We’re a couple of months into our time here now and, inevitably, our daily and weekly routines are becoming more established. We’re starting to become familiar with the locations, people and nuances of our local area and, so far, we’re feeling very positive about life in general. As we get more comfortable in the heat and new surroundings, we’re finding ourselves becoming more adventurous (both in terms of exploring and the parenting side of things). As little J is getting older, we’re becoming less convinced that we’re going to kill the child (or each other) by leaving a temperature controlled habitat or a carefully choreographed parenting routine. The first target on our hit-list was the hill that overlooks our house (and, helpfully, provides us with something of a weathervane; our relative ability to see the top indicating the likelihood of some sporadic relief rainfall).
Unbeknownst to us before we bought them, H and I had each picked up the same pair of sandals for the odd bit of walking in the heat and we thought this might be the first opportunity to accidentally be that couple with his and hers shoes. Fortunately for our meagre reputation, the company providing them had helpfully shipped H two different sized shoes so our good name remains untarnished (in that sense, at least). To their credit, and against all of my expectation, they did offer a refund despite our inability to return the odd mixture.
Feet suitably attired, we set out to conquer Dans Gallas. She’s not the biggest of peaks for seasoned walkers like ourselves, at a piddly 556m (that’s about 100m less than the gargantuan Old Man of Coniston, Frankie), but to those of us who have only been exposed to the lofty temperatures of an Irish autumn, heading out onto the hill was a brave step into the unknown. With no intention of summiting in the short amount of time we had alloted to dip our toes into the Seychelles hiking scene with a toddler in a carrier, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the top in no time at all (and still maintaining an OK hydration level). The good news, too, was that little J had not forgotten the fun that was had being carried up Diamond Hill in Connemara last year and a visibly happy toddler was to be seen (and heard) throughout the trip, especially charming us with repeated exclaims of “wow” at the summit view.
It didn’t take me long to conclude that I am going to very much enjoy hiking here for several great reasons: there are trails marked and mapped out with different abilities/times in mind BUT they’re by no means paved walkways taming the whole idea of a hike in the wild, the weather is either going to be gorgeously sunny or refreshingly cool rain, the views are always going to be exquisite and the distance to travel to each walk is going to be far less than the 6 hours it used to take to reach the Lake District. Over 70% of the island is still primary rainforest (a ratio I highly approve of) so there’s plenty of space to get lost in yet! All in all, the whole experience was a great success and was only improved by visits to the local bakery (where a sort-of doughnut with an apricot-y jam bit can be picked up for the very addictive price of a few rupees) and then the beach by way of a reward. As you’ll soon see that it wasn’t the only hike to be had in recent weeks.
We’ve also been endeavouring to try out new beaches beyond the nearby 3 we frequent most and we’ll update on that separately. The handy thing about our local beach, though, (apart from the distance for cooling down after a hot, hot hike) is that is has got a pizzeria attached to it that has become a little too regular lately. Perhaps it’s the view from the tables:
With a taste for the local walking scene, I was fortunate enough to jump on another short nearby walk, this time far less used or maintained walks; one of the ‘look for a bit of paint on a rock while you scramble’ kind. It was a large granite slab in the shadow of Mont Bernard that didn’t take long to get up but was equally rewarding with its view nonetheless.
When I mentally combine the accessibility of great walking with the daily beach trips, the abundance of local fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood, the helpful and friendly community, the weather and so many other factors that have made our initiation here so positive, it’s clear that a (physically and mentally) very healthy lifestyle is a big draw to this island. Inevitably, we all question major life decisions (especially ones that involve taking your child away from old friends and family in Europe), but we have to admit (and remind ourselves) that the quality of life that this place offers the little’un (and us) would be very hard to top elsewhere (especially right now, as the world tries to piece itself back together). As parents, this is going to be our priority, but it also allows us to feel much better about the decision that we’ve made.
