Praslin – second largest island of Seychelles and home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Valle de Mai.
The remnant of an ancient palm forest, Valle de Mai is one of only two remaining, natural habitats of the coco-de-mer palm (the other being Curieuse Island).
Remember the amusing Seychelles visa stamp? The suggestively shaped coco-de-mer nut is a cultural icon of Seychelles.
The coco-de-mer is a dioecious palm – it has separate male and female plants. The male plant bears flowers on a phallus-like catkin.
The female plant bears bilobed fruit which can weigh upto 30kgs, making the coco-de-mer the largest fruit in the plant kingdom.
When the husk of the coco-de-mer fruit is removed, the nut inside bears an uncanny resemblance to the pelvic region of the human female body. Hence, sometimes also referred to as the ‘love nut’.
We had heard so much folklore about the coco-de-mer but seeing it first-hand was surreal, a reminder of a prehistoric time. With most of the morning spent walking around Valle de Mai, we headed to the splendid Anse Lazio for some much needed fun in the sun.
The next day, we were scheduled for a day-trip to Cousin and Curieuse islands. Both islands are protected nature reserves and for die-hard nature buffs like us, this trip promised to be a real treat!
A short boat ride from Praslin is Cousin Island, managed by Nature Seychelles, a local non-profit and partner of Birdlife International.
The island, once a thriving coconut plantation, has been restored to its original state with the reintroduction of indigenous plants and trees. Thousands of seabirds nest here and when I set foot on Cousin Island, I felt like I was being welcomed by an orchestra of a million birds!
Hermit crabs, giant millipedes and several species of lizards, skinks and spiders also call Cousin home.
Cousin’s conservation program has been a resounding success, earning several international eco-tourism awards along the way. A visit is a must even if you have no interest in ornithology! The fluffy, adorable fledgelings everywhere will melt your heart!
From Cousin, we hopped over to Curieuse Island which was a leper colony until 1965.
Today, it boasts over 500 Aldabra giant tortoises as well as several species of endemic plants (including a native population of the endangered coco-de mer).
Originally from the Aldabra Atoll of Seychelles, these giant tortoises have been hunted over the centuries, leading to their vulnerable status today. The average male weighs approx. 350 kgs and specimens can live upto 200 years.
We had seen several giant tortoises in the yards of Mahe homes. But it was fascinating to observe the antics of these gentle giants as they roamed about freely on the island.
With Praslin, Cousin and Curieuse explored and with a glorious tan as a souvenir, we headed back to Mahe before the end of the week.
Over the course of a fortnight, Seychelles’ pristine, natural splendour had simultaneously overwhelmed and captivated us. This had been love at first sight! Leaving was going to be heart breaking.
With great difficulty I said, ‘Au revoir. À bientôt, Seychelles!‘