Glynn Burridge appears in Imperia Magazine

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Bird Island

The Lodge at World’s Edge

                                                      By Glynn Burridge

 2014-06-15 13.47.51

I first came to Bird Island in 1978, shortly after settling in Seychelles and, immediately, was captured by its astonishing beauty which has remained for me the benchmark against which I have judged the many islands of the archipelago I have visited since

Today, 36 years later, I am visiting again, as I have many times over the intervening years and it is as clear to me as ever that Seychelles’ islands, in the context of a planet which is sadly becoming grimier by the day, are increasingly special for the beauty, tranquillity and lifestyle they continue to offer. If this is the case, then among them, Bird Island is truly unique.

Bird’s uniqueness has many facets and one of them is its size. Where the sheer mass of many islands makes them difficult to navigate, and so enjoy, Bird comes in one delicious, bite-sized chunk, that you can walk around in about an hour, savouring every aspect of its beauty as you do so: raw nature at its best; shimmering sands of world-ranking beaches rolling into a sapphire ocean; sublime swimming and snorkelling; a lush interior criss-crossed by meandering, leafy, island pathways and, of course, if you turn up at the right time of year, the spectacular experience of one of the most important seabird colonies on earth – to the tune of close to a million nesting Sooty Terns.

Perched on the northernmost tip of the Seychelles plateau where the ocean floor slips away to a depth of 2000 metres, Bird Island’s history is equally spectacular. First sighted by the master of the Eagle cruiser in 1771, he remarked on the great number of birds and also Dugongs or sea cows which gave Bird its early name of Ile aux Vaches. Bird’s next encounter with the outside world came in 1808, when the French privateer, Hirondelle, with 100 passengers aboard en route from the Red Sea became wrecked on the island’s north-east coast. The survivors lived on the island for 22 days before sailing to Mahe, 100 miles distant, on a makeshift raft. The end of that century saw the island used as a base for salting fish and birds and also for the mining of phosphate which, at one point, saw the island population swell to around 100 people. One particularly intriguing story is of two Savy brothers who went to Bird in the late 19th century to harvest bird eggs. They experienced a problem with their boat which broke down and they drifted to the shore of the Arabian Peninsula where they became separated, with one brother being enslaved for a time by the Bedouin. They both eventually made it back to Seychelles, one arriving shortly after the other.

By the mid-1950’s human activity on the island had greatly damaged the environment and caused the bird population to plummet from over a million to only 65000 pairs and it was only after the island was sold to its present owner in 1967 that the task of winning back the island was commenced, largely through a sensitive and broad conservation programme and by opening the island to ‘gentle’ tourism.

 Today, the island’s 26 chalets remain a firm favourite with tourists in search of a’ genuine ecotourism experience’ for which the island was named as 7th best destination in the world by the BBC Wildlife Magazine in 2006, alongside numerous, top, international awards.

Uniqueness remains at the very heart of Bird Island’s appeal. Against a backdrop of islands surrendering their timeless beauty, character and very identity to accommodate levels of development that can only be described as deforming, Bird has stuck to its guns and to a simple formula which, after 40 years, is still working. Its evolution into a soulful and much sought-after eco-tourism product has been guided by the same conservationist principle that was adopted at the very beginning of its journey: the requirements of the island and its nature come first. They are king here and everything else follows suit.

This is another unique facet of Bird: that there is a well-studied and very practical philosophy at work here that guides it and steers it clear of the temptation to succumb to the latest fad or trade in its very soul to appease some trending consumer expectation of what the island should offer its clientele.

Another great attribute of Bird is the continuity that it has been blessed with for nearly half a century. In a world where nothing seems to last for long, Guy Savy has been guiding Bird since he purchased the island in 1967 and remains very much at the wheel today, surrounded by a team several of whom have been with him since the very beginning. This continuity has provided the island with a very particular identity, most refreshing in this changeling world of ours, and one that is unmistakably Creole. Where so many other hotels have gone the route of employing the foreign worker, Bird employs only Seychellois and all aspects of life on Bird have a distinctly Creole flavour. Bird is the embodiment of Creole-ness and of the time-honoured traditions of the Ilois, or island settler, dating back to the earliest days of settlement. Sadly, today, it is arguably the last place where the Creole way of life in an old-time island community can still be experienced.

