunch we walked back, past a MacDonald’s, to the restaurant where we had left Edna.  She had lunch there and walked around the pedestrian street.  We were able to find a cab to return us to the airport.  Some of the members of our group that stayed at airport had expected to do some internet work but were frustrated by the logon process.  The airport advertises free Wi-Fi but you need to register and send them an SMS message which they were not able to do from their iPADs.

The flight to Mahé Island in the Seychelles actually took off on the scheduled time and arrived at the parking spot in Mahé Island on the scheduled time.  In all my years of flying commercial I can’t recall that happening before because scheduled departure time is usually the engine start time and it takes ten to twenty minutes to taxi to the runway and actually take off.
It was after dark and our hotel was on the other side of Mahé Island from the airport.  The airport was south of the city of Victoria so the bus ride from the airport took us through the center of the city and its famous replica of London’s Big Ben Clock which in in the center of the city.  From the city we rode up a steep winding road and then down the other side of the mountain to the Coral Stand Hotel.

The hotel is new and there was a letter on my bed informing us that it was having a “soft opening”.  I guess that is like Beta Testing a hotel.  First the room key machine was not operating so extra keys were not available for the two people sharing a room, then the floor in our room under the air conditioner was wet, the air conditioner remote could not change the temperature and the TV was so fancy we couldn’t get past the video of the hotel and its facilities to a regular broadcast TV station.
I stopped a porter in the hall and told him of our problems two maintenance men arrived and decided or A/C remote was defective and got us a new remote and showed us how to get past the ads to the TV stations.  I asked him if they had BBC or CNN and he said sure and changed the change to CN the Cartoon Network.  We got a kick out of that.  They never returned to mop the floor and we put a spare towel over the wet spot and retired.

Sunday, October 28, 2012:  Fly Victoria to Desroches Island
When I took a shower that morning I discovered that the drain was so slow that the water flooded out to the hallway under the air conditioner and out the door across the outside hallway.  On the way to breakfast I notified the front desk of the situation.  After breakfast a maintenance man came to the room and opened the cover of the drain and found it clogged.  So much for what they called a “soft opening”!

Our flight to Desroches Island was not scheduled until 11:00 and would be in a small Beechcraft 1900D so we were encouraged to leave at the hotel items we would not need at Desroches.  I packed a collapsible bag I carry with my gifts and other items I wouldn’t need and checked the bag at the front desk to be held until our return.
The ride to the airport did not take long and since it was a charter the check-in was a little less formal although they weigh the passengers in addition to the bags

Desroches Island is in the Amirantes Archipelago about 230 km south-west of Mahé, the main and largest island of the Seychelles.  The daily scheduled fights were provided by Islands Development Company Ltd (IDC) which owns the resort and is the only entity on the island.  Prince William and Kate vacationed on the island before they got married and honeymooned on a neighboring island.
We took off early and landed early to be met by the resort staff in golf carts.  The schedule had seven of the eleven of us staying in a four bedroom villa.  The other four, Bob and Cathy, Terry and Linda were booked into two rooms in the main hotel building.

When we arrived at our villa Lynn and I took one of the rooms with twin beds.  Mike took a single room which left Neal, Laurie, Edna and Bob Ihsen to share the other two rooms.  When then got in the rooms they discovered that they had just one bed.  They contacted Cathy and after I guess a lot of discussion with the management it was decided that the group would give up the two rooms in the hotel building and would be assign a villa next door to the villa I was staying in.  Neal, Edna and Bob Ihsen moved next door and Bob and Cathy moved into one of the rooms in our villa that had a king size bed.  Laurie took the other single room.  Terry and Linda refused to move from the main building which caused a rife in the group.  That night they didn’t even eat with us.
The villa was great.  It had a large kitchen with a double door refrigerator.  All items in the right side (beer, soda and some wine) were free.  Items on the left side like more expensive wine had a fee.  There was a Bosch washer, dryer and dishwasher, a microwave and an ice maker.  The great room had a large dining room table, a coach soft chairs and a large TV.  There was an iPod speaker set and I installed my iPod to provide music.  Facing the ocean was a fresh water pool with an infinity edge.  A short walk from the villa was a beach, and we were informed that between two buoys off shore was the best snorkeling in the area.  In front of the villa was a rack of bicycles.

After unpacking we had lunch in the main complex, returned to the villa and I took a bike ride around part of the island.  Dinner was excellent.  They had given each of us a rolled up colorful cloth.  I wore it as a sarong to dinner that night and the hotel manager really appreciated it.
With a refrigerator full of free beer and wine we did not go to bed very early that night.  I was able to take my nightly swim just like at home but with a swim suit on.

