Move over New Orleans and Rio - the newest kid on the carnival circuit is Victoria, capital of the Seychelles. Nancy Richards saw the parade, island style
The little city's traffic has pretty much ground to gridlock since the procession route up Independence Avenue has been closed off. Nobody seems to mind. There is no Creole term for "road rage" and half of Mahé, the largest of the island cluster, is out on the streets to catch the action anyway. And this is just the official opening.
Up on the stage - draped with flags and built around Victoria's miniature Big Ben replica - BBC presenter Aaron Heslehurst, the guest MC, is working the crowd. In front of him, on satin-covered seats, are rows of multi-lingual, culturally-clad dignitaries, diplomats and military top-brass. Behind him is a mass of celebrating Seychellois.
The sun starts to set and the speeches sizzle. "The vanilla islands are joining hands!" says Didier Robert, president of Réunion, which is co-host of the carnival.
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organisation, calls the Seychelles "a gift God wanted to share". Few would disagree. Certainly not South Africa's own media queen and second MC Masechaba Lekalake, who confesses her long-standing love affair with the country.
Compared to Rio and New Orleans, the Carnaval International de Victoria is just a baby, bu t Alain St Ange, CEO of Seychelles Tourism Board , predicts it will become the carnival of carnivals. "It is," he declares, "the melting pot of cultures."
The stage explodes with what the programme describes as a "manifestation" of local and international performers - a riot of rhythms, swirling skirts and hips, drums and songs from different countries, one cascading into the next . The second annual Carnaval International de Victoria is open.
Back out in the street, it's not hard to spot the South African contingent, a clutch of Cape Town's minstrels looking remarkably at home are waving a huge flag. Nazeem Davids says they're back by popular demand. A huge hit last year, this time they've brought the wives. The inimitable costumes have been re-gendered, and the lyrics to Welcome to Cape Town cunningly adjusted with "Seychelles". Declining his invitation for us to join them on the procession the next day, we go and join the people partying up a storm in Freedom Square.
This Carnaval is all about The People. At a reception at Maia luxury resort, St Ange explained his vision of a platform where people could celebrate their cultures together, beyond the constraints of religion, politics and colour. On a sobering note, they screened Lost Monsoons, a documentary about the negative impact Somali piracy is having on the Seychelles fishing industry.
Ironic, then, that pirates should feature in the Carnaval. But feature they did, together with everyone and everything else that could possibly fit onto or around a float.
If half of the island's 90000 people turned out for the official opening, the rest certainly pitched for the Carnaval itself. The procession route - from the Bois de Rose avenue, down Esplanade Fiennes and up and round the Bicentenary Monument - was packed and breathless with excitement.
Back on the satin-clad seats in front of the National Library, the dignitaries gathered for the start. Presidents of the host countries, James Alix Michel (Seychelles) and Robert (Réunion), side by side, watched the lone plane fly past, and the parade, led bySt Ange, began.
Waves, tsunamis of music, well over 50 rolling floats and armies of street performers stopped to do their set for the presidents and VIPs. The "vanilla islands" were followed by Namibia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Zimbabwe, Mexico. There were gasps as the Russian navy performed martial arts; blonde-plaited German Gretchens did the splits. There were fire-eaters from Myanmar, trick-cyclists from Tobago and Trinidad, clashing cymbals and painted faces from Vietnam - or was it South Korea? - and there went the Cape Minstrels!
Not to be outdone, local businesses, schools and hotels came to the party with everything they had - a handmade elephant, a ship, a helicopter.
The Maia resort, indicating the exclusivity of their guests, had a stretch limo with a waving Obama and moondancing Michael Jackson.
Standing next to me, a journalist from the UAE, capturing the whole thing on her tablet, was understandably gutted that she hadn't left room for the star performers from London's famous Notting Hill carnival. Their feathered samba queen and shimmying fan-tailed costumes were wonderful, taking the Best International title in the end.
I waved at the mermaid among them - Martha Fevrier, gliding down the avenue inside her mobile outfit on castors. We'd spoken the day before at the fiesta-and-fireworks opening of the brand-new Kempinski resort. Originally from St Lucia, Fevrier has been doing this for over 20 years. "You only ever see happy faces at carnival," she says. Victoria's is no exception.
- Nancy Richards was a guest of The Seychelles Tourism Board
If you go...
Getting there: Fly Emirates to Victoria via Dubai (11 flights a week) or Air Seychelles direct from Johannesburg.
Getting around: Mahé is around 28km x 8km and its highest point is just over 900m, so you're never far from anywhere and the roads are winding and narrow. Hire a car from around R300 a day or splash out on a chauffeured drive - most drivers will give you info as well. Buses are 5 rupees (about R3).
Carnaval: Next year's Carnaval International de Victoria is February 8-10. Discussions are under way for the Maldives to join the Seychelles and Réunion as a third host country and even more international participants are expected.
Contact: For more information on the Seychelles, see www.seychelles.com