Chillin’ in Jamaica Mon

As happens more often than you might think, in February I suddenly realized we had some hotel nights that would expire quickly if we didn’t use them.  Elliott and I each have a Chase Hyatt card, and each of those credit cards awarded us two nights at a Hyatt hotel after we met a certain spend requirement.  In the past the banks were often willing to extend the expiration dates on unused certificates, but they are no longer doing this for the most part.  Several years ago we had the cards and used our free nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, which we absolutely loved.  But this year we had no plans to go to Hawaii before the hotel nights’ expiration date, and since Chase was no longer willing to extend the expiration date, we had to find another option.

I quickly researched the best Hyatts at which to use the award nights issued by Chase.  Sometimes there are restrictions on how you can use free nights such as these, so I wanted to make sure I knew the rules before getting excited about any specific properties.  To my surprise, I found that Hyatt all-inclusive properties are included in those you can book with the Chase free night certificates, and Hyatt has all-inclusives in Jamaica and Mexico – both of which are about mid-way between our two home bases of Ecuador and Philadelphia.

I booked four nights for us at the adults-only Hyatt Zilara in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The Hyatt Ziva is the next door “twin hotel” that accommodates families, and we would have access to both.  I knew we wouldn’t leave the property, but didn’t feel too guilty since we’ve been to Jamaica before (and seen a couple of the sites).  I tried not to do too much research on the property since I love surprises, but I did read that this particular one had a full schedule of activities.  Since I don’t sit still for too long at one time, I was psyched.

When we arrived we were checked in right away.  We went right up to our room and were tickled to see my name on the TV on the wall!

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My own personal welcome!

The room was spacious and gorgeous, with a desk, love seat, table and chair and bed with white linens.

It had a mini-bar in which everything was included, so we were sure to follow the advice someone had given us to take the snacks each day!

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I’m takin’ the snacks, yo!

The bathroom had a huge tub, separate tiled shower, terry-cloth robes and lots of toiletries, including a mini scrubby thingy!

And we had a balcony with an outdoor lounge/bed, table and chair, and views of the pools and sand and ocean beyond.  We were going to like this place!

Normally, I would have wanted to jump right into a pool or the ocean, but the weather was not what we expected.  There were such strong winds that despite the temperature, it felt too chilly to go in water, even for me.  The hot tubs were barely warmer than the pools, so it wasn’t even tempting to go in them!  We were hungry though, so we had lunch at Blue Grill by Calypzo, a beachfront grill serving fresh seafood.  We sat for a while on one of the swinging chairs on the beach and just relaxed.  We had a bean bag toss, and then went inside and pretended our bathtub was the hot tub since the actual hot tub was too cold.  That night we had some of the best mozzarella sticks at FuZion, the Asian Grill!  (Go figure…)

The next day we slept in and I had an amazing jerk chicken burrito at Jamaican Rootz by Horizon.

I walked along all of the beaches scoping out a few good spots for Elliott to do yoga.  While he did some yoga I tested out each swimming area on the various beaches.  None of them were great; I tried finding the deepest one, and as they got deeper, they had more seaweed.  Once Elliott finished yoga-fying, we did have fun bobbing in the water, ducking under the waves and throwing seaweed at one another.

That evening we went back to the gym and did a new workout.  Dinner at the Italian restaurant Di Roza that night was actually our least favorite meal.  The caprese salad and bruschetta were both very good, and the pesto gnocci was so delicious I was tempted to order more.  But they forgot to make the pizza I had ordered, and it wasn’t finished until Elliott was just about finished with his parmesan crusted tenderloin.  Once the pizza arrived, I didn’t even enjoy it – the bleu cheese (or goat, or gorgonzola) totally overpowered the other cheeses, to the point where I didn’t like the taste at all!

On Day 3 we sat by the Ziva pool.