And yet the island is not content to live in the past and the management is even now tweaking its formula to cater for, but not be governed by, modernity. Ingenious, low-tech methods of waste disposal are being looked at the same time that the island farm is being revamped to supply the lodge with fresh produce. A major reorganisation of the kitchen is also underway to streamline food preparation and broaden its culinary traditions of offering the very best food harvested from nature. The island is even resuming the extraction of coconut oil in response to the rediscovery of the medicinal benefits of the coconut.

As its very name suggests, Bird Island’s wildlife remains one of its main attractions and one that is going from strength to strength with the Sooty Tern population rising from a mere 20,000 pairs in 1967 to almost a million today. The island is even pioneering the use of GPS locators on certain of the Sooty Terns and the data from this experiment will greatly assist in our understanding of the movements of this extraordinary species which lives its life almost entirely on the wing. There are also significant populations of Fairy Terns, Common and Lesser Noddies and Tropic Birds and recent years have seen the introduction of the magnificent Blue Pigeon and Sunbird, adding to Bird’s impressive kaleidoscope of bird life.

In the waters surrounding the island, turtles are everywhere and visitors are able to swim with both the Green and Hawksbill varieties inside the reef which was not the case 40 years ago, helped along by a conservation programme which identifies and secures turtle nests, so ensuring a greater survival rate among hatchlings.

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Forty years on, Bird Island continues to evolve along its own special path that has already rescued its previously damaged ecosystem and set it on the road to full recovery. Today, the island enjoys a popular following among nature lovers the world over and an enviably high percentage of returning guests in search of one of the planet’s purest experiences of nature.

Yet Bird has preserved far more than just its ecology. Here at the world’s edge, where life is still governed by the rhythms of nature, an entire way of life has been preserved: that of the Seychellois Islander and the true soul of traditional, Seychellois island living.

Bird from the sea

寄宿在世界边缘

作者:Glynn Burridge   译者:李欢欢

 

第一次来鸟岛是在1978年,是我在塞舌尔定居后不久,即刻,我就被它惊人的美丽所俘虏,而这也为我之后到访过的群岛上的很多岛屿保留了一个评判标准。

 

今天,36年之后,我再次到访,如同过去的很多年里我清晰地认为的一样,塞舌尔的岛屿,在如今全球正悲哀地变得越来越肮脏的情况下,因为它们的美,静谧和持续提供的生活方式而变得日渐特别。若是这样,那么在这些岛屿里,鸟岛是不折不扣的独一无二。

 

鸟岛的独一无二有很多方面,其中之一就是它的大小。很多岛屿都因为他们过于庞大而使人们很难巡岛,但很享受的是,鸟岛像一小块口中美味,你能在大约一个小时绕岛一圈来品尝它美的各个方面:最原始的自然,世界级海滩上闪耀的沙子延伸到蓝宝石般的海洋,超群的游泳和浮潜体验,岛内郁葱,被曲折、繁茂的岛屿小径纵横交错,当然,如果您在一年中合适的时候前来,您将体验壮观的,地球上最重要的海鸟栖息地-接近数以百万计的乌燕鸥一起筑巢。

 

位于塞舌尔高地的最北端,这里大洋底落入到2000米深,鸟岛的历史同样地引人入胜。1771年首次被鹰巡洋舰主看到,他首先对大量的鸟、儒艮或海牛做出了评论,这些给了鸟岛如“牛岛”这样的早期名字。鸟岛接下来和外界的接触是在1808年,当时法国海盗 Hirondell 和从红海登船的100名乘客在岛屿的东北部海岸失事。幸存者在驶入马埃岛前在岛屿上住了22天,100英里远,在一个临时木筏上。在那个世纪末,鸟岛被用作咸鱼场和鸟场,也用作磷酸盐矿,一度,岛屿人口膨胀至100人。一个特别有趣的故事是两个萨维兄弟在19世纪晚期来到鸟岛采集鸟蛋。他们经历了船只发生故障的难题,然后漂流到阿拉伯半岛海岸,在此,他们分开,其中一个兄弟被贝多因人奴役了一段时间。最后,两人又回到了塞舌尔,其中一个在另一个到达不久后到达。

 

到1950年代中期,岛屿上的人类活动极大地破坏了环境,这导致鸟的数量从超过1百万骤减到仅仅65000对。只有在1976年岛屿售卖给现在的主人之后,恢复岛屿的任务才开始,主要措施是通过一个敏感宽广的保护计划和让岛屿开放“温和的”旅游业。

