Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 3

Fabled Islands 3 – Soaked to the skin!

April 9, 2009

Today we took a shore excursion to the Valle de Mai on the island of Praslin.

Praslin is the second largest island in the Seychelles with a population of about 6500 people. The Valle de Mai Nature Reserve in a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a mature, well preserved palm forest that includes not only the endemic Coc de Mer palms but five other palms as well.

After landing in the zodiacs we were driven to the Reserve, where we broke into groups for hikes/walks of different length and difficulty.

The palm forest is like no place I have ever seen, very impressive. The Coco de mer produces a seedpod that may weigh up to 22 kg (50 lbs). The tree sends up boles that may be 30 meters (100 feet) high, with leaves up to 4 meters (13 feet) wide and 6 meters (20 feet) long. It is really massive. Just a couple of these palm leaves could thatch a small house!

The forest is very humid and dark. You can’t see the sky at all in most places, the palm trees’ huge leaves spread out across the canopy, effectively shutting out most direct light. Photography in this forest was very challenging to say the least. An assortment of birds excited the birdwatchers in the group (I’m not one of them).  We saw a few brightly colored geckos and white slugs that apparently are found nowhere else.

During the second half of our walk it began to rain; first a light shower then a heavy rain, for about 20-30 minutes. Having no rain gear with me I tried covering my camera with my body and hat, but found the shelter of the massive palm leaves to be completely adequate, little different than an umbrella. I just had to “hop” from palm to palm along the trail. It is quite amazing how little rain falls directly on the forest floor. Instead a great deal of rain is channeled down the deep groove in the palm leaves and stems, dropping it directly at the root of the trunk. A very nice adaptation!

Around noon we headed back to the ship, but the clouds closed in, and a rain squall that we had seen out at sea, had moved in and nailed us as we pushed off from the jetty in the zodiacs. Once away from the jetty, the waves picked up, causing a lot of bouncing and heavy sea spray. As we approached the ship, it was actually on the move so they wouldn’t let us embark! Apparently they were in the process of repositioning to face the ship into the waves, so we had to troll around a bit before being granted permission to dock. By the time we reached the ship we were soaked to the skin,

A quick rinse and a change of clothes and it was time for lunch. The ship weighed anchor moving toward Silhouette Island for the afternoon excursions. While sailing I downloaded my photos from the morning walk followed by a short nap and then prep for scuba diving later in the afternoon.
The cloud cover persisted, but we went out anyway. After all, who cares about clouds and rain if you’re underwater, right?

Besides this was my first attempt at underwater photography. In my pre-trip planning, I obtained an underwater housing to fit my Canon A650 point & shoot, read all the instructions several times to ensure that I didn’t screw things up too bad, and felt confident I could take at least a few respectable images.

The afternoon diving was ok, but due to the cloud cover, the colors were quite muted at best. I had pretty good luck getting photos of our divers, though.

Despite the dim light, which actually worsened halfway through the dive, we saw quite a few “critters,” including some spotted and moray eels, multiple amazingly colored nudibranchs, and many varieties of fish of course. We found a 6 foot (2 meter) nurse shark “sleeping” under a rocky outcropping,

and later in the dive a pair of white tipped reef sharks swimming up nearer the surface but 75+ feet away. They swam off quickly, so I was unable to get a photo of them.

When we surfaced after about an hour, we found the surface conditions had changed considerably. The waves were 2-foot swells, with a fair bit of chop. It made getting out of the water a bit of a challenge, and the zodiac ride back a bit bumpier.

All in all a most excellent day!

Cheers,
Ed

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