Thursday, October 19, 2017

Granite Islands Make Powdery Sand Beaches

19 October 2017

You'd think we'd get tired of gorgeous turquoise and aqua water, powdery white sand, and breezy beaches - but somehow, we never do.  Even if we're only walking on the beach, or sitting on the random beach chairs outside a café, there is something so relaxing and mesmerizing about the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, as well as the distant thunder of the larger waves breaking out on the edge of the rocky shelf that seems to surround much of the island.  And despite all that noise, the beaches are just so tranquil.  We spend half our day by the beach.

We moved to another apartment a bit south of where we started, and are now in the community of Anse Royale.  Anse is the Creole word for beach.  Anse Royale has some very nice restaurants and cafés, a local market for fresh produce and fish, and a collection of small shops selling packaged items.  Not a whole lot else here, though there's also a hospital, the university, a small police station, and a tiny post office.  I guess it qualifies as a small town, though, since there's also a school here.

I haven't been able to get a decent photo of the Seychellois flag, since the only breeze is right on the beach.  So I'm including a photo lifted from the internet, since it really is a pretty flag.  The rectangle is comprised of long narrow triangles radiating out from the lower left corner.  Each color is meaningful: in sequence, the blue represents the sky and the sea surrounding the Seychelles; yellow is the sun, giving light and life; red is for the people and their work for the future; the white symbolizes social justice and harmony; and the green represents the land, the trees and plants, the natural environment.

This flag was adopted in 1996, despite the fact that the islands became independent from Great Britain in 1976.  (The colors of the flag are also the colors of the two major political parties at the time.)

The Seychelles has a rather interesting history, though part of that is due to the geology of these islands.  Most of these islands are granite, full of boulders separating the beaches and forming rocky headlands, or cropping up in flat areas making farming difficult, or rising up on the tops of the hills and looking like spines on a dragon.  (Some of the other islands are coral atolls, which are lovely but also difficult to cultivate.)

So to early civilizations, these rocky islands didn't look very hospitable.  Apparently people from other islands in the Indian Ocean came by, visited, collected coconuts or whatever, and moved on.  The Portuguese sailed by, as did the British.  Finally, in 1742, the French came by and eventually claimed the islands.  There was a lot of back and forth with the colonies in Mauritius, to the south, and workers (slaves) were brought in from Africa and the Indian sub-continent.  

Of course, the various British-French wars spilled over into the Indian Ocean, and the island colonies were won and lost, back and forth.  By 1811, the Seychelles were under British rule, though they were always affiliated with Mauritius, despite the 1000 mile or so distance between the two island groupings.  In 1903, the Seychelles finally became a Crown Colony, meaning they had their own governor.  

In the 1960s, calls for independence from Great Britain grew, and the islands finally became an independent nation in 1976.

So this is a young nation, despite the ancient rock on which it stands.

I've been reading about the islands, and the government's decisions to limit growth, especially in the area of tourism.  We met a man from Melbourne today, who said they come here because the Seychelles aren't marketed in Australia.  (Oddly, he also works at the hospital where I had my minor surgery in Melbourne, and he actually knows my doctor!  What a tiny little world it is!)

Anyway, the Seychellois government has voted to limit hotel size, preventing mega-hotels being built on beachfront property and promoting small and locally-owned hotels or guesthouses.  This is a unique and fragile environment, with a balanced eco-system.  The government is trying to protect that, to the point of having a rule or regulation that all airlines landing in the Seychelles must spray the interior of their planes before take-off.  There has also been talk of limiting the number of daily visitors to these islands, another way to protect the impact on the environment.  Of course, it's more difficult to regulate the number of people arriving by air or sea than it is at, well, Machu Picchu, where they only sell a certain number of entry passes for each day, and those must be purchased in advance.  But as the world population becomes larger, and travel becomes easier, small and fragile environments or heritage sites need to be increasingly careful in terms of protecting those places.  And that includes regulating the number of visitors daily. 

So while we're enjoying the beaches, well, we're also trying to be ethical travellers.  Staying in locally-owned self-catering apartments.  Eating at small local cafés, shopping at the small local shops and markets.  We already know how to conserve water, having lived in the USVI.  All the usual things one does to try to have a small impact on the environment.

