Like the local Takamaka Bay rum, laced with vanilla, Victoria and its carnival linger long in the memory. That’s down to the combination of the easygoing calmness of the Seychellois, the quaint charm of Victoria’s old buildings, and the fascinating mix of nationalities, cultures, music and costumes of its carnival, all set against a classic tropical foreground of turquoise sea and a backdrop of misty green hills.
The carnival weekend starts, as all good weekends should, on Friday night, with an official opening in the centre of town. Whether a carnival needs an official opening rather than simply a succession of parties is open to doubt, but Seychelles isn’t the Caribbean – yet. We’re told that the arrangement will be improved – last year only the VIPs and the press had a clear view of the stage next to the Clock Tower. After Lima Calbio had done her best to whip the crowd into a frenzy with her flag-waving, the media were spirited away to their hotels, but by then the Victorians were most definitely in the mood to be amused and had no intention of going to bed early.
By midday on Saturday, the air of anticipation is palpable, though strangely quiet. This is not, you feel, a publicly demonstrative nation, but people go to a lot of trouble to dress up and look the part – whatever that part may be – when Carnival is in town. Old grannies and young children, faces painted, many wearing masks, seem happy to wait in the sticky heat for as long as it takes until the first groups appear. It’s all very well-ordered and polite, friendly but not in-your-face intrusive. Dancing in public seems to be the preserve of foreigners, the excessively drunk and the slightly mad (all of whom are harmless). “We enjoy dancing,” a taxi driver said, “but only among ourselves – at home or with people we know.” So if you want bacchanal on the road it’s DIY for now.
Like its clock tower, most things in Victoria are on a somewhat reduced scale, but the town does possess a large green space in the centre. Freedom Square, also known as Gordon Square, is where the trucks congregate after completing the carnival route. While some groups simply dismantle their floats and move off, plenty more remain until darkness falls, playing a wide variety of music from the Indian Ocean, Africa and the Caribbean. The atmosphere as the tropical night falls over the misty hills behind the town is intoxicating – and not just because of a wickedly effective combination of an energy drink and local rum called a Taka Bomb!
The crowds flock back to the square on Sunday afternoon (after morning church services in this predominantly Catholic country) to enjoy the stage shows. A highlight last year was a spectacular if sometimes nerve-wracking dance display by a troupe from Rajasthan, India. Not far from the square – nowhere is very far away in Victoria – a convivial collection of food stalls, wreathed in smokily delicious aromas, acts as a meeting place for locals and visitors. The biggest surprise was a stall selling a very palatable Guinness punch – it may have been a long way from home geographically, but, like the carnival itself, it was certainly close enough in spirit.