 

今天,当游客搜寻“真正的生态体验”时,岛屿的26个小木屋仍是他们的最爱,鸟岛也因此在2006年被BBC野生动植物杂志命名为“世界7大最好目的地”,以及很多国际大奖。

 

独特停留在鸟岛呼吁着的内心深处。很到岛屿放弃它们永恒的美,性格和身份来适应只能被描述成畸形的社会发展水平,而鸟岛和这个背景背道而驰,它始终坚持自己简约的风格,40年之后,依然可行。它进化成为了一个灵魂上受欢迎的生态旅游产品,事实上从进化旅程一开始,它就采用了不变的环保主义者的原则:岛屿的需要和其自然是首要的。这才是王道,其他的一切都要照这个原则来做。

 

这里是鸟岛独特的另一面:工作的时候,有一个被充分研究过的实用哲学指引着它,带领着它在灵魂深处远离那些屈服最时尚和交易的诱惑,

平息认为岛屿应该提供给客人这样或那样东西的消费预期的趋势。

 

鸟岛的另一个伟大的特质是将近半个世纪赐予它的连续性。在一个没有什么似乎能够长久的世界,Guy Savy 从他在1967年购买下这个岛屿到今天,就和他的团队一直管理鸟岛,团队里的几个人从最初就跟随着他。这个持续性给予了岛屿特别的身份,这在我们现在这个世界令人振奋,其中之一就是克里奥。很多酒店都走上了雇佣外籍劳工的道路,鸟岛只雇佣塞舌尔人并且岛上生活的各个方面都有明显的克里奥味道。鸟岛是克里奥特质和古老传统的岛民生活的体现,或者说叫岛屿定居者,那种追溯到最早期的殖民。令人悲哀的是,今天,它是可论证的最后一个地方,一个古老的岛屿群落里的克里奥式生活仍然能够被体验到的地方。

 

 

然而,鸟岛并不满足于只生活在过去,管理层正在对它的形式做出调整来迎合现代性,但并不被现代性所左右。有独创性的,低科技含量的废物处理方法正在被考虑,同时岛屿农场也正在被改进,为住所提供生鲜的农产品。厨房也在进行一个大的重组,从而使食物流线化准备,并能拓宽传统烹饪的范围,提供从自然获取的食材所做成的最好的食物。作为对重新发现了椰子的药用价值的回应,岛屿甚至正在重新开始椰子油压榨。

 

 

就如同它的名字所暗示的,鸟岛的野生动植物仍然是最大的亮点,其中乌燕鸥的数量不断壮大,从1976年仅有的20,000对增加到今天的几乎一百万。岛屿甚至也正在开创把GPS定位器用于某些乌燕鸥,从这个实验得到的数据将极大地有助于我们了解这个几乎都靠翅膀度过一生的非凡物种的运动。也有大量的燕鸥仙,常见的和较小的燕鸥和热带鸟,并且近些年也看到有美丽的蓝鸽和太阳鸟的引进,这为鸟岛壮观的万花筒般的鸟类增色很多。

 

在岛屿四周的海水里,海龟随处可见,游客能够跟礁石里的各种绿海龟和玳瑁一起游泳,而这在40年前并不是这样,这是通过一个保护计划来帮助实现的,从而能够识别和保证海龟筑巢,确保孵化的存活率更高。

四十年了,鸟岛持续沿着自己独特的道路演变,这挽救了曾经受伤的生态系统,并走在完全恢复的路上。今天,鸟岛享受着世界各地自然爱好者的追随,令人羡慕的是,寻找星球上最纯的自然体验的回头客比率很高。

 

然而,鸟岛保护的远不只是它的生态。在这儿,世界的边缘,生命依然受控于自然的节奏,生活方式的全部都受到保护:塞舌尔岛民,真正传统的灵魂,塞舌尔的岛屿生活。

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3rd Edition of Voices: short stories from the Seychelles Islands by Glynn Burridge now available as a kindle ebook

VNow in its 3rd edition, complete with fresh design and extra stories, the evergreen ‘Voices’ collection of Seychelles short stories by Glynn Burridge describes the strange secrets, realities and fantasies of life on Seychelles’ Outer Islands where the author lived for two decades.

