We never did ride the elephants. While we were in South Africa, we’d seen advertisements for an elephant safari, where we could ride pachyderms through the bush. Somehow, we felt that the Asian elephant has a longer history of being a working animal than the African, and opted to wait until we were in Thailand. But, definitely put it on our “to do” list; at least mine and the girls’, if not John’s.
When we headed to Mae Hong Son, a small town near the Myanmar border, the thought of elephant riding resurfaced. Somehow, though, our handful of days there were filled with other things. In Chaing Mai, we found that communicating and making reservations via the internet can be problematic. John made reservation for two days of cooking school, and although the online confirmation didn’t actually say it was a confirmation, but just a note acknowledging what information he’d sent over, the van picked both him and Hannah up when we expected.
Choosing an open day in our schedule, I made a reservation with the Elephant Nature Park, a facility recommended on a couple of blogs by travelers and expatriates in the area. We would not be riding the elephants there, as it was a rescue facility and their focus is on the experience of the animals rather than tourists. About half of Thailand’s elephants are domestic, and not protected by law like their wild relatives. Considered livestock, the training process typically includes several days in a “training crush,” an elephant sized pen that the animal is squeezed into and held so she can’t move. She is then beaten and stabbed with sticks with nails tied to the ends. Food and water is withheld, and sleep is deprived. The purpose of “torture training,” a method used for centuries in Thailand, is to show dominance over the animal and force her into submission. The animal emerges from the torture more malleable and willing to accept the mahout as boss.
Elephant Nature Park sent me a confirmation with a link to a site to make a payment with my credit card. I made the payment, and everything seemed fine, except there was a message at the end that said there was some sort of error in processing. I didn’t worry too much because the e-mail said my reservation was confirmed and everywhere else we’d visited also accepted payment on arrival.
We’d not received anything else, no note telling us something was missing, and no we’ll see you in the morning, either. I sent an e-mail the evening before, double checking the pick-up time, as a transfer to and from the park was included in the daily rate. But, unfortunately, it was after we’d arrived back home from the day’s adventures in the late afternoon, and I did not hear anything back before it was time to meet the van downstairs the next morning.
We were excited and waiting in the lobby of the apartment building at 8:00 AM, ready to meet our ride. We sat there for an hour. Finally, I went back upstairs and checked my e-mail. The message said “I am sorry, but we are fully booked today. Can you come tomorrow?” While I am glad for them that they have so many people crowding through their doors that they don’t need to follow up when something goes wrong with a “confirmed” reservation, it is too bad for us.
Unfortunately, we were out of time, and now we have left Thailand. I hear there are a few elephants in Vietnam; maybe one will cross our path yet. But, most likely, we’ll have to wait for another time for pachyderms.
A long neck woman in Huay Pu Keng, near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
In Mae Hong Son, a little town in the hills near the Myanmar border, we took a boat ride down the river to a Karen village. This place was home to refugees from Burma, the hill tribe where the women wear heavy metal rings around their necks which weigh down their shoulders and collar bone to the point where their necks look elongated. While I love meeting indigenous people and seeing their homes and culture, I had some mixed feelings while wandering up the path that wound between thatched huts on stilts.
Arriving by boat.
The village was tidy and well kept, with a school at the top. The people of this particular tribe, being from Burma cum Myanmar, are not Thai citizens and cannot get jobs and work in Thailand. They rely on the surrounding jungle and tourists for their income, women and children set up tables of crafts and souvenirs to sell, and there were donation boxes for the community fund and the school, I am sure these help quite a lot. We dropped several coins in each and left with more scarves and jewelry than we arrived with, in our attempt to help the local economy.
Making a donation
We would have liked to understand more about their homes and culture. We did watch older boys carving sticks from reeds that we suspect will become the supporting framework for the thatch panels made of broad leaves rather than grass or palm fronds. Men showed up in long tail river boats with large pieces of bamboo and carried them up the hill, we wondered how these would be used. A woman sat in the shade in front of her house weaving on a loom. Without an interpreter, we could only see, if not understand.
The people were friendly, and seemed glad we were there, at least on the surface. Some had a sadness in their eyes that shook me. There were several women wearing the heavy neck rings, one we talked with for a while. Her neck rings were five kilos, she let us hold one that was only two kilos but still seemed very heavy, and put a fake one on our necks for photos.
