Seychelles .. island of the Coco Fesse


coco   cocofesses

My visit to Seychelles was not a touristy one. I was Advisor to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on a UNDP assignment, and travelled to the island to visit Micro-Finance projects. Reading reports and meeting stakeholders took most of my time. But did I mention that I had previously visited the island with a filming crew? as an acting Director, and my mission was to bag raw footage for a corporate film for the the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The crew members were my long time friends in the Advertsing industry where I started my career.

For both missions, I have to admit that as a Mauritian, I wanted to see for myself how do the beaches cut in beauty as compared to those of my island.


You know you have arrived by the strong glare you get as soon as you set foot out of the plane. On a clear day, you can see at least four shades of blue in the water, and when you walk closer on the soft white sand, you can see the base of the sea. The blues of the Indian Ocean can cure any other kind of blues, I tell you. When I faced the granite boulders on Praslin and La Digue beaches, probably the most photographed ones in the world, I knew that Mauritius hit a minus point there! The tantalising hues of the sky and the ocean  with its powder white impeccable beaches, crashing waves, fringed by supermodel tall palms and Takamaka trees, the beach is a crescent shaped moon of paradise … just deliver!

However, I felt my head melting under the fierce sun as I sweated under the heavy humidity, hmm… not as cool as Mauritius.

At first glance, Seychelles can seem like a sibbling of Mauritius, but there’s so much that sets them apart. Seychelles feels a bit more rustic, a bit more adventurous, with so many islands to hop to, the forests and birds in its interiors, the dramatic hilly backdrops, and the contagious susagade lifestyle of the locals. It reminded me a bit of Sri Lanka, Goa and Rodrigues. Not much available if yo are a creature loving your comforts, but in the big hotels. The rest of the island has not witnessened much or urbanisation, nor industrialisation.


When the British gained control of the islands during the Napoleonic Wars, they allowed the French upper class to retain their land. Both the French and British settlers used enslaved Africans, and although the British prohibited slavery in 1835, African workers continued to come. Thus the Gran blan (“big whites”) of French origin dominated economic and political life. The Indians, like a similar minority of Chinese, were confined to a merchant class.

President Albert René ousted James Mancham with a coup d’etat in 1977 discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted “to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois”, in fact he wanted the island to himself. Control the people and allow no foreigners he did not like. During his tenure, he was accused of involvement in criminal activity, among which money laundering and murder. The island knew mercenaries coups, and other political turmoils that kept the island closed from the rest of the world for lack of security.



Good news is that with passing years and new policies under different political powers, the island grew in popularity when it opened its first world class hotel. Environmental legislation is very strict, and every tourism project must undergo an environmental review and a lengthy process of consultations with the public and conservationists.

Education was given priority after tourism. Literacy rate for school-age children rose to more than 90% by the late 1980s. Many older Seychellois had not been taught to read or write in their childhood; adult education classes helped raise adult literacy from 60% to a claimed 100% in 2014. Due to its British history, despite being a despot in late days, English was much encouraged among the Seychelles Creole and French. Here, should I add that the 3 Patois Creoles of the Mascarene islands are quite very different from each other. The Patois Seychellois is very singy songy and charming. People are polite and very friendly.



If you’re planning a paradise island holiday then you’ve probably got palm-fringed beaches and warm turquoise water in mind. You’ll want beachfront accommodation, delicious seafood and opportunities to both relax and explore.With fewer visitors spread out over many islands, it’s the Seychelles that offers more exclusivity and privacy. A hotel with more than 25 beds is described as ‘large’ in the Seychelles and the archipelago is justly famous for its deserted beaches. Mauritius is a single island, ringed by reefs and beaches; the Seychelles Archipelago comprises 115 islands – some large and developed, others tiny and deserted. Many are marine reserves and several are privately owned. Mauritius attracts four times the number of annual visitors. There is exclusive world class 5-star hotels of course but Mauritius is mostly about got-it-all resorts, exotic live entertainment, superb food, safety,  18-hole golf courses and water sports.


This isn’t to say there’s nothing to do in the Seychelles. Although all motorised sports are banned in Seychelles for so called onservation reasons, this means the diving and snorkelling is fantastic.The Seychelles is also home to world class big-game and salt-water fly-fishing …. isn’t that against conservation rule, in any way? … there are  activities like windsurfing and sailing. The Inner Islands rest on an easy-to-access shallow plateau and the pristine Outer Islands offer experienced divers barely explored reefs.