In the interests of fairness, it hasn’t all been gravy: H’s foot came off much worse in her argument with a sea urchin that has resulted in many hours of foot-soaking and tweezer work. Similarly, I’ve ended up coming out in a large and very itchy rash for a few days that, we are reliably informed, results from proximity to the local hairy caterpillars. These are things that could very easily taint a short trip here and won’t be mentioned in brochures, but I guess are inevitable risks that come with moving to the tropics. At least the giant crocodilians are no longer here (a story for another time) and the poisonous snakes and spiders of mainland Africa never made it to these volcanic outposts. Really, we’ve not much to complain about and plenty to be thankful for. As ever, the blog serves its purpose in reminding us of this.
As it has been some 5 weeks since my last update you can assume that ‘work’, our initial catalyst for both of our island relocations, has begun in earnest (that, and I always knew that Pen Going East would be less comprehensive than its southern counterpart due to the change in our parenthood status). I do my best to leave my professional life out of the blog for a host of reasons (contractual obligations, child safeguarding/confidentiality, personal preference and audience consideration) but the work/life balance does creep in at times as a factor in our story. It will inevitably impact the frequency of blog updates as my think-too-much approach to everything in life tips the balance off by some way.
Here in Seychelles (the Seychellois people often seem to drop the ‘The’ from The Seychelles but I haven’t queried the correct usage yet), there seems, like many small islands, to be a much more considerate lifestyle when it comes to work. This isn’t to say that people don’t work hard here, but if you drive out of work at 4pm (most people’s clock-off time, I’m told) the roads are noticeably busier than at 5. Similarly, attempt to get hold of anyone in a customer services/advisory role in either the public or private sector outside of standard hours (or at lunchtime) and you are living in the wrong city, my friend. Frankly, that’s just how it should be. The proliferation of the unspoken, unpaid overtime expectation in so many sectors in so many countries is a hard feature to undo once it has crept in. Obviously, education can only aspire to the idea of fixed hours, but while I may not benefit from (and am often inconvenienced by) the lifestyle balance that others have, I still wholeheartedly agree with the principle of it and the impact it has on society.
I know that I will never avoid working at home in the evenings and weekends, but now that I have different priorities in life (namely: little J) I am determined to try to bring a healthier work-life balance into my career. My hope is that more happiness and less fatigue will also reflect positively on my professional outcomes. Time will tell whether that proves true, but it’s what I’m telling myself for now and it means I get to go to the beach every once in a while so I like the message from that part of my brain. Where not so long ago, our daily/weekly/monthly routines (they were the same thing) saw little variation in activity, people or surroundings (as dictated by ongoing lockdown laws), we’re having to adjust to the idea of being able to do other things, go other places and see other people. H astonished me just this week by announcing that she was annoyed not to get a swim in that day as it was the first day since we arrived that she hadn’t. While I was both enviable and amazed by this matter-of-fact statement, it was also reassuring to know that the decision to take the job and move was justified by sentences like that.
The handy location of our house and the near-constant sunshine does make beach trips ludicrously regular. We were also given a very thoughtful pair of snorkel masks as a gift (thanks Scott!) which have proven their worth on many an occasion. I wasn’t sure how well they’d work but the waters here are unbelievable and I’m very glad we have them. We don’t regret much about our move yet, but our lack of foresight over the wonders of what lay beneath the water has left us wondering if an underwater camera would have been a smarter move than the DSLR we’ve yet to take out. The ‘phone in a bag’ solution has mixed and nerve-wracking results:
As with all international moves, there have been a few things to get used to. For example, there is life everywhere! Lizards and bugs of all kinds are a constant everywhere you go! I’ve never had a lizard interrupt a lesson by running into a student’s bag before, so that was a novel first week memory. Ants, geckos, centipedes, beetles, flying cockroaches and all kinds of other creatures just seem to be everywhere, which is bringing joy to little J (and, admittedly, much less to H).
As a Brit, I feel the need to mention the weather: the tropical storms seem to bring about as much rain as Ireland suffers but here it dumps it in the space of 20 minutes instead of ruining an entire week’s worth of activities (again, getting it the right way around). I’ve never seen anything like it. On Sunday, 25mm of rain fell during the day. To put that in perspective, I looked it up and England had around 20mm of rain in April. The whole month. It’s impressive.
