Leaving Mauritius Too Soon

26 June 2017   Grand Baie, Mauritius
We fly out of Reunion on the 7th July, so we’re planning to sail to Reunion on 29th, which is 135 miles away – an overnight sail.  This means that we won’t be spending as long in Mauritius as we’d originally planned, so we decided to hire a car for tomorrow to do a quick tour of the island.

Unfortunately, it was the end of Ramadan and the start of the Muslim Idil Fitri celebrations, so today was a public holiday. There are lots of small tour operators in town, some of who rent cars and scooters, but many of them were closed.  It normally costs about 1000 rupees (£25) to hire a car for one day, but the only place that had a car was Eurocar, who charged us over twice the street price.  We had no choice - if we want to have a look at the Mauritius countryside then it has to be tomorrow.

Sugar Cane

After a quiet afternoon, we invited Frank and Evie from “Frieda” over for sundowners.  Frank plays guitar, so we had a music session, which was great fun.  It’s the first time that I’ve found someone who plays guitar since we left Thailand six months ago.

27 June 2017   Gand Baie, Mauritius
After picking up the hire car, we had a great day touring Mauritius. I takes about 1½ hours to drive from the north to the south of the island, so we were restricted in what we could see, but we had a good insight into the island.  

The first thing to strike us was that Sugar Cane grows everywhere – there are fields and fields and fields of the stuff.  At the moment, most of the tall plants have a large delicate flower, which looks like pampas grass, swaying in the wind.

Like Rodrigues, Mauritius was formed by volcanoes.  Although there are no active volcanoes on the island, the mountains are impressive, with several ranges jutting up steeply with the limestone worn into strange pointed shapes by the wind and the rain.  The roads are good with dual carriageways between the jagged peaks.

Our first stop was at a Hindu holy site called Ganga Taloa, which is a renowned pilgrimage site. In February/March, there is a large festival called Maha Shivaratri when up to 500,000 of the island’s Hindu community come to this site  to pay homage to Shiva.  (Legend has it that the lake was formed from two drops of water from the Ganges River, which Shiva was taking to India.)

Hindu Temple

The most devoted pilgrims walk from their village to the sacred lake carrying a kanvar, a light wooden frame or arch decorated with paper flowers.  Others make their way by coach or car.  Once there they perform a puja, burning incense and camphor at the lake shore and offering food and flowers. 

It’s a peaceful place, especially if you walk around the lake away from the main temple and all of the tourists.  Unfortunately, it rained heavily while we were there, so we were soon back in the safety of our car.  The rain persisted as we drove through the lovely, mountainous Black River National Park, so we only stopped at a couple of viewpoints, and had brief glimpses of the spectacular scenery as the clouds parted.  We didn’t visit the “seven earths” site, which is an area of multi-coloured earth, which we felt would be multi-coloured mud.

The sun came out as we descended from the mountains, and we stopped for lunch at a small cafe in the coastal village of Baie du Cap, where we had a couple of plates of creole curry and rice.  It was a scruffy place, but the food was tasty and cheap.  

Our whirlwind tour took us along the coast to La Morne, with is an impressive lump of rock, 550 metres high, jutting up from the sea shore.  It was apparently to here that a group of escaped slaves fled in the early 19th century, hiding out on top of the mountain to remain free.  They were known as Maroons.

Giant Water Lily

The story has it that the slaves, ignorant of the fact that slavery had been abolished, panicked when they saw a troop of soldiers making their way up the cliffs one day.  Believing they were to be recaptured, the slaves flung themselves from the cliff tops to their deaths in huge numbers, which explains the origin of the name Le Morne (Mournful One).  

Although there are no historical records to substantiate the story, it’s an important one for Mauritians as a reminder of the island’s  brutal history.  There’s a small, rather dull memorial to the abolition of slavery.

It was a pity that we didn’t have time to do a trek to the top of La Morne.  We found the trail head track, which is marked by a prominent sign on the road out of Baie du Cap (20°27.47S 057°20.42E). Until recently, the trail was only accessible to licensed guides, but in 2016, the route was opened to everyone.  It’s supposed to be well marked from a car park (20°27.60S 057°19.54E) and takes 2-3 hours to get to a cross on the summit.  The last part is a steep scramble aided by fixed ropes.  Sounds great.

On our way back to Grand Baie, we stopped off at the Botanical Gardens at Pamplemousse, which was very pleasant.  It’s mostly trees, with a few small formal ponds – the highlight is a large pond filled with Giant Water Lilies with huge 1 metre diameter lily pads.  It was lovely to spend an hour strolling around the shaded paths.  There’s lots of small wildlife, we saw Red Whiskered Bulbuls, a Mongoose and a very greedy Striated Heron - trying to swallow a fish.

Taking advantage of the car, we called in at the Grand Baie Hypermarket and loaded two trolleys with heavy provisions, rice, tinned goods and drinks.  A large Super Supreme pizza from Pizza Hut rounded off the day.

28 June 2017   Gand Baie, Mauritius
After our hectic tour yesterday, we spent all day on-board organising ourselves for our UK trip, buying things online to be delivered to our son’s house. I’ve a long list of items to buy including windlass deck switches, a valve for the front heads, zincs for the bow thruster, 1mm wetsuits, etc, etc.

“Hokulea” invited us over for a glass of wine or two.  They’re heading to the Seychelles, so we might not see them again – but you never know when cruising...