Monday, October 29, 2012:  Relax on Desroches Island
After breakfast I returned to the villa and went swimming.  Laurie told me that the snorkeling was outstanding so I checked out a set of snorkeling gear and had a great time off our villa’s beach.  I also explored the island and when I returned my snorkeling gear I was able to take some unusual photos of the sun setting.  Unfortunately there were clouds near the horizon but I did get some unusual pictures.

As advertised it had been a very relaxing day.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012:  Fly Desroches Island to Victoria and tour Victoria

Enjoy your last few hours of luxury before you are transferred to the airport for your flight back to Victoria where you will overnight before you continue your journey to the Horn of Africa and/or South Sudan or fly home.  Sometimes called Port Victoria, this former British colony gained independence in 1976 and remains a republic in the Commonwealth.  Explore the town on your own including the clock tower (modeled after the Vauxhall Clock Tower in London), Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, Botanical Gardens, National Museum of History, wharf with its pubs and restaurants and more. Farewell dinner tonight.
We received word that the IDC Beechcraft was in the shop and that we would have to return to Mahé Island in the Seychelles on a Cessna 406 Caravan.  Our group would have to be split in two.  I elected to go in the first group to be able to maximize my time in Mahé.

The flight was not scheduled to depart until noon.  After I had vacated my room and was waiting for the aircraft to arrive I heard that a tortoise was lay her egg near the main bar in the sand under a bush.  I walked over to watch the action.  She was digging a hole for the egg but I had to leave before she actually laid the egg.  It would have been interesting to see her cover the egg and just leave as they do.

The flight took off a little early and landed at 12:20.  Since our hotel was across the island from the airport I got off in the city with Laurie at the National Culture Center.  The city was celebrating Creole Culture and had a band and free food at the Center.  The bus driver had told us that we missed a big parade while we were gone.  Laurie took off in one direction while I explored the food stalls and the displays inside the Culture Center.  The food did not look appealing so I passed and walked out the side door down a row of stalls selling tourist items.  I came upon an alley that had some interesting metal sculptures and art work displays.  Outside the alley I ran into Laurie as she was bargaining for some item.  By then I was hungry so I stopped to have lunch at the Le Rendez Vous overlooking the center of the city.  The landmark in the center of the city is a replica of London’s Big Ben clock.  I found it interesting that the clock was not displaying the correct time – something that I would guess never happens with Big Ben.

The restaurant had some interesting displays.  On either side of the stairway from the street there were two statues of scary looking natives with spears.  I was seated under a large bust of a rhino and nearby was a large carving of an ape.  Cattycorner to the restaurant was a large TV screen displaying a re-run of the Creole Culture parade and events.  I sat there having lunch and watching the re-run of the festivities.  In addition I was observing the activities at the Supreme Court building directly across from the restaurant.  A group of naval officers and seaman apparently were involved in some activity at the court house.  They started out sitting on a bench outside the building and one by one they would enter the building and then return to the bench.
After lunch I strolled around town, up and down the streets and through the markets.  When I thought I had seen the whole city I walked to the bus station and took a bus to the hotel area on the other side of the island.  I didn’t know for sure where to get off but I knew it would be on the coast.  A group of westerners got on at one of the stops and asked the driver to drop them at a beach.  When we reached the beach I asked the driver where I should get off for the Coral Strand Hotel.  He told me to get off at the beach with the others and walk along the beach to the southwest.  It was a short walk down a street next to the beach that was barricaded and only used for parking.

By the time I reached the hotel the other group had returned from Desroches Island.  I found Lynn depressed.  He had stored his beer can collection in a high place so as not to have a heavy bag crush them when we left for Desroches and when he returned the cans were not there.  He searched the storage area and could not find them.  I unpacked my bag and then walked around the neighborhood. 
Late that afternoon Cathy came by the room with Lynn’s cans.  She never told us where they were but Lynn was much relived.