We’re also adjusting to some lifestyle changes the likes of which we’ve not had for quite a few years. We are gorging on fruit and veg, for example. It’s so hot here that everything seems to grow. J has no idea how lucky he is: eating fresh papaya, bananas, mango, passion fruit etc every single day. People sell it on little stalls on the roadside, so we nip to the beach and stop off at a stand or two. In one trip we came back into the house with fresh passion fruit, bananas, soursop, custard apple, avocado, papaya, star fruit and golden apples (which aren’t apples, by the way). It’s unbelievable and 5 years with limited access to fresh fruit has left us highly appreciative. This theme of being starved of something increasing the pleasure we derive from it has continued on other fronts too. After a mid-week yoga session a while back, for example, H went to the pub for a drink. It was the first time in over a year and she returned like she’d been to Disneyland. She’s not an alcoholic, I should add; it was just so novel.
Although it’s been over a month, we’re still adjusting to meeting new people all the time and it’s great to hear everyone’s stories. For example, we recently met a couple whose usual residence is London but they are currently working from home and have decided to do so from here (the genius of which naturally begs the question why anyone is still working from home in the UK).
We’ve had the time now to have a few trips into Victoria, the capital, which I’ll cover in more depth in its own post. Suffice to say that it’s a charming, fascinating little city with real character. We got a taste of its past when we discovered that the main junction in town is a miniature replica of the Queen Elizabeth Tower (or Big Ben, as it is incorrectly known). We’ve now, I think, covered all of the admin stuff that comes with moving and it brings me great joy to say that. Having lost 4 hours of my life there, I have vowed never to visit the bank again (to be fair to them, that was 4 hours across two separate, very complex trips: one to open an account, the other to collect my card).
In other developments, we’ve bought a car! This might sound quite run of the mill, but all drivers know that a car can seriously alter your experience of a place. There is a huge import tax on cars here and the winding mountain roads, tight corners and short distances mean small cars are de rigueur. Most people here seem to drive Hyundai i10s, Kia Picantos or Daihatsu Scirions (other cars are also seen as it pays to keep them running as long as possible: it’s not like dead cars can leave the islands). We found a little 989cc Daihatsu Charade (a youthful 2005 model) with a good history and we hope it lasts us a few more years. It’s a big step-down from the two Pajero 4x4s with a combined 6 litre engine capacity that we were running, but its surprisingly nippy for its engine size and I’m becoming quite taken with the little terrier. While we were viewing the cars, we heard a familiar noise and were pleased to see more giant tortoises being looked after at the same place, giving little J something to keep him occupied while we checked the AC (crucial for us here, of course).
Mostly, though, the last few weeks have been spent establishing our daily routines, including H & J enjoying daily trips to the beaches here as much as possible and pinching ourselves that we get to live somewhere so casually beautiful. Every beach here is just picture-perfect and H’s phone is just filling with daily pictures like the ones below (I believe ‘NoFilter’ is the correct…ahem…’hashtag’ used by young’uns in this situation). It’s giving little J one hell of an experience to enjoy and the excitement we see from mention of the beach is both reassuring and heart-warming in equal measure. I worry that some day the novelty may wear off and we’ll become complacent about how lucky we are, but I hope the blog will help remind us of this. Margate just ain’t going to cut it any more.
Covid19 Post(erity)Script: When last you heard from us, the Seychelles were opening up their borders and allowing tourists free roam on the back of the highest per capita vaccination numbers in the world. While many might have expected to see herd immunity reached and the country pioneering the ‘return to normal’, panicked headlines around the world declared that the country was seeing a worse crisis than India (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/05/06/seychelles-vaccines-covid-cases/) and the world was looking on. Some might say ‘well obviously, the tourists are coming in’ but the cases have been mostly among the local people. So it is true that the island has become something of an experiment for vaccination efficacy and social measures but the numbers, as always, don’t tell the full story.
