'The Amazing Race' Pit Stop Fiver: Where Coconuts Look Like Something Else
Friday, March 26, 2010
I first heard of the Seychelles around fifteen years ago. I remember watching the Miss Universe pageant out of boredom, and just as I flicked the channel, this contestant was going, "Miss Seychelles!" I think that was the last time they ever joined the pageant, but I was attracted to the country's name. I always got it mixed up with Madagascar, which is nearby.
Now, with The Amazing Race heading to Seychelles for the first time in the show's history, I'm forcing myself to rediscover the country, even if only through reading stuff. Backed as always by Wikipedia and the forums, here are five things you should know about Seychelles--things that could help the armchair traveler in you.
So where did Seychelles get its name? It was named after Jean Moreau de Sechelles, a government official under Louis XV's rule as King of France. While the archipelago was discovered by the Portuguese, it was the French that first took control of it, recognizing its importance as a trading hub between Africa and Asia. It became a British colony in 1810, and stayed that way until independence was granted in 1976.
The Seychellois are a really diverse bunch. Before being used as a trading hub, Seychelles was largely uninhabited, which explains for the country's population being almost totally of foreign descent. Most of the Seychellois are of French, African, Indian and Chinese descent. "Practically every nation on Earth has been represented in this melting pot of cultures," so says the government's official travel website.
115 islands of sheer beauty. Seychelles is a leader in what they call "sustainable tourism". With the complex ecosystem the islands possess, any tourism project in the country takes a long time to implement, thanks to many consultations studying its impact on the environment. And it seems to be a success: at the moment there are 75 plant species that are unique to the country, including the so-called Jellyfish tree, which was initially thought to be extinct. There are only eight of those in the world--all in Seychelles.
They're not exactly coconuts. One of the challenges hinted at in Sunday night's episodes involve coconuts, or what looks like it. Seychelles is home to the Coco de Mer, a species of palm that originated in the Praslin and Curieuse islands, and is considered the largest seed in the world. It was named that way because, according to legend, sailors saw it floating in the sea and thought it was a woman's disembodied behind. Legend also had it that the tree grew under the see, but that has been disproved since.
And they've got huge tortoises too. This episode also promises a race with a tortoise. Maybe they meant the Aldabra giant tortoise? It is huge--the average male weighs 250 kilos--and there are lots of them in Seychelles. As part of their efforts to preserve the ecosystem, they have barred humans from entering the Aldabra Atoll; since, the tortoise population there grew to the hundreds of thousands.
So, yes, the racers this Sunday are headed to what I call an environmental epicenter. Remember the rules, kids: leave nothing but memories (and footsteps) behind.
(Image courtesy of Holger Leue/Seychelles Tourism Board)