Roughly 110 days of 144 days into the cruise, I drink too much. I know, that is shocking, because it would seem like I always drink too much. But this time, I drink so much that I am unable to go on my planned tour excursion, Day 1 at La Digue in the Seychelles. And of course I would end up regretting it. The Seychelles are stunning — as beautiful as the Maldives or French Polynesia, but less crowded than either. The water isn’t as clear, but the fish come right up to you on the beach. Also, the food is arguably better.
Having missed my first day in the Seychelles, I make sure to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the next day at Port Victoria, the islands’ capital. Although this part of the Seychelles was arguably British, everyone still speaks French and eats food that is a mix of French, Asian and African, aka “Creole”. There are chilies galore, and plenty of fruit and vegetables, and anything (and I mean ANYTHING) can be curried, including octopus, parrotfish, and fruit bat.
So when out snorkeling excursion ends, we tidy up as quickly as we can and set out into a sweltering heat on a walk to lunch at Marie Antoinette. Google Maps tells us it’s a mere 30 minutes from the pier, which is totally doable, right? Especially since, on our way there, we encounter the German-speaking Belgian group, who have been out and about for a whole two hours. “We’re missing our excursion,” says Johan, glowing in a peachy sheen of sweat. “But it probably wouldn’t have been fun anyway.”
But after 15 minutes, I cannot believe I am still outside walking. After 20, while walking up a hill, I realize that if I were to trip and fall, I would simply lay down and die. Finally, we reach the restaurant, which is actually on the outskirts of town, halfway up a fairly steep incline. At the restaurant, we encounter more people from the ship. “We took a taxi,” they said, glancing at our clothes, which look like we’ve been thrown into a swimming pool. The staff kindly direct us to the coolest spot in the open-air dining room. Behind us, next to the restrooms, a crowd of tortoises is having their own lunch, a mass of carrots, eggplants, cabbage and tree leaves.
To cool ourselves down, we order the local beer, which aptly features a turtle logo.
Yes, it’s true that Marie Antoinette serves fruit bat curry, but we did not have the guts to order it. We got the set menu instead, intended for 2 people but ultimately enough for 3. Included was a hefty serving of parrotfish and eggplant fritters, served with a kind of sweet Thai-like chili dip; improbably tender marinated tuna steaks; baked Creole-style red snapper with garlic; and what they called a “Creole” sauce, which tasted like a mix between tomato salsa and ketchup and was meant to be eaten with the fish.
Best of all, however, was the rice and chicken curry, paired with a spicy mango salsa, pickled chilies and pickled, shredded cabbage and carrots.
On the way home, we ordered a taxi.
In Madagascar, we have fewer moments for food spotting, simply because the lemurs take up all of our time. And when we are not turning around to see a bright-eyed lemur staring straight at us from a nearby branch, we are in a rickety old bus that is clearly on the verge of dying, just like I would be if I was forced to walk instead of ride.
In fact, two other buses break down during our day out in Madagascar, which, when forced to fend for itself on the “non-lemur” side of the road, produces sights like the “Ghost House”, where an Indian man once lived and committed the grave sin of … not having any children. In retaliation, a ghost took over, forcing the European family that purchased the house later to flee. Today, the children from the school next door look in through the window, having told each other of a time when some children exploring the house were pushed from the walls by the ghost, never to climb again.
But later, at a “comfort” stop where both men and women queued 20-something deep for two bathroom stalls, only to queue again for soft drinks with which to refill their bladders, we wandered to the second floor where we could look out over the beach. Here was the beating heart of the town, where young people jogged, danced, flirted and even exercised in earnest as fishermen strolled past with their catches and the occasional tourist splashed in the water. Also, there were doughnuts.
All very nice and good, but the next stop, French Comoros, is actually a bona fide district of France. And although our tour of the island ended up being a half-hearted stroll past some government buildings, our lunch afterwards at the pier was worth the 10 kg of water weight that we had lost in the humidity.
We ended up ordering the ubiquitous “poulet au coco”, less curry-like than its counterpart on the Seychelles, as well as the cote de boeuf, saignant, with the chef’s signature chili-laced mayonnaise sauce. Even better (I’m afraid to say) was the accompanying hot sauce, a specialty of the island and a mainstay at the markets.
My favorite of the day was the blanquette de poisson, made from swordfish that had only just been sent to the kitchen. This was fortuitous, since we foolishly ordered two of the blanquettes (and three steaks, plus all of the side dishes on the menu). It was a lot of food.
It was a nice lunchtime foray into our brief moment in France, but I must admit I am looking forward to our next stop, Mozambique, where I am told I am going to eat at … a Thai restaurant. Yes. I should be ashamed, but it’s been a while. Latest tally: 113 days down, 31 to go.