Per capita Covid cases are higher here than elsewhere, yes, and the government has closed schools for 3 weeks. The situation, however, is perhaps hinted at by the fact that pubs and restaurants are still open (until 7pm, Covid never leaves until last orders). The official government response is ‘though infections have risen recently, thanks to the island nation’s vaccination programme which was rolled out in January, people are not seriously ill and the health system is not under pressure’: http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/14799/Official+COVID+situation+in+Seychelles+is+manageable and, this time, I’m inclined to believe them. Government statistics are limited in their scope and usefulness, but what has become clear is that the vast majority of the people testing positive (80%) were/are from the small percentage not vaccinated and, of those testing positive with vaccines, hardly anyone is getting any real symptoms. In small communities, percentages and per capita figures can easily sound more shocking than they are.
Our anecdotal view, from the ground, is that we’ve reached the point where everyone we know is fully vaccinated and everyone they know is fully vaccinated so, put simply, people let things slip (all the way back to pre-Covid times). In some ways, the recent spread is perhaps a result of the newfound confidence that citizens have in the government’s campaign and ‘open up’ subtext. Clearly, there are still a few people left to vaccinate (and soon we would hope that number will be near 0) but my hunch would be that this is a statistical anomaly caused by the increased socialising, increased testing/contact tracing and decreased anxiety over Covid19. So far, no-one here seems worried and neither are we. As vaccination numbers increase and governments open social businesses and borders, it becomes harder and harder for the ‘stay at home, don’t mix, take it seriously’ message to hold sway with people, so I suspect we’ll see similar blips in other test cases like Israel and the UK. That’s my hunch, anyway. As always, the message is: don’t believe everything (anything?) you read in the headlines.
If you’re wondering what’s going on, we’re still alive, we’re doing fine, life is good but something (perhaps the slow internet here) is making it incredibly difficult to upload photos to the blog so posting has taken a back seat while we figure that out. We hope to resume normal service as soon as we can figure out what’s going on and how we can continue the blog without spending valuable beach time fiddling with bouncing files around or watching a timer rotate (before inevitably producing an error message). With a blog-appropriate saying: we’ll keep you posted.
After a little confusion surrounding our PCR results, all was sorted and we were formally released from quarantine to be allowed to go to our house. The rules have now changed so that you can quarantine in private accommodation but this was too late to affect us. If you’re a tourist, you don’t need to quarantine at all. I don’t know, either. Most of this is old news already, as cases are falling here, the vaccination programme has run smoothly (myself now included) and bars, cinemas etc are due to open next week. No matter, we’re out now and into our charming house.
For various reasons that very close friends and family will know about, we’ve spent successive periods of time in different states of limbo, uncertain of outcomes and waiting on progress. To be able to unpack our bags and start the familiar process of home-making in a house that is both ours and home for a confirmed amount of time is a very novel and therapeutic experience. Anyone with a toddler will know that they are particularly helpful during such a process and even more so after a week in a two-room apartment. To make things even more homely, thanks to an on-island contact that a colleague had, our shipping left Ireland after we did but arrived at our house at the same time so we’re able to truly settle in.
The houses here vary a great deal, from tourist apartments blocks to VERY fancy private mansions through to traditional Seychellois wooden homes. Part of me was hoping to be assigned a rustic, traditional house for a more authentic island experience, but the practical part of me is glad that we’ve ended up with a charming 1970s-style bungalow with a garden and air conditioning. I was amazed to find that, no matter what the rest of the decor was like (and, like all remote islands, furnishing can be basic in some places) solid granite work surfaces seemed to be standard here. Then I remembered that most of the islands are granite and it’s fairly readily available. Our house is now more of a home, we’ve figured out how to make the ceiling fans (absent from our quarantine apartment) rotate at a speed just shy of helicopter take-off and we’re well and truly settling in, coping with the heat by sitting in our self-contained gale.