 

Reviewed by the BBC as ‘beautiful and powerful’, ‘Voices’ was also selected by journalist and author Anne Morgan as one of her preferred Seychelles books as she read her way around the world and will lead you on an unforgettably rich literary adventure into the twilight of the fast-disappearing world of the true Seychelles islander. Glynn Burridge is also the author of the dark Seychelles historical thriller, ‘Kolony’ as well as a contributor to the coffee table books: Carnaval International de Victoriathe Coco-de Mer, and Seychelles: State House and Seychelles: Unexpected Treasures

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Seychelles goes Carnival for fourth year running

Seychelles has just hosted the 4th edition of the carnival between 25th and 27th April 2014, an event to capture the imagination of an increasingly troubled and insecure planet for the way it showcases international goodwill and cooperation between a steadily increasing number of participants.

This year included not only old favourites Notting Hill, Brazil, Dusseldorf, Trinidad & Tobago and many others besides, but also newcomers from even further afield such as Sweden, Bhutan and Mozambique who made full use of this unique opportunity to demonstrate their cultural attributes on the international stage in front of 149 international members of the press, 34 international dignitaries including carnival co-hosts La Reunion island, Madagascar, Mayotte and South Africa KwaZulu-Natal, as well as a total of 26 international and 26 local float delegations. The 3-day spectacle has become a favourite with Seychellois who again turned out in huge numbers to enjoy the carnival extravaganza on offer: live music shows by a range of international artists; food stalls; the famous carnival procession itself and an opportunity to mingle and savour the carnival atmosphere, which this year even included a special Kiddies Carnival.

The carnival kicked off on the evening of Friday, 25th April with an official launch at Victoria’s Stad Popiler in the presence of President James Michel, foreign dignitaries, members of government, the local business community and members of the public. After addresses by Minister for Tourism & Culture, Alain St. Ange and the CEO of the Tourism Board, Sherin Naiken in which Seychelles was proudly announced to be in 5th position in the current international carnival rankings, the evening exploded into colour, sound and carnival spirit with lively performances by artists from China, La Reunion, Seychelles, USA, Kwazulu Natal and Sweden among others.

After a threatening start to the next day with storm clouds gathering on the horizon, the long-awaited carnival procession flooded the streets of central Victoria with a kaleidoscope of carnival colour in the form of 52 carnival floats, their members gyrating on the tarmac and returning the soul of the Carnaval International de Victoria to the capital arguably as never before. From Chinese giants on stilts, Alsatian dogs in phosphorescent sunglasses, Miss Seychelles contestants in Hawaiian grass skirts, and Germans parading in period costume to Bhutanese musicians, dazzling Brazilians and another amazing Notting Hill act, once again Seychelles’ carnival of carnivals told the world a story of diversity, harmony and international good will overcoming regional rivalry and blinkered self-interest. This time around Minister St. Ange used the immortal words of John Lennon to great effect in promoting the carnival and widening its appeal: “You may say I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one;  I hope one day you’ll join us and the world will be as one.’’ After the carnival procession in which China and Raffles won respectively the contest for the best international and local float, the crowds peeled off to enjoy the many carnival pleasures on offer throughout Victoria in the form of great music, food and entertainment.

On the last day, Sunday, the traditional Family Fun Day was replaced by the newly- conceived Kiddies Carnival under the stewardship of international soca queen Lima Calbio in which Bel Eau Primary School came out on top of a competition only slightly marred by the rain. After the festivities huge numbers of people convened in Freedom square to enjoy the twilight of the carnival ambiance and a feast of live performances.

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Ghosts

Ghosts Persian art (The eternal pain of Exile)

On the windswept plains of ancient Pars

Ghosts stir from half a century’s slumber:

Persian valleys,  blossom-heavy boughs

And Khayyam’s whispering, silver streams

Persian winds scent Seychelles nights with perfumes from another life

Long-forgotten faces, places, and the musky scents of spring

Ruffle the calm waters of my island exile

With a pining for home

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Lost and Never Found

The Lost and (Never) Found
by Glynn Burridge

Lost and FoundComes a time in most’ our lives
When bad luck does the rounds
Life no more’n a ruined house
With pieces all around
That’s when you gotta keep it real
Get yourself up off the ground
Or you might wake and find yourself
In the Lost and Never Found.

