Tasting Fruit Paradise in the Seychelles
Filed under Traveling in the Raw by Frederic Patenaude
I just came back from the Seychelles, an archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. If you’ve never heard of this group of islands, don’t worry! Most people haven’t either. After all, they were the very last group of islands to be colonized by humans in the entire world.
About 80,000 people live in the Seychelles, and even though there are over 100 islands, most of them are uninhabited, with 90% of the population living on the main island of Mahé.
Why did I decide to go to the Seychelles?
For me, it has always represented the ultimate inaccessible, perfect tropical paradise.
Pictures of the Seychelles have been featured all over the world for their amazing beaches, strange rock formations, and the famous and elusive “Coco de Mer”, a type of coconut only found in the Seychelles, which strangely looks like the body of a beautiful naked woman.
When I decided to plan my trip around the world, I knew I had to stop by the Seychelles.
I arrived on Mahé International Airport, after flying from Cairo in Egypt to the tiny arab state of Qatar, where we had our connecting flight to the Seychelles.
We only stayed a week in this beautiful tropical paradise, and I was lucky to have found a very good deal on an apartment rental with a kitchen on the main island of Mahé. Most people who visit the Seychelles tend to only go to a private resort, with meals all included. Because of my diet mainly fruits I did not want to even consider that option!
October is not the high season in the Seychelles, so we enjoyed great weather and very few tourists.
When I first arrived in Mahé, I was stunned by the particular look of the island. It’s really beautiful from the moment you arrive, although it was nothing in comparison to what we would see next.
The inhabitants of the Seychelles are of African descent, and speak a creole based on French. I could not understand much of what they were saying, although I could catch a word here and there. Luckily, almost everybody spoke both French and English, so I always spoke to them in French.
At first, the locals seemed quite cold and reserved, if not downright depressed, which seemed curious for people living on such a beautiful place. They certainly didn’t have the famous hospitality and exuberant amicability that most African people normally display.
I could not understand why everybody looked so annoyed and blasé all the time. Was it that they didn’t like tourists? Was it that they thought their lives were so terrible? Were they bored to death on these islands?
The guidebooks said that the locals may seem indifferent at first, and open up after you get to know them. After spending a week in the Seychelles, I certainly got past my first impression and found some wonderful, warm and gentle people. Although it still seemed as though they are not by nature overtly hospitable (at least to tourists).
Digging a little deeper into the history of the Seychelles, I found an incredible saga of colonialism, Soviet-backed Socialist revolution that went sour, independence and corruption. Although it’s one of the richest countries in Africa per capita, it’s also one of the most indebted.
Apparently, the socialist days completely destroyed any entrepreneurial spirit in the country, and led to a large “brain drain” which the country is now trying to recover from. Coming to terms with its past, the Seychelles is trying to find a positive path for its future.
A First Taste of Paradise in Mahé
Mahé is a very small island, compared to the Hawaiian islands, for example. You can rent a car and drive around in a couple of hours, or less! In fact, I rented a car just to do that and for the first time, I drove on the left side of the road. It was very scary and weird for a few hours, and then I gradually got used to it.
The view from our apartment was just amazing. In fact, I kept thinking that it was so beautiful, I wish I could eat it! For that reason, we didn’t feel compelled to go very far.
The place we stayed at is a large project called Eden Island, a few kilometers from the main town Victoria. It’s not quite a gated community, but feels a bit like one, without the non-sense of gates and paranoia. There’s acres upon acres of land where developers from South Africa have built apartments and houses, all based on a similar designed and all around a marina.
On the entire complex, you get around using electric golf carts, so there’s literally no noise. Anyone can buy property, and when you do you can qualify for residency in the Seychelles as well.
The Eden project is quite important for the Seychelles, so much that it contributed to almost 4% of the country’s GDP last year!
I found that the owners of Eden Island were quite involved in the Seychelles community, and are not just out there to exploit an island nation and make a profit. They employ a lot of local people, donate trashcans all over the city to make it neater and cleaner, and seem to care about making an important contribution to the country.
In any case, we were quite lucky to have been able to rent one of these apartments.
When we finally motivated ourselves to leave our little paradise at Eden Island, we headed towards Beau Vallon, the most popular beach on Mahé.
What I discovered there was definitely one of the most beautiful white sand beaches I had ever seen in my life, but still not the stunning picture of the Seychelles I had seen in books and magazines, the ones with the strange rock formations and the coco de mer. I was still wondering where would I find that?
Foods in the Seychelles
Of course, my main concern upon arriving to the Seychelles was to see what fruits I could get. And the best place to do that is on Victoria’s main market, which is open every day except Sunday.
By the way, when you hear that Victoria is the capital of the Seychelles, don’t imagine anything big. Only 23,000 live there, so it’s only a few streets! The main reference point in the city is a miniature clock that looks like the Big Ben Clock in London… but very, very small! It’s apparently a reminder of their past ties with Great Britain.
The market in Victoria is not the best I have found in the world, but it’s pretty good for an island.
We went there every day, and the food selection varied from day to day, so it seems like you did not know what to expect. But here’s what I was able to find when I was there:
Bananas — of course, they were everywhere. But forget about the big Cavendish bananas we get in America. The Seychelles sold small bananas of all kinds, as well as relatively big red bananas, which were the best.
Papayas — Papayas were a staple while we were there. They were quite sweet and delicious.
Mangoes — The mangoes were terrible, to be honest. They were sold quite hard, and every day the vendors kept selling the same mangoes, only a little riper. When they finally ripened, they were sour and disgusting! We bought 4 different varieties too. Maybe it was simply not the season?