A Karen girl of 14 posing for a photo with our younger daughter.
I know the strap of my camera bag gets heavy on my shoulders and makes them ache. I find it difficult to believe the weight of the neck rings is painless. With her was a girl Hannah’s age, who also had the rings. She invited us to sit by her for photos, and was curious about our girls, asking them questions.
I’ve read that the practice of wearing the rings was fading. While not as extreme as Chinese foot binding, it does alter the body for some ideal of beauty. We are all familiar with various body art and wearing things that alter the shape of our bodies, even in Western cultures. Piercings, disks and plugs stretching out earlobes, tattoos, and high heeled shoes. The latter will press the toes together, altering the natural shape of the foot if too tight and worn too long.
In this village, some of the girls had neck rings, others did not. It made me wonder how much the tourism was a driving force behind the younger generation putting the rings on their necks, as opposed to a sense of tradition and aesthetic springing from themselves. Wearing the rings because tourists value it is not the same as the San Bushmen wearing their traditional clothing when we walked with them in the Kalahari. The San can hang their garb back up and don jeans when they want to. These neck rings are a lifelong commitment. If the girls in this village are made to wear the rings for income, I find that unpalatable.
That said, being a tourist attraction has provided the village with what might be a much better future than they had in the hills of Myanmar. The huts were all in good repair, the path up the middle was cement, not mud. Children were writing out lessons, receiving at least some education. There were big signs up that the village needed a teacher for the older children. Finding one in a place where visitors will see the signs is more likely than a village by the river without outsiders.
As I said, the experience gave me mixed emotions. It is certainly nothing so extreme as beggars who have enough musical talent to become street musicians being blinded to incite pity (even in Chaing Mai there were a whole line of blind street musicians performing at the Sunday market.) We enjoyed our glimpse into the lives of other people. But, I found myself with a nagging question: is it disfigurement for income or tradition?
Sunday was mothers’ day in the US… still is back home, although it’s Monday here in Chiang Mai already. Yesterday, in honor of mothers day, the family went with me to Wat Doi Suthep. My destination picks usually involve some sort of history and architecture. We came across this dragon guarding one of the temples, with the sign below saying Mom… prefect. It’s now my profile picture!
It’s all about what lives in the water. Whether it is the sea or fresh water, Marlie wants to experience what lies under the waves. The other day I took her to the Aquarium here in Chiang Mai, I think this is the tenth aquarium she has dragged me to in various cities around the world. John and Hannah gave them up some time back.
As mom, I am willing to feed her passion and peer into more tanks full of jellyfish or seahorses, and, if we are lucky, walk through a glass tube surrounded by fish. I might not choose another aquarium to fill a day on my own, but Marlie’s love for marine biology borders on obsession. How could I not want to encourage that?
Not all of the things the girls learn on this trip will fit into the school district’s boxes for curriculum credit, but I am sure the experiences will become a part of who they are. Hannah spent two days this week in a Thai cooking school. She loves to cook, and often makes dinner for the family. She already had down a mean Tom Kha Gui, now she knows so much more.
Focusing on what is most interesting to each of the kids in these different places means they’ll get so much more out of the experience. While neither the aquarium nor the cooking classes will teach them some of the other things about a country that are important, like history and politics, they will be remembered by the girls forever. Bits of knowledge feeding a passion.
Crocodile sunning on the bank of the Chober River. I did not know their mouths were yellow inside.
Cheetah in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Unfortunately, between the shake of the vehicle and my excitement, I did not get any super shots of this cat. These two are the best. We were thrilled to have seen one of these elusive animals
We saw baboons all over southern Africa, including several here in Chobe National Park. I really liked how this one was sitting on a rock nursing her baby like a human mother sitting on a park bench.
Chobe was all about the animals... I'll have to do a couple of Chobe Foto Phave posts I'm afraid.
Bathing with baby. The really little elephants don't know how to use their trunk yet, and they stumble around a bit in the water. They also stay touching their mother at all times.
We bought our final flight tickets yesterday. Home. We’ll land in late June; less than two months left ahead of us before we return to our stationary life we wandered away from a year and a half ago. As I sit in our apartment looking out at Chiang Mai, I can’t quite come to terms with how I feel about going home.
