(CNN) — John Cruise-Wilkins is a person on a mission. Like his late father Reginald earlier than him, he believes there may be nice magnificence to be discovered beneath an unprepossessing stretch of highway in northern Mahe, the primary island of the Seychelles.
See, Cruise-Wilkins is a treasure hunter. And his and his father’s seven a long time’ price of analysis have led them to this spot, the place it is thought an 18th century French pirate by the title of Olivier Levasseur left his biggest hoard.
Levasseur, generally known as La Buse (“The Buzzard”) spent years pillaging his manner throughout this nook of the Indian Ocean earlier than deciding on the Seychelles. When he was finally acknowledged, arrested and brought to the island of Reunion in 1730, he refused to expose the placement of buried treasure believed to be price $130 million.
Cruise-Wilkins takes up the story.
“When they cast him into prison, they asked La Buse for the secret of the treasure. He refused. They tortured him, he still refused. They gave him a pen and parchment to write the secret of the treasure. He refused. And instead, when they were not around, he wrote [a] cryptogram and hid it on his person.”
John Cruise-Wilkins is a second-generation treasure hunter within the Seychelles.
Cruise-Wilkins explains that, having been sentenced to loss of life, La Buse was compelled to put on an extended shirt, below which he hid the parchment on which he’d written the cryptogram.
“As he was about to be hanged, La Buse then just took this paper and threw it out to the crowd, and said ‘my treasure for he who can understand!’… I can actually see the ex-pirates, his former mates, reaching up and fighting to get the papers.”
In 1949, these papers discovered their manner into the palms of Reginald Cruise-Wilkins and a household obsession was born. Reginald’s life got here to be dominated by the seek for La Buse’s treasure. And whereas John says he is not obsessed, it appears his father clearly was.
“We went through terrible hardships because of the treasure hunt,” says John. “My father had two accounts, a work account and a personal account. And when the work account was going really low, he was always tempted to take from the personal accounts, and so my mother slapped him on the wrist, because you’ve got a family to feed.”
When Reginald died, John took up his work.
“Before he died, I wanted to get out of the Seychelles. I didn’t want to do this, but afterward when he was gone, looking through everything, I realized someone had to take it up. I had to take it up.”
John Cruise-Wilkins factors to markings on a rock he says is a clue in his treasure hunt.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP by way of Getty Images
Years of painstaking analysis led Reginald after which John to this location. Father and son consider cryptic messages concerning the rocks written by La Buse, in addition to footprint markings on the website, present that is the place the place the Seychelles’ most well-known treasure is buried.
There’s only one drawback — official limits on the place and the way he can dig.
For his half, Cruise-Wilkins refuses to consider that anybody else has discovered and dug up the treasure within the 290 years since La Buse’s execution.
“It’s untouched. It’s still there. And it’s a fantastic haul. And when this whole thing comes up, it will be like… to the treasure hunting world, it will be like the finding of Tutankhamun in Egypt. It is the holy grail of treasure hunters.”
The pirate flinging the parchment earlier than execution, the cryptogram, the bodily clues within the rocks. It’s arduous to know if it is true or not, but it surely definitely provides great shade to this unbelievable tropical paradise.
Be they 18th century pirates or fashionable lovers seeking the dream wedding ceremony, the Seychelles’ remoted location in the course of the Indian Ocean makes it the right place for anybody trying to escape.
The islands’ relative isolation has allowed them to climate the Covid storm comparatively properly and stay open to guests. At time of publication, quarantine measures are confining vacationers to their inns for 10 days upon arrival. Global virus ranges imply that each one worldwide journey will increase danger of transmission and an infection, specialists say.
Near the equator, Bird Island is among the most original of Seychelles’ 115 islands. It can also be residence to a really particular character, whose presence makes you’re feeling such as you’ve traveled again in time.
The Seychelles’ treasures aren’t all buried, nonetheless. Its pure wonders are each marveled at and guarded in any respect prices. Among them is the seaside of Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue, an everyday ballot topper of the world’s finest seashores, and the tiny, distant Bird Island.
The latter is an actual treasure, a quiet, remoted place that’s residence to among the archipelago’s most arresting landscapes and beguiling wildlife.
“This place is very, very special to me. It’s always been,” says resident Nick Savvy. “I’ve grown up here and I feel very, very lucky to be involved in this place and to be, if you want to call it, the custodian of it. It’s not really that I own it, I’m looking after it, in a sense, for the next generation.
Savvy runs the only accommodation on this beautiful island, 24 chalets that form part of a small ecolodge. There’s no air conditioning and no cell phone service. Just the blissful sound of the waves and the millions of birds that crowd its 250 acres every year to nest and rear their young.
Esmeralda, left, is the oldest free-roaming tortoise in the world.
Savvy’s father first came here in 1967 and his family members have taken turns looking after the lodge and the island at large ever since. That includes one permanent resident that has called the island home for 150 years.
