June 2017 - Rodrigues & Mauritius - Page 2

8 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was a horrible day.  The wind was gusting 25-30 knots with driving rain.  Unfortunately, a cargo ship arrived in the morning, so all the yachts had to go out and anchor in the outer bay, which had 3 foot waves.   As soon as the ship had cleared the entrance channel, ten yachts started to line up and fight for a spot in the anchorage.  

Once again, Glenys and I weren’t quick enough to get in line and ended up towards the back of the gaggle of boats trying to anchor.  We found it very difficult in the blustery conditions because boats were veering about and, in the overcast light, we couldn’t see the edge of the reef.  Once again, it took us four attempts before I was happy - we were either too close to the edging reef or too close to “Relax”. 

A queue of yachts returning

Once we were happy with our position, we pulled the chain straight to partially set the anchor and then left it for an hour to settle in the mud before backing it in very, very hard.  With the very Shallow Reef only 20 metres behind us, there was no room at all for dragging and the forecast for the coming night was nasty.  

Meanwhile, on the outer reef, “Gemeos” was being abandoned with the coast guard helping to remove the owner’s personal possessions.  It’s so sad to see a catamaran being ground to pieces.  I’m horrified that the coast guard couldn’t organise themselves enough to shore up the hulls with barrels and drag the boat off the reef the first day.  The German owner doesn’t speak very good English (or French), so I guess that was a factor in the operation - maybe he trusted the authorities too much.

I can only comment that if it was Alba on the reef, I would have had all our mattresses and seat cushions tied under our hull and would have been screaming blue murder at the authorities.  If I couldn’t get any action, then I’d have been hiring the locals to find floatation barrels and getting fishing boats or other cruising boats to pull me off at the first high water.  But that’s just me…

The afternoon remained horrible with rain and big gusts of wind.  Just after nightfall, “Fortuna” dragged and had to re-anchor.   It was a miserable evening, with huge gusts and rain, making Alba swing around and snatch at the anchor rode with a horrible creaking noise.  We turned off the wind generator (because it makes the wind sound worse) and watched a loud movie.

9 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It blew a hooley all night.  There were lulls with very little wind and then a katabatic gust would come howling down from the hills and blast us with 30+ knots.  Sometime after midnight, “Endymion”, a small 34 foot monohull, dragged its anchor and ended up on the shallow reef at the edge of the anchorage.  Tony is single-handed and only has a manual windlass, but he soldiered on, and, without asking for help, pulled himself off the reef and re-anchored.  They’re tough these single-handers

Island Life

The strong winds continued throughout the day, so we didn’t feel safe leaving the boat for very long, so we pottered about doing some jobs.  Glenys tried to polish some of the stainless steel on deck, but the wind gusts were blowing the glasses off her face…  I stayed down below taking advantage of an unusually good internet connection, doing some research on anchorages in Madagascar and the other places that we’ll be visiting over the next few months.

The sound of the wind was very wearing, so we escaped the boat and had lunch at a small restaurant called “Le Gourmet Snack”, where I had fried calamari. I was expecting it to be heavily deep fried, but was pleasantly surprised by the light, tempura-like batter.  It was reasonably priced and frequented by locals, which is always a good sign. 

Glenys had her hair cut for the first time since November 2016 - she’d started to tie it back in a ponytail.  They did a reasonable job, but being more used to black wiry hair, I suspect that they struggled with her fine, blond hair.  Naturally, I told Glenys that it looked fabulous, and a big bonus was that it only cost $6US including wash and blow dry…

I wandered around town with my camera and came across a few dilapidated buildings next to the port entrance, which have signs painted on the walls saying “Abattoir” and listing the types of meat -Beef, Pork, etc.  I thought the buildings were abandoned, but then I spotted a butcher working on a concrete bench with a devout Muslim man standing close, watching the proceedings - I guess it was a Halal slaughtering.  I felt sorry for the goat tethered next to the butcher - he was obviously next in line.

Right. Who's Next?

Thankfully, the wind dropped a little in the evening, so we were able to enjoy our cold beers and nibbled on Baguette with Brie.  The latest ship must have brought in a container load of “Fromage  et Charcuterie” because the previously bare supermarket fridges were packed with the stuff.

10 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
Thankfully, the weather was kinder last night, with fewer and weaker gusts.Thankfully, the weather was kinder last night, with fewer and weaker gusts.  Being a Saturday, it was Market Day, so we stepped ashore to do some people watching.  Rodrigues is a colourful place and a nice change from the restricted Muslim lifestyle we saw in the Maldives.  The ladies tend to be on the large size, but the younger ones don’t give a damn and strut around in tight trousers and high heels.  The older ladies tend to wear old-fashioned looking dresses and a wild range of hats. 