There is the obvious sadness. The more we travel, the more we realize how much there is left in the world to see. It is doubtful we will be able to do any travel on this scale again, at least not with our children. John and I can see ourselves as retired, empty nest backpackers someday. We may take some extended trips with our children while they still live with us, but shorter trips that will fit into our lives. A sadness creeps in, not just for the loss of the places, but also for the loss of a forced closeness the travel imposes. At home, we will all have our own lives outside our nuclear group that has become so tight; a reality that is bittersweet.
Add in the excitement and anxiety of a new beginning. As we head home, our lives will have changed from what we left behind. Both of the girls will be in different schools, having made the grade transition from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school while we’ve been underway. Both girls’ groups of friends are not as tight as they were, fragmented either from going on to different schools or from the normal drift of adolescents finding their way toward the adults they will become.
John and I will begin something new as well. Before leaving, we’d sold our business and spent the following year wrapping up the loose ends to be able to leave home. When we return, we will need to focus on work and income. It was harder to keep up with the freelance and contract work I was doing while underway than I’d anticipated, especially because of traveling with kids. I am down to just a couple of clients, and will have to noodle around for an income.
Yesterday, we felt a great sense of accomplishment at having found UPS and sent home a box of things we won’t need for the rest of the trip. Moving from place to place, it’s the little things that consume so much time. Where is the grocery store? How do we navigate transportation, like the bus with no maps or information at the stop, or the train, or knowing to always ask how much the ride will cost before getting in a tuk tuk. Re-learning at every stop where the garbage and recycling goes. The confinement of a language gap. I sometimes miss the ease of the little things that develops from staying in one place. And yet, I think I will also miss communicating what I need through hand gestures, nods, and smiles; getting the person I don’t share a language with to sell me a box at the post office, cheese from a deli counter, or a hotel room for the night.
For the past few weeks, the “When we get home…” sentences have increased. Bedroom redecorating, improving outdoor living spaces, purging more stuff. The list we’ve created in our minds will most certainly not be complete-able, but the anticipation is fun. And, joy at the thought of seeing the animals. Our dogs, our cats, our horses, await us. Leaving them behind was difficult. A part of our family has not been with us for months, leaving a hole in our lives.
Although there are still several places mapped out on our path before we go home, the end is clearly visible. I think it is time; I am ready. Not only because we promised the girls they could have a little time at home before the next school year starts or because our tenants have moved on, but because a fatigue has set in. As we travel, things have blurred. Instead of being impressed by how different each place is, we are struck by how much things are the same. Although the places still on our list are destinations we’ve long wanted to visit, like Hong Kong and Vietnam, the excitement has waned. The travel and exploration itself has become routine. For us, the new is the old.
Wild African Dogs waiting to be fed at the Kalahari Predator Conservation Project facilities, near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Here the local cattle farmers have taken on the responsibility of caring for predators who wander off the huge reserve into farmlands, while they wait for the government to relocate the animals.
Here at the facility, housed at Grasslands Lodge, guests are able to be in the pen next to the animals as they eat. Wild dogs do not see humans as food, and will not attack unless we act like food and run.
Now we truly understand the term "like a pack of wild dogs." Because everything in the wild will take their food from them, the African wild dog eats furiously fast.
Their colors are vibrant, yet in the low late afternoon light, my shots of many of these animals was a streak of blurred color. This one stood still for just a moment...
The Kalahari Predator Conservation facility also houses quite a number of lions awaiting relocation. The local farmers have permits to shoot these animals, but have chosen instead to try to rescue them as they have wandered off the reserve, at their own expense. The relocation process is taking much longer than anticipated, and the costs are high.
Botswana is a leader in conservation on the African continent. They have set aside nearly 40% of the country as national park and game reserve. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve near this facility is twice the size of Massachusetts, the second largest reserve in the world.
There is a very healthy population of lions in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and even with the vast amount of land set aside these animals wander off the reserve as they come under pressure from other prides. Because there are so many lions in the Kalahari, relocation is proving difficult.
Bangkok, Thailand, and the Chao Phraya River from the Temple of Dawn
Colorful bows and umbrellas on a long tail boat.
