I got back a week ago from the final leg of my trip: 10 days in Mauritius, with a three-day trip to Reunion Island in the middle of that. This post is coming late because I left my computer charger in the Charles de Gaulle airport on the way there, so I wasn’t able to use my computer too much before it ran out of charge—we can file that one into the “tribulation” category. Then, I headed straight down to a wedding for Philly, then I got back and feel like I have had a million little things to do since then.
Before I get going—does everyone know where Mauritius is? Because I did not fully appreciate how far away it was until the day before my flight when I figured I’d better take a look at my itinerary, and realized it’s a twelve hour flight from Charles de Gaulle. That flight was about as miserable as it sounds—the thing that’s funny about 12 hour flight is, after 4 hours when you start to get antsy and generally bored of the whole situation, you realize it’s still another 8 hours before landing. Luckily, I was sitting next to a sweet Mauritian woman whom I knew I liked when, during the first round of drink service, she ordered both a Pepsi and a glass of red wine. I slept a little, but arrived at 6 am feeling kind of dreadful, and tried to not fall asleep in the car as Gabby, a champion friend, drove us the hour back to her and Rick’s apartment. (Also, if you want to see better pictures of Mauritius and read more about it, head over to her blog here.)
And…here is where I really struggle, and what I was dreading when thinking about this post—I don’t even know where to begin. Ten days is a long time to be immersed in a culture totally different from your own. By the end of my time there, things that at first seemed noteworthy began to seem normal. So here is a random subset of things that came to me.
This is a question I’ve gotten a lot, so I’ll just address it here. My friends Gabby and Rick are living in Mauritius for six months as Rick completes a Post Graduate Degree in Endangered Species Recovery. Gabby, being a well-respected nature photographer and a person who has generally played her cards right, is living with him and working remotely on some projects, as well as taking wonderful photographs that are to go in some photo exhibits around the island (and beyond).
Mauritius is a tiny island east of Madagascar in the Indian ocean with a population of 1.2 million people. It takes about an hour to drive across. The main languages spoken are French, Creole, English, but many people on the island are of Indian descent. It makes a wonderful mish mash of cultures and feelings—French signs but Indian street food, all on a tropical island—it’s really quite cool and unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It's also totally gorgeous, check out those clouds reflecting in the ocean below.
Being an American in Mauritius
But perhaps the most foreign element of Mauritius is that they seem to genuinely like Americans, and I found this delightful and baffling at the same time—what a throwback! It was like traveling back in time to the pre-Bush days. The only explanation that I have for this most unusual position is that, because they don’t get a lot of Americans down there due to the hellacious travel itinerary, we’re still somewhat of a novelty. I also can only assume that no one has stumbled on any international news since around 2002.
When I was flying out of Mauritius to Reunion, the security guard at the airport asked where I was from, and when I said I was American he said “Oh, what is it they say? God bless America?” I told him that I didn’t think they said that anymore. He didn’t get the joke (this happens to me regularly), but said that “it was an honor to meet a real American girl.” WTF? It felt like I was in a weird dream, except that people are not this nice to me even in my dreams.
Mauritius was a volcanic island, so it’s got lots of jagged peaks, covered in vegetation. We did a tough hike one morning at 7am up Le Morne, an impressive peak on the south west coast. The above photo is a view from near the top. Here’s a view showing some of the route:
Mauritius is known for its beaches, and for good reason—they’re quite stunning, the water is clear and turquoise, and—bonus—there are no sharks!!! There is, however, many an anemone on the ocean floor, so one must walk carefully. (One of the many goals I have for myself in this lifetime is to never, ever step on a sea anemone—so far, so good.) My one complaint is that the sand is full of hard bits—coral and the like, so it’s a bit painful to walk on. I suppose I have been spoiled by New England’s silky soft sand. But, one bonus is that, save for a few places, all of the beaches in Mauritius are totally public up to the water line. So you can park and plop yourself down anywhere on the beach. The rich, beachfront property owners don’t like this law, but the rest of us do.
Here are some more views from Le Morne:
This is just one of those things that everyone does. You can buy snorkel gear almost anywhere. We went out a few times, and I saw a wide variety of tropical fish—Picasso fish, lionfish, as well as pipefish, which are relatives to the sea horse, eels, and a silly looking sea cucumber that was white with red polka dots and looked like a clown. No octopuses, sadly.
Driving in Mauritius
The driving in Mauritius is absolute insanity, and not just because they drive on the left side of the road. Gabby was told that they import their wine from France and their driving from India, and you need to have a glass of wine if you want to be able to deal with the driving. People will just park in the street, like it’s a parking spot except that it’s not—it’s the only lane going in that direction. Often, when this happens, they’ll start slowing down, without signaling, until they are stopped, and you have to just deduce that they aren’t going to be moving again. They also park like this around blind corners. People pass in situations in which it really doesn’t seem like it would be wise to pass. But Gabby handled it all like a pro, and we only nearly got hit a few times.
There are stray dogs all over the place, running into the streets, running out of the streets, at the beach, lying down next to me at the beach, following us to our car, following us away from our car. Really, just everywhere.
On one of my last days, we went to see the giant fruit bats in the lower gorges national park. I don’t think I can quite communicate my fondness for these bats. They were so cute! So calm and unassuming and relaxed, just hanging upside down at the tops of trees, shuffling their wings in order to stay cool, minding their own bat business.
Occasionally, they’d take off and do a few loops around, before coming back to their perch, shaking the branch as they landed and causing all the other bats to bob up and down, adorably.
If one flew overhead, you could see the transparency of their wings, and their veins, and their weird arm-like structures, kinked and tapered.
I really, really liked these bats.
Just to add to the absurd picturesqueness of the island, there are also a bunch of waterfalls too.
The photo below is from 7 Waterfalls, where you can hike down and see all seven of them, as well as play in the pools they create.
I have many more pictures, and many more thoughts, which I can’t fit in here. Next I’ll write about Reunion island, which we went to for three days.