Oh, one of the unique plants here is the coco de mer, the coconut of the sea.  The actual nut is not only the world's largest coconut but also the largest seed in the world.  One side looks vaguely like a tush, and the other looks more like a woman's pelvic region that anything else.  Absolutely an odd coconut!!!

I keep trying to get a photo of the flying foxes, which swoop around all day and into the evening - I can't find them folded up sleeping in trees, and they fly by too quickly to get a decent photo.  And tropicbirds, those bright white sea birds with the long long tail feathers wafting along in their wake, another flying creature I can't seem to capture on my camera.

But our neighborhood grey heron was cooperative, and even stood up for a few photos.  I think she may have a nest, though I didn't go over to check.  But she's been sitting in the same spot for a few days, so I'm guessing a nest.

We also had this wonderful boulder near our first apartment - doesn't it look like a whale spyhopping out of the ocean?  We called it whale rock, and it became a marker on our route home.  Turn left at Whale Rock.

And the money!  I love currency from countries where they make the bills brightly colored and full of local plants and animals.  The 25 rupee bill has killifish and blue pigeon on one side, and the magpie robin on the other.  The 50 rupee has the tree frog, and the famous black parrot, found nowhere else in the world.  The 100 rupee features the banded snail, and the black paradise flycatcher.  And the 500 shows the tiger chameleon, and the Seychelles kestrel.  Colorful and educational!  Love it!

At this point, we aren't sure where we'll be next week.  Maybe elsewhere on Mahe Island.  Maybe on a different island.

We're just wandering in the Seychelles.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Suddenly the Seychelles!

14 October 2017

We made it to the Seychelles, and OH is it beautiful here!  Totally made the long long flight worth it.  

We cashed in our airline miles for award tickets, and the only available tickets were either six days from then, or at the end of October.  We went with the six days.  Rushed through the usual tasks of laundry, packing for the trip, packing away our cold weather clothes, and booking a place to stay.  Fine, we managed all of that.

I really have no idea how long our complete flight took.  It went something like this:  Bellingham, WA to Seattle on Saturday evening.  Overnight in Seattle at an airport hotel.  Leave Seattle on Sunday morning for Dallas-Fort Worth.  Three or so hours of layover, time for the internet and a light meal.  Leave DFW at about 6:30 PM on Sunday, fly all night (14 or so hours) and arrive in Doha, Qatar, at 5:30 PM or so on Monday.  Seven or eight hour layover in Doha, leave at 2:40 AM and arrive on Mahe Island, Seychelles, about 9:15 AM on Tuesday.

Yes, two nights while flying.  Somewhat back to back.  We slept a bit on the first overnight, but were quite tired by the time we landed in Doha, since it was still in the middle of the night in Seattle time.  And given so much time at the airport, we found the "quiet rooms" where there are lounge-type chairs, so people can stretch out and sleep.

Now, Qatar is a Muslim country.  And when I travel, I dress modestly and am covered, since I get cold on planes.  No worries there.

We found the men's quiet room, glassed in, dim lighting, lounge chairs in rows.  Next door was the women's quiet room, with frosted glass walls, and presumably the same dim lighting and lounge chairs.

Of course, this caused a bit of a dilemma for us.  We had our carryon luggage on a cart.  We didn't know if either of us would sleep soundly.  We didn't want to be separated for fear of missing our flight somehow.  So, after a bit of discussion, we figured it would be better for me to join Richard in the men's quiet room than it would have been had he joined me in the women's quiet room.  Neither was optimal, but under the circumstances, less likely to cause a riot.

It was quiet, it was comfortable, I fell asleep.  At some point, Richard went off to smoke in the smoking room.  I awoke to the sound of two-way radio static and chatter, lowered my scarf from covering my eyes, and found two security guards looking at me.  Askance.  

I've dubbed them the gender police in my mind.

They told me I needed to go to the women's quiet room, that this was the men's quiet room.  I explained that I was with my husband, I motioned to the luggage cart and said I was watching our belongings, and that my husband was in the smoking room right now but that he'd be back.  And that we knew he should not come with me into the women's quiet room.  They explained that there was a FAMILY quiet room down the corridor, and that we could be together there.  I apologized, and told them that we didn't see that.  They told me where to find it, and that I should go there.  I politely said that I'd go as soon as my husband came back, because if I went by myself, he wouldn't know where to find me.  And I apologized again.  They were okay with that.

