If the Republic of Seychelles could move a thousand miles west and trade places with the Chagos Archipelago, surfers would have a new Indian Ocean goldmine. But this won’t happen and Seychelles will be forever marginal, not worth your expense and wasted time for knee-high windswell.
This is bad for Guillaume Albert. He likes to surf here on Mahé Island, but usually he lords over a cluttered desk inside a drab office in the industrial outskirts near Victoria Harbour. Guillaume, 32, is the deputy general manager for Creole Travel Services, his family’s tourism company. He’s very busy. His phone chirps constantly. Gregarious and articulate and a bit hyper, Guillaume is a consummate salesman and marketeer, skilled in rhetoric of the tourism trade. He is the nephew of Gerard Albert, Seychelles’ first local surfer.
Creole Travel Services is owned by Joe Albert, Guillaume’s dad and Gerard’s brother. Additionally, Joe owns United Concrete Products Seychelles, the nation’s largest private company, instrumental in Mahé’s building boom in the 1990s. Professionally, Joe has many assets for hire, including private islands, luxury resorts, yachts, and Cap Lazare, a beautiful 161-acre nature reserve that abuts Anse Gaulettes.
In 1988 Joe Albert bought Cap Lazare for a million Seychelles rupees—about $200,000. In 2007 some Belgian billionaires sought to buy Cap Lazare from Joe for 53,000,000 euros—about $72 million. Cap Lazare had become valuable. But Joe couldn’t sell it.
|Guillaume and Joe Albert at home.|
“I had the whole thing planned,” he tells me over lunch one day in the kitchen of his home in the hills above Victoria. “I was going to buy a home in Australia. I was going to retire. But first I was going to meet with those Belgians guys at a hotel in France and finalize everything.”
One sunny day Joe was oceanfishing with Guillaume, Gregory, and Jean-Christophe, the eldest of his three sons. The bite was poor—lots of downtime as they trolled offshore Mahé’s coast. In a quiet interlude, Guillaume addressed his father in the past-tense and said, “Cap Lazare was good, wasn’t it?”
The words hit Joe. Then Gregory asked him if he really needed the money.
“I flew to Paris with Greg’s and Guillaume’s words in my head,” Joe says to me, “and the night before my meeting, I was sitting there in my hotel room and I decided that I couldn’t sell Cap Lazare. The next day, those Belgians would not believe me. They thought I was crazy!”
But $72 million is a nice chunk.
“Can you imagine? It would have changed our family forever,” Guillaume tells me over a two-hour lunch another day at Marie-Antoinette, a traditional Creole restaurant in Victoria. “Now I would be flying all over the world, dating supermodels. Ha!”
We clear plates of fried parrotfish, eggplant fritters, rice, spicy fish stew, chicken curry, golden apple chutney, grilled red snapper, tuna steaks, and hot pimin chilis. We drink from sweating green bottles of SeyBrew, the local lager. An executive from Air Seychelles stops at our table; Guillaume tells her I’m a surfer from California. She regards me quizzically.
“Why are you in Seychelles? You cannot really do surfing here.”
“I like a challenge.”
“He’s a bit stupid,” Guillaume says to her, grinning and taking a sip of beer. He points to my blond head. “Look at his hair color!”
Guillaume looks a little pale in his blue polo shirt. He hasn’t surfed in awhile. It’s been flat most of this year, and during the small southeast windswells that did arrive, he was in Europe on business trips. His timing was bad.
But swell is coming. Maybe.
“I really want to go back to the Maldives, man,” Guillaume says. He puts his beer down and slowly leans back in his chair. He inhales deep through his nose, wipes the corners of his mouth, looks out the window. “You can get some really good waves, eh? We should go on a boat charter. Or maybe I should just move up there, to North Malé. Malé sounds like Mahé, eh? I could move there, convert to Islam, and surf every day. What do you think, man? Should I move?”
There will be no surf tomorrow, nor the next day, nor next week. But maybe next month—August. Maybe.