The house brings with it some of those little nuances that I do want to record as I feel that they’re the kinds of things that are perfectly normal to so many here and so could easily be forgotten as mundane further down the line. For example, our house has no address. Not even on the lease. Quite a few streets have no names and no numbers are consequently put on the houses. This, as you can imagine, has caused a few problems when having to list your address on paperwork or if people ask where you live. It’s especially frustrating when you’re completely new to the area and don’t know the roads/landmarks/best ways to describe places. I don’t understand why there is no address, I don’t know how it has been allowed to continue like this and I do wish it had one. It’s not like a small area or tiny hamlet: there are over 77.000 people on this island. We’re in a popular area: 4,300 people live in this district alone. Not having a street name is something very easily remedied in a Planning Office and it’s not usually something people object to. In fact, it can be quite nice to name them after local heroes or people of note. I had thought that perhaps there’s another solution often used, like the ingenious What3Words. No. You just have no address. I can’t yet describe our location as we’ve not learnt the road system well enough so I remain quite useless. All that being said, it does make a memorable addition to the experience and I know I’ll look back on this fondly.
Other ‘household’ things that differ from the way we grew up in Western Europe include:
Getting quite used to discovering that the thing rustling around or charging out from the door you’ve just opened is a sweet little gecko type lizard. I know they’re all over the world, but I like them and I like their presence in the house.
There’s no bin collections here, so you have to run them to a local giant bin. They do follow the beer-bottle returns policy much loved by mainland Europe, where you get money back for returning the glass bottles. I love the system; never understood why the UK didn’t do it. Win win.
There’s a gas canister under the kitchen sink for the oven as there’s no mains gas (fair enough). The only downside of this can be that, if you don’t buy a spare, you discover you’ve run out of gas to cook with by…running out of gas while cooking.
We’ve had to hang mosquito nets over the bed. The Seychellois tell us they’re not really bothered by the mosquitoes after so long here, but we’re fresh meat and being taken full advantage of. There’s thankfully no malaria here but there is dengue fever. It’s still rare and not often fatal but there’s no real treatment so you have the unenviable medical options of ‘sit it out for a week’ or ‘sit it out for maybe longer than a week’.
We have burglar bars on the windows. Crime against the person is very rare in the Seychelles and we feel very safe here, but the previously mentioned heroine situation does, apparently, lead to an issue with petty theft. This provokes the reaction of burglar bars. I’m not sure anyone aspires to live somewhere where bars on the windows are a social norm as, rightly or wrongly, it implies necessity and therefore insecurity. There is a stigma attached to it, too, I feel, but they’re quite discreet and, in many ways, reassuring as we’re needing to keep all of the windows open all the time and it’s nice to be able to forget about having to close up every single one all of the time.
I recognise that some of these differences aren’t that complimentary. To counter that: today I walked out of the back door, reached over and took a coconut off the tree (a coco rouge: the orange type), cracked it open and drank a whole bowl of the water it contained with the little one alongside me joyfully yelling “crack” while trying to mimic the local teens seen opening them for a drink the other day. Not a memory I’d have made ‘back home’.
There are fewer coconuts outside our house now. My wife had an encounter with a complete stranger who suddenly appeared holding a beer, a giant stick and a machete then proceeded to yell at her. In other circumstances, this might have been the start of a concerning crime report but, as it transpired, he was yelling that he was “just taking what God gave us”. This kind gentleman took some of the coconuts off the trees out the back, cut a few open to give to H and J and left after a brief chat, like some kind of off-season drunk tropical Santa.
Continuing the thread of beautiful memories being made here, our nearest beach is the lengthy Beau Vallon Beach, just 5 minutes’ walk from our house. With some time on our hands, we took a sweltering walk down there, had a swim and sat out on the beach (in the shade, obviously). It dawned on us that, in our haste to get to the cool-ish waters, we’d forgotten to bring a snack so I wandered down the beach, found a nice man with a machete (there seems to be a theme developing here, I might have to get one), bought some lovely papaya and passion fruit and wandered back. In my three decades (and a bit) on this planet I don’t think I’ve ever had a fresh passion fruit. As it turned out, I barely got a look in on this one: J horsed into it! By the time we got back to the house, we had 2 social callers back to back (one a very kind neighbour who happens to also be a colleague). Everyone we’ve encountered has been so helpful, friendly and welcoming and, after 9 months in strict Irish isolation, socialising is showing itself as a skill I think we need to relearn. It is, however, this kind of small-island communal joviality that serves to remind us why we took on this move and why island life can be so bonding.