It’s really not a place at all,
Not one that you can find
More’n anything else, my friend
It’s an attitude of mind
The bottom line of your existence
From the point of ‘know’, returned
To the one place in the universe
Where your identity’ll burn

The burial ground of broken dreams
The quagmire of desires
The place ideals get crucified
Then melted down in fires
It’s a dead flat sea without a breeze,
A song without a sound
And, pilgrim, I pray you find your way
Outta’ the Lost and Never Found.

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Cinnamon

 

 

 

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                                               Cinnamon

 

 

It seems cinnamon has always been

Scented trees among the panoply

Lending the air sweet perfume

Rolling down green hillsides

Towards a sapphire sea

 

The treasure of another time

When spices, like gold,

Were sought throughout the world

And men climbed mountains to strip the bark

To garnish a cake…in England

 

Today cinnamon is still here

Straight trees among the panoply

Still a treasure, in new ways

With roots in old plantation days

When life was simple and Seychelles-slow

And cinnamon was all you had to grow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New cover of Voices: Seychelles short stories by Glynn Burridge. 3rd edition out soon.

Here is a sneak preview of the new cover of Voices: Seychelles short stories by Glynn Burridge, newly designed and with some new stories added  for this 3rd edition. Due out soon! A big thanks to Erwin Burian for the new cover.Voices Cover

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Seychelles’ Blue Economy: Tourism

Seychelles Blue Economy: Tourism

Aerial St Pierre_Raymond Sahuquet

 

Introduction

 

When developing for the future it is hardly surprising that Seychelles’ tourism industry should look to its Blue Economy to chart its way forward. Surrounded by 1.4 s km of Exclusive Economic Zone, the Seychelles Islands were created with the all-enveloping ocean in mind and since the early days of settlement in the mid-eighteenth century, this small island state has been moulded, and continues to be moulded, by its relationship with the surrounding waters.

 

Strategic overview

Seychelles’ tourism strategy is to further grow maritime tourism activities and their contribution to the economy by further developing and promoting the sailing & cruising and diving & fishing sectors. This will generally help to grow tourism figures and also assist in making Seychelles an attractive port of call for lucrative super yachts and cruise ships via substantial improvements in the current infrastructure of port facilities and ancillary services and by encouraging private sector participation in the construction of marinas on other islands.

 

Situation analysis

Since the birth of tourism in the early 70’s, the great pull of the islands has always been the winning combination of a spectacular sun, sea & sand vacation combined with a near-perfect climate and a unique island-style way of life that allows travellers to ‘get away from it all.’ These ingredients are, in a nutshell, the very foundation of a Seychelles holiday which we must expand, embellish and build upon to achieve a prosperous and sustainable Blue Economy. Seychelles needs to be making greater use of the economic potential of its Blue Economy, not only in terms of growing the existing base sustainably but also by constantly improving and upgrading it so that it consistently meets the expectations of today’s discerning traveller.

Piracy is a major issue affecting the economic performance and effectiveness of all sectors of Seychelles’ Blue Economy and a major brake on the islands’ future prosperity. Despite the growth of Seychelles’ yacht fleet, it has been estimated that between 2008 and 2010, the aggregate business turnover of this activity dropped by some 22% in current Euro terms. In 2009 alone, the sector experienced a 27% drop in business turnover. The yachting & cruising sector employs a minimum of 100 Seychellois and consumes goods & services such as fuel, food, landing & docking fees, maintenance and repair services, harbor fees, souvenirs and land-based tourism services such as accommodation, taxis, car hire, restaurants and diving. Nonetheless, despite the piracy phenomenon evidence shows that the number of yachts operating in Seychelles continued to increase from 117 in 2010 to 129 in 2011. Accommodation afloat constitutes a substantial amount of the country’s bed capacity (12%) as many tourists spend their holiday, or part of their holiday in Seychelles aboard a boat. It is estimated that yachting activities attract about 15% of visitor arrivals in Seychelles.

 

Strategic objectives

Seychelles will create a suite of events designed to grow Seychelles’ maritime activities and their contribution to the economy, such as the Durban to Seychelles Yacht Race planned for 2015. These types of events are designed not only to offer a superior sailing experience to participants but also raise Seychelles’ international profile as a sailing destination par excellence, with positive benefits to the national economy achieved through the staging of side-events.