That night we had diner in another hotel a block from the Coral Strand.  There were only two tables occupied in the hotel.  We were a rather load bunch and we wondered what the other table thought.  It was the last night that we all would be together.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012:  Visit Praslin Island and then fly Victoria to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Our last day in the African Indian Ocean nations was very unusual.  I had to get up very early and pack because I had signed up for a half day trip to fly to the nearby island of Praslin to tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valleé-de-Mai home of the biggest seed in the world, the Coco-de-mer.  Five of us were going: Bob, Cathy, Laurie, Neal and I.  Mike had agreed to make sure our luggage would get to the airport since our return flight from Praslin would not allow us time to travel back to the hotel and then return to the airport for our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We observed a very colorful sunrise on the ride to the airport.
Our fifteen minute flight to Praslin in a de Havilland DHC-6-300 Twin Otter took off at 06:55.  When we landed in Praslin Bob rented a car for the drive to Valleé-de-Mai and to tour the island after our tour of the UNESCO site.  It was a small red four door Fiat with a big decal on each site advertising that it was a rental.  Being a former British possession they drove on the left side of the road and the Fiat had right hand drive and a stick shift.  Bob started out a little rocky mastering the stick shift with his left hand and remembering to drive on the left side of the road.  I was in the front left seat and crammed in the back was Cathy, Laurie and Neal.  Cathy helped Bob remember to drive on the left and with other suggestions on his driving.  Outside town of Grand Anse we stopped to take pictures of the beach and bay and light beacon.  At this point the road split and we drove inland towards Valleé-de-Mai.

We arrived at Valleé-de-Mai right at 08:00 their opening time.  We elected to tour the site without a guide.  The guide book we were given with our ticket contains the following description of the park:

Valleé-de-Mai is one of the world's smallest natural World Heritage Sites.  Located in a quiet secluded valley it forms the heart of the Praslin National Park and is home to the famous and magnificent coco de mer palm.  The Valleé-de-Mai palm forest is a remarkable living remnant of the prehistoric forests which existed when Seychelles' granitic islands were still part of Gondwanaland, the huge land mass which included what is now Africa, Madagascar and India.  Millions of years of isolation enabled a unique community of plants and animals to develop here and some species are found nowhere else.

Up to about 1930 Valleé-de-Mai was more or less virgin forest, little affected by Man, unlike much of the rest of Praslin Island.  In the 1930’s a new land owner decided to beautify the valley, creating a restful retreat and botanical gardens, hence many ornamentals and fruit trees were introduced.  In 1948 Valleé-de-Mai was acquired by the Government, as part of the major water catchment area for Praslin, and in 1966 it became a Nature Reserve.  Rehabilitation became a priority, involving gradual removal of the exotic and invasive species, regeneration of vegetation on the burnt ridge tops and maintenance of the coco de mer forest.  Although this method of management is necessarily slow and subject to setbacks, the overall effect is more natural and already Valleé-de-Mai begins to take on its primeval appearance once again. A place of superlatives, it merits time spent in observation and reflection.


The coco de mer palm is surrounded by myths and legends.  This is partly because the strange bi-lobed nuts were discovered long before the palm itself and partly because of the suggestive shapes of both male and female structures which occur on separate coco de mer palms.  Unfortunately even the "facts" about this unique and slow-growing palm are not backed up by properly recorded scientific research, so there are numerous discrepancies in the biological statistics quoted.  This situation is slowly being rectified as a research program develops under the management of Seychelles Islands Foundation.

There are male and female coco de mer palms.  Male palms grow to about 30m high, female palms to about 24m high.  The female palm produces the largest seed in the world; it can weigh more than 20kg.  The seed is inside a husk and the fruit takes 6 to 7 years to ripen.  After germination, the first leaf appears about one year later.  In Valleé-de-Mai, leaves of young coco de mer palms can reach a length of 14m or more.  A trunk does not appear until the palm is about 15 years.  It reaches maturity between 200 and 400 years.


The paths are well made and kept clear.  There are few steep gradients or long flights of steps.  Signposts indicate direction at all path intersections.  Marker posts at the side of the path indicate sites of interest.  Each is labeled with a letter of the alphabet, corresponding to the lettered circle on the map and the lettered sections in the text of the guide booklet.  Additional features are described on small information boards alongside the paths.
Just inside the park entrance gate there was a display of the coco de mer and other items that we would see in the park.  We were able to take pictures of each other holding a coco de mer which gave us an idea of the size and weight of the nut.  A short distance from the entrance the path split.  I took the Center Path while the others took the longer North Circular Path.  The Center Path traveled through dense jungle.  The sights to see in the park in addition to the palm trees were the birds, fruit bats and reptiles.  The dense growth made it difficult for me to see the birds and fruit bats let alone take pictures of them.  I envisioned that Laurie was most likely was frustrated trying to get a good picture of a Black Parrot or Blue Pigeon in all the foliage.