As is almost always the case, I write this for our own posterity so I’ve gone into more detail than most modern-day (short) attention spans might survive. To aid readership, I’ve split this long ‘first island’ post into 4 parts (Paperations, Seats For Take-off Please, First Impressions and Quarantine Like No Other) that I know jump around in tense, pronouns and narrative persona (reflecting my haphazard chronicling process). So now you can skip to anything you might be vaguely interested in. I’ve added an explanation of the Covid19 situation here at the end as people keep asking. You’re welcome:
Contrary to the obvious reference, I named this post after a kind email I received from a helpful former resident here. It seemed appropriate to reflect on the kindness from Seychelles folk before we even set foot on the islands. Comparisons between our remote island experiences are inevitable, but one reason we loved small island life is the camaraderie it fosters. We were somewhat forced into a return to Ireland by events beyond our control and some of those same forces held us there long beyond the few months we had anticipated. Challenges breed resilience, however, and we resolved to see out this pandemic in style. We could easily have chosen to ‘sit it out’ in the comfort of someone else’s house, waiting to continue our lives on the other side but, as time went on, it became clear that the ‘other side’ we might have hoped for would be some way off, if it ever appears at all. We will forever be indebted to certain family members (they know who they are, and I am extremely conscious that it is a debt that only ever seems to grow) for the hospitality, kindness, generosity and company that made 2020 so very much easier on us than it could have been, but 2021 needed to be the year that this family struck out on its own.
I talked previously about the stresses of moving internationally during a global pandemic and our move was not without hindrance. We were expecting to have to quarantine but we also needed a ‘Gainful Occupation’ Permit, which is actually quite a nice thing to have. It’s nice to know that your work is officially considered ‘gainful’ to the country. I can’t say that that’s always been the case in my life. These had been put on hold, but mine eventually came through, so then a negative PCR test, quarantine bookings, a letter from your employer and all the usual travel details allow you to then apply for an HTA (Health Travel Authorisation), which you require to enter the country. The wise among you will have spotted that your negative PCR test (in our case, not guaranteed as we all contracted Covid earlier in the year and it can linger for months in the system) usually has to be taken 72 hours before the flight you need to have booked. Indeed it does! This leaves only a short window to get the required documents (helpfully not all listed before you begin the application process) so you can apply for approval to travel, then wait around nervously as you have done since the moment you booked your flights. Fear not, it is far easier for those travelling as tourists (and those who haven’t had the virus in their system recently).
Seats for Take-off Please:
We had already made four flights (two at a significant 18-hour length) with the little one before, so you might be thinking that we weren’t too concerned about the journey. There were some significant differences this time around, however, as on the previous journeys there was a) no chance of said child wanting to walk around at every opportunity and b) walking around was actually permitted. This meant we were half expecting a 13-hour flight (factoring in airport transfer and the new airport guidance: a 24 hour journey door-to-door) to be spent essentially restraining a child between hopeful naps. We did all the prep: we researched, we consulted parenting-guru-friends, we bought new toys and books, we talked to the wee one about what was coming. In the end, we needn’t have worried: after so many months confined to the same surroundings, the on-board entertainment occupied and excited beyond what we could have imagined. I don’t mean Emirates’ audio-visual entertainment system, of course. Oh no, not with a toddler! Nothing makes tray tables, window blinds, fellow passengers and meal trays as enthralling as a pandemic-child starved of novel surroundings. Never mind the fact that it was 1am, the Connections causeway in Dubai resonated to the sound of a young mischief thrillingly kicking legs in the pram and loudly exclaiming at the excitement of never-before-seen shops, ceilings, floors and people. And for the final flight? Well, no matter that it was the same model and specification of plane! Did you get a look at the action on these window blinds!?
I would have mocked at the time, but I think we were also in a similar, albeit less extreme, state of novelty-induced splendour. It seems that human beings enjoy seeing new things. Lucky that, considering what lies ahead.
