Monday, October 26, 2015

Mauritius: Some Things I Did

I did a LOT in Mauritius.  Like, a LOT a LOT!

A few highlights of my time in Mauritius:

Obviously.  I went to a lot of beaches.  Some were just for the views of the islands offshore.  Some were just to stare at the ridiculously turquoise, aquamarine, and every other gorgeous shade of green and blue water.  Some were for sunset.  But I only went for a swim at one beach on the Mauritian mainland:  Blue Bay.  And it was stellar!  Gorgeous sand, gorgeous water, and gorgeous views out into the bay.  The reason I only swam at one beach on Mauritius is because…

Island trips:
… I took a few day trips to other islands!  Island day trips are a common activity for visitors to Mauritius, and quite a few small islands surround the Mauritian mainland.  Most tours include snorkelling and a BBQ lunch of chicken, fish, garlic bread, salads, and all you can drink rum, beer, and soft drinks (but they really want you to drink the rum, especially if you’re on a boat with a bunch of Chinese tourists: “You have to drink this! The Chinese don’t drink!”).  My first trip was a catamaran cruise to Îlot Gabriel (Gabriel Island) in the north of Mauritius where I sat on a luxurious white sand beach, swam in the shallow water, and relished in the fact that I was there.  My trip to Île aux Benetiers (Benetiers Island) in the west of Mauritius was a bit of a bust in that it was gray and rainy for most of the time we were on the island.  All wasn’t lost, however, as we stopped to swim in the open ocean on the way there and on the way back (“Are you going to swim? You have to swim! The Chinese don’t swim!”).  Oh, and did I mention there were dolphins?  Motherfucking dolphins!  And I got to swim with those motherfuckers!  And it was awesome!  My third island trip was actually two islands off the east coast:  the uber gorgeous Île aux Cerfs (Deer Island) and Îlot Mangenie (Mangenie Island).  The weather was the best for this one which was perfect because Île aux Cerfs has tons of gorgeous white sand secluded beaches to discover.  I walked around the island to a secluded spot and got my swim on in perfect peace.  Later on, our boat visited a coastal waterfall with monkeys and bats, and then stopped at Mangenie Island for a BBQ lunch.

My final trip – to Île aux Aigrettes (Egrets Island) in the southern part of Mauritius – was a bit different.  Île aux Aigrettes is a nature reserve where the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is trying to recreate what Mauritius looked like before humans arrived.  The foundation has planted native plant species and introduced native animals, particularly various endangered bird species such as the pink pigeon, olive white-eye, and Mauritian fody, and Telfair’s skink.  The Aldabra tortoise from the Seychelles – a cousin of the now extinct Mauritian tortoise – has also been introduced to get the eco-system as close as possible to how it used to be.  The saddest part were all of the bronze statues dotting the island which represent all of the species that have gone extinct since man arrived.  Aside from the dodo, these include the Mauritian tortoise, giant skink, Mauritian owl, red rail, Mauritius blue pigeon, and so many more.

Hiking is popular in Mauritius and the island boasts some great hiking trails.  I spent a day in Black River Gorges National Park (which should just be called The National Park because it’s the only one in the country) which contains amazing viewpoints and the only tract of native vegetation that wasn’t totally destroyed by human activities.  Vallee de Ferney is a nature reserve that grows and reintroduces native plant species in an attempt to restore the land to what it once was.  The reserve has a small population of the super endangered Mauritius kestrel – a raptor which only had 4 birds left in the mid-1970’s.  There are about 400 now but they are still super vulnerable.  The reserve also boasts a great hiking trail with native plant species labelled along the way.  Trou aux Cerfs (which I guess translates to “deer hole”) is the rim of a dormant volcano located in Curepipe – Mauritius’ second biggest city.  The rim has been turned into a nice park with a 1km jogging trail around it.  Trees and a lake fill the crater.

Museums and monuments:
Mauritius has quite a few museums and monuments.  The most important for me was the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.  It was there that I got to see the exhibit on the dodo, one of my 103 Things.  Did you know it was a pigeon?  Ick!  Port Louis had quite a few other museums, including UNESCO-listed Aapravasi Ghat (the landing place for most of the indentured labourers from India), the Blue Penny Museum (which contains early maps of Mauritius, some super rare stamps, and a famous statue of and exhibition on Paul et Virginie – Mauritius’ most famous piece of literature), the Mauritius Postal Museum (which is super interesting if you love mail, and super quick if you don’t), the Photography Museum (privately owned and operated by an older couple who have amassed an astounding collection of cameras and old pictures of Mauritius, it includes the lens which took the very first picture in the Southern Hemisphere, right here in Mauritius), Fort Adelaide (an old British fortress up on a hill which is only good for the views), and the SSR Memorial Centre for Culture (the old home of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam which features the story of Maurtius’ first Prime Minister and leader of its independence movement).

On the opposite side of the island from Port Louis is the town of Vieux Grand Port.  Here I visited the Vieux Grand Port Historical Site and the Frederik Hendrik Museum.  The historical site contains the ruins of the first French fort on the island.  Underneath that lies the first Dutch fort, and they have excavated one small section to unearth the oldest structure on the island.  The museum contains an exhibition on the Dutch history of Mauritius, which seems to be mostly forgotten everywhere else.  A few kilometres south of the historical site and museum stands a marker on the spot of the first Dutch landing on the island.

Randomly, on the south coast of the island, I received yet another history lesson in the form of a monument to Matthew Flinders.  For the non-Aussies reading this, Flinders was the first man to sail all the way around Australia and determine that it was actually its own continent rather than attached to any other land mass.  He was even the first to propose the name “Australia”!  He landed on Mauritius on the way back from Australia to England as his ship needed some repairs.  As France was at war with England, the French captured him and imprisoned him on Mauritius for six years.

Hindu sites:
As roughly one half of the island is Hindu, I of course had to visit some religious sites.  A small temple by the name of Sagar Shiv Mandir is painted completely white and sits on a little bit of land sticking out into the sea.  It was quite scenic and must have a super high property value!  The big ticket religious site, however, was Ganga Talao.  Ganga Talao is a religious site at Grand Bassin – a deep lake filling a volcanic crater in the south of the island.  The lake is a holy site for Hindus and legend has it that Shiva accidentally spilled some water from the Ganges here on Mauritius.  His wife, Parvati, to him to leave the water there because the island, though uninhabited at the time, would one day host people from India to pray there.  A hike up to the crater’s rim provided a fantastic view of the lake, the temples that surround the lake, and the two massive statues of Shiva and Parvati, exact replicas of statues in India.  The statue of Shiva stands at 108 feet tall.  The statue of Parvati is still under construction.

It all sounds like a pretty full schedule, doesn’t it?  And I’m only halfway through telling you all about what I did on Mauritius.  I’ll need to type up one more blog to finish it up.  But first, let me take a dodo selfie.

To see the second set of photos of my time in Mauritius, follow this link:

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