Longtails lined up
Bow of the King's boat at the Royal Barges Museum
Restoring the barge- a worker helping to restore the gold leaf on one of the royal barges
Figurehead on a royal barge
A longtail boat on the Chao Phraya River
Yesterday afternoon, we rented scooters to ride around Mae Hong Son. After a little time practicing turns and stops in the parking lot at the airport, we wove through town and around some loops into the countryside surrounding it. As we drove through town, the girls spotted a colorful little shop selling bags and clothes, and asked for a stop. We dropped John at a pub with a view of the activity on the street and made our way through several places selling locally-made merchandise.
At the first stop, we realized the woman was intently watching the royal wedding. Cheering crowds were waving at cars driving through London on her screen. At each shop, the same scenario played out. The shopkeeper would turn from the television and acknowledge us, but at the same time clearly not want to be drawn away from the event of the season.
Here in Thailand, there are photos of the king and royal family everywhere; their king. Maybe it’s their affection for their own monarch that spills over onto all royals. It surprised us, though, that here on the other side of the world, a population watched with such adoration. In retrospect, I should have snapped a photo or two of the televisions in shops and bars, tuned in like Europe during the world cup finals. Sadly, I missed that opportunity because of my own lack of interest. The scooters were more fun.
This will be our fourth family Easter spent overseas, our third in a Buddhist country. Our two trips taking the girls to Japan while my brother and his family lived there both coincided with the spring festivities. Last year we were in Geneva, the Europe part of our trip around the world. We even dyed so many eggs last year we were sick of hard boiled eggs by the time we caught a train for Venice. The stores were filled with chocolate bunnies and eggs and chicks. Swiss chocolate, no less, some of the best in the world; not that waxy American stuff.
Today, we painted some duck and quail eggs with Hannah’s acrylic paints. All the chicken eggs we found were brown, the duck and the little spotted quail eggs are the whitest. There were no egg dying kits available at the Tops Market down the street here in Bangkok. No chocolate bunnies here, either, although we found some good Swiss and Belgian chocolates. Tomorrow morning I’ll find some bowls to put the candy bars I found in, along with the eggs we painted today: Easter baskets for the girls. Then I’ll hide the painted eggs, counting them to make sure we don’t leave any stinky surprises for the owner of the apartment, and the girls will get competitive with each other while they search, as always.
I suppose it’s another example of how life is much happier once you let go of the idea of “should.” Little can teach us this like travel: lessons in flexibility and improvising. In letting go of the expectation- laden image of how things “ought to” be and not allowing that vision to ruin the experience of what “is.”
Buildings in Bangkok, Thailand from the river.
On our first day out in Bangkok, we were looking for Songkran, the Thai new year’s festival that involves a lot of water. We did find the party, eventually. First, we were re-directed on a little shake-down cruise by tuk tuk drivers.
We arrived at Siam sky train station with the idea of making our way to the Royal Palace and looking for the festival in that area. We should have just asked a tuk tuk driver to take us there. Somehow we had that “fresh off the boat” look, and we blundered into one of those unauthorized tour operators. We asked one of the drivers where we needed to go to find the festival.
Some sort of captain or coordinator there said the best way to enjoy the festival was to take a boat ride up the canals. Not knowing any better, we believed him. We’d not found any of the places listed on “Songkran Splendors” on our little travel map. Maybe the festival was fun from the water. The four of us squeezed into the back of one of the tuk tuks and the “boss” sent us off with one of the drivers.
As we drove to the river, our driver found out that we were planning to go north to Chaing Mai after Bangkok. He insisted we must call his sister, a travel agent. “Cheap, very cheap.” Then he took us to some little temple with a dock, where after paying 2000 baht, we were directed past the cool, narrow long-tail boat and onto a much less fun looking (and much slower) taxi boat. As we plodded through various canals on our trip, a small handful of the faster long-tails sped past us. We watched with envy.
A half hour or so into the cruise, we slowed to a stop mid canal so a hawker in a boat could come pull alongside and show us his tchotchkes. Our driver filled the engine tank with gas, as if that was the real reason he’d stopped. We looked over the carved wooden Buddhas and pencils with elephants and did not see any must-haves. He pulled out a cold beer, and we were sold. Unpracticed at hawker sparring, we didn’t ask the price before he’d opened two bottles for us and a third he’d suggested we buy for our driver. Where street vendors sell the same beers 3 for 100 baht, he charged us 100 baht each, three times the going rate. Hard to bargain when you are already drinking it. Oops.
