Dec 9: Ylang ylang plantations

One thing about travelling in the rainy season is that it rains. So we didn’t go see wild lemurs in the national park. We went to Lemurialand, a zoo. They had a spectacular array of tortoises with Bonaparte, Napoleon and Josephine stealing the show. They are enormous Seychelles tortoises. The males are easily more than a meter long, 60 cm high and fond of patting. Anita said their skin felt like soft old leather. Josephine will reach the age of reproduction in another ten years, when she’s 75. 

Yes, we saw lemurs. Their habitats were small and they had been trained to respond to a specific call for food — Maki Maki. They were not rewarded with bananas this particular morning. 

I was fascinated by the yang ylang distillery. It produces essential oils for Chanel, to be used in the famous Chanel No 5 perfume. Most of the extensive plantations are owned by an Indian businessman, who pays women one Euro per kilo for their pickings. Flowers are picked three times a week, and trees are continually pruned to keep the flowers accessible. They end up looking like twisted distorted swirls that belong outside of a haunted house. 

The distillery workers put five parts of blossoms to three parts of water and pressure cook it. The distillate is pure and smells divine. 

The distillery was part of the zoo complex, an odd coupling to my western eyes. 

After that, we visited the fresh food market and learned that vegetables are not grown on Nosy Be. All are imported. There’s fruit, chicken, goats and zebu as well as a productive fishing industry. There used to be a sugar cane factory and rum distillery but these closed in 2004. 


Anita with Napoleon and Bonaparte, two Seychelles tortoises, at Lemurialand.


A ylang ylang tree, with its strong pruning that ensures that it’s easy to pick the yellow flowers.


Ylang ylang buds