Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mauritius: More Things I Did

As I mentioned, I did a LOT of things on Mauritius.  Like, I saw the whole island.  ALL OF IT.  Thanks to the guide book recommending that I hire a rental car for my stay, I was able to really get around and maximize my time.

Here are a few more highlights of my time in Mauritius:

I visited two botanical gardens while in Mauritius.  The botanical gardens in the central city of Curepipe were pretty shitty, but the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in the northern part of the island were the complete opposite.  Lonely Planet claims that these are one of the top botanical gardens in the world.  I still think Singapore’s and Sydney’s are better, but these were pretty fabulous.  I signed on for one of the guided tours (of course, it was me and about ten French people – I’m sure the guide was thrilled to have to translate it all into English for just one person) and now I’m dead set on doing guided tours at all botanical gardens I visit in the future.  While all the plants were labelled with their names, the tour told me more about the plants – including where they came from, how they made it to Mauritius, what they are used for, and more.  I took so many pictures and so many notes and I’m just wondering what I’ve missed at other botanical gardens that I’ve visited in the past.

Shopping and eating:
I did look for a few souvenirs and try a few local delights while on the island.  Central Market in Port Louis has a ground floor full of produce and an upper floor full of souvenir stands.  I bought a cushion cover with a dodo on it.  Of course.  I was expecting the Mahebourg Monday Market to be similar, and while it had a similar produce section, it was light on the souvenirs.  Instead, there was a good selection of vendors selling cheap eats like faratas and dholl puri.  I do love me a $1 lunch!  Back in the more urban part of the island, I spent some time at the Bagatelle Mall of Mauritius.  The biggest mall on the island was tiny by American or Australian standards, but it had a few treats, such as the famous Vonacorona Ice Cream (Mauritius’ popular equivalent to Gelato Messina – but obviously not Gelato Messina) and the Flying Dodo Brewing Company (the first and only microbrewery on the island).

I visited three colonial and/or creole mansions while on the island.  At Chateau Labourdonnais, I toured the gorgeous plantation house then strolled through their on-site botanical garden.  They also produce rum (everywhere on the island produces rum) and grow a wide range of tropical fruits.  I got to have a juice and jelly tasting after my tour!  The creole mansion called Eureka has a great little restaurant in it, adult-sized swing set, and some great hiking trails behind it which led down to a gorge with some beautiful waterfalls.  Finally, the estate house at St Aubin was set on a larger property with a small zoo, rum distillery (of course), and vanilla production!  I got to learn about how they make vanilla there on the island.  Similarly…

Making things:
I had the chance to learn how all sorts of things are made on the island.  And by things, I mean consumables:  food and drink (and/or ingredients for food and drink!)  Aside from the various rum distilleries and the vanilla plantation at St Aubin, I also visited a few other production sites and these proved to be my favourite activities on the island, I think mainly because it’s a very different tourism experience than is offered by most places… and maybe because it’s delicious too!

L’Aventure du Sucre is set in an old sugar factory.  The museum goes through the history of sugar, the complete history of Mauritius (which is great because the National History Museum was closed during my stay), and the history of sugar in Mauritius (as the island’s chief export, sugar played a major role in shaping the island).  It also, of course, had a big section on the process of making sugar, followed by a sugar tasting of twelve types of sugar made on the island.  Can you think of anywhere else you can have a sugar tasting?!?  The on-site restaurant also had a great dessert menu (as it should) and I opted for a sweet and gooey chocolate gateau.

The Bois Cheri Tea Plantation is actually a plantation AND a factory AND a museum AND a restaurant.  The tea is grown on site and a tour takes you through the factory and explains the step-by-step process of tea making.  After that, there is a small museum which outlines the history of tea.  Did you know that Americans invented the tea bag?  Take that, Brits!  After that, I had a lovely tea tasting where I got to sample all twelve of their teas (though I only made it through seven before nature started calling…)  The on-site restaurant served up tea-inspired dishes (such as a starter bread with a delicious tea chutney) as well as dishes featuring the vanilla grown at the nearby St Aubin.  I had chicken with vanilla sauce.  For dessert:  the most orgasmic tea sorbet you can only imagine in your wildest dreams.

At La Route du Sel, I toured a sea salt factory.  I had no idea how sea salt was made, and to be honest, I never really cared, but it was super interesting to go through the process.  Seawater is pumped into a series of terraces.  The water slowly flows down and evaporates leaving a bunch of salt crystals to be collected from the lower terraces.  Most of the work is still done by hand which is a common theme on Mauritius.

Finally, my favourite one was the Rault Biscuit Factory.  Fifth generation family-owned, the factory produces a variety of biscuits made from the cassava root (which means they are all gluten-free).  The tour of the tiny factory went through every step of the process and I got to see all of the workers busy making biscuits (all by hand, of course).  The old lady who owns the place is the only person with the knowledge of the exact proportions to use when mixing up the flour for each flavour and she does all the mixing herself each morning despite her age (she looked like she was probably around 70, but she was there on the floor the whole time, full of energy and running the business like a champion).  Unfortunately, the biscuits are only sold on Mauritius, but fortunately, I got to do a biscuit tasting of all the flavours (weeeee!) and buy some to take with me on my travels.  They came in handy as an alternative breakfast on some early morning starts in India the following week.

Just in case you couldn’t tell, I REALLY liked Mauritius!  It was such a fabulous place to holiday and I think maybe I’ll get back there again one day – not because I missed anything, but because it was just such a pleasant, easy place to holiday.  There is one more place I visited that is technically part of Mauritius:  the semi-autonomous island of Rodrigues.  I’ll get that blog posted soon.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see the third (and final) set of photos of my time in Mauritius, follow this link:

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