I did the 11am Aqua Gym but I did it outside of the pool because the water felt too cold to go in!  I worked up a sweat though so when the class was more-or-less finished I did dip in the pool quickly.  At 12pm we took the Reggae class together.  Elliott found a few moves he liked and said he wants to incorporate them into his future dance moves.  After lunch at Choicez, we went back to the beach we had sat on for a long time yesterday.  After relaxing we went for a beach walk and played bean bags again.   I went swimming in the ocean again and Elliott joined me for a few minutes.

When we got back to our room, we had another welcome message – this time for Elliott:

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We had dinner at Brazil (a Brazilian steakhouse), and headed to the gym for another workout.

On our fourth day I joined the Reggae dance class by the pool which was a lot of fun and Elliott joined me part way through.  We had lunch inside our hotel at Urban Heat by Flavorz.  We finally got to sit on these cool “pretzel stick” chairs (sorry, no photo!).  I tried a new drink – Planter’s Punch – which I liked a lot.  It tasted great and was extremely visually appealing, with the drink color changing ever so slightly from top to bottom.  It looked like a red-orange sunset!  For lunch I had a beet salad and a salmon dish – both were absolutely delicious.

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Afterwards I went swimming in the Zilara pool for the first time!  I first swam in the lower pool, then went exploring the upper pool and the long narrow parts that go along the first floor junior suites with lounge chairs in the pool.  Later we went to the gym together and did another kick-butt workout – you’ve got to burn off all those included food and drink calories somehow!

We went to Choicez for dinner.  It was Moroccan Food which Elliott really likes and the live entertainment show was going on outside, so we asked to sit outside so we could listen and half-watch.  There was a great steel drum band playing on the stage.  The drummers were also dancing at times which was impressive, and at the end, they came out one at a time and did some amazing break-dancing and gymnastics-type moves.  We walked back to Zilara and found a fire pit just for us, and sat for a little while.  The fire pits at night were one of our favorite features of the resort, and sitting by them after dinner had become a nightly ritual.

On our last day we had to check out early so I set an alarm for 6:10am!  I was determined to have some pool time and enjoy our last morning before leaving.  I got us packed and headed out at 7:30 and claimed us some awesome chairs right next to the pool.  It was the nicest day since we had arrived!  We both went to the yoga class on the boardwalk leading to the gazebo.  I was impressed – there were a bunch of people, the instructor had us do some tough poses, and the class lasted an hour long.  I was happy!

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A great spot for a yoga class.

Afterwards we ate breakfast just across the way at the Blue Grill by Calypso – it was fitting as our first meal had been there too.  After breakfast we went back to the pool and we went swimming one last time.  Then we sat at the pool bar and ordered our last drinks – a Dark & Stormy for him, and a Bob Marley for me.  It was so much fun, finally sitting on those in-the-pool bar stools and enjoying drinks in the sun!  I went for one last swim under all the waterfalls as I said goodbye to the Hyatt Zilara.

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Love the waterfalls.

We packed the rest of our things and went downstairs for the free shuttle, hoping one day we can return again!

2017 Disney in Pictures

After volunteering for four days during the Disney Marathon Weekend this January, we switched hotels and then spent several days in the parks.  As always, we had a blast!

We stayed in a Disney hotel that was new for us – Disney’s Art of Animation.

As you can see, we stayed in the Little Mermaid Building.

At Animal Kingdom, we…

went on a safari…

found a lizard that could stick to walls…

listened to some interesting musicians (you can listen too if you like to the sitar and the harp)…

and found some Hidden Mickeys!

63 Hidden MIckey

See the Mickey to the left of the book?

At Epcot, we…

floated through the Disney greenhouses…

watched our favorite Chinese acrobats…

and searched for our own legacy.

 

In the Magic Kingdom, we…

spun on the teacups until Elliott could no longer see straight…

raced like Andre Andretti…

rode some horses around and around in a circle…94a Carousing on the caourse-el cr

and flew through space in our favorite Astro Orbiter.

 

And at Disney Studios we…

ate at a new old café…

and feared for our lives as we were surrounded by storm troopers!

