The real-life garden of Eden?

Photo: Instagram screengrab @sylvieetsavie

The coco de mer has spawned so many legends that the tree is fabled and revered in lands far beyond the Seychelles.

In 1881, General Charles Gordon (later known as Gordon of Khartoum) made the long trek from the United Kingdom to an archipelago off East Africa.

The Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, spent most of their existence completely uninhabited by humans.

The British officer didn't know what to expect - but no one was prepared for what he found.

Gordon, a religious man and a Christian cosmologist, recognised this land from descriptions in the Book of Genesis: it was the Garden of Eden.

Here, 135 years later, I stood in the same valley as Gordon on the island of Praslin, aware of what I had come to see but still equally entranced.

Within the first few steps of entering the Vallee de Mai, I was enveloped in a world of intense greenery. Palm branches fanned out, weaving together to form a thick canopy that blocked out the sky.

Everywhere I turned, a dense forest of enormous trees reached dizzying heights of 34m, their branches engulfing their surroundings with palm fronds 10m long and 4m wide.

There were no signs of human life apart from an earthen path that was often obscured by the overflowing plant life. Here, in a jungle of ancient palms, there was the distinct sense that this was a place unlike any other in the world.

Everything was larger, bolder, denser, wilder. I didn't have to wonder how the Vallee de Mai must have looked to Gordon back then; the forest has remained largely untouched since prehistoric times.

It's not just the paradise-like abundance that suggested Gordon's theory.

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