Seychelles will make concerted overtures to cruise ship companies to include the islands in their itineraries which will, in turn, strengthen the accessibility of the Vanilla Islands, the umbrella organisation formed for the marketing of the islands of the western Indian Ocean: Seychelles, La Reunion, Madagascar, Mayotte and Comoros, with a positive knock-on effect for all member economies. Seychelles will continue to improve the quality of its tourism products by increasing Seychellois involvement, commitment and shareholding in the industry. The range of holiday experiences and also the number of islands accessible to visitors will be expanded to strengthen Seychelles’ competitiveness in the already congested tourism arena. This will ensure visitors are receiving value for money and that the tourism product more than meets their expectations,

Seychelles’ diving industry already benefits from a reputation for offering excellent diving on both coral and granite reefs via both land-based and live aboard dive operators. Diving in Seychelles will continue to be promoted by the individual dive centres and Seychelles at international Dive Fairs, focusing on advertising the destination as pristine and offering relaxed diving schedules, uncrowded dive boats with a personal Creole touch and strong conservation credentials, in stark contrast to the congestion of other dive destinations. A further boost to the local dive industry will continue to be given by realigning the objectives of SUBIOS with the goals of the Blue Economy, again with positive, trickle-down effects and also by educating the local population about the importance of Seychelles’ marine resources and the need to protect them.

A long-time favoured destination for fishing enthusiast, Seychelles’ sports fishing industry is burgeoning. Seychelles will continue to help promote this sector which includes big-game and fly-fishing and which has already recently appeared on the front page of one of the world’s top fishing magazines ‘Bizbee’s World’ for offering some of the very best fishing on the planet. One of the strategies to be employed to further boost this sector is the organization of larger fishing tournaments with lucrative prizes to attract rich foreign competitors and so provide further endorsement and strengthen the upward cycle. Sustainability will be provided by adherence to strict tag & release regulations to protect fish stocks.

In order to promote excellence in people development and decent work within the tourism maritime sector, Seychelles will grow the capabilities and influence of the Maritime Training Centre which will be dedicated to meet the needs and skill requirements of the industry and also inject an element of Creole colour and personality into its operations.

Sustainability is the watch word across all sectors of Seychelles Blue Economy. As the islands continue to harvest its benefits sagaciously while educating the population at large as to the successful exploitation of Blue Economy resources, sustainability will remain a priority. This will be achieved by integrating sustainability in the daily operations of all areas in the maritime sector and by making sure that all boat and yacht operators sensitize their clients about the Seychelles environment and the need to preserve and protect the natural assets of the islands. Also, by ensuring that appropriate and effective policies and legislation are in place and in force to regulate the safe and efficient performance of this sector.

The Seychelles 115 islands, scattered across a vast Exclusive Economic Zone of and the grand diversity they offer are among the nation’s greatest assets. However, there is a need to make greater use of these slumbering treasures by addressing the issues of geographic and seasonal spread and by tackling the scourge of piracy in the region through increased coordination between and effectiveness of the efforts of the international community.

Conclusion:

Who has not heard of the legendary beauty of Seychelles, its silver sands and warm, dappled sapphire waters? In a world that is becoming grimier by the day, the iconic image of having the opportunity to relax on a Seychelles beach, beneath swaying palms and swimming in its crystal waters continues to be a primary driver of its tourism. And yet, in the highly competitive arena of global tourism where every country on earth is busy selling its product, sun, sea & sand is not enough.

We live at a time when the travel industry is looking for more than just the basics. Travellers are becoming more sophisticated, more discerning and with greater expectations than simply to languish on a beach during their vacation. Time and again, research shows that today’s travellers are seeking experiences that allow them to get beneath the skin of the particular country they are visiting and take indelible memories of that experience home with them.

In the case of Seychelles, it only has to look at its surrounding waters to provide the answer because that ocean is rich in possibilities, many of which have still not been exploited.

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from my thriller: Kolony.

KOLONY           Chapter 4

            Handforth descended to the ocean floor with the silken embrace of its tepid waters coursing beneath the membrane of his dive-suit. Visibility was very good, excellent even; something he was coming to take for granted from the Indian Ocean. 

            As he began to orientate himself, a familiar tightness began to grip his head until, by holding his nose then forcing air out through his ears, the pressure regulated and relief came. He adjusted the inflatable dive jacket to the depth he wanted, which would be about twenty metres, and then peered up towards ‘Bells’ where the deep-vee hull hung inert in a windless sea with no visible play in the anchor chain. Despite it all, he was proud of her. ‘Bells’ was not yet in the condition she should be, or one day would be, but she was functional and her down-to-basics look had a curious appeal. He watched her outline shimmer in the delicate web of his bubbles. Now there was only the guttural murmur of the regulator to disturb an otherworldly quiet as he began to follow the follow the contours of the reef in a southerly direction.