Esmeralda is the oldest of 23 giant aldabra tortoises on Bird Island. Named by a 19th century biologist, Esmeralda is the oldest free-roaming tortoise in the world, weighs in at a colossal 308 kilograms and is another undoubted item of Seychelles treasure.
“He’s clearly been used to vacationers over all these years,” says Savvy. “He was right here after we opened the lodge and he is been used to us feeding him fruits within the morning and toast and so he is been round folks quite a bit. He may be very, very calm.”
Sitting in Esmeralda’s presence it’s hard not to feel history close at hand. He was born just as the Franco-Prussian War was ending and Queen Victoria, who gave her name to the tiny capital of this island nation, was on the throne. He has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression and the ongoing climate emergency.
For all that, he’s a calm and reassuring creature. He enjoys nothing more than a tickle under his chin and his impressive shell and easy manner make coming to Bird Island even more relaxing.
Seychelles, known for beautiful beaches and secluded hideaways, is also home to the coco de mer. CNN’s Richard Quest explores the mystique surrounding this giant nut on the island of Praslin.
A plane and a ferry ride via Mahe from Bird Island is Praslin, home to the Coco de Mer Tree, one of 80 plant species that are endemic to the Seychelles.
Coco de mer Trees grow the largest nuts in the world, weighing in between 15 and 30 kilograms. And for Victorin Laboudallon, a veteran of Seychelles conservation, they are the ultimate representation of the islands.
The male trees must pollinate the female trees within 36 hours of the latter flowering. But after that, it takes seven years for the nut to ripen to full size. Once it falls, it then takes a further 25 years for that nut to start growing into a tree itself. Like Esmeralda on Bird Island, there’s nothing fast about this.
“Slow, sluggish, sluggish,” says Laboudallon. “Seychelles, we’re sluggish. That’s why you see in every single place the place you go the Seychellois folks reside sluggish, sluggish, slowly.”
Giant coco de mer nuts are highly prized for their aphrodisiac qualities.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images
However, there is a sense of urgency from Laboudallon and other environmentalists when it comes to the Coco de mer Tree. The government has had to take steps to protect the tree from poachers.
“People carry on stealing however not for the shells, not for the kernel, however the jelly. The first 12 months, from 7-9 months, they’re full with jelly inside,” says Laboudallon. “The jelly they are saying is used for aphrodisiac.”
Cups of the jelly are said to sell for as much as $50. Stopping poachers taking the nuts, and therefore protecting their future growth, is challenging. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that shows no sign of being dealt with in the near future.
More pressingly though, does it really do what the poachers say it does? Victorin has indeed tried the forbidden fruit, but is coy about its effects.
“Could be!” he chuckles when asked if it did the business.
The islands of the Seychelles are a popular destination for weddings and honeymooners.
Romance in the Seychelles isn’t just about Coco de mer juice, however. The wedding business here has boomed in the past 20 years, as couples look to tie the knot in paradise. And with its beaches, azure waters and palm trees, it’s easy to see why. But for one woman, making these dreams come true is anything but straight forward.
Sonja Prosic runs a wedding planning company, specializing in beach services. Since 1999, she’s been helping brides and grooms find their perfect island, from services on the main island of Mahe to private islands that aren’t accessible to the average tourist.
“We began with a number of weddings a month,” she says. “Then because the web began coming to Seychelles, folks found Seychelles as a brand new vacation spot.”
Before the pandemic hit, she says, the islands were hosting 40 weddings a month.”
Before the pandemic, the Seychelles was internet hosting 40 weddings a month.
When Prosic deliberate her first ceremonies, calls for have been much more primary.
“When we started, we started with two palm leaves as a carpet, a little table to sign the books and two chairs,” she says. “But now we have a huge challenge with decor. We are doing pavilions, we are doing thousands of flowers. We are doing crystals, sometimes chandeliers.
With storms often blowing in unexpectedly, sand getting into places it shouldn’t and family members getting irate, it’s a challenging business — even when Covid isn’t restricting travel.
“At the tip of the day, the perfect day of somebody’s life is resting in your shoulders, repeatedly and once more,” says Prosic.
But for all that, she loves her job and how it showcases the Seychelles. “It’s somebody’s dream. We are fulfilling desires, making an attempt our greatest.”
A treasure chest
Whether it is John Cruise-Wilkins’s search, the majesty of Esmeralda on Bird Island or the pleasures given by the Coco De Mer Tree, one phrase sums up the DNA of the Seychelles: Treasure.
There are the pirates who got here right here and buried their treasure, the sun-seekers and soul-searchers who come right here for treasured reminiscences.
And then these like Victorin Laboudallon and Nick Savvy who’re decided to guard all of it — they treasure this place for what it’s and what it was. And in case you come right here, you will need a few of this treasure too. Seychelles is really a part of a world of surprise.
CNN’s Samantha Bresnahan contributed to this story