LA DIGUE IT IS A WAY OF LIFE
If the Seychelles truly are Another World as one of their tag lines reads, the island of La Digue deserves its own for sure. I asked my guide from the Seychelles Tourism Board, born and raised on La Digue, what made her home island so special, what would be the most important issue shed like to see highlighted by the media writing about La Digue, and her instant response was La Digue is just a way of life.
Well, let the story start at the beginning and by the end of it one should be certain if the fourth largest island of the Seychelles is a way of life or maybe not.
Travel to La Digue traditionally is by boat via Praslin, sailing vessels in the old days, then conventional ferries and now a high speed catamaran, the Cat Cocos Ile de Praslin operated by Inter Island Boats, which crosses from Mahe to Praslin in under an hour. From Praslin harbour it is a direct connection then to La Digue, by a smaller catamaran ferry, which completes the journey to La Digue in about 15 minutes.
(The famous high speed inter island ferry at Port Victoria, ready to sail)
Alternatively, for those with money to spare, Helicopter Seychelles and Zil Air both offer a helicopter option, straight from the helipad of ones resort for instance from the Kempinski Seychelles Resort which was my main base for this trip or the international airport to the helipad on La Digue. Such a trip is taking little over 20 minutes as opposed to an overall travelling time of say 3 hours, transfer in Mahe to Port Victoria included. On a sunny day though, what better way to soak in the experience of travel than smelling the salty air of the ocean, having the wind blow into ones face when standing on the upper deck of the Cat Cocos and sensing the excitement of each and every other passenger on board as one sets sail from Mahe to Praslin, and then again from Praslin to La Digue. Travelling is after all about meeting fellow travelers, making acquaintances and friends even if only for the short time of a ferry trip, as opposed to the splendid isolation of sitting in the heli and flying high above the action. The heli option though is in demand, regularly ferrying a couple or two to La Digue, evidence that the Seychelles continues to attract the rich and famous with its tropical Creole charm.
(It never rains but pours yet much more acceptable at 28 degrees C)
It rained cats and dogs from low hanging clouds when I arrived on La Digue, but I did not let it rain on my parade nor cloud over my mood rain in the tropics at 28 or 30 degrees is different, almost worth the experience to get soaked unlike in the cold climes of Europe and when just around lunch time the sun came out again, the island felt refreshed, seemed greener and more lively even. So off I went with my guide for the day, Dania Morel of the Seychelles Tourism Boards office in La Digue, at times closely attached to each other as we huddled under the umbrella when another wave of rain swept across us, and at other times walking the paths through forests and along the beaches, with heavy drops still falling from the foliage above.
The beaches are all divided by giant rock outcrops La Digue is one of the granite islands within the archipelago and the highest point of elevation is an impressive 333 metres high, enough to make it a mountain under British definition of the 1.000 feet threshold. Hence, those seeking solitude and privacy can find little coves, nooks and crannies where to spread the beach towels out and spend the day as a Robinson, or Robinsons when travelling in pairs, taking a picnic along and a coldbox with drinks, in which the wrappings and serviettes and bottle tops or empty cans can be taken back, leaving nothing but foot prints, washed away when the tide comes back in.
(Leaving a few footprints on the beach)
Equally are the wide beaches of Grand Anse, Petit Anse and Anse Coco attractive, and easy to reach by bicycle, or using one of the dozen or so taxis now available on the island, where the driver will deliver you to the nearest spot accessible by vehicle and then come back at an agreed time again. At some of the beaches small restaurants have been set up which offer both a la carte as well as a buffet lunch, should the sandwiches run out or simply to be able to sit down on some roughly hewn benches, under a palm thatched roof to enjoy some Creole cooking in the company of others before retreating again to one of the private spots hidden from prying eyes between the granite boulders.
(A local beach eatery at Grand Anse, La Digue)
Places to visit on La Digue are many, almost too many to see in the half or at best three quarter of a day most visitors come to the island for, and while they might leave happy, having ticked off another destination and another to do while in the Seychelles, I would rather opt for an overnight stay, if not a longer visit to experience the laid back lifestyle so evident everywhere. When men meet on bicycles, women too for that matter, going in opposite directions, I often observed that they started greeting each other from some distance, then slowed down and stood by the roadside for an extended chat before moving on again, a sign that people still take time for each other and are not slaves of schedules and mobile devices but masters of their own way of life.