I’m a historian and a researcher. I don’t blindly walk into many situations and, much as I like to think I can cope with the unforeseen when I need to, I prefer to know what I’m getting myself into. Read as much as you like about a place, but the reality will never exactly match it. Coming in to land, we finally saw the tropical greenery and the strikingly impressive granite landscape that we’d read about. It really is quite a combination to behold (more on that story later). So, too, is the heat/humidity combination. After 5 years in the South Atlantic, 4 winters in a row (due to poorly-timed inter-hemispherical migration) and what can only be described as a dismal excuse for (even) an Irish summer, we thought we were ready for some sun. It’s fair to say we are not. The average temperature/humidity in the Seychelles is approximately 28 degrees/80%. This doesn’t mean much written down. We knew it would be a contrast, but H’s native Irish complexion and my sun-starved (insert skin colour description here based on your level of knowledge about my heritage) concerned us from the off. I am conscious that large swathes of the global population simply grow up with this heat as ‘the weather’ but we are so profoundly unfamiliar with it that we end up second-guessing ourselves with everything: the air-con use, clothing, what to do with this warm rain (not only for us but for little J, too). I never thought there would be a learning curve this steep for something my birth country famously discusses hourly. Scorching ambience aside, the staggering beauty of these islands is mentioned by everyone who visits (without exception from what we have read). For my part, coming from where I do, I never thought I’d even get to visit an island like this in my lifetime, yet alone live on one for a protracted period of time. Even from the short drive we’ve had, the way that all the palm trees just casually exist here is almost surreal. They’re so iconic to tropical islands, seen in every book and photo; a staple of travel brochures everywhere! Yet you soon realise that they are just ‘the trees’ here, just everywhere like a sycamore or horse-chestnut in the garden. It’s a strange thing to even consider adjusting to and I can’t help but wonder how long before we start seeing them as ‘normal’.
We were met at the small Victoria airport by a kind (and fully vaccinated) pandemic-approved local gentleman, who proceeded to make us feel quite out of place just by loading the car. Naturally, coming from Ireland, we had flown in with a child’s car-seat only to find that people only have to wear a seatbelt here if you’re sitting in the front seat of the car. If you wish to explain the logic of this to me, please do, but after the hours we’d spent on car-seat reviews and tiptoeing around baggage policies to get the thing here, we plugged it in and used it anyway. We were driven a short drive to our apartment in a place called Anse Aux Pins (which we only located on a map on arrival). Here we spent our 7-day mandatory quarantine (free PCR test on day 5 for release as soon as results are in, though that guidance changes weekly, as it did for us a few days before we flew).
Quarantine Like No Other:
Our experience so far has been reduced to a tiny fraction of what it might have been 18 months ago, as we are not supposed to leave our quarantine facility. Even still, our ignorance has been plainly highlighted. It reminds me of something that I recall noticing from watching the lovable Bruce Parry’s programme ‘Tribe’ (no, I’m not about to draw comparison: he went to live with remote, little-contacted indigenous tribes and we’ve moved to a tropical high-end tourist location with daily flights). Every time Bruce (affable, well-travelled and dynamic as he was) went somewhere new his hosts swiftly reduced him to the status of a child. Watching in my youth, this seemed like something of an insult: to plainly class an adult guest as infantile. Now, as an adult that has moved to two new continents, I completely understand it!
Without having left our apartment location, I am unable to identify a single one of the birds that fly by, I can see fruits on plants that I couldn’t even guess at, there’s some kind of nest in our kitchen/living room and I can’t tell what it is for/from and, for two days in a row, we were awoken by a noise that I could only describe to friends as sounding like a fat man being loudly disappointed. On this particular gap in my knowledge, I don’t think I am much at fault: the sound of mating giant tortoises is not often heard in many places around the world, yet alone in the Home Counties.
When you move to another country (especially on a different continent) from the moment you step off the plane, you are infantile! Research what you will (and islands with limited connectivity won’t give up much), but on the ground things can be completely different. You won’t know a million different things that even the children might know: how real people greet each other, what is considered polite/rude, where to go to buy/get…almost anything, how you pay for everything from electricity to petrol (apparently, the pumps are usually manned here), what fashion faux pas’ exist (not that I’ve ever known anywhere else) and countless other daily norms that you wouldn’t even think about in your own country. It’s this kind of thing that makes international moves terrifying and exciting in equal measure.