The path crossed several streams and the weather was hot and humid and I soon found myself soaked.  When the Central Path intersected with the Circular path I elected to take the shorter south route.  Initially the jungle was not as dense on the south route but there were more stairs.  The path was not paved and the stairs were often just a row of rocks every foot or so with no hand railing.  In some spots the stairs were a path of rocks.  Occasionally there were rest stop benches but very few.  As I got close to the intersection with the Central Path I took a side path down a steep grade to the Palm and Pandanus Grove in a deep ravine.  Walking back up made me wonder if the diversion was worth the effort to see.  When I reached the Center Path I saw Neal was turning off on the Palm and Pandanus Grove.  In a few minutes I was at the shelter by the Entrance.  There I sat on a bench and listened to the Park Guides describe the park and the coco de mer and other items to their tour group.  It was fun to watch the picture taking of people holding a coco de mer and other items.
Neal soon joined me and echoed my thoughts that the side path to the Grove was not worth the effort.  Bob and Cathy arrived and since we were all earlier than the 10:00 rendezvous time we decided to wait for Laurie in Visitor Center where we could get something to drink.  Laurie arrived before 10:00 and confirmed that she was not able to get very many good pictures of the creatures in the park.

Back in the car we drove down to Basi Ste. Anne and then along the coast to Anse La Blague.  Along the way we stopped at the remains of a Cinnamon Distillery to take some pictures.  From Anse La Blague we drove the north coast to Anse Volbert.  South of the road was row of very beautiful cliffs which I was able to take pictures of from the car.  We stopped at Anse Possession Beach.  It was on that beach that Marion Dufresne disembarked in 1768 to take ‘possession’ of Praslin for the French.
From there the road deviated to the south and we rode up a steep grade overlooking a big resort of villas called the “Raffles”.  The road was very smooth and we speculated that it was constructed by the bulder of the villas to move the traffic behind the villas rather along the beach in front of the villas.  We stopped to take pictures of the view behind a tour bus that had stopped for their tourists to take pictures.  A guide from the bus confirmed our speculation that the road was built by the Raffles Corporation.  Past the villas the road descended down to the coast again and we then came upon the Anse Boudin Chapel.  The chapel was designed and built by Father Irene and the architect Jean-Pierre, in the first half of the 1900s.  The little chapel is unique in many ways.  Its unconventional (triangle) shape, separate belfry, cavalry cross and granite alter distinguish the Chapel from any other Catholic Church in the Seychelles.

From the Chapel we drove up the road to Zimbawe, the highest point on the island.  The grade up to the peak was too steep for our little Fiat and before we reached the top the car stalled and the four of us got out.  Even with just Bob in the car it would not climb the hill so Bob turned the car around and we got back in and rode down to the coast and turned to the northwest to visit Anse Lazio, the reportedly best beach on the island.  There were groups of people walking down the road to the beach and parking was limited.  We got out, took some pictures and got back in retracing our route back to Baie Ste. Anne where instead of driving across the island we kept to the coast past Anse Consolation.
In the center of Grand Anse we stopped to fill up the rental car and we were back at the airport in time to catch our 13:00 flight back to Seychelles International Airport in a DHC-6 400.  We barely had time for a cold beer when the bus arrived from the hotel with the others and our luggage.  It cost me another beer to pay back Mike for making sure my luggage got on the bus.

We checked-in and had no problems with security or immigration and the plane left thirty five minutes early and it was not very full.  At Addis Ababa we landed over an hour early and when we exited the arrival hall we did not see a guide.  We were scheduled to stay at the Hilton and they had an office in the terminal hall so we gathered there and had the hotel agent call our guide.  Our guide, Befekadu, arrived and told us he did not know that our flight arrived an hour early.  He was very helpful loading our bags on a tour bus and assisting us to check-in at the hotel because it was a lengthy process.  I visited the bar and had a beer while I waited for my room to be assigned.
The Hilton Addis Ababa is a large grand old hotel.  We had to pass through a security check to enter the hotel.  It was a busy place.  Addis Ababa is a headquarters for a lot of African organizations so the Hilton has a lot Government and NGO customers.  The hotel has several wings and we had difficulty finding our rooms but when we did we found it was a very comfortable room.

The Advantage Travel and Tours split-up at Addis Ababa and before checking in to our rooms I said good bye to Edna, Bob Ihsen and Mike who were to fly to South Sudan the next morning and then on home.  I also said goodbye to Bob and Cathy since they were flying to north Ethiopia to tour.  Cathy asked me to act in her behalf with the rest of the group (Terry, Linda, Neal, Lynn and Laurie) who would be flying to Somaliland in the morning.  After I got to my room Cathy called several times arranging a half day tour of Addis Ababa for Terry, Linda, Lynn and I for the 9th, our last day before our flights back home.
It had been a long day and the soft bed and extra pillows provided by the Hilton was just what my tired body needed to rest up for my tour of the Horn of Africa countries.

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