So yeah, I was busted by the gender police.  Not jailed, but definitely given a warning.  (I thought it was really pretty funny.)

Our flight from Doha to the Seychelles was through the most gorgeous sunrise, complete with views of Venus up in the deep dark blue of the sky.  Just an incredible view!

So we arrived in the Seychelles.  Got stamped in at Customs and Immigration, and we were met at the airport by our landlady.  We've rented a small apartment for a week, which seems popular on the island.  These are billed as "self-catering apartments," meaning food is not provided.  We're south of the airport (which is south of the capital city, Victoria).  On the east coast of Mahe, the main island of the Seychelles.  

We have a small community here, with a small supermarket, a few restaurants nearby, and more houses.  Plus a small beach maybe five minutes away.

We've rented a car for the weekend, though, and yesterday (Friday) spent a day at some beach way south of here.  Not exactly sure where, but it was incredible.  Powdery soft white sand, aqua fading to azure water, palm trees lining the shore, and piles of granite boulders forming headlands at each end of the beach.  I'll have to get more info about the geology of these islands, because it really is pretty unique.

But the Seychelles are way out in the Indian Ocean.  We're just over 1000 miles east of Mombasa, Kenya (that's about 1600 km); 1130 miles northeast of Madagascar (1800 km); 2000 miles to Mumbai, India (3200 km); and 1945 miles to Sri Lanka (also roughly 3200 km).  

We're also 4.67 degrees south of the equator, which is why the water is so gorgeously warm.  Mid-day can be hot, but the island is relatively small (about 60 sq miles, or 155 sq km) so there is usually a breeze.

For my birding friends - I've seen a red fody, also known as a Madagascar fody - a small bird with a bright red head and shoulders, and black and white wings and tail.  The body is sort of red fading to greyish.  I swear this little bird was trying to get into our apartment!  Or maybe just chasing insects that were climbing on our sliding glass doors.

We also seem to have a family of grey herons living in a stream or estuary at the end of our road.  They look somewhat like great blue herons, but the legs and necks are shorter, and the coloration is slightly different.

OH, and of course the flying foxes, the giant fruit bats that fly during the day as well as at night.  Little faces really like a fox, with huge leathery wings and tiny little claws.  Rather creepy, however fascinating.

That's our first several days in the Seychelles.  We're acclimating to being in a time zone just about halfway around the world from what our bodies were used to.

So, more blogging to come as we explore further!  And here's a map for reference:


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bye Bye Bellingham

8 October 2017

Late summer and early fall seem to be dahlia season in the Pacific Northwest.  Somehow this time of year often is sunnier and drier than spring or even some summers, and the long growing season means abundant flowers.  We’ve been buying flowers at the local supermarkets, and the bouquets brighten up our hotel room.  I really loved this pink and yellow combination, with the pale green leaves.  No idea what the greenery is here, but just a lovely bouquet. 

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, now that my knee is doing better and I’m able to walk longer distances.

On one of our walks, we met a delightful young bunny who was hopping around among the blackberry bushes.  He actually hopped over toward me, as if he was thinking about becoming good friends.  Or at least asking for a little pat on the head.  Okay, so that’s my interpretation.  I always think animals in the wild want to be friendly with me, because they know how much I like them.  (And no, I don’t go around handling wild animals.  Though I have rescued a number of them.)  He (or she) was a young bunny, and probably just had become used to people walking on this trail.  We watched Young Bunny for a while, until more and more people came through, and then little Young Bunny scampered away.

I met up with my college friends for one last visit; we decided La Conner was a good spot to meet, north of Seattle and south of Bellingham, though a bit closer for me than for them.  La Conner is a lovely old port town on a waterway separating some of the islands from the mainland, right on Puget Sound.  Each little bay or harbor seems to have it’s own name, and I never remember exactly what is what.  But La Conner has a beautiful marina and boardwalk, with squawking great blue herons flying overhead.  (They have a rusty and croaking sort of squawk, like a basso profundo raven.)  I also saw something dive in the water while I was walking around, most likely one of the seals that frequent the area.  It didn’t resurface, so I know it wasn’t a sea bird.