119 The whole gang cr

We sure were exhausted by the end of that week!87 Main Street USA

A New Way to See Disney

In 2006 and 2007, we participated in the Disney Marathon and raised over $25,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of (and then in memory of) my mom, Sharon.   Over the years we went on to do several other endurance events to raise money for that and other charities, but the Disney Marathon was definitely our favorite of all the events for several reasons.  First of all, it’s Disney!  Our love of the place is probably quite apparent given that we visit every year.  Even if you don’t inherently love Disney, you have to admit that Disney knows how to run and operate things smoothly; that was certainly the case with their Marathon Weekend.  In addition, you get to run through the Disney theme parks during your event, and they entertain you like crazy!  You even get great snacks at the rest stops.  We always describe it as a 26.2 mile long party.

Now ten years later in 2017, we decided to approach the marathon from a different angle – this time we would not be the runners but the volunteers making sure the event runs smoothly!  Not only does it feel great to volunteer for such a wonderful charity as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Disney goes out of their way to compensate volunteers who work at their events with points and/or vouchers towards free days at Disney.  This seemed like a no-brainer and a win-win.

Disney Marathon Weekend consists of four different events that run over four days – a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon.  Luckily I called ahead to ask a few questions about the registration process, including how long it would take for the positions to fill up.  I asked if they might be filled up five hours after registration began, and was told they would all fill up within 15 minutes of when it began!  Whoa – I was not expecting that.  I prepared myself with multiple browsers since I had to sign both Elliott and myself up and he was out guiding a tour of the local market.  I managed to get ourselves registered for volunteer positions for all four events, which was a feat in and of itself.  (If you are ever interested in trying to get volunteer positions for these events, definitely talk to me for some tips!)

We decided to stay at Disney for ten days – five days for volunteering, and five days to use some old existing park 5-day park tickets.  We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and had to go straight to the enormous Expo center to pick up our registration packets.  After the Expo we took Disney buses to Downtown Disney and walked a mile to a local grocery store we know of so that we did not have to pay exorbitant prices for every morsel of food we were going to consume over the next four days.  Then it was back to our hotel and to bed at 9pm(!) so we could get some sleep before our first volunteer shift.  We were spending the first five nights in the Disney Swan, which we deemed within walking distance of the volunteer locations and saved us from having to rent a car.

01 The Swan

The Walt Disney World Swan.

20 Disney Swan

Up-close view.

01a Seven swans a-swimming

Swans in a fountain.

The most difficult aspect of our four volunteer shifts may very well have been the timing.  Endurance races begin very early in the morning, sometimes as early as 6am.  And when there are 10,000+ people running in an event, it takes a long time to get them all organized in their corrals… which means they need to arrive as early as 3 or 4am.  And of course the volunteers need to be there *before* the runners, which put our shift start time at 3am!  Add an hour long walk for us to get there, and that meant we were rising for our day at 1:30am.

The hotel lobby was empty when we left each morning!

Having volunteered for other types of events in the past, we weren’t sure how much work would actually be involved; sometimes there is a lot of standing around when you volunteer.  But Disney definitely had our work cut out for us.  For the 5 and 10k races we would be hanging medals around the runners’ necks, which was actually quite fun.  But before the race began, that meant we needed to cut open endless boxes of medals, unpack the medals and take the plastic off of each one, then hang the medals in an organized fashion on endless pegs on wooden racks.

It may sound trivial, but the medals are quite heavy, and the runners cross the finish line in large numbers for hours and hours.  During the race some volunteers spend their time transferring twenty or so medals at a time from the pegs to the arms of other volunteers, and then those volunteers have to work really quickly to unload one medal at a time off their arm and onto a runner’s neck.  If the medals aren’t organized well on the pegs, they won’t be organized when they are placed on your arm, and when you try to get them off to place on the runner’s neck, you will just have a tangled mess.  Needless to say, our arms and shoulders got quite the workout during each shift!

