The biggest threat to my safety in La Digue, without a doubt, was that posed by novice cyclists. Despite never having ridden on two wheels before, or at the very least since childhood, these tourists didn’t hesitate to rent bikes. After all, cycling was the only practical way to get about on this almost car-less island. The ox carts of yesteryear had pretty much been replaced by open-sided trucks, the hotel golf buggies seemed to vanish when the inter-island ferry sailed and hot footing it on two legs took on a whole new meaning in the sweltering temperatures and almost unbearable humidity.
So bike it was. Continental Europeans, of whom there were plenty, veered to the right as was their custom, but the Seychellois follow British convention and there was much gesticulation, albeit of a tropically languid kind, to force them to ride on the left. Weaving erratically across the street, they cut up pedestrians and wobbled perilously close to roadside ditches causing the South Asian migrant workers to rattle their tiffin boxes in protest. A Gallic shrug indicated that they didn’t really care.
The local youth weren’t much better when it came to road sense. By day they rode three abreast to the pumping sounds of the beat boxes on their shoulders and by night they rode hell for leather with no lights. More than once I had to swerve onto the sandy verge to avert an accident.
And then there was the animal traffic. A few stray dogs roamed the island, passing their time comatose under a shady tree until a cyclist took their fancy and a chase ensued. Soon, though, they’d tire. The threat was worst in the early morning before it got too hot. I learnt the hard way, ambushed on my way to the Union Estate copra plantation with a dog snapping at each ankle and lucky to escape with my trouser legs intact. Fortunately a lump of seaweed on the nearby beach provided a welcome diversion. They were soon flinging it around and pouncing on it, good practice for their regular habit of crab chasing.
A giant tortoise taking an amble along the road up at Anse Banane was less aggressive, though the crowd of tourists who had stopped to take his picture were making a pretty effective road block. Eventually they, and their target, had moved on. The tortoise, predictably, hadn’t got very far. The effort of chomping on some couch grass had proved too much and it had fallen still alongside someone’s rear tyre. Fortunately mine was parked in the next rack; when I retraced my steps an hour later the creature still hadn’t moved, though to be fair neither had the bike’s owner. It was all too easy for one fresh juice to turn into two or more.
Despite these hazards, and aside from getting to grips with derailing gears – my fault for back pedalling – cycling around La Digue’s coast road was a pleasure. Locals shouted words of encouragement on the inclines. As I freewheeled on the downhill stretches, I felt the breeze snatch my wet fringe from my forehead. It was worth every last drop of sweat expelled on the way up. More than once I’d lost momentum distracted by the many scenic bays that dotted the coast. It was exhilarating, and if I’m honest, not that challenging to anyone with reasonable physical fitness. Not for the first time I cursed my preference for spending my evenings snacking in front of the TV rather than heading out to the gym.
But the burn that nagged at my thighs was worth it. Huge chunks of granite, sculpted by persistent waves, trapped the ivory sand in gentle crescents. Coconut palms arched over takamaka and casuarina trees providing a little shade for those tempted to rest. The warm clear water looked inviting, but dangerous rips gave it a potentially murderous beauty. An engaging German tourist stressing about a shark attack was quickly shut down by the fruit seller. That incident had been two years ago and in any case, on Praslin, she said. Not here. Nothing like that would happen here.
But which beach to choose? That was easy. To figure out which was the best, all you had to do was look for the one with the greatest number of bicycles propped by the roadside.