Our next stop on the canal was a “snake farm.” Having just spent several months in Africa, we opted to get a bite to eat at their café rather than see the reptiles. The brightly painted, large statues of people holding snakes in front of it yelled “tourist trap” to us, but the fried rice was decent.
We never did see anything resembling festivities from the boat. An hour and a half after we put on the water we made our way back out of the canals and onto the river channel. Ahead were boats of people, water taxis, unloading crowds onto docks. Our driver, who spoke no English made a gesture of sleeping, putting his palms together and leaning his face against it, then pointed to the shore. He stopped the boat in the middle of the river, and passed us a sheet of paper that said “The trip is finished. Please tip me now.” After we passed him a few baht, he motored us to a small dock. As we climbed from the boat, onto the narrow wood walkway, a man blocked our path and pointed to a sign: “Landing fee: 20 baht per person.”
We did end up close to the sleeping Buddha (thus the sleeping gesture.) The next day we took the public water taxi bus for a fraction of the money and time to get to the same place. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be calling the tuk tuk driver’s sister for advice on Chaing Mai. One hoodwink per country will suffice, thanks.
Arriving at the apartment, we were still soaked and covered in chalk paste.
We saw it in the in-flight magazine first. We were landing in Bangkok during the biggest party of the year and had no idea. It offset the knowledge that we were also landing during the hottest time of the year, when the terms used in the same magazine to describe the heat were “crushing” and “intense.” Our first full day would be about finding Songkran, the Thai New Year’s celebrations.
Anywhere on the streets you could get very wet...
We read that it involved a lot of water, and that if someone approaches to put chalk on your face it is an honor and meant to ward off evil in the coming year. There was also something about tying string around the wrist. The chalk was to be left on “until it washes off” and the strings until they “fall off of their own accord.” The water is for abundance, as the festival is in the hot season when the rice paddies dry out. Sort of like our new year’s celebration wrapped in with the renewal aspect of Easter’s pre-Christian pagan festivals.
The Thai call it “sanuk.” From what I understand it means fun, but not just in thinking of recreation or parties. In integrating fun into your life, play and work. This Songkran Festival is definitely sanuk.
We had a bit of trouble understanding where the party was. We read a couple of blogs and found information on the tourism Thailand website. The one park they mentioned was not on our maps or guidebook. It did say something about the Royal Palace, so we had a vague idea of where we might start looking, but not a clear plan. Not unusual; we often don’t have a plan.
A tuk tuk in Bangkok
After being re-directed by some tuk tuk drivers and sent on a shakedown cruise (more later) we made it to the park where the tourism department showcased the traditions of Songkran. There were displays of crafts and foods, and some people with stilts. Hannah tried her hand (or feet) at walking on the bamboo poles, while I opted for a more contemplative washing of a statue of the Buddha. Someone told us the party was further “that way,” so we wandered on, arming ourselves with two small splurter type of squirt guns.
Several blocks later, just as the sunlight faded into dusk, we found the streets blocked off to cars and filled with soaked crowds. We’d entered the biggest water fight we’ve ever seen. There were not many non-Asian faces, and we were happy to find that we were included just the same. I guess because we were wielding water guns, soaked, and covered in chalk. And, laughing. Hands came from crowds and smeared wet chalk paste on our faces, mostly on our cheeks, but Marlie, being young, ended up with her entire head covered. This, of course washes off regularly in the flying water, some of it chilled with ice, to be replaced by another hand passing by. There was never any string being tied around wrists that we saw.
Laughter is good for the soul, what an abundance to start the new year with! As night closed in, the crowd involved fewer small children and more teens through college age kids. We imagined our girls dragging their gap year friends here in another decade or so. It was all good natured, happy celebration. It took us about an hour or so to make the two blocks to the other end of the party, buying bottles of water along the way to refill, and having Hannah’s water gun become a casualty of the party. We’d not thought we could manage to be cold here, but we all started to feel chilled.
A street food cart and another selling water guns in Bangkok. On the food cart is a little bbq where the food is cooked over an open fire, served hot. Very yummy!