Awarding medals was quite gratifying.  People were so proud when they crossed the finish line, and the smiles on their faces as we placed the medals over their heads were super rewarding in themselves.  Often the runners wanted us to be in their selfies with them; sometimes they even wanted to give us a hug!  (We managed to hide our looks of astonishment when the hugs were super sweaty.)  And many of the runners made a point to thank us for our time and efforts despite their weariness.

The 10k shift was similar to the 5k shift, starting super early in the morning but lasting a little longer due to the increased distance.  On our third day we were shocked when the half marathon was canceled due to impending rain and thunder and lightning storms.  It was the first time in Disney Marathon Weekend history that a race had ever been canceled!  The runners were promised their medals (and volunteers their compensation) despite the cancellation, so we figured we’d just enjoy our day off at our hotel.

But when we walked outside, we noticed many people running with their numbers pinned to their shirts as they would in the race.  We thought about it and quickly decided if people were running, we should be volunteering.  We went inside and grabbed what we needed to deal with the rain, then walked back and forth and up and down and around the “race course” the runners were following, and cheered on every runner and walker we passed.  After cheering for several hours, our voices were hoarse, our legs were tired from the amount of walking we had done, and the runners were thinning out.  Hundreds if not thousands of people had completed their own half marathon and earned their medals.  It was a truly great day.

 

During the rest of that afternoon, and during the other afternoons, we did have some free time to enjoy our hotel grounds and amenities.  We’d often be back from our shift by noon, sleep for a few hours, and then go play.  There were pools, ping pong, hammocks and other activities.  We loved it!

On the last day we got to “sleep in” until 6am, as we were handing out a different type of medal.  There are actually six medals you can earn during Disney Marathon Weekend; the 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, Goofy (if you completed the half and full), and the Dopey (if you completed all four races).  We were handing out the Goofy and Dopey medals, which runners have to pick up after receiving their full marathon medals at the end of the race.  We were putting medals on the necks of people who had walked or run a minimum of 39.3 miles over the prior four days!  It was the elite of the elite.

Regardless of time or number of events, we were super proud of every single person who crossed a finish line during those four days.  We know the time, sweat and effort that goes into training for one of these races, especially for those that are also fundraising.  Volunteering was a rewarding experience which we absolutely hope to repeat next year!

The Perfect Cruise

Almost 18 months prior, I had booked an exciting 16-night Royal Caribbean cruise from Venice to Dubai via the Suez Canal.  At $22pp/night plus taxes, who could resist?  But as the departure time grew close, we realized the cruise itself was the only thing that was going to be a good deal.  The one-way airfares were going to cost a fortune – even with my travel miles and expertise!  We had a heart-to-heart and came to the conclusion that after all of travel we had done in 2016, our primary goal in December was simply some major relaxation.

And so it came to pass that we found ourselves on a 12-night Royal Caribbean cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, round-trip, out of Baltimore.  Maybe not quite as exciting as the original plan, but it fit the budget, didn’t require airfare, and had plenty of R-E-L-A-X-A-T-I-O-N written all over it.  Elliott was thrilled that he could pack a million pairs of cufflinks and shoes, throw all of the luggage in the car, and not have to worry about airline baggage restrictions.

01 car full of luggage

Leaving Philly with all of Elliott’s shoes, cufflinks, and dress shirts.

We really didn’t have any expectations; we simply relished the idea of warm weather, calm blue seas, and not having to cook for a while.  We started out with three days at sea, as we left the cold North and headed down to the Caribbean.

 

It only took about a day and a half to get to the warm weather, which really surprised and pleased us!  I was out swimming in the pool before I knew it.

01a Relaxing in the pool

It’s my favorite place to be.

That wasn’t the only surprise, however; the entire cruise turned out to be one, big, happy surprise.  In those first three sea days, we went to Ballroom and Latin dance lessons, and found there were many more dancers onboard than we are used to.  What a treat!  We got to know many of the other dancers, and traded moves and inspiration night after night.  In addition, the onboard dance instructor loved dance so much, she offered free private lessons to anyone who wanted them.  What?!!  Unheard of!  We took her up on her offer more than once and added a few new beautiful moves to our Waltz and Foxtrot.