The cargo ship was supposed to leave at 14:00 this afternoon, so we were on standby from midday, waiting to clear the inner basin, so the ship had enough room to manoeuvre.  The damn thing didn’t leave until 16:00, so we were hanging around for the afternoon, which was tedious.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so just played guitar and read a book.  The tug boat eventually came out to tell us all to go and we had a procession of yachts heading out to the outer bay.  The ship was quick to leave and was chasing the stragglers down the channel, so most people just hovered about without anchoring. 

There was the usual undignified rush back into the inner harbour, with boats vying for a good anchoring spot.  Surprisingly, it only took us one attempt to anchor, but it was still five o’clock by the time that we were settled - a bit of a wasted day.

Farmhouse in the Hills

11 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
We had a nice sunny start to the day, and the forecast was for slightly less wind than yesterday’s forecast, so we were finally able to get off the boat and go for a hike.  We first stopped off at the boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette - open from 04:30 to 12:00 on a Sunday - how good is that?  With lunch stowed in Glenys’s rucksack, we walked along the road past the sports stadium and up the hill towards the cross on the hill.  At the top of the hill, where there’s a bus stop, we turned left up a concrete road that went steeply up a ridge past lots of houses with great views down to town.

The concrete road soon turned into a dirt track going through interesting farm land and woods.  After a mile of steady climbing, we walked onto a tarmac road.  At this place, there’s a wooden sign leading to the Place de Mémoire.  We didn’t go there because we didn’t realise what the memorial was, but it’s something to do with the abolishment of slavery in 1839. Strangely, it’s also something to do with Philibert Maragon, who was a big plantation owner and brought in many slaves. 

We carried onto the top of the tarmac road and turned right for a few hundred metres, where we came across another wooden sign, pointing to a “Mountain Cemetery”.  This was a short walk past some local houses to some steps leading to the top of a knoll.  Once through a gate, there’s a fenced off area, which I think contains ancient graves and there’s an impressive statue commemorating the abolition of slavery in Rodrigues.

Local Hike

Retracing our steps, we returned to the top of the tarmac road and turned left down a narrow dirt track.  This took us down another ridge, soon becoming a concrete 2-track road, passing through woods and farmland with small houses.  After about ¾ mile, we walked up a small ridge on the left of the road and sat on some rocks over-looking a steep river valley with a fabulous view down to the coast.  Fresh baguette plastered with mackerel in white wine sauce has to be the best mountain food ever…

We continued into a heavily wooded area as the road started to zig-zag down the steep hillside.  The houses here have dogs that looked quite vicious (and were very vocal), so we armed ourselves with stout sticks ready to beat off an attack.  At a sharp left hand bend, there was a rough looking road off to the right, which had some pink paint spots on various rocks, beckoning us that way.  This turned into an interesting trail, descending past a large water storage tank, following the pink markers down a concrete-encased water pipe.

The trail then turned right into a wooded area and joined a rough road leading down to the main road just outside Oyster Bay.  From there, it was a couple of miles along the coast back to Port Mathurin.  It was a very pleasant four hour hike and a great relief to get off the boat for a day. 

12 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was another squally night.  Unless you’ve lived on a boat, it’s difficult to appreciate how unsettling it can be to spend a night at anchor in strong winds.  We have great confidence in our anchor, but there’s still the nagging feeling that it might drag and we’d be on the reef before we could blink.  Other concerns are that our neighbours might drag onto us and that the bimini might shred in the heavy gusts. 

Last night there were periods of low wind and then a 30 knot gust would hit us.  A typical squall might be:  

Another night of Squalls?

We hear the shriek of wind.  The boat heels over and the rigging begins to rattle.  Halyards flap, clanking against the hollow aluminium mast.  The wind generator accelerates until it’s a high speed whine and the bimini flaps like it’s being ripped off the frame.  The boats veers sideways and wind-waves gurgle against the hull, sounding like the boat is flooding with water.  

The anchor chain straightens, snatching the boat back into the wind and the snubber rope groans against the bow roller.  A wine glass tips over in the galley and falls into the sink, rolling around adding to the commotion.  The rain starts to hammer down.  One of us reaches up to close the hatch above our bed.  We wait for ten minutes, until the squall passes over, dreading to hear the crunch of coral against the hull. 

