Saturday, September 29, 2001

The Seychelles: My honeymoon hell

The Seychelles: My honeymoon hell

Picture an idyllic island, full of couples. Now add a single man, Jeremy Atiyah. All he has on his pillow is an orchid. Sad? You bet

Published: 29 September 2001

Help! This is the Seychelles, and I'm surrounded by honeymooning couples. I've never seen so many newly-weds in one place before. All these tax-paying Euro citizens, stretched out quietly on deckchairs. It could be Frankfurt or Strasburg, except for the black kids playing barefoot soccer on the beach at sunset.

No chance of a single man scoring here, though. I'm the only unattached tourist in this whole country, other than a guy called Toby, who's got long hair and a goatee beard, and claims to be researching an article for You and Your Wedding.

"You mean that woman's magazine?" I say.
He looks at me strangely. "It's for people who are planning their honeymoons."
First I've heard of it. Anyway, tonight we are both staying at a hotel called the Archipel on the island of Praslin, and all we can see are rock-solid young couples in fashionable swimsuits. None of them has even brought children. That's because everyone is just married (except for Toby and I, who just never had kids).

While Toby is checking the facilities (Jacuzzi in bathroom? Orchid on pillow?), all I want to know is whether the Seychelles is a place where a single man might enjoy himself. What's winding me up is that every time I ask for a drink, the waiter asks if my lady is indisposed, or coming later.
"What lady?" I ask.

In fact I'm feeling right off honeymoons. Falling in love can seem so soppy. How about work and business, I want to say. Huh? How about money, then? Not that these islands are a place where you would invest your pension. The local currency is falling into a black hole. The Seychellois economy runs at the speed of a giant tortoise. The two main islands Mahe and Praslin, with their forested hills, look a bit like Hong Kong, circa 1800 (ie, with no people and no money).

So what am I doing here? It's not even as if I am lusting after anyone else's woman at the moment, except possibly for chocolate-coloured Patrizia, from Sicily, who is on her honeymoon with a Milanese banker called Andrea. Most of the people here seem to be Italians. These two look barely 25 years old.

"Patrizia's just married," Toby points out.
"I know, I know," I retort.
In fact we have observed that Patrizia changes her outfit at least three times a day. Honeymooners! You have to ask yourself – from beside the pool at sunset, over your gin and tonic – whether they are particularly happy people. None of them is talking to (let alone copping off with) anyone except for their own partner. As for the hotel, Toby needs to be reminded that he is supposed to be reviewing it for the readers of You and Your Wedding.

"My room is romantic," I inform him. "Walking along a hillside path, overlooking the moonlit sea, beside endlessly pink, flowering Mozanda trees, I tread on several large copulating snails per night..."
"You sound bitter."
"... then when I get inside my mosquito net, under the spotlights, brushing aside the scattered petals, I get the feeling that a scene from The Joy of Sex is about to be filmed..."

If anyone is bitter round here, it's Toby. He has got the bridal suite, supposedly for professional reasons, though he has no chance of test-driving the facilities, no matter how frequently he walks behind Anita's deckchair during the daylight hours. "But the scattered petals are a nice touch," he says.
"I'm sure."
In short, it doesn't take us long to get bored with places such as this. Which is one good thing about our schedule: it keeps whisking us off to new islands.

But the next morning, from the moment we arrive on sunny Cousine in a private helicopter, I start getting depressed again. It's the same story. This place is going to be too good for me. The whole island of Cousine is being reconverted to the original island habitat, and contains just one extremely luxurious hotel with only four rooms. A five-night stay here – for you and your angel – will cost several thousand pounds.

We meet a South African called Peter, who runs the conservation project.
"We got rid of the foreign species, such as rats and rabbits, in order to re-introduce the original endemic species," he tells us. He is friends with skinks and lesser noddies, and likes Cousine because he can't handle the urban maelstrom of Praslin (population: 6,000).

Lizards are walking over our sandals, and pretty birds called Fairy Terns are flying around our heads. Peter shouts: "I'd take one of those as a wife." It turns out that each Fairy Tern, like a honeymooning Italian, is glued to its partner.