I had sadly assumed that since we were on a cruise, any holiday spirit would be totally forgotten for 12 days; it was, after all, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I was wrong and couldn’t have been more pleased.  In the beginning of the cruise, there wasn’t much to remind us of the holidays other than the decorations a few passengers had hung on their cabin doors (which were really cute).  As the days passed, we’d hear a Christmas song here and there, then a Christmas tree was put up in the atrium… then at the end of the cruise some of the crew wore Santa hats!  We found it was the perfect amount of holiday spirit without being in-your-face or overwhelming.

 

There were a lot of fun activities onboard.  One night I joined in the fun for a rendition of an old favorite, Family Feud.  My team was terrible, but somehow made a comeback in the last minute (perhaps due to the fact that the last question was worth 3x the points?!).

 

Another night, we celebrated the ship’s 20th birthday with a big celebration and ship-shaped cake in the atrium.

 

Watch the balloons fall!

The itinerary was a fabulous one, and at the same time, an itinerary about which we felt very relaxed.  We had been to all of the ports before, so we didn’t feel pressured to do a lot on each one.  On our first port of St. Thomas, we walked around a bit and went shopping.  For those of you who don’t know, St. Thomas has many jewelry bargains; and it’s one place where I feel very lucky to have a husband who likes to shop!

04 More jewels from St. Thomas

Happy with my St. Thomas souvenir.

On Dominica, we didn’t even get off the ship, preferring to have a relaxing day of our own “at sea” and having the ship mostly to ourselves.  We did see a gorgeous rainbow from our ship:)

08 Rainbow over Dominica

Rainbow over Dominica.

In Bridgetown, Barbados, to the shock of the locals we walked a whole half hour to a local beach.  We spent a blissful afternoon relaxing under a poisonous(!) tree and swimming.

 

In Castries, St. Lucia, we got off the ship and walked around the town for a few minutes.  We didn’t feel the need to do much more, as we honeymooned there, and had a 10th anniversary trip there a few years ago.  Plus, we were on the wrong end of the island, in our opinion!

 

The most fun and adventure we had on land came the next day, on Saint Martin.  We made our way by local transportation (always fun) to Maho Beach, which is next to the Princess Juliana International Airport.  Maho Beach is directly under the flight path of the planes, so you can stand under them as they come in for a landing.  Pretty cool!

 

See a plane come in for landing yourself!

It is so close to the runway that you can stand on it and feel the jet blast of the planes taking off.  Should you though?  Well, I guess each person has to make that determination for him/herself…

 

Elliott was smart like most of the people standing there and ran to the side when the blast got to strong; unfortunately I simply tried to run away from the blast, going further onto the beach and into the ocean.  Warning: don’t do what I did!  Not only did the bare skin on my back get totally sandblasted, every time I popped up out of the water to see if it was over yet, more sand got pelted into my head and hair.  Not a fun experience!

60 Sandblast

Run, Forrest, run!

Sandblasting and all, we had a fabulous time on this cruise.  So much so, that we did something we’ve never done before; we booked the same exact cruise for 2017, while still on the 2016 sailing!  I’m not saying it would be perfect for everyone, but this appeared to be the perfect cruise for us.  And we’re really looking forward to this year’s version:)

All Sorts of Activity and a Little Tragedy on La Digue, Seychelles

When we hitchhiked one afternoon on Praslin (there was a three hour gap between buses that we hadn’t realized, so we decided to try something new), I mentioned to our driver that we liked the island of Praslin in the Seychelles even more than we had liked Mahe.  A native of Praslin, he assured me that once we got to La Digue, we’d like it even better than Praslin!  Each island got smaller, more remote, and more beautiful, he told us.  It didn’t take us long after arriving on La Digue to decide he was right!  In addition to several stunning beaches, we found plenty of additional fun and adventure.