Having survived the night, we had a sunny day, but the wind remained high, so we stayed close by the boat.  The weather forecast is for the winds to gradually decrease this week and we’ve decided to head for Mauritius on in a few days’ time, before the next high winds arrive early next week.

13 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
We had a couple of mega-squalls go through last night and we had a dull overcast start the day.  However by 09:30, it brightened up a little and I was getting cabin fever, so we caught a bus to the other side of the island and went for a hike.  We started off at Anse Ally, which is the stop before Pointe Cotton and walked west along the rugged coast line.  

There are various coloured paint marks on the rocks, so we roughly followed them, but made some detours to walk along the rocks along the shoreline.  There were some impressive waves pounding against the fringing reef, a few hundred metres out to sea.  We came across some lovely isolated bays and had our Baguette and Saucisson sat on a cliff overlooking one with a nice sandy beach.

Lovely Coast Line

It took us a couple of hours to walk to Le Gravier, where we were able to catch a bus back to town.  We had a nice day out, with stunning scenery and were so glad to be off the boat.  

In the evening, we had a get together with the other cruisers in a sheltered area at the dockside.  Good to finally meet everyone from the other nine boats in the anchorage - we’ve all been doing our own thing in this dodgy weather.

14 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was a peaceful night and a nice morning, so we hired a scooter and went to explore Rodrigues.  Geographically, it’s part of the Mascarene Islands, which also includes Mauritius and Reunion, which we will be visiting in the next few weeks.  The island has volcanic origins and is about 360 metres high with some lovely winding roads through the lush farmland on the hills.

The island named after the Portuguese explorer, Don Diégo Rodriguez, who was the first European to discover the uninhabited island in 1528.  There were no attempts at colonisation until 1691, when the there was an abortive attempt to set up a farming colony of Protestant refugees.  Farming was not successful, but there was an abundance of tortoises, turtles, birds, fish and other seafood.

During the 18th century, several attempts were made by the French to develop the island.  African slaves (ancestors of the present population) were brought to Rodrigues to develop stock-breeding and farming.  In 1809, after a brief battle with the French, British troops took possession of Rodrigues and with British occupation, slavery was abolished.

Tortoise Heaven

In 1968, Rodrigues was joined with Mauritius when it attained independence from Britain and now there are 40,000 people living on the island.  The economic mainstay is fishing, agriculture and low-key tourism.

We called in at the François Leguat Tortoise and Cave Reserve, which is a delightful place and the major tourist attraction on the island.  They have a nice little museum, a system of caves and they breed giant tortoises. 

Giant tortoises used to live in great numbers on the Mascarene Islands.  Unfortunately, in the 1700s, the French colonists and visiting sailors thought that tortoise meat tasted very good and it was very convenient that a tortoise could survive in a ship's hold without food for many months.  The Mascarene Islands soon became a favourite stop on the trade route from Africa across the Indian Ocean and colonists on the larger island of Mauritius set up a lucrative business selling tortoises to passing ships.

Unfortunately, the tortoises were soon hard to find in Mauritius, so the colonists started harvesting in Rodrigues.  Between 1759 and 1761, 22,000 tortoises were slaughtered.  By 1770, they’d killed off so many that they were hard to find; and the last sighting of a Rodrigues Tortoise was in 1799. 

The Tortoise Reserve have imported three species of Giant Tortoise from the Seychelles and Madagascar and started a very successful breeding program.    In 2006, they started with 555 tortoises and now have more than doubled that number.   We took the (compulsory) tour with a very informative guide, who took us through the delightful grounds past breeding pens and into an fabulous gorge where hundreds of huge Aldabra Giant Tortoises live in luxury.

Harder, Harder

The tortoises are very used to visitors and came lumbering up to us as we walked around.  The guide gave us some small branches of their favourite food and it was fascinating to feed them.  But what the tortoises really want is to have their necks scratched.  As soon as you touch their necks they stand up tall and stretch their heads up - just like cats.  It’s a strange feeling. 

Our guide then took us into the impressive limestone caves, where we had to wear helmets - a good thing too because the ceilings are low at some places.  The whole tour cost $15US each, but we were well entertained for 1½ hours.

We jumped back on the motorbike and continued around the winding south coast road, where we saw Octopus Drying on rough wooden frames.  They catch the octopus on the shallow reefs and then stretch them out to dry for five days in the sun.  Glenys bought one from a small hut at the side of the road, which we’ll be having for dinner soon.