Updated: Mar 18
Once in a lifetime experience! That was our trip to Aldabra in Seychelles aboard MV Maya's Dugong with 13 passengers and 14 crew members. We booked this expedition to this amazing and remote World Heritage Site two years ago and started our journey late February 2020.
The atoll is comprised of four large coral islands which enclose a shallow lagoon. Due to difficulties of access and the atoll's isolation, it has remained mostly untouched by humans for the majority of its existence, thus retains many species and ecosystems in a near-pristine state, including the world's largest population of giant tortoises. It is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our days were filled with snorkelling in crystal clear waters surrounded by friendly sharks and turtles and visiting many beautiful Outer Islands in Seychelles.
Fourteen days without internet, phone, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in a place I call Paradise. We had no idea, what was going on in the world, the pandemic shocked us upon arrival in March 2020. Our flights were cancelled, our home country, the Czech Republic, went into lockdown. We had no other option than to rebook our flight in a few days and see what will happen next.
Coco de Mer
We decided to take the Cat Cocos Ferry to Praslin island and stay for a few days visiting the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles - Vallee de Mai Nature Park, home of the endemic Coco de Mer. You can buy and take home officially stamped nuts with a certificate, but you have to declare them at your departure. It is definitely not a cheap souvenir, one costs around 300 EUR. I bought two of these sexy nuts! I will dedicate a separate blog post to these unique World Heritage Sites!
We arrived back to Mahe and received a message that our rebooked flight was cancelled, too. We were trying to stay calm and check our options to get home. I called the Ministry of Interior in the Czech Republic, where they informed me, without our Temporary residency cards, we can not enter the country. We left them at home in our safe. " That is awkward," the lady said on the phone, "call in a few weeks, perhaps after Easter. The entry restrictions may change."
With many flight cancellations, we found an excellent deal for Bird Island. We heard a lot about this island full of birds, but coming from Aldabra and other wild islands we did not think it will be anything special we have not seen yet. We were so wrong! As we got off the tiny plane and walked to our chalet, there were thousands of birds everywhere - nesting in the trees, sitting at our porch. We even had our own fairy tern baby! Wearing a hat was essential to avoid some natural fishy styling gel in our hair :)
As there was no option to go home to Prague yet, we rented a great self-catering apartment Villa Therese at Anse Royale on Mahe. We decided to isolate from others, trying to stay sane and not to panic. We limited our activities to early morning workouts on the beach and night photography. Oh yes, we managed to drown a drone! Although we recovered it from the ocean, we could not resuscitate it anymore. The salty water did the job. Rest in peace, Mavic.
We heard the rumours that Seychelles will probably go into lockdown, too. The first few Covid-19 patients were monitored in a quarantine facility on Mahe, so we decided to move over to La Digue, my favourite island.
Why favourite? It is small, you can move around on a bike, there are only a few cars, and it has wild beaches and an incredible tropical vibe!
Not to mention the postcard sunsets!
We were on the island for a few days when the country went into lockdown, and the authorities imposed a curfew between 19.00 and 6.00, limiting our movements to essential activities only. That meant food shopping. We stayed in the villa, and I was photographing the lizards and the fruit bats in the breadfruit trees. There were police checkpoints at certain places, and they asked people to socially distance from each other. In reality, it was more like "Seychelles distancing". We included some workout on the beach into our daily routine and sneaky visits to feed Strawberry, the cute cat at Grande Anse. As there were no tourists, the poor strays were really hungry. From time to time they catch a crab, but nothing compares to a chicken pouch served on a tree leaf followed by a cuddle!
The beach dogs
The first day after I arrived at La Digue, I was followed by the beach dogs. I am a cat person, and I had no idea what to do with dogs, but I fell in love with them instantly! Look at those faces - Lil B, Brownie, Blacky and Toby! Some days Lilly and Poppy joined us, too. They stayed with us during the lockdown and kept me busy cleaning the mess they left behind every day coming back from the sea. Yes, they are fishing dogs - Toby is an expert in catching smaller rays and LilB is a crab killer:) Now I am away, but my amazing friends are looking after them. We keep helping out financing the food and sterilisation of the strays. There are a few animal welfare initiatives, you can support in Seychelles and soon I will create a Facebook Group dedicated to the Dogs (and cats) of La Digue! Feel free to join us!
With the curfew, I had no chance to capture the sunrises, sunsets or the night sky for almost four weeks! I was counting the days until the end of the lockdown on May 4.
At 3am, I was sitting on my bike geared up with my headlamp pedalling to Grand Anse to capture the night sky! The following weeks I spent many nights on the beach, alone, guarded by my beach dogs, overcoming my fear in the dark. There was that constant rustling in the bushes behind me! I knew it was the crabs only, but it was scary:) The night sky was overwhelming! Seychelles has minimal light pollution, and therefore it is a perfect place to capture the Milky Way! I can never get bored of the Southern Cross. Can you spot it on the picture below? The bright magenta "patches" are the Running Chicken Nebula and Carina Nebula.
140 days in Paradise
The national newspaper Nation did an interview with me sharing our story and my photographs from Seychelles. You can read the full article here.
In June, our home country was slowly returning to normal, however, there were still no flights from Seychelles, as the airport was not operating international flights.
Late June I captured the partial solar eclipse on the beach in early morning hours after the sunrise!
The aerial shot below was taken at Anse Cocos to celebrate 80 days in Paradise hoping that our next flight will depart in a few days. It was cancelled, of course! Twenty days later, I honoured the 100 days with a photo shoot at Grand Anse using shells I found on the beach. It is forbidden to take them home, so I left them behind as they belong to the Indian Ocean!
Unlike some countries in the world, where the shops were empty, we had plenty of everything!
Below a picture from the local newspaper - a German tourist is flying home with a pack of toilet paper and next to it our local shop on La Digue with the empty beer crates waiting for fresh delivery! Not the worst place to be during the pandemic!
We also met other stranded tourists and friends, who were in a similar situation to ours - from France, China, Tanzania, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Kuwait, South Africa.. As the repatriation flights resumed to Dubai late June, many took a chance to return back home.
Late June we moved to a beautiful place to southern Mahe - Domaine Desaubin, where we spent our last two weeks in Seychelles. The Villas are directly on the beach of Anse Corail. We couldn't have picked a better place! Big thanks to Desaubin family to make our stay so wonderful!
My other half was desperate to go home. He was working throughout the entire time and he is not a big fan of tropical beach holidays! I was in a landscape photographer's heaven. But let's be honest, Seychelles is not the cheapest country for a five-month holiday so I had to pull myself together and prepare to say goodbye!
Europe started to impose restrictions again in fear of the second wave of the pandemic. We were trying to find a connection to Prague via Dubai, but with the repatriation flight schedule, it was not possible. Germany still required the residency permit for our entry.
At last, Austria eased up on the restrictions, and we managed to get a last-minute flight ticket. Two days later, on the 11th of July 2020, we were travelling home through Dubai to Vienna and taking a taxi to Prague.
The day before our flight, I met with Mr Guillaume Albert, the honorary consul for Slovakia in his office and we took a picture with our flags.
I also managed to give an interview to TODAY in Seychelles newspaper.
I used my five months in Paradise to scout and shoot the best photography locations on three islands. I prepared an exciting itinerary with a great local destination management company for my upcoming Seychelles Photo Holiday next year, and it will be Epic!
I would like to thank to all Seychellois people and those living and working in the country for their hospitality, support and kindness!
This is my 140 days in a nutshell! I will write more about Aldabra, the plastic pollution, Vallee de Mai and photography tips capturing the night sky and seascapes in my future blog posts! Stay tuned!