 

L’Union Estate, La Digue

We had to pass through L’Union Estate to access Anse Source D’Argent – the most beautiful beach in the world, in my opinion.  There is an entrance fee required to walk through the estate, so we decided to spend some time there and see what it had to offer before going to the beach at the end.  It turned out it had a lot to offer!

We first walked through the La Digue Cemetery, which was a private burial place for some of La Digue’s first settlers in the 1800’s, the Mellons.  Mrs. Louise Mellon was the first owner of the estate.

 

Once upon a time, the main industry on LaDigue was coconut farming, and its center was the L’Union Estate.  Today, the estate still grows coconuts, and is home to a traditional copra mill.  (Copra is the dried meat used to extract the coconut oil.)  We watched a bull turn the mechanism that crushes the copra and presses it into oil.  After we watched some fresh coconut oil being made, the woman there bottled it up and sold it to us!

 

Watch the ox make us coconut oil!

Next we came upon the plantation house, so we took a look around, and marveled at the view from inside.

 

Soon we came upon the giant land tortoises we had heard about.  These tortoises were penned, not free like the ones we saw on Curieuse, which made us a little sad!  Our sadness turned to smiles quickly when we saw the piles of lettuce the estate had put out for us to feed them though.    (Even though one of the tortoises was quite snappy!)

 

The last area we came upon before finding the beach was full of plants, and our favorite was the vanilla.

 

 

Belle Vue

All of the tourist information we had on La Digue said we had to go here for the scenic view.  In fact, I believe we were promised “cardiac-arresting views from the terrace.”  Hmmm.  It was a good climb indeed.  At the top, however, we found a café, and a lot of clouds.  Luckily they started clearing as we hiked back down.

 

 

Anse Severe and the Sea Urchin Tragedy

“Anse Severe is a quiet spot, well suited for sunbathing and swimming.”  More false advertising?  It looked harmless enough, we thought, as we walked to the north of the island one morning and came upon it.  (We saw some interesting sites along the way.)

 

We had dragged our snorkel gear along, and despite warnings from the tourist office to go to several of the beaches only at high tide, we were determined to go.  Okay, true, it looked very shallow, for hundreds of feet out, and there were a lot of rocks for those hundreds of feet, but it had to get deeper at some point, right?

 

I started to walk out slowly, trying not to hurt myself on all the small granite rocks I was stepping on, or more likely by tripping over their slippery curves.  Elliott got ahead of me, and was apparently determined to prove he was adventurous on this morning.  All of a sudden, as he was getting ready to jump over a wave into a deeper part, I realized the rocks were about to turn into a coral reef, and thought better of this idea.  But it was too late – he had already made the jump!  “How are you going to get back?” I asked.

“Just ride a wave back up onto the reef I guess,” he said, shrugging.  “Do you think this was a bad idea?”  And just as he said that and started to ride his wave in, the same wave knocked me over on my back, onto those rocks.

Ouch.  Only his pain was much worse, as I could deduce from the screams and language coming out of his mouth.  It was a sea urchin sting, and my babio was in serious pain.  I tried to stand up to help him, only to realize that if I didn’t sit back down, I was going to faint from my own back pain and the site of his bloodied, swollen, black and blue finger.

At some point I was able to stand back up and walk back to the beach with him, gather our things, and go ask the woman at a nearby bar where to get help.  And during these few minutes it occurred to me that 1) we had never had a medical emergency while traveling before 2) we had no means to get anywhere other than our feet, and 3) I had not a clue about the severity of a sea urchin sting!

With no transportation, we had no choice but to start walking into town. We asked several locals – including a pharmacist, and everyone told us we needed the hospital. Needless to say Elliott was flipping out imagining them cutting open his finger to extract the embedded spines. Luckily after obtaining the advice of the hospital clinic on the island, we learned the sting would not end his life.  A little lime juice, along with much pain and suffering, and a few days time, would heal all wounds.  (You’re lucky we didn’t take a photo of the lot of spines in his finger!)

We eventually made it back to Anse Severe that day, and we stayed far away from the site of the sea urchin sting.