La Conner has a museum of Northwestern art, and a wonderful quilt and textiles museum.  We had a great time exploring the quilt museum, especially since one of my friends had three quilts in the exhibition.  These aren’t traditional patterns and bed quilts – these are art quilt, innovative projects that use fiber arts and some traditional patterns in new and different ways.  So one quilt was a sea anemone, layers of sheer fabric swirling and swaying in the dark underwater currents.  Another was a depiction of nudibranchs, which are sea snails that do not have shells but are very decorative.  And the third was a single oyster shell, giant-sized, complete with three-dimensional barnacles growing off the back.  Who would have thought of creating a fabric oyster shell?  Well obviously a former marine biologist turned fabric artist. 

I don’t have any photos of her work, but here's her portfolio website:  
And check out the La Conner Quilt Museum, it really is a wonderful place to visit in a very charming little town.

Plus the museum is up a long hill, and has three floors.  Quite a test for my new knee, which held up beautifully.

Richard has been wanting to visit Peace Arch Park, twenty-two miles north of Bellingham, so we waited for a beautiful warm day and headed up for a picnic and walk around the park.

Peace Arch Park is located right on the border between the USA and Canada.  There are exits on each side of the border for parking lots, and lovely park areas with picnic tables.  We just brought food from the supermarket, and sat in the sun enjoying the view of the bay.  This is where I-5, the US highway that is part of the Pan-American Highway, becomes Highway 99, the Canadian arm of the Pan-American.  (Readers might remember that we drove Ruta 5, the Chilean branch of the Pan-Americana, which ends on the island of Chiloe.  We thought it was fun that the US and Chilean highways had the same number.)

The USA-Canada border here is on the 49th parallel, and runs right through the center of the park.  In fact, it runs horizontally through the Peace Arch, which was built straddling the border.  The southern edge of the park is adjacent to the US Customs and Immigration booths for people entering the US; the northern edge of the park lines up with the Canadian Customs and Immigration.

I’m not sure when the arch was built, but there was a sign about the friendly border from 1814 to 1914, so I’m guessing 1914 was the official date.  (Now that I'm in Dallas, I looked it up - the park was dedicated in 1921.)  The south opening of the arch is in the US, and you can walk through the arch, maybe ten feet ahead, and walk out into Canada.  Really.  Of course, there are Customs officials keeping an eye on people walking through and trying to enter the two countries, especially given current world politics.  But it’s a very friendly border.

The last time I walked around Peace Arch Park was some time in the early autumn of 1971.  There was an anti-bomb rally at the park, and two friends and I convinced our teachers that it would be educational for us to attend the rally.  What can I say, we were high school seniors, it was the early 70s, we were good students, and protesting bombs and marching for peace was de rigueur.  All I remember is that the rally was protesting the test of anti-ballistic missiles by blowing up a five megaton bomb on an island in the Aleutian chain; I think the island itself was Amchitka.  No one knew if it would cause earthquakes, or tsunamis, or kill a whole lot of sea animals.  Fortunately, there were no earthquakes or tsunamis, but sea otters, sea lions, and seals were definitely killed during the explosion of the bomb.

It was a peaceful protest, despite the subject which was being protested.  And we all learned more about civil disobedience in action than we did in any classroom.  Even in English class, where we read Thoreau.  As I said, it was our own little educational field trip, sanctioned by our school principal and all of our teachers.  (I really do love the fact that we were rebels enough to attend the protest, but nerdy enough to get permission to do so.  Plus that our principal and teachers were open-minded enough to understand the benefits of spending our school day at the protest.  It was a special time, the early 70s.)

So Richard and I sat on the lower ledge forming a bench around the arch, Richard sitting in the US, me in Canada, and we shared stories of our protest days.  We’ve both heard most of each others’ stories by now, but it seemed appropriate to talk about peace while sitting on the arch that commemorates the same.