            After a thorough study of the charts, the configuration of the reef and the prevailing winds plus every other scrap of information he had been able to lay his hands on, he had calculated that he should start the search for the wreck at a point roughly three hundred metres further on in that direction. It was a long shot, but he had to start somewhere; the reef shelf was not that long and, if ‘Valorous’ was down there, she must have struck it somewhere along its length.  

            Handforth guessed the ship may well have come in towards the lagoon on a reach which would have placed her, unknowingly, on a collision course with the south-eastern side of the atoll. The satellite picture showed that’s where one of the chief hazards for shipping lay, and so that was the assumption he would start with. Logically, it was now a matter of scouring the perimeter of the reef where ‘Valorous’ should have collided with some coral outcrop, filled with water, and sunk.  

            Somewhere ahead, a small shoal of caranx flashed a signal of electric blue which immediately became shot through with the silver streak of a predatory barracuda. Watching the silver missile slash left and right at its prey with needle teeth, Handforth could not help but admire the simple dictate of the ocean’s food chain: eat and be eaten.

            The current was favourable and nudging him along very nicely in the direction he wanted to go without his having to move much. That suited him because the effect of the drinking bout of the night before was still misting his senses like a cloying fog; not unpleasant, just present.

            To his left was the rampart of the reef, the natural coral barrier protecting a coralline island from the surrounding ocean and, to his right, the open sea. He hugged the barrier, knowing that after a certain time it would absorb the skeleton of a broken boat and then camouflage and hoard it, living creature that it was. As he free-floated through this silent underwater realm, false cleaner-wrasse came from their stations to nip morsels of skin from his unprotected legs while the rainbow forms of tiny clown fish ducked into the protective embrace of their anemones. 

            Different forms of coral made up the exterior wall of the lagoon, each colony with its own particular tenants and each one playing a specific role which would ensure the existence of the whole. Handforth noticed them without paying particular attention to them. As he rounded the promontory of the south point, he began looking for the tell-tale signs of coral overgrowing a ship’s hull, searching the dullness of the ocean floor for its presence and for the tell-tale signs of its disintegration.

            Two and a half kilometres out, the sea floor plummeted to a depth of several hundred metres and Handforth knew great fish would often rise from there to inspect the shallower waters for food: marlin, swordfish and the great ocean-going sharks. They would ride the swell at the border of the deep and the shallows whose journey would end only when it exploded onto the bulwark of the lagoon with massive force.

            Today’s swell was lethargic, like a beast that had fed. Nevertheless, Handforth remained alert and occasionally scanned the surface for any surge which might signal its quickening. He had passed the promontory now and was swimming across the straight, south-eastern face of the coral barrier where the sea floor was like a pitted and scarred moonscape with depressions and dark ravines which reflected little light. For the most part, they were too narrow to conceal a wreck but he peeked into all but the smallest just the same, the concentrated beam of his torch picking out the faces of its startled inhabitants.

            The way they looked at him triggered an impression that something about these fish was different; the majority of them seemed frightened and did not swim about in the nonchalant, relaxed way he had seen elsewhere. Now that he thought about it, they seemed to be on their guard and even the green job-fish which could usually be found brazenly cruising in open water, here kept close to the coral. He stopped for a moment, as if the feeling he was developing required immediate confirmation then spun around to face the open sea and stared out into the black-green universe but nothing seemed to move.

            The same sense of unease as before touched him with an icy finger as if something extant in the waters was percolating through him. Handforth noticed it in the involuntary tightening of the muscles around his neck and in the ever-so-slight increase in the rhythm of his breathing.

            Noticing that he had already been in the water for forty minutes, he forced himself to ignore these unpleasant sensations as he turned back towards the reef and continued his search. Clouds were forming overhead as the weather forecast had predicted and the sky was darkening as all around him as the vivid colours of the corals began turning drab in the fading light.

            In his mind’s eye Handforth pictured ‘Valorous’ caught in a maelstrom of heavy swells. He could well imagine the panic on board as the frigate foundered, probably at night; the crew finding themselves in the water, caught between the sinking vessel, the monstrous waves, the razor-sharp coral and, of course, the predators. 