 

 

Bikeride and Anniversary dinner

On our last full day on La Digue, we did as the locals do, and took to bicycles.  We had an awesome, super-scenic ride around the north of the island, and then all the way down the road on the east side of the island, to its end.  We stopped at a few beaches on the way back, resting on the sand and frolicking in the waves wherever we could.

 

Wouldn’t you know it though – somehow at the end of the day we ended up back on Anse Severe?  With the help of a local this time, I found my way to an actual deep area of the water where I went snorkeling.

 

Elliott, scarred from events of the previous day, happily rested on the beach.  And later when it rained, we sat in the shallow water, taking it all in, treasuring our last moments of our last day on this wonderful island.

 

160a Heading home

Biking home after a great day.

That night was Erev (Hebrew for the evening before) our wedding anniversary, so we rode our bikes to Zerof Restaurant, where we had made reservations for a special buffet and live music.  To our surprise, the restaurant workers had gone out of their way to make this occasion special for us, placing white fabric covers with silver bows over our chair backs, and a vase of flowers (ginger!) on the table. But that wasn’t all; there were pink and silver hearts and confetti on the table, they brought us a complimentary bottle of champagne, and after dinner, a decorated, homemade anniversary cake!  It even had a huge sparkler/candle on top for us to blow out!  It was indeed special, and I’m not sure I can recall a time when complete strangers went so out of their way for us, without asking or prodding:)

 

173 This cake was fabulous (and handmade)

The next morning, on our ferry ride back to Mahe, we enjoyed a little post-celebration leftover cake.  It was our actual anniversary, after all!

 

Fun with Plants & Animals on Praslin, Seychelles

Praslin has a lot more to offer than just its beaches – see for yourself….

The Praslin Museum

This “museum” is less a traditional museum and more a very informative tour of a private estate featuring medicinal and endemic plants and wildlife of the Seychelles.  It takes a bit of bashing on sites like TripAdvisor, but we found it quite interesting and enjoyable.  Elliott’s favorite time was spent inside the fruit bat cage, and I enjoyed seeing our first Seychellois tortoises up close.

41 In the bat cave...er...cage

In the bat cave…er…cage

We saw vanilla and mango trees, I got to participate in coconut de-husking, and we even sampled some citronelle tea.

(Watch the live coconut de-husking here!)  We also saw a collection of traditional tools and musical instruments, stood inside a palm-leaf hut, and learned about traditional food preparation.

50 Traditional Seychellois kitchen

Traditional Seychellois kitchen

Curieuse Island

The 5th largest island in the Seychelles, Curieuse is just over 1km from Praslin and makes for a wonderful day trip by boat.  The island has a diverse history, including being “leased” to private companies for the production of vanilla, copra (dried coconut used for oil production), and livestock, and serving as a leper colony from 1829-1965.  It also contains many endemic and native plant species.

We went for the turtles; Curieuse is home to about 300 Aldabra Giant land tortoises, the largest in the inner granitic islands.

91 Lunchtime for the tortoise

Lunchtime for the tortoise

101 We're both cute!

Do we make a cute couple?

I f you’re like us and you can’t get enough of giant tortoises, check out the videos:
Elliott feeds a giant tortoise.
Stephanie feeds a giant tortoise.

After playing with the tortoises and feeding them lots of leaves from the plants right on the island (their natural food), we took a leisurely hike.  We saw many mangroves, land snails, and great views, along with another animal or two.

122 A bazillion land snails

A bazillion land snails

133 See the tiny Lemon sharks

If you look very closely, you’ll see the Lemon sharks!

At the end of the hike, we were treated to a beautiful beach (go figure) and a delicious local lunch.

139 On the beach at Curieuse

Another big draw of this island is Curieuse Marine National Park.  On our boat trip back to Praslin after lunch, we made two stops and did some great snorkeling.