However, there’s no mistaking the greater privacy and exclusivity of the Seychelles as well as its different natural beauty. Its beaches often also make it into top beaches of the world surveys like Mauritius,  but as a guest on one of the archipelago’s private islands , you can enjoy an azure corner of the Indian Ocean all to yourself. I have heard accounts of people who boast about having an island in the Seychelles, but from close quarters as an islander and knowing some of  the ins and outs, we have not heard about sale of islands except to a couple of billionaires and royalty. Unlike the island of Moyenne which was sold to an ordinary Brit for £8000, but that was very long ago. The island policy abides by state land under strict conservancy laws.


The Seychelles is all about highly personalised service  due to its tiny tourist population and number of hotels – think a low-key private butler anticipating your every need – while Mauritius has a fantastic hospitality ethos that includes big smiles and highly trained staff. With a long tradition of conservation behind it, the Seychelles is home to several marine parks as well as forest and mountain reserves. Swim with the plankton-eating whale shark – the world’s largest fish – in the protected waters of the Seychelles; visit Cousine Island, its entire 27 hectares a designated bird and turtle nature reserve; and head for far flung Aldabra Island where a 150 000-strong colony of giant tortoises can be found.

Mauritius has always been known for its world-class hotels and the island is home to several astonishingly decadent resorts and Michelin-starred chefs but the Seychelles has caught up with Mauritius in terms of exclusive luxury accommodation.

Resorts in the Seychelles tend to be smaller and the lodgings more luxurious. Private islands such as Denis and North island are completely exclusive to their guests while sole-use beachfront villas across the archipelago offer the ultimate in private living. Beautiful North Island is where Prince William and Kate Middleton chose to spent their honeymoon.

Does it not say enough? royalty, honeymoon luxury … I believe given the opportunity, you should sample both islands !


Ao Dai … Vietnamese Dress

After many years living in Vietnam, I came to take the ‘AwZai’- Ao Dai for granted until I stumbled upon Benny Hanigal’s photos.  They brought memories back, dear friends, busy and noisy Hanoi, the Old Quarters, my haunts in Don Xuan market for silk, weddings with fairy like decorations amidst chaos, balmy evenings at Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum, detour from the tourist infected Temple of Literature, tranquil waters of Tay Ho, friendly faces on To Ngoc Van street, street food mecca, ‘you can get anything you want’ in Hanoi, stilettoe perched on bike ladies, and above all the Ao Dai.

Quintessentially Vietnamese, although not worn as often these days as in the past. The classic white Ao Dai is still popular as a school uniform in some areas, while red, yellow, pink and other colors are worn on special and more formal occasions.

Embroidered, silky, gauzy, satiny, or plain white, the Ao Dai is not na easy garb to adopt to your daily runs but is sure a stunningly elegant view on the gracefully slim Hanoiians.

Flower Girl – Hanoi

Ladies Descending – Emperor Minh Mang Mausoleum Grounds, Hue

Flower Girl 2 – Hanoi

Under the Banyan Tree – Temple of Literature – Hanoi

Friends – Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Lovely with Incense – Temple of Literature – Hanoi

Mekong Taxi – Mekong Delta

Mekong Girls at Floating Market

Mekong Girls at Floating Market 2

Delta Girl – Soc Trang Province

Ancient Arch – Imperial City of Hue

The Girl and the Emperor – Minh Mang Mausoleum – Hue

Minh Mang Mausoleum Grounds – Hue

Visions in Red & Yellow – Ha Long Bay

Visions in Red & Yellow 2 – Ha Long Bay

Two Ladies Holding “Non La”- Imperial City of Hue

The Emperor’s Forest – Hue

Hanoi Model – Temple of Literature

High School Girls in Uniform – Nha Nam

The Gaze – Temple of Literature – Hanoi

Day Dream Bridge – Hue

Reflections – Temple & Tomb of Lê Văn Duyệt – Saigon

Lady in Red – Temple & Tomb of Lê Văn Duyệt – Saigon

Strolling the Imperial City – Hue

Green Living … Decor


Living in an urban environment certainly has its many advantages, but most of us city folk still pine for the great outdoors. And if weekend or vacation outings just aren’t enough, there are plenty of designers out there who have created ingenious green designs that bring tiny little pieces of nature into our homes and urban settings.



Some of these are simply creative home products designed to mimic nature in clever ways, but some of them are the real deal. After all, the feel of a plastic plant can’t compare to that of a real, living and breathing one. Whether it’s moss or grass planted onto a moist and nutrient-rich sponge or a clever arrangement of soil and grass, these products and design elements are sure to help sate your hankering for nature until your next vacation or weekend trip into the great outdoors.




Paul & Virginie, the world forgot this love story



Unknown to the world but elevated to lofty heights in the world of French Classical Literature, is the love story Paul and Virginie set in the lush tropical background of the island of Mauritius, then named Île de France. Today, all that remains is a stack of rocks and a concrete plaque facing the sea in the village of Poudre d’Or where one can see Ile Dambre, where the final note took place.