We ate dinner from the food carts at the far end of the closed streets, and Marlie used up the water in her gun before we left. She’d regret that. We hired a tuk tuk, one of those three wheeled motorcycle cabs, to take us back to the sky train. The tuk tuks are open, with just a little roof, a bench seat behind the driver. They are also a continuation of the party. People riding in the other tuk tuks and standing on the street side still had water and we continued to get sprayed and splashed. We arrived at the skytrain station dripping.
We laughed and shivered in the air conditioned train, opting to stand so as not to soak the seats for the next people. A Thai woman who was getting off handed me a ring of flowers, a gift of celebration and hope for the coming year, I think it is a bracelet. It smells of sweet flowers, the tropics, and sanuk.
Bananas on the boat
Ahhh. Air conditioning is delicious. We’ve moved to our last stop in the Seychelles, on the Island of Praslin. The heat on the boat was tiring. Coming from a different latitude, we’d expected that the thermal mass of the ocean would be cooler than the air on land, rather than the other way around. Sleeping in the still heat of our cabin was difficult. The shady outdoor space behind the salon on the catamaran was also the end of the boat that would spin away from any cooling wind, swiveling around the anchor line. In the breeze on the bow the sun was unrelenting. Escape from the heat meant swimming or snorkeling. Although we enjoyed the experience of seeing the Seychelles from a boat, we are loving the air conditioning in the bedrooms of the cottage we’ve rented. I had thought it was so cool to be almost on the equator for the equinox. Maybe a solstice would be the better time; when the sun is over the tropic of Cancer or Capricorn, rather than at its closest point. In reality, this is not the only part that has been not exactly what we’d expected.
The Seychelles Islands have been a mixed experience for us. I had heard of this place and dreamt of coming here for quite a while. We did find the stunning white sand beaches lined with palm trees and strewn with huge granite boulders we’d expected. We also found some things we did not, and sometimes did not find what we thought we might. Because so many of our friends have asked what we think of the Seychelles, I’m laying out our impressions, good and bad.
We’d been told it was very expensive. Although there are some outrageously costly options, there are also a number of much more affordable ones as well. We spent about the same here as we did for accommodations in Africa. The boat being the most expensive, it was comparable to a game lodge when including meals, excursions, and game drives.
After the open warmth of the Batswana (I know, right? I’d have thought the people of Botswana would be called Botswani or Botswanan, not Batswana…) many of the Seychellios (the “ois” being like French, making a “wa” sound: Seychellewa) were unwelcoming. Several were wonderful, including many people on the Island of La Digue and the crew of our boat. On the other hand, a large percentage of the people we came across on the Island of Mahe lived up to the undeserved nasty reputation of the Parisians. From the scowling woman who sold us snorkeling equipment in Victoria, to the “do not touch” signs and on everything in a beach t-shirt shop backed up with suspicious frowns of the sales people in Beau Vallon, to the locals who elbowed past me to the counter in the Indian mini market in Anse Royal: we often felt unwanted. We even found a notation in the Seychelles Air in flight magazine saying that the Seychellios are not particularly friendly, but warm up once you get to know them. Tourism?! Interesting.
We did not come across the same diversity of water sports we’d expected. We did not see any surfing or wind surfing or kite boarding to speak of. There is lots of snorkeling, and a few dive shops. We didn’t snorkel anywhere that I found myself wishing I had a tank so I could dive deeper to see what was too far down to reach in one breath. Likely there are some other cool diving spots, but we did not see a lot of activity compared with other tropical places we’ve stayed. We spotted one guy on a stand up paddle board, and a place to rent jet skis or go for a parasail behind a boat. Kayaking is fun, and the calm water is great for paddling around, but the boogie board Marlie bought from the crabby lady only made it into the water once, and the lack of waves big enough to ride has kept it dry since.
Fishing is “deep sea,” unless you make it out to Alphonse Island where there is fly fishing on the salt flats. Sadly, this small, high end facility was out of the price range for all four of us to go, and they did not answer any of our e-mails inquiring about a stay for John without us. We did have fresh fish on the boat, which was delicious, but not really a sport: drag a lure while underway, catch a fish, reel him in like he’s attached to a cable. Dinner.
