Actually, she didn’t sell any seashells by the Seychelles seashore but she sure did see some really big sharks.
This is easily the hardest blog to write. Thinking back over my time living in the Seychelles and working as a scientific SCUBA diver, it’s a lot. How do you begin to fit 1.5 years, 4 islands, 5 homes, 200+ dives, and countless species into one blog?
Instead you provide just a taste, just a hint of the heart wrenching beauty of these islands, just a little glimpse into the soul of the Seychelles. And then you promise more to come, popping up when readers least expect it, scattered amongst tuk-tuk trips in Thailand or indigestion in Italy. You have already learned a little bit about my relationship with the seabirds, I promise there is more where that came from.
That’s the big plan. You get a bit of Seychelles now and then some more later and then probably some more even later.
Remember how I said that a few of the countries I visited could expand to fill the rest of eternity? Yea, this is one of them.
Life without electricity. Life without fresh water. Life catching my dinner with a hand line and foraging for my breakfast fruit. Life opening rotten coconuts and burying dead crabs to make fish bait. Life learning the lilting tongue tricks of Seychellois Creole while receiving impromptu curry cooking lessons.
For today though, we will begin at the end.
It seems like a suitable place to start in order to really share with you all just how deeply the islands and the waters and the people of the Seychelles managed to settle themselves into my heart and my soul and my everywhere.
It wasn’t always like that.
When I first arrived it was beautiful. Yes, it was always beautiful. Just plain beautiful. Beautiful in the rains and beautiful in the clouds and beautiful in the dark and beautiful in the scorching relentless heat. But one day, it was suddenly more.
My love grew imperceptibly. I wasn’t fully aware of its development but I could sense the feelings deepening beyond beauty. Deepening with the smell of the island breeze and the taste of the local shop samosas and the sound of reggae beats drifting from welcoming front doors and the feel of hand washed sheets warm from drying in the sun.
I knew it was really love the first Saturday morning I didn’t cringe at my landlady’s chickens raucously welcoming in the morning dawn.
At that moment, this foreign collection of 115 islands scattered throughout the Indian Ocean, with its flag so colorful and its waters so blue, finally became home.
The neighbors wandering through my kitchen while I cooked and the friendly cheers on my local running route and the shop keepers who knew my order, it just fit. And then it was time to leave.
I left a few times, and came back a few more times, and then finally left for good.
One of those times that I left, I left in tears. Well, let’s be honest, that was most of the times, but there was one particular time when I was going home briefly before returning. The previous few weeks had been rough. A theft, another theft, an expensive equipment malfunction, a pair of broken sunglasses, some health issues. Hey, I didn’t say it was all sunshine and roses over here.
It all left me feeling something like that kid Alexander who had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I had a little silver lining mantra throughout all the mishaps that inevitably follow adventure. “At least it’s not my mask,” I used to reassure myself when something was lost, broken, stolen, or maimed. Everything from my favorite shirt to my dignity. “At least it’s not my mask.”
You see, my dive mask was a gift from a dear dear family friend who, in his retirement, passed the diving torch to me. He helped initiate me into the life style and encouraged me to pursue a lifelong dream. The Mask grew to become my crutch, my attachment to home, and my most valuable possession in a life lived out of a backpack.
During my last dive before heading home, I unwillingly donated to the Indian Ocean this prized possession. Conditions were the worst we had experienced. Currents were ripping, the visibility was poor, and I floated on the surface with my equipment, debating whether work would be possible. An angry sea churned below our 15 foot boat and heavy black clouds crowded the horizon. Rains came down in sheets and blocked sight of any land. And in the discussion of next steps, my mask slipped. I realized it immediately but with currents being as they were, The Mask was gone in an instant.
I cried and cried and cried and told my dear friend how important it was as we recalled stories of far off destinations. After many years and two loving owners, The Mask was well traveled. We said a mournful goodbye, agreeing that the depths of the Indian Ocean were a mighty fine final resting place, and then I replaced it with the newest model in the same color. I got used to the new mask quickly but was never able to replicate the sense of comfort and connection to home it provided.
Do you believe in miracles?
Fast forward four months.
Four months to the day.
The conditions churned and tossed and raged and boiled in a way they only had once before. Our little boat and our little inseparable team of three bumped along; the boisterous Seychellois boat driver, the fearless leader, and little ol’ me. We were wary. We took our time. We planned carefully and we securely attached all of our equipment. We hemmed, we hawed, we watched the rain clouds shift and the white caps tip, and eventually we decided that the show must, as always, go on. For many reasons it went on, not the least of all being that this was my last working dive in the Seychelles.
So in we went without a hitch and after 8 months together we worked in perfect harmony. Measuring tape out, measuring tape in, measuring tape out, measuring tape in. On and on to our last bit of measuring tape. My last bit of measuring tape in the Seychelles, after many, many, many bits of measuring tape.
And there it was.
I knew the moment I saw it in my periphery, resting in the sand a meter off the tape, that was it. I knew before I swam for a closer look. I knew it was mine.
My own little miracle.
Floating lazily in my fingers, gazing at me lovingly through algae encrusted lenses. The Mask. I hovered there, like this was the most natural series of events. Like I expected this to happen. It felt that way though, looking back on it now. Of COURSE it’s The Mask.
15 minutes later we surfaced with shouts of joy, Creole and English tumbling and falling and tripping out of my mouth. Pure and simple joy. While we were down there the storm had stopped boiling, the clouds had cleared, and we returned home under an arching rainbow.
Seriously, I couldn’t make this up.
For you naysayers out there, and I know you are out there because I am usually with you, the mask was lost 3 kilometers from shore, in water 25 meters deep, on a different dive site 100 meters away from where it was found. It had been carried off into the blue in the opposite direction from where it was relocated, lost in a high current passage. Surely, had the mask simply sunk to the spot it was found we would have already noticed it or months of shifting sands would have buried it beyond recovery.
Instead, it was just there.
Just right there.
Just sitting on the sandy bottom.
Just waiting to be found.
I grew to love the Seychelles in a way I had never anticipated. Beauty, sure. Fun, absolutely. Friendships, a must. But it was my little apartment and my little neighborhood and my coastal running routes and the Creole phrases I exchanged daily with locals and my cooking lessons and the fresh ingredients of the land and sea. It was life. And then it was time to go.
But then again, isn’t that sometimes the theme of life on the road?
Find a home and go.
Find a home and go.
I was not happy to leave the Seychelles this last time, when I knew it was the last. I was not happy when I knew I would probably not be back, when I knew I would probably never walk these beaches and speak this language and swim these waters and see these smiling faces again. Not happy indeed when I realized my new friends could not write in English and did not have email addresses or internet or computers and so goodbye truly was goodbye.
This mask though.
Reappearing the way it did, so miraculously on my last working dive ever in the country. I think it happened for a reason. I think someone was telling me something. I think this country and this ocean, where I discovered so much of myself, I think this was their way of finally saying goodbye and letting me know it was ok to leave.
A final parting gift to reassure me that I am ready for whatever comes next in life.
And what comes next for us is a new country and a new continent. On to Thailand, same time next week…