There are all kinds of sculptures in the park, most based on the theme of peace.  My favorite was the metal origami crane, a Japanese symbol of peace, created by Shirley Erickson of Bellingham.  The crane is caged, or maybe trying to escape, I’m not sure.  Leads one to esoteric and philosophical thoughts:  Is it necessary to keep peace caged, to ensure it does not fly away?  Or does caging peace, keeping it chained to one location, restrict peace from settling over the land and spreading outward?  Can we keep peace at all?  Or is peace too fleeting to restrain it?  Maybe, if we encage peace, the message is that we have to nurture it, care for it, keep it fed and growing, in order to keep peace alive.

I know, esoteric.  Mysterious.  Or in the parlance of 1971, far out.  But Peace Arch Park is that kind of place, peaceful and thoughtful, thought-provoking, causing us to wonder about the more universal aspects of the message here.

There are lovely Japanese gardens as well, with an arched bridge, hanging willows, and a water lily pond.  Dahlia gardens, full of brilliant flowers enjoying the last days of summer.  Specialty hybrid roses in unusual colors and with crazy names:  the deep purple is named Twilight, and the yellow and red rose is labelled Ketchup and Mustard.  Gorgeous rose but quite the silly name.

We spent the afternoon soaking up the sunshine along with the flowers, and enjoying the peaceful setting.  Having come of age in the era of the peace movement and the flower children, it really was a meaningful and moving experience for both of us.

So, onward.  After days of trying to book tickets to our next destination, and encountering problem after problem, I finally called the airline where we have membership accounts.  Oh, you’d like to use your miles for award tickets?  To where?  Oh, only twelve time zones away, halfway around the world.  Well that certainly sounds like fun.  So we cashed in all of our miles and got our tickets.  This was on Monday, 1 October.  Our trip began on 7 October, when we flew out of Bellingham to overnight in Seattle.  Yes, that was included in our award travel.

But that meant six days of laundry, sorting, culling, and repacking.  Packing what we think we need for the next ten or so months.  Packing away for storage all the items that tend to accumulate when one stays in one place for four months – extra sweaters and socks for the cold weather, a large mug for heating soup in the hotel room microwave.  Important stuff.  Plus donating clothing that no longer fits or works for us or whatever.  I tried a different configuration of packing cubes, and thought about whether it was working or not.  And then repacked at midnight.  Yeah, I’m a little compulsive that way.  But once the initial packing is done, and everything fits, then repacking is just SO much easier!  (And we repack quite often.)

Oh, and just because life isn’t exciting enough – the day we left Bellingham, I went to download a book to my kindle.  Took it out of my pack and found that the screen was fried.  Spent time with the tech help people at Amazon, and the most likely reason is that my pack was overstuffed and the pressure somehow killed the screen.  (I have extra stuff – our flight covers three days, so that means minimal toiletries and a change of clothing or two, things I don’t normally have in my carryon.)

My brother met us at the rental car return, and took the items for storage.  He and his new wife (ON HER BIRTHDAY!  Happy birthday, Lisa!) took us to a store so I could buy a new kindle, which of course didn’t fit my cover so I had to buy that as well.  An unexpected expense, but, well, I can’t imagine a 14 hour flight without something to read.  Or even travelling anywhere without my kindle, which holds some 1500 or so books.  What can I say, I’m an avid reader.  Anyway, just a minor crisis that was fixed easily if not a bit expensively.

So we are currently in the air as I type, flying over the Rocky Mountains of Colorado (according to my interactive flight map).  Snow-capped mountains with crop circles in the valleys.  We’re on our way to Dallas, where we have a few hours to stretch and walk around, and where hopefully I find fast enough free wifi to post this blog.

Then this evening, we board Qatar Airline, heading to a short layover in Doha, the capital of Qatar.  The timing is such that we probably won’t leave the airport – we arrive in the evening and then fly onward at something like 2 AM.  Not the best time to go exploring a new place.  But again, time to stretch and walk and most likely play on that wonderful free wifi.

We arrive Tuesday at our final destination.  No names yet, I like the surprise.  But a teaser hint:  our destination city claims to be the world’s smallest capital.  We’re not staying in the city, but I’m sure we’ll visit.

Thus begins our sixth year of Rolling Luggager life!