153 Our snorkel spot

Our snorkel spot

Valle de Mai

194 Valle de MaiThe highlight on Praslin is most definitely its Unesco World Heritage SiteValle de Mai is literally a prehistoric palm forest that is believed to have remained virtually unchanged over millions of years.  It is home to six endemic palms, most notably the coco de mer.

219 Coco de mer

Coco de mer

Coco de mer palms grow naturally only on Praslin and Curieuse, and were once believed to grow in the depths of the sea (the English translation is “coconut of the sea”).  The female tree’s seed, heart-shaped and weighing up to 25kg, is the largest and heaviest of the plant kingdom.  Because its shape is reminiscent of a woman’s pelvic region, the seed once enjoyed a reputation as a coveted treasure in former royal courts.  Both trees and seeds are endangered due to parasites, fire, logging, poaching and theft, and are therefore highly protected.  The seeds may also qualify as the most expensive in the world, ranging in price from $200-$600!  Due to their low numbers, the number that can be sold is highly regulated, and a new tree must be planted for every seed that is sold.

195 Stephanie and a not-at-all-suggestive Coco de Mer

Stephanie and a not-at-all-suggestive Coco de Mer

The male tree is equally unique, with its phallic-shaped seed.

240 Catkin (male Coco de Mer plant)

Our guided tour felt like a walk through the “Garden of Eden,” and I’m not sure we’ve ever been aware of our smallness compared to this giant Earth.

244 At the bottom of Vallee de Mai

We felt so small!

Valle de Mai is also home to many animals…

222 These guys move too fast to photograph, but we did see them

The rare Black Parrot likes to be heard but not seen.  These guys move too fast to photograph, but we did spot them.

Other Sites & Activities on Mahe, Seychelles

The beaches on the Seychelles served by far as our biggest pastime during our three week visit.  But each island had more to offer, and we so we did take in a few sites and activities each week.

Victoria, Mahe
On our first night in Mahe (and the Seychelles) we were really tired.  We decided to let our bodies decide how much sleep they needed and forgo the alarm.  In retrospect, that *might* have been a bad idea!  We awoke at 2:30pm the next day, realizing we had slept longer overnight than ever before – a full 15 hours!  There was no longer time to do a day trip to a beach, so we opted instead to take the local bus into the main town on the island – Victoria.

Victoria was small and quaint with a few interesting things to offer.  Due to our late timing we only caught the tail-end of the local market, a much smaller version of the markets we have in Cuenca.  We enjoyed it nonetheless; we picked up a few items and then walked to the center of town, which is marked by a traffic circle and the Victoria Clock Tower.  Remarkably unchanged over the 100+ years it’s been standing, the clock tower is named after the same monarch for which the capital city is named.

 Then we moved on to the Bel Aire cemetery, a Seychelles National Monument.  It opened in the late 18th century and was Mahe’s first public burial ground.  It houses the bodies of the first French Settlers, including a “giant” who had reached the height of 9 feet 6 inches by his death at age 14, and Pierre-Louis Poiret, the alleged son of Louis XVI.  In 1862 many of the graves were buried by the great landslide (Lavalas), which only makes the place more interesting.  This place was amazing, with huge old deciduous trees mixed in with towering palm trees.

Last but not least, we walked through the notable Hindu Temple in town.

SeyTe
A few days later we went to the tea factory on Mahe. Tea is one of the primary agricultural exports of the Seychelles along with vanilla and cinnamon.

As luck would have it, they weren’t processing tea that day, but we were able to walk through and observe the equipment and machines at a discounted price. We did so, and came back with a lot of questions!  Our luck changed when a man who worked there overheard us, and offered to take us through again, giving us explanations at each phase of the process.  He even turned on several of the machines so we could see exactly how they worked!

123 The whole process

Hike to Anse Major
As we mentioned in our post on Mahe beaches, Anse Major was one that was only accessible on foot or by water taxi.  We chose to go on foot.  The hike was maybe an hour long, and went through forest as well as along many ledges with beautiful views – the ocean way down low to our right, and enormous granite boulders, “slides,” and “walls” to our left.

Snorkel / wildlife photos