Pineapple and Watermelon — For some reason, these fruits were very expensive. A medium-sized watermelon sold for $25, and a pineapple for $10. We passed!
Coeur de Boeuf – This was my best fruit discovery of the Seychelles. The name is French and literally means “Beef Heart” or more appropriately “Cow’s Heart”, because it’s red and maybe looks like one. However, it’s a relative of the cherimoya, but with an even creamier and finer taste. We fell in love with it instantly.
Sapote — That’s how they called it there, but the fruit was actually canistel or “eggfruit”, and it was the best I ever had in my life. Eggfruit has the look and consistency of hard boiled egg yolk (inside the peel), but is sweet and creamy, and fat-free! Too bad we only found it one day at the market.
Star Fruit — Star Fruit, or Carambola, was the best I ever had in the Seychelles. It was the sweet variety, not the sour acidic one we buy in North America. It was chewy and aromatic… slightly sweet and just perfect! Just like eating a crisp apple.
Jackfruit — I didn’t find jackfruit on the main island, but found it in abundance on the island of Praslin. Definitely some of the best I’ve had!
As for the vegetables, the Seychelles was quite limited in variety, but you could find the usual tomatoes and cucumbers and lettuce and for some reason at least 3 different varieties of eggplant.
Overall, considering the geographic isolation of the place, there was quite a lot of locally-grown food, and I suspect there is more to be found from season to season.
The prices were reasonable (except for pineapple and watermelon) —definitely not as high as many other South Pacific islands, and probably even a little cheaper than Hawaii, but not nearly as cheap as South-East Asia.
Check out this video I made on the fruit market in the Seychelles
Also check out this video of the fruits of the Seychelles (taken from the kitchen!):
The Actual Paradise Island: Praslin
From Mahé you can take a ferry to go to the islands of Praslin and La Digue. To go to any other island is prohibitively expensive. But even the ferry to Praslin is not cheap if you’re not a resident of the Seychelles.
Praslin is a smaller island a few kilometers from Mahé. When we got there, we rented a car for the day and went around the island several times in the same day!
We first headed to the beach of Anse Lazio, where we discovered the ULTIMATE beach in the Seychelles, and it was not even that crowded with tourists. This was finally the beach I had dreamed about when I first heard about the Seychelles.
Because a picture is worth a thousand words, check out the video below:
Anywhere on Praslin, one could just stop on the side of the road and step onto a deserted, beautiful tropical beach. And from what we heard, the beaches on the next island of La Digue are even better and less crowded.
The only downside to Praslin is that there is truly nothing there. You can go to a restaurant and order an $18 salad, and the supermarkets have almost no edible food available. However, a street vendor was selling fresh jackfruit and starfruits from his garden, so after buying one big jackfruit I was set for the day.
On Praslin, we visited the Vallée de Mai, a nature reserve where you can see Coco de Mer growing wild, as well as lots of jackfruit trees, and not much else. For 20 euros, we expected something better… Of course, residents can go there for free. (It was like that for everything: tourists pay very high fares while residents get it for almost nothing).
The Coco de Mer
What’s the big deal about the Coco de Mer? Well, it’s the only fruit that looks like a naked body. So naturally, there’s always been a lot of legends and excitement surrounding it.
The Coco de Mer are truly gigantic. They’re about three times the size of a regular coconut, and the tree is immense. They’re also only found in the Seychelles.
So you’d think that such a tree would be everywhere, when in fact the Coco de Mer is more like the museum attraction of the Seychelles. We only saw it at the Botanical Garden on Mahé, and the Vallee de Mai on Praslin. Otherwise, the Coco de Mer is nowhere to be found.
There’s even a law that prevents anyone from buying or drinking one of these coconuts. You can only bring one back home if you buy the government-sponsored dry husk for about 150 euros!
When Paradise Isn’t Quite Paradise
There’s no doubt that the Seychelles are truly beautiful and are the quintessential image of the tropical island paradise. However, once you go past the look, you have to think about the following:
* The locals live on fish and fried vegetables. They don’t care so much for fruit, and neither do the tourists that visit. Therefore, although there’s a good amount of fruit available, it’s nowhere close to what would be necessary to call it a “paradise on Earth”, at least according to my standards.
* The variety and availability of “stuff” on the islands is very limited. I would not imagine that this would be a perfect place to relocate for a raw foodist (without talking about the fact that the Internet is painfully slow, think dial-up).
* The politics of the islands are rather unstable. Although I wouldn’t be afraid of living there (it’s a very safe place overall), I question that the government is taking the necessary steps to ensure the future prosperity of the Seychelles.
The Seychelles is certainly a very unique and beautiful place. One week there was not enough to see everything, and I think the minimum to have a good experience there you would need about two or three weeks.
It’s not a cheap place, and your biggest cost will be finding a reasonable place to stay, while avoiding all-inclusive resorts. But overall, the cost of living is not that much higher than it is in Europe.
To get there, the most affordable flights seem to be from Qatar, so flying there from Europe will prove to be a good plan.
For a raw-foodist, the best place to be is near Victoria, so you can go to the fruit market. From there, you can take ferries to explore the other islands on day or weekend trips.
As a place to live or stay long-term… I wouldn’t say it’s a good choice. Hawaii certainly has MUCH more to offer for a raw-foodist and people accustomed to the North American lifestyle in general.
But when I was on that beach in Praslin, thinking to myself that this was the prettiest place I’ve seen on Earth, I wondered what it would be like to live there, or maybe spend a month there to write a book. Who doesn’t like to dream about paradise? Maybe one day…