            The big sharks would have feasted that day, speeding in from the abyss with their bodies gyrating in expectation of the kill and propelled forward by the excited, jerky movements of their sickle-shaped tails. He conjured up the screams as men were guillotined at the torso by hideous jaws thrust forward at the moment of impact and armed with forests of razor teeth.

            He imagined the concerto of shrieks from the helpless victims which were never enough to express the pain. He could almost see the blood spilling out and mingling with the sea’s spume, summoning the final frenzy as sharks, most of them probably tigers or white-tips, competed for bleeding ribbons of human flesh as they pulled their victims limb from limb.  Yes, he was sure that these waters had once witnessed a scene like that and in his uneasiness he turned around once more to face the ocean but nothing moved in waters which seemed to mock him with their stillness.

            He found himself wondering how many of the hundred or so men on board had survived; women, too. The little he had been able to make out from the papers indicated that a certain Sir John Furlough’s wife and daughter had been present on board. Had they survived?  Strangely, Handforth felt himself wishing they had not.

            Something in those yellowed notes pointed to a deeply divided band of survivors but, also, to something more ominous still. And what of the enmity between the captain, Liddle, and this Furlough which seemed to have torn the voyage apart; had that survived? The fate of the drowned and the devoured may have been a terrible one but Handforth was left with the chill impression that to have survived may have been far more terrible still.

            The most pressing question concerned the captain himself. That he had lived was clear from the fragmented contents of the papers but what, exactly, were the circumstances in play at the time of the wreck?

            Handforth usually had a first-hand instinct about people and the captain, in particular, interested him and he was developing suspicions about him which would surely make it worthwhile to comb any wreck for items of value which might have been carried aboard the frigate.

            The answers to these questions, and more, were locked inside that yellow stain; of that he was sure. Even now, the few fragments of the papers he had been able to decipher seemed to swirl before him and, sometimes, if only for a split second, promised to come together and make sense, only to burst again into obscurity. The simple fact remained: someone had taken the trouble to preserve the papers and there had to have been a reason for that.

            The water was murkier now, disturbed by a stiffening current. The double tank would give him air for roughly another hour but the sight which now greeted him meant he would not need it because, sprawled out amid the gloom of the ocean floor no more than twenty metres ahead of him, was the wreck of ‘Valorous.’ It had to be her and, judging by her condition, she looked as if she may have lain there for ages.

            In the exquisite excitement of the moment he felt that he was being starved of air as every sinew in his body demanded oxygen at once and euphoria threatened to suffocate him as he fought back by focusing on the rhythm of his breathing.

            The vessel had, somehow, remained relatively intact; the impact of the collision had smashed a gaping hole in the hull but it was still very much recognisable as a frigate. A large potato grouper swam close-by and, as Handforth approached, it darted inside the gloom of the wreck. Little remained of her various fittings and the cleanly cut stumps of her masts told of a salvage operation by the survivors which suggested that she had not sunk immediately. 

            When she did, ‘Valorous’ must have fallen into the small channel that now held her captive in stony jaws and which had, most likely, preserved the hull in the state he now found it. Otherwise, she would have disintegrated long ago in the violent undertow of the giant swells. Looking her over, Handforth guessed she might have been eighty-odd feet in length and roughly twenty-five abeam.

            A quick inspection satisfied him that nothing much of value remained for the coral had long since claimed it for its own and was giving little back now. He scouted the immediate vicinity for remnants of the catastrophe; they were undoubtedly there, part and parcel of the reef now, but to look for them would mean turning a search into an archaeological dig and that would have to wait. As he drew level with the gaping hole which exposed the cross-section of the ship he saw the sullen eyes of the giant grouper peering out at him.

            Rounding the hull on the other side, he registered movement at the edge of his field of vision. Further along the reef, a form seemed to have darted into the cover of a lozenge-shaped coral outcrop and he paused for a moment to watch, scarcely breathing. Again, there was nothing. 

            Then it struck him: there should be something in the open water; a shoal of mackerel; a stingray; or any number of those fish which liked to patrol offshore. Here, they were most conspicuous by their absence and every other living thing seemed to cling to the main body of the reef for cover, watching him from the safety of their warrens like colonies of terrified underwater troglodytes. 

            Movement again and more pronounced this time. Handforth squinted up the reef wall, glanced down at his air gauge and began to make his way towards it.

            Kolony is available as a kindle e-book.

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