We were anticipating spending quarantine in the house that my employer had lovingly arranged for us but, just before we left, the guidance changed and we were forced to spend our quarantine in an “approved quarantine facility” (read: local hospitality facility running short of tourists). Given the reliance on the tourism industry (read on for more detail), it is sensible to encourage some spending in the hospitality sector and we’re not unhappy about contributing in this way. Hastily arranged by the kind people on-island, we were EXTREMELY fortunate to be able to quarantine at a location with a private beach. Far from being cooped up worshipping the air-con like a shrine (there has been a little bit of that), we’ve been able to spend our early mornings and late afternoons (the day-time is just too much, for now) on a private beach without interacting with anyone at all. The usual yearn to explore is there, but quarantine alone threw up quite a few oddities that we simply didn’t expect: the unusual plants/animals, the pen of giant tortoises, the sight of fruit bats flying overhead, little J stopping hermit crabs on their walks before putting them back to start them off again. Children (usually) reflect their parents and the lifestyle they have: our one imitates farm animals, yes, but also adds penguin noises and tortoises into the mix now, as well as points at the sky in the evening and yells “bat”.
I didn’t grow up like that, but I’m reassured by some of our decisions when I see behaviour like that in an innocent. If you’re ever wondering if travel is good for your children, my testament is: yes. Unequivocally, yes.
Appendix: The Covid Report
Inevitably, some of you will be wondering about the Covid19 situation here. When I was recruited last year, the islands had been able to remain Covid-free so the prospect of re-joining a society functioning ‘as before’ was one of the additional appeals. Sadly, the virus crept in and the islands have now had community transmission occurring. The death tolls are thankfully nowhere near as high as some countries and the widespread use of masks even outside in the heat here would suggest that the population are taking things seriously. The islands’ small population (c.90,000) has meant that a nationwide vaccination programme could yield significant results in a very short space of time and, sure enough, the government has had donations of enough vaccines to push through a serious programme. Up to now, 60-something thousand of their target population of 70,000 have had their first dose and around half of the population have had their second dose (timing between doses seems to be the main hindrance to full community vaccination). Despite being in (what I like to think is) a lower age bracket, as I’m a frontline worker, we are both scheduled to have ours next week. It is slightly odd to know that we’ve come to Africa and will be receiving our vaccines before many of the people we know in much higher age brackets in Europe but I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth. It is this programme that has allowed the Seychelles to begin to open their borders to tourism (and migrants like us) once more. It is also for this reason that, with a bit of luck and the careful monitoring of variants, the Seychelles could be one of the first places in the world to return to a pre-Covid existence (if such a thing is ever likely for any of us ever again).
As for the measures being taken by the government here? They do seem to vary and, in some instances, I can well understand why. There seems to be a strict application of rules in one area, only for them to be more lax in others. I do not envy any government in this climate, but for the Seychelles the tightrope they have to walk is a perilous one. You see, the Seychelles is only the second African nation to make the high-income list. The Seychelles’ economy is almost utterly reliant on tourism, with 82.5% of their GDP coming from the services sector. Opposing this, they also (somewhat inexplicably for all concerned) have the highest heroine use per capita in the World. Those that have experience of the widespread physical and sociological impacts of drugs on a community (once they’ve firmly taken hold) will attest that removing such a huge proportion of the local economy alongside a devastating drug problem will almost definitely lead to far more deaths than Covid19’s >1% death rate. It’s a horrible, horrible Catch 22 for the government and the local people to be in. In some ways, it’s darkly ironic that one answer lies in needles. The vaccine programme has allowed the Seychelles to open their borders (with some obvious restrictions) to tourism once more and the outlook should be hopeful. It goes without saying but we sincerely hope the science can minimise the economic and social consequences of this virus for the people here.
Now, as we’re in self-catering and we’ve had our shopping done for us, I must go and cook up our dinner: Jobfish, whatever that is. We’ve been told that you can eat a different species of fish every day for months here and I can well believe it just from the visible sea life close to shore.