Stuck in paradise |15 May 2020
Many travellers were impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 and while many tourists who were vacationing in Seychelles when the outbreak started jumped on the first plane back to their home countries, a few were forced to stay as they could not get a flight back.
Seychelles NATION talked to Erika Valkovicova, a Slovakian photographer, who has been in Seychelles with her partner Steve Furniss for the past 80 days.
Seychelles NATION: When did you arrive in Seychelles?
Erika: I came to Seychelles late February with my partner for a 15-day expedition to the beautiful Aldabra atoll, which we booked two years ago. We had no wifi on the boat, so when we arrived back to Mahé mid-March, it was a shock to hear the news about the spread of the pandemic worldwide. Our country just went into lockdown, and our flights were cancelled.
Seychelles NATION: How long were you planning to stay?
Erika: Since this was our third trip to Seychelles, our original plan was to only stay 18 days, including the expedition and a short visit to Praslin.
Seychelles NATION: How did you get stuck in Seychelles?
Erika: There were still some flights available to Europe, so we kept re-booking our flights after each cancellation. Eventually, we received the news from the Czech Republic, where we live, that due to the lockdown measures, only permanent residents or temporary residents with a permit are allowed to cross the border. Since we are both temporary residents living and working in the country and our residency permit is kept in a safe back home, we had no chance to return to our flat in Prague until after the emergency lockdown of the country was lifted.
Seychelles NATION: Describe your experience in Seychelles during the 80 days?
Erika: Since my teenage years, when my auntie sent me a postcard from her holiday with the beautiful coco de mer, Seychelles has been my dream destination.
I came here on my first visit in May 2018, and it was love at first sight. For a nature addict, the 115 islands filled with incredibly beautiful sceneries and abundant fauna and flora are a real feast for the eyes! During our two-week sea expedition, we visited Desroches, Alphonse, Cosmoledo, Assumption, Astove, Bijoutier and St. Joseph islands with the magical Aldabra atoll, which is a Unesco world heritage site, as a highlight.
After our return to Mahé, the second world heritage site was awaiting – Praslin’s enchanting Vallée de Mai nature reserve with the endemic coco de mer. We spent a few days on the wonderful Bird Island and two weeks roaming around Mahé, hiking the fascinating Copolia trail with the endemic carnivorous plants and arrived on La Digue just a few days before the lockdown. My partner works from home, so we rented a villa with a fast internet connection to be able to prepare a fully functioning home office environment.
I am a freelance landscape photographer and a member of the World Heritage Photographer Team, also working mostly from home. It was not easy to be in paradise and stay inside, but we knew the only way to prevent the spread of the virus is to obey the rules and remain patient. We could not have chosen a better place for the lockdown! Life is coming back to normal on La Digue, and I am enjoying again shooting the seascapes and the night sky. We also went on a snorkelling trip around La Digue and more adventures awaiting soon!
Seychelles NATION: What is the COVID-19 situation in your country?
Erika: The government of the Czech Republic declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020, sealing borders and shutting up most shops. It restricted free movement on March 15. The Czech Republic is one of the few countries in the world where protective masks are mandatory during the coronavirus crisis. The state of emergency was lifted on May 11 with the country returning to life and slowly easing up on restrictions.
Seychelles NATION: Where are you currently residing?
Erika: It has been almost seven weeks now that we are staying on La Digue. As you are not allowed to drive cars, this gives me the convenience to explore the island on a bike. During our stay here we have also resided at Villa Therese in the district of Anse Royale, Villa Coco on La Digue and Chalet d’Anse Reunion also on La Digue where we are currently residing.
Seychelles NATION: Do you plan to go back when they open the border next month?
Erika: We have registered our interest in flights, but we will only get on the plane once we are sure we won’t get stuck somewhere else during the transit, as there are no direct flights to our home.
Seychelles NATION: Have you made any friends during your stay?
Erika: Our four-legged friends were the first we made, probably straight after our visit to the beach. They are an integral part of our life now. Our hosts are lovely too, and we made friends with many local shop owners, managers, residents as well as other tourists who ended up in a similar situation to us. It is a small island, and we are very thankful for everyone’s hospitality and help during this challenging period.
Seychelles NATION: What has been the reaction to your pictures that you’ve posted online?
Erika: I was overwhelmed with the feedback, especially on social media, my Milky Way image received over a thousand likes in just a few hours! Many amateur photographers were asking me about how to capture the stars and long exposure photographs. The Milky Way is not visible to more than one-third of humanity. Still, since Seychelles has very low light pollution, on a clear night, the starry sky is just magical! I hope to pay back the kindness of the people in Seychelles with spreading the word about the beauty of their country with the help of my photographs.
Seychelles NATION: Will you visit the islands again?
Erika: I will definitely come back next year again, perhaps with like-minded photographers eager to discover and learn to capture the beauty of Seychelles!
Erika has also told this newspaper that the popularity of her work has caught the attention of many locals including the district administrator of La Digue who has showed interest in decorating her walls with her scenic pictures.
Anyone interested in viewing Ms Valkovicova work can do so by going on her website www.lpontour.com/seychelles
Compiled by Christophe Zialor