These locals, about 2.500 Seychellois are actually living on La Digue, are friendly to visitors, probably knowing that the tourists bring the cash the island needs to survive, so directions are gladly given and with a smile, and one even offered to walk some way with me to make sure I reached my destination safely. A map of La Digue is available for free from the tourist office at the little port and gives a broad overview of tracks and roads, locations of a few of the many beaches and the approximate location of guest houses, hotels and resorts. Also prominently shown is the LUnion Estate, where for a modest entrance fee the old cemetery of the colonial times is kept intact, as is the old plantation house. The supposedly largest granite boulder is found on the estate too, as are giant tortoises but a special attraction there is the option to do some horseback riding, a leisurely way to explore the island from the saddle. Interesting for visitors maybe how coconuts are turned into palm oil and how copra is being processed from it, making the LUnion Estate a little gem and journey into the islands distant past, when first the French and then the English were colonial masters before the Seychelles attained independence from Britain.
A little further, following the same track, is a vanilla plantation before reaching the famous Anse Source DArgent where many little beaches are separated by huge granite rocks, shielding beach combers from the paparazzi. For bird lovers and those interested in conservation, La Digue is also home to the endemic Paradise Flycatcher, which is found in the Veuve Reserve, for sure not as extensive as the Valle de Mai on the larger island of Praslin but nevertheless worth a visit. All of this is a tall order for day visitors, who often have to choose what they want to see and clearly lose out on one or the other attraction the island has to offer.
For overnight visitors smaller hotels, perfectly adequate with self contained rooms, air conditioning and often an attached restaurant where the meals can be taken, offer the best deal, making a longer stay an affordable reality and permitting a deeper insight in the very traditional way of life, where many people live in traditional Seychellois houses as they were generations ago, with the addition of electricity and running water though.
La Digue is also jump off point for diving expeditions, or visits to other islands like Coco, Felicite, Cousine, Curieuse, St. Pierre or Aride, the latter a bird sanctuary which at certain times of the year make landing difficult during the south east monsoon season when the rough tides and high waves are in season. All licensed destination management companies offer such trips, which open up a wider range of attractions and showcase the natural wonders the archipelago is so proud to have more than 50 percent of the Seychelles is now protected by law as national parks and marine parks or nature reserves.
In August every year does La Digue hold a major religious festival, the Feast of Assumption which Seychellois from the other islands attend but also visitors from abroad, wanting to see the processions and partake in the open air mass at La Grotto before heading to St. Marys Church.
(Rain or shine, the oxcarts await the tourists for a tour of the island)
Traditional mode of transport on La Digue was for long the oxcart, and it is still being used for tourists and at times to transport goods, but the most exciting way to get around is still by bicycle, which are on hire right at the jetty, from shops and offered by the resorts and guest houses to their guests at a nominal fee. There are two major resorts on the island, the well known original La Digue Island Lodge and the more recent addition of Domaine De LOrangeraie, seven smaller hotels, 17 licensed guest houses and an astonishing 39 licensed self catering establishments plus some apartments for short term lets, options galore for travelers on both generous as well as tighter budgets. During the off season simple self contained rooms with a ceiling fan can go for as little as 20 Euros a night the main foreign currency in the Seychelles is the Euro, not the US Dollar and when using local take away restaurants one can spend as little as 150 rupees a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner or a multiple thereof when choosing to eat in one of the restaurants or little locally owned hotels. Creole food is served everywhere, spicey, colourful and freshly made with ingredients in season and whatever the fishermen deliver daily.
Asked and answered you might think, coming back to the initial question if La Digue and the Diguois do have a special way of life, but from the little I saw and witnessed, it is quite so.
Nowhere in the Seychelles is life lived in the fast lane, not by London or even Nairobi standards, but the pace is admittedly faster on Mahe, slower on Praslin and very laid back on La Digue, a perfect place for a holiday when solitude and the absence of links to the outside world after the last ferry sailed back to Praslin, is what the intrepid traveler seeks and pursues. A stay there, even for the day, is truly calming and putting the pace of life into perspective, making one wonder how the Diguois can live like that and be happy and content while us folks need vacations, muses, life counselors and shrinks. Not on La Digue, so yes, it is a way of life and perhaps one we should all embrace every once so often, to live and let live and to return to be in tune with nature and the cycles of day and night and the eternal flow of ebb and high tide. Seychelles, truly ANOTHER WORLD but also AFFORDABLE SEYCHELLES where visitors on a budget can get excellent value out of the money they spend. See you in the Seychelles next
For more information visit www.seychelles.travel and follow the links to La Digue island and the available self catering establishments, guest houses, small hotels or big resorts or be adventurous and book with www.self-catering-seychelles.kaz.com, www.benjaminsladigue.com or try www.chezmarston.com, all of them licensed and all of them ready to welcome you with open arms.