16-28 November, 2000
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ROUTE and COUNTRY INFO for Mauritius
A Tropical Island Break Between Adventures
If there ever was an island that qualifies as "out there," Mauritius is it. Lying some 500 miles due east of Madagascar, the island sits almost exactly halfway around the world from our home in California. We would never be further away from home on our one year journey. Mauritius is a quick 5 hour flight for South Africans, who comprise a large number of the island's annual visitors. But for almost anybody else, it's a long haul. Europeans also come here in droves, but it's still an effort -- about 12 hours from Paris. Of the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors Mauritius receives, only about 2000 are Americans. It's really too far away from the USA to justify a brief one or two week visit -- there are many other tropical locales much closer to home. With that in mind, Jen brushed up on her French skills and we immersed ourselves in an island lifestyle far away from our countrymen.
On a picturesque dock at Grand Baie
We chose to visit Mauritius because we wanted to break up the long flight from Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both of us have always wanted to visit either Mauritius or its more expensive Indian Ocean neighbor islands to the north, the Seychelles. The Seychelles, though, were too expensive for an extended trip like ours. And Mauritius has the distinction of lying directly on the flight path from Cape Town to K.L.. So, we went wih Mauritius. We figured it would be a good place to catch some rays and get some relaxation in after seeing so much of South Africa. We were right -- Mauritius was a nice place to spend twelve days.
Chowing down at a colorful food stall -- cheap and tasty!
Still considered part of Africa, Mauritius has a bit of an African vibe going on, but its mix of cultures from other continents blend with the African influences to create a very unique place. Indians, Europeans, Africans, and Chinese have all left their mark on this island nation. Uninhabited by humans until the 1600s, Mauritius was first settled by Europeans who came across the island in their trading journeys between the Cape of Good Hope and Southeaast Asia. The Dutch tried first to settle Mauritius, although with no success. Later, the French came and had much better luck -- their reign lasted for quite a while. The Europeans brought with them African slaves, who formed the bases of the vibrant Creole culture Mauritius has today. The British arrived and booted the French out, and although English has since been the official language of Mauritius, everybody continues to speak French to this day. The British, having outlawed formal slavery, brought with them thousands of Indian indentured servants to help build the island's infrastructure and to work the sugar cane fields. Finally, Chinese merchants arrived, adding the final bit of color to the island's cultural melting pot. Such a complicated history for such a small island...
Mauritius is really unique in the way that the members of its ethnically diverse population get along. Everybody respects everybody else, and all religions and cultural traditions are protected and supported by the government. The rest of the world could learn a lot from Mauritius -- a true ethnic melting pot where everybody lives in harmony.
Colorful Hindu temple, Grand Baie
While the water around Mauritius is beautiful, it's not an abundance of natural attractions that make Mauritius so attractive. It's the local color -- a vibrant tapestry woven by the intermingling cultures who have made this island paradise their home. In fact, the Mauritian experience can perhaps best be summed up in colors: the baroque gaudiness of the Chinese and Indian temples, the beautiful Indian women walking down the street in their equally beautiful saris, the rainbow-colored fruit stands on the sidewalks, the fishmongers selling their day's catch by the roadside.
Flaming red flamboyant tree in full bloom, Grand Baie
We spent our first night in the tacky west coast resort area of Flic en Flaq (no idea where that name came from). We found our hotel to be ridiculously overpriced, with facilities more in line with a Motel 6 than a pricey beach resort. Flic en Flaq is obviously a place for big package tour groups. We got out fast -- the next day, a taxi took us farther north, to the much more relaxed area of Pointe aux Canonnieres. Just south of the more developed (but still laid-back) area of Grand Baie, Canonnieres was a nice place to spend a few days.
The red church at Cape Malheureux
Fruit vendor, Grand Baie
From Canonnieres, we spent a few days in Grand Baie. Grand Baie is probably the most-developed of the tourist areas on Mauritius, but it also is a real town with a local population (not just tourists), so it's quite a colorful place. Grand Baie town is built along a long, protected bay. Many yacths and fishing boats bob in the pale blue water here, while the busy waterfront street attracts fruit vendors, mid-day strollers, and tourists intent on shopping for the latest fashion at bargain prices.
How's this for the ideal tropical shot? Grand Baie
While we were visiting Mauritius, the big U.S. Election Crisis was going full-tilt back home. We had been in Cape Town on election day. When we woke up the next day, we expected to have a new president elect, but of course (as everybody on the planet now knows), we didn't. And wouldn't for over a month. The election chaos went on, and on, and on...through the rest of our stay in South Africa, through our 12 days in Mauritius...right into our visit to Malaysia. We were happy to be far away from the political mess in Washington, but there was no escaping it. Everybody we talked to on the street -- South African, Mauritian, Malaysian -- wanted to know what was going on. And everybody had their own opinion of the election goings-on. We started telling people we were Canadian to avoid branching off on the Election Rant. Needless to say, we were happy when we got the news in Malaysia that we finally had a new president elect. Thank God.
Some things you can't escape, no matter how far from home...
Sarongs blowing in the wind, Pereybere
From Grand Baie, we moved on to the beautiful beach area of Pereybere. Pereybere is a small crescent of pure white sand with unbelievable turquoise water. A public parked filled with big casuarina trees backs the beach. It's quite popular with local Mauritians on the weekend, when the place gets packed with families picnicking in the shade of the casuarinas and swimming in the beautiful water. Pereybere was our favorite spot on Mauritius -- a mellow, small town with an idyllic beach and lots of swimming and snorkeling opportunities.
In front of our place in Pereybere
The Chamarel Colored Earths
Mauritius' tourist brochures talk up the islands "natural wonders" quite a bit. With such alluring names as the "Chamarel Coloured Earths," "Le Morne Mountain," and "Troux aux Cerfs," we figured we just had to rent a car for a day to check all the sights out. We spent two half-days driving around the island (and that's really about all you need to see the entire island, it's so small), and we must say we didn't really find any of the sights particularly compelling. Well, the Chamarel Coloured Earths were sort of interesting. The "coloured" part of the name comes from soils which contain varying levels of iron oxides. Where the soil is exposed at the surface, interesting bands of color appear, in various shades of purple, red, and orange. Interesting, but not worth a drive halfway around the island for. Our recommendation: go to Mauritius for the beaches and the wonderful, colorful culture -- not for the natural sights.
Mountains near Chamarel
From Mauritius, we caught an overnight plane to Kuala Lumpur, the bustling modern capital of Malaysia...
Back to South Africa On to Impressions of Mauritius
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