It’s a strange yet precious feeling to be alone on a private island. Once my butler had shown me around, explained the intricacies and practicalities of having a never-ending villa home next to a white sand beach in the Seychelles archipelago, it was just me.
It must be the same feeling if you arrive with close family, a friend or lover, but I wouldn’t know. I hardly saw any other guests, not close-up. They could just have been figments of my island imagination. A mirage across the sea. If they were truly real, I imagine they were enjoying the distance between us.
Once or twice I saw footprints that were not mine. But these could very well have been my butler with his discreet comings and goings. A mystical Jeeves that would sneak in and charge my electric beach buggy, fill up my cookie jar and fruit bowl, replenish my coffee pod stores, write secret messages to me on my chalkboard, and lay out cushions on my poolside gazebo dream of a day bed. I also saw the prints of another individual. A few of them in fact. There were the birds and their little claws, but quite special were the marks of a sea turtle and its flippers making its way up from the sea to lay eggs in the sand.
North Island’s conservationist, Tarryn Retief, called me away from my scallops and coconuts with words like, “You’re going to want to see this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. We’ve spotted a turtle making her nest.”
“Eretmochelys imbricate or Chelonia mydas?” I asked.
Okay, I didn’t quite say those words, but I did feel myself wanting to nippily become a turtle specialist while inhabiting this Gerald Durrell dream. The answer to my question would have been Hawksbill. But the island is a critically important nesting site for the Green Turtle as well. Both species have been legally protected in Seychelles waters since 1994.
Tarryn and I crouched a few metres from the female as she covered her newly-laid little ones with the same sand my own feet were tickling and then slowly, very slowly, she dragged her not exactly nimble body back across the beach and into a sea of soft powder blue. I was in no rush either, playing witness to this process is, as Tarryn had said, one of those privileged few moments in life when you are exposed to the magic behind the curtains. Things only places like a protected beach on a private island can show you. The eggs would take around two months to hatch, and then the little pitter-patter of tiny sea turtle tracks would scatter across the white shores.
The island’s conservationists, together with eco-tourist volunteers, patrol the four beaches for signs of turtles each day and mark out the nests they discover, labelling them with bamboo sticks and a coconut, stating the date laid and the species. They record all the information, noting the turtles already wearing identification tags and giving the others their own unique titanium tags. In this way, the island has kept track of sea turtle nesting activity since 1998, with systematic data collection since 2004. They’ve seen the number of Hawksbills utilising the island double and Green Turtles increase six-fold.
One night we got a little closer and I felt the true power in the rare connections possible in such a remote place. Tarryn and I had hiked in our own curious and leisurely way, dragging our shells – backpacks of cameras, food and water – across the jungle-like hills rising out of the island like lookout points watching over the sensitive life below.
We emerged later than anticipated – a beachside barbeque was waiting for me, together with my travel friend who’d stayed behind. We caught the final change from blue to pink, purple to black, as the night sky slipped over us. Even in that dim light, Tarryn spotted them… the subtle signs of a turtle having crossed from sea to shore.
We followed the tracks and knelt down where they came to an end – on a sandy spot between the plants, where a Green Turtle was sidling up to the hole she had just excavated.
My breath stopped and started, but mostly stopped, as Tarryn signalled for me to stay silent and drew out a sensitive red light torch. As she shone it over the scene in front of us, tiny round eggs, soft and bouncy, nothing like I had expected, plopped out into their nest, a hundred or so leathery ping pong balls. Like little stars in the night.
I guessed the dame would appreciate some privacy, so I took my leave and slid into my beach buggy for that barbecue. For lanterns surrounding a pagoda in the sand, dishes of fresh fish from the very seas I could glimpse in the moonlight, a friend and new tales to share, and plans brewing in my head for the next day on my private island hideaway.
A strange yet precious feeling indeed.