To any tourist, it looks just a perfect piece of beach with a black volcanic basalt rocky band which forms a flat island. From the shade of the casuarina trees on the beach, it spells calm tropical dream paradise. But it once had a fierce storm which not only broke a formidable ship under the name of St Geran, but also broke hearts.

Flaubert in Madame Bovary (1856) described how Emma’s experience of literature formed her imagination: “She had read Paul et Virginie, and she had fantasized about the little bamboo cottage, the Negro Domingo, the dog Fidèle, but even more the sweet friendship of some good little brother who would go and gather ripe fruits for you from great trees taller than spires, or who would run barefoot in the sand, bringing you a bird’s nest.”

In Un Cœur simple (A Simple Heart) (1877), he used the names Paul and Virginie for the two children of Madame Aubain, Félicité’s employer. Guy de Maupassant, Honore de Balzac and many others giants of French literature did not fail to mention Paul and Virginie in their works.

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Paul et Virginie, a novel by Bernardin de Saint Pierre, was first published in 1788.  Written on the eve of the French Revolution,  the novel is recognized as Bernardin’s finest work. It records the fate of a child of nature corrupted by the artificial sentimentality of the French upper classes in the late eighteenth century. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre lived on the island for a time and based part of the novel on a shipwreck he witnessed there.


Bernardin de Saint Pierre, Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s novel criticizes the social class divisions found in eighteenth-century French society. He describes the perfect equality of social relations on Mauritius, whose inhabitants share their possessions, have equal amounts of land, and all work to cultivate it. They live in harmony, without violence or unrest. The author’s beliefs echo those of Enlightment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau.


Mahe de Labourdonnais

Today, it remains a beautiful love story in the minds of Mauritians, and a statue of the lovers are present in the main parks across the island.

But, if you havre read this post, please grab a copy of this alluring classic and make voyage to the time of innocence and pure love. It happened once, on an island thsy still call paradise.

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Timor Leste … Christ’s beach



Staying in Dili, Timor Leste working for the UN after the referendum was an eye opener for me. I discovered what a ravaged country by conflict looks like, I realised that each child I saw was an orphan. Beach shacks were not fanciful dwellings but real homes. I understood that the sea we take for granted gives the only food the local people could find apart from foraging. I became friends with childrens who practically spend all their time on the beach with some lucky dogs who wee alive, and some bold pigs who crossed roads with their cute tiny piglets.

Life came to a stall, we lived in a different bubble from the outside world.

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In front of the hotel we stayed in, was the beach. My first cognition with a black sand one. It felt strange, unreal. Me, so used to my native island’s fine white sandy beaches.

However, we built our days over challenges and had our delightful time going to the white sandy stretches by Jesus, as everybody calls it. It became our Sunday R&R spot.


Now, where do you find white sandy beaches in Dili?


Heading east out of Dili you can either go over the hill and far away or you can continue on the Metiaut road until it falls into the ocean at the feet of Jesus.


Cristo Rei is a giant statue of Christ on top of the hill at Cape Fatucama (the furthest point north of Dili’s bay). He stands with open arms on top of a globe. It was given to Timor by the Indonesians during occupation. Not wanting to lose the chance to squeeze some symbolism in, the 27m of the statue’s height was supposed to represent the 27 provinces of Indonesia, including what was then East Timor and now Timor-Leste. Also noted symbolically is the fact that Christ holds his arms open towards Jakarta rather than Timor.


At the base of the hill there is a car park, amphitheatre and small shelters for picnics and gatherings. The initial path climbs past the 14 Stations of the Cross in long gradual steps. You reach the saddle of the hill where you can see west to the Cristo Rei beach and east to what most people call ‘back beach’. There is another wide set of stairs that takes you to a level area with an altar for public masses. The final climb is up a series of short steep steps that may require a pause in conversation to hide any shortness of breath.

At the top there is an observation area with 360 degree views and the copper height of Christ watching down on you. You’ll see tourists taking photos, joggers stretching, walkers wiping sweat from their brows and highly pregnant women hoping to get things started. At the right time of year you can see whales and every day you can watch the show-off sunset that doesn’t lose any of its beauty, no matter how many times you see it.

This strip has a coastal walkway, some sun shelters, trees, a few cafes and even accommodation. The water is warm and shallow for 10-15m before it drops off to become darker, cooler and occasionally corralled. The water is full of people swimming, splashing and paddling surf skis. The shore is lined with forts, sandcastles, younger siblings and watchful parents. Most people head home around 5pm but those who stay reposition their seats so that nothing comes between them and another perfect sunset.

On a clear night the changing reds, oranges and pinks glow on and on. Then for a moment you turn away and when you look back the show is over for another day.

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