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The Seychelles : A Hundred Little Islands Scattered Over the Indian Ocean

February 14, 1988|SHARON DIRLAM | Times Staff Writer

PRASLIN, Seychelles — The sand was as white and fine as talcum powder. There was not a footprint on the beach. The sea was a frothy mint-green wash over the coral reefs, deepening to dark blue-green beyond.

A small sign posted on a palm tree warned of "dangerous currents" and the imagination played with the possibility of a warm wave carrying one far away across the Indian Ocean.

"Unique by a thousand miles" is the way the people of the Seychelles think of their island home. That's how far the islands of the Seychelles are scattered over the northern Indian Ocean, a sprinkling of land particles on the vast expanse of water that divides Africa from India. There are 115 islands in the Seychelles if you count them at low tide, 104 at high tide.

The island of Praslin (the s is silent) is a dot of land that covers seven square miles on which 5,000 people make their home. Nearby--that is, an hour away by ferry--is the even tinier island of La Digue with about 1,000 residents. And in the other direction from Praslin is Mahe, the main island of the Seychelles with a population of some 58,000. Only a dozen of the islands are inhabited.

The language is Creole, the same mixture of French and African dialects that is spoken in faraway Haiti, two continents and two oceans away. The people are a friendly and integrated mix of white and black (though many of the Seychelles' younger generation of European descent have emigrated to find jobs in Europe and Australia, some 10,000 by one estimate).

These islands are half a world away from Los Angeles, via a flight to London, connecting through Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and on to the small international airport on Mahe. Or via a flight to Paris , connecting through Mauritius. Or by slow boat from the west coast of India. From Mahe to Praslin the connection is by small plane or ferry.

By any measure, Praslin is a speck of land as remote as the back of beyond. And the sun is war enough to melt away the cares of the world. Even the equatorial breezes are a soothing balm.

And never more than a stroll away are the scallops of sand that ring the island, hidden by low grassy hills clusters of date palms and coconut palms, and rocky outcroppings good for climbing to survey the endless wash of blue out to an invisible line that divides sky from sea.

On the white sand are heavy chunks of bleached coral washed ashore and left by a receding tide. Smooth pink shells and hairy brown coconuts lie scattered about like the abandoned toys of playful gods.

In such a warm and humid climate, the least exertion is more than seems called for. Still, it is lovely to splash about in water just cool enough to be refreshing, to swim out and look back at the pretty coves and swaying palm fronds, to put on a snorkel and mask and paddle along looking down at fish swimming by in all the colors of a rainbow.

One legend has it that the real Garden of Eden was in Praslin, on a hill in the center of the island. This area is the Vallee de Mai, where the coco-de-mer palm grows with its provocatively shaped double coconut and some say. aphrodisiac powers.

There's a brand new luxury resort on Praslin, L'Archipel. It has 16 spacious rooms in eight two-story cabins built on hillsides that encircle one of Praslin's finest beaches. Each cabin, more like a chalet or little palace, has a green tin roof but is beautifully appointed and dark and cool inside. A main lodge draws guests to the game room and bar with its furniture of wicker and fat pillows.

On the second floor, under a roof but open to the air, is a formal restaurant where guests gather in the evening four gourmet meals that last for hours. On some evenings, a group of local musicians sends melodies wafting over the hillsides. The place is too mellow for hard rock and too hot to get loud, so the resulting music is as listenable as waves, a danceable disco beat without the hard edge.

During the long, hot afternoons, some of the quests retire to their balcony with a tall drink and long book. Others close the huge louvered doors to their rooms, draw the mosquito net like a gossamer web around the king-sized bed and sleep away the heat. The liveliest among them congregate at the thatched-roof open bar at the grassy edge of the beach for a rousing game of cards.

The hillsides cup a long cove with white sand as fine as powder lapped by water a soft aqua. Little islands beyond the cove seem close enough to reach out and touch. Rain clouds loom near Enough to smell their moisture, then brush past and gather at the horizon to await the sunset.

One morning, the maid was polishing the gleaming wood floor of the lobby with half a coconut husk, pushing it around and around with one bare foot, hopping with the other. That night in Praslin's one pub, The Horizon, local girls made the same moves in a dance they called "the coconut."

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