Sexy seeds in the Seychelles

The largest seed of any plant in the world is the nut from the coco de mer palm tree, which is found only in the Seychelles. It is a protected species and only rarely are specially certified nuts available for sale, much to Laurel’s disappointment because the meat is said to have a unique and intriguing taste. We never saw a real nut for sale but every gift shop in the country is filled with replicas. Not because of their rarity, size or taste, but because the two lobes of the nut come together in a shape that is reminiscent of a woman’s crotch. A feature that is even more exaggerated in the souvenirs and novelties.

We encountered the real tree in a botanical garden in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, which is on the island of Mahe. When we stumbled across the tree, we didn’t realize it was a coco de mer at first but were immediately impressed by the size of its nuts.

The Seychelles is made up of dozens of islands spread across several groups. Earlier we visited the Aldabra Group of the country. Mahe is part of the granitic islands. Granitic was a new word for us but just means they are made of granite, as opposed to the coral sand of the atolls like Aldabra. The granitic islands hold the vast majority of the population, which isn’t vast. Victoria which is sometimes described as the “smallest capital city in the world” or sometimes “one of the smallest.” La Digue is another one of the granitic islands we visited, a sleepy tourist destination with its granite displayed to great effect at a much-photographed beach called Anse Source d’Argent.

We also visited the island of Praslin where we had some good snorkeling among the granite boulders and saw a shape-shifting octopus (in the middle of this video). On Silhouette Island we enjoyed a lazy afternoon watching crabs go about their business on the beach. If you would like to enjoy the relaxing pastime of crab watching, try this or this video.

Below are our other highlights from the granitic islands.

150,000 giant tortoises

Aldabra Atoll is inhabited by a dozen researchers and about 150,000 giant tortoises that each weigh several hundred pounds and live for well over 100 years (the tortoises, that is, the researchers were all young and slim). If you’re not familiar with an atoll, it is a ring of reef and low-lying islands surrounding a central lagoon, formed after a long extinct volcano in the center eroded to nothing over millions of years.

Nearby Cosmoledo Atoll, showing the typical ring of low lying islands. Aldabra is too big to fit in one picture like this.

Giant tortoises used to live in warm areas around the globe but were hunted to extinction by humans everywhere but in the extremely isolated islands of the Galapagos and Aldabra. Even there, the tortoises were at risk after their discovery by Europeans because they can stay alive for months without food or water and were thus a useful source of fresh meat on long voyages. Aldabra is now a protected World Heritage Site and the tortoises are secure and doing well.

I’m doing well, thanks for asking.

Aldabra is governed by the Seychelles but far from the main inhabited islands that make up the rest of the country. It can only be reached by boat. Due to its remote location and permitting process required to visit it, only 20 or so tourist boats will come this year, up from zero a few years ago when the island was in a no-go area because of Somali pirates. But the staff on the island was very receptive to tourists, perhaps because the foundation that protects the island is funded in part by private donors so they like the good PR. They even had a little gift shop, where Laurel bought an official Aldabra t-shirt and coffee mug. We landed at the research station and were greeted right away by a giant tortoise. Then another, and another. We are used to long searches to get fleeting glimpses of the exciting rare wildlife of a particular location, but Aldabra is teaming with the giants. They are roaming around the cottages in the station, parked along the path into the forest, pretty much everywhere you look, chomping grass like cows.

Aldabra is also known for its sea life, being a marine protected area as well. Regrettably, the wind and waves were rough during our visit, so we were unable to snorkel. Aldabra Atoll itself is the largest of a group of four islands, collectively the Aldabra Group. We were able to snorkel at two of the other islands in the group, Assumption and Cosmoledo, but the continuing rough seas limited what we could see.

The Aldabra Group is coincidentally a hot-bed of activity for another giant shelled reptile, sea turtles. In a brief land visit to Assumption Island, we found fresh tracks from nesting sea turtles every several paces down the beach. Notice our footprints for scale next to the tracks below.

Finally, a few videos from the Aldabra Group:

  • The tortoises spend 99% of their time munching grass. Perhaps it isn’t very exciting in the usual sense but it is hypnotic and relaxing to watch these prehistoric creatures go about their business.
  • Here is a tortoise in action, racing past.
  • Cruising the lagoon of Adlabra at sunset, while the birds come home to roost.
  • We had a chance to snorkel with a couple flapping stingrays, all of us being pulled along by a strong current.