"Yep. There's no music here, no diving, noactivities. Just people doing nothing. It's a place to get out of the fast lane for a while."
"Why are you looking so pissed off?" Toby asks me, later, as we set off on a walk around the island, to inspect the four villas, each with its own huge private garden and private stretch of wild beach. Doves are cooing ostentatiously in the branches. My problem is that I have just conceived a crippling urge to get into the fastest of all fast lanes, in order to marry a trophy wife and bring her to Cousine for a honeymoon.

"But we don't have honeymoon specials here," interrupts Peter, needlessly. "It's a honeymoon for everyone by the time they leave."

Later, I'm relieved to hear that not everyone likes this place. Some customers have said there were too many Fairy Terns. One guy complained of constant bonking on the part of the resident giant tortoises (I don't think he liked the idea of being outclassed by 200-year-old reptiles).

This may be the desert island of your dreams, but the rooms do have CNN and international direct dialling and modems for hooking up your laptop. That's for when you feel the tug of the fast lane.
But Peter is oblivious to all that. He's more interested in a particularly large millipede dropping that he has just found on the step. Oh! And there's a magpie robin, one of the 10 rarest birds in the world. We watch as it attempts to peck the ground, only to be scared away by the threat of a tiny lizard.

So the week goes on. We jump from island to island, looking for paradisiacal happiness. Toby interviews people who have just sworn each other eternal love, and takes notes on their experiences. What else are we supposed to do?

One of the only high moments comes a few days later, after we bump into blonde Larissa and bald Dmitri from Moscow. Oh my God. Larissa has got the best body I have ever seen, while Dmitri, whose neck is very red, has got one of the worst.

"No questions," says Dmitri, thuggishly, pushing Toby out of the way, when asked if the Seychelles is living up to its reputation as the dream honeymoon destination. "We come private trip."

Toby isn't interested in Russian adulterers though, because at that moment a real, live wedding couple are walking up from the beach, sweating and panting in a frock coat and white dress respectively. Their names are Antonio and Maria. Frangipani petals seem to have been scattered over the bride's tresses.

"We're from Bologna," puffs Maria, after Toby has offered them his insincerest congratulations. "No, we don't mind answering questions. We wanted to get married here because... well...". Speechless, they both turn and gesture towards the turquoise sea.
"Because what?"
"Because... e molto romantica," she pants.

Toby is writing all this down, as though he's got the scoop of the century. Oh yes, I say? What's the big deal then? Maria takes a deep breath, before suggesting that we only need see a beach called Anse Lazio on the northern shore of Praslin to find out. I suspect she likes it because its name sounds like a region of Italy.

But off we go, the next morning, in search of the truth. On the map, Anse Lazio doesn't look far, so we hire bikes. But the bikes have sea-salt-encrusted chains, and no gears. The road gets hilly, and we are unfit. Finally there, we are both on the verge of heat-stroke.

"Seems to be lunchtime," I grumble. All the continental honeymooners, who have driven here in expensive rented jeeps, are now packing a beach-side café, eating grilled fish, drinking Coca-Cola and staring into each others' eyes.

We, meanwhile, sit ourselves down on the sand under a casuarina tree, squinting at a number of attractive women bouncing in and out of the surf, which is an electric blue. For some reason, we are both wearing trousers, shirts and uncomfortable hats, while everyone else is in a swimsuit.

"Nice beach," says Toby, biting on a ham sandwich and brushing an ant out of his hair.
"Not bad," I say, looking round the perfectly framed bay. Crabs on high alert are scuttling past my feet. But I have not failed to notice that for every woman in the water, there is exactly one Milanese banker on the beach, sitting beside an empty towel. I'm sorry ­ I now have to say ­ but Anse Lazio really isn't going to do it for me.

Travellers' Guide

Getting there: solo travellers can get to the Seychelles on Air Seychelles or British Airways, with fares for around £600 through discount agents. Jeremy Atiyah travelled as a guest of Elite Vacations (020-8864 9818), which can tailor-make any package to the Seychelles. Prices start from £758 per person, based on two sharing, for five nights at the small, family-owned hotel of Lazare Picault. This includes flights, transfers and accommodation but no meals. The same holiday on Cousine Island starts at £3,147 per person, full-board.

A trip called "Millionaire's Salad" comprises one night on Anonyme, half board, followed by three nights on Alphonse, three nights on Denis and five nights on Fregate, all full board. Apart from the Mahe-Alphonse-Mahe flights, all the rest of the island transfers are by helicopter. Price including flights and transfers, starts from £7,352 per person.