There are a number of species of birds that are only found here in the Seychelles, so those who love bird watching will dig that. Unfortunately, our birding experience on Cousin Island, a reserve set aside for the birds, was tainted by the clouds of mosquitoes. Even so, Marlie loved it, as she does anything ocean (many of the resident birds fish…) She’s talking about volunteering here when she is in college studying marine biology …yes- that’s more than 6 school years away…
Development in the Seychelles has been kept small, so far. Most areas are not overrun, for a long time building height was restricted to no taller than a palm tree. Beaches are not crowded, at least not this time of year. Looking at the available beaches compared to the number of accommodations, it never sees anything close to the crowds on the beaches of Mediterranean France or Italy. For those who want to spend a holiday with their feet in white sand, putting down their mai tai every so often to swim in clear water, this is heaven. For those of us with shorter attention spans who live about as far from here on earth as possible, maybe not heaven enough to journey this far for a beach.
This morning might have been our last snorkeling outing in the Seychelles. We were at Felicity Island today, our last full day on the Catamaran. From here we have three nights on Praslin, and then we fly out to Thailand. Marlie and I followed a sea turtle for a while on our way back to the boat. We’d been lounging in the shade of a leafy takamaka tree on the little beach we’d swam to when John called out that one of the island’s most famous inhabitants was among the coral just off the shore.
She is so in her element here: none of us loves the ocean like Marlie, whose dreams of marine biology have progressively grown over her lifetime. Diving down for a closer look at a fish or sponge or sea cucumber, or diving just to swim like a ray or a turtle. Just for the joy of it, then surfacing with a blast to clear her snorkel. She’s always first in the kayak, dragging the rest of us along. Telling us about the feeding habits of octopus and squid. Trying to tell us what each fish is while still underwater with the snorkel in her mouth, an unintelligible bubbling hum of enthusiasm in our ears.
It has been fun yachting. We are glad to be on a catamaran, rather than a mono-hull sailboat. As Jeffrey, our cook and a partner in the boat tells us, mono-hull boats are for sailors, catamarans are for cruising. There is so much more space outside, including the nets upfront where the breeze cools, even when the sun is out. We’ve recovered from our bouts of seasickness, although we are putting off our last dose of Melflium until tomorrow when we are off the boat.
We’ll follow up with photos later. The cell phone based internet here on the boat in the bay of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a bit slow for uploads.
As much as the unexpected has become a way of living, it still catches us by surprise sometimes. We’ve learned that magic arrives when we are not looking and expectations can cloud our vision to it. Fulfilling something we have dreamed of or thought about for some time may be so full of anticipation that reality is tainted by it. Or, when things do not turn out as expected, we may be baffled by those things that we’d never thought of.
When we were in Croatia almost a year ago we’d watched the cruisers pull their rented sailboats into harbor and line the dock or jetty. They would eat dinner on the stern deck of their boats; mobile hotel rooms in the best locations of the ancient cities of Dalmatia. Dreaming of it made John look up sailing schools online and download a kindle book about the basics.
We’d gaped at the huge yachts in Monaco and Nice. I various places we’ve stayed on this trip around the world, we’ve sought out information about sailboat charters and houseboat rentals, river barges and small cruise ships. Each time, however, the cost put us squarely back on terra firma. We can splurge a little here and there, but for an extended trip like this we could not justify blowing a two or three week’s budget in three days, much less spending a week on a boat. The cost was always so much more than the land based options.
Here in the Seychelles, we found a charter who offered us a last minute rate that put a week on a sailboat in reach. They had space that would go empty, and we know from our days operating a resort that there is nothing more perishable than time. A bed that goes unfilled has no salvage value. So, we set sail on a catamaran, finally fulfilling our wish.
We have several boats at home, small ones for lakes and rivers. We’ve made multiple ferry crossings and love being on the water. None of us expected to hang over the rail feeding our recently finished meals to the fish. I think the malaria meds we are still taking for the four weeks following our explorations of Botswana are not helping with the seasickness. They make us dizzy and nauseated on dry land, adding the sway of a boat made us all worse and put both girls over the edge.
We love the little kayak and the snorkeling. We’ve swam with brightly colored fish, sea turtles, and even a couple of sharks and barracuda. A catamaran is a fabulous way to see the islands. We’ve picnicked with giant tortoise, and walked through forest and beaches. The boat comes with a skipper and a cook, we do nothing but play in the water, eat, sleep, and unfortunately, vomit.
I think we are getting beyond the seasickness. Lunches have stayed down for the last 24 hours. We may choose to sail on a future vacation. Probably not when we are still taking Melfliam.