Thursday, October 29, 2015


Roughly 560 kilometres east of Mauritius – toward the middle of the Indian Ocean – lies a little island called Rodrigues.  At 108 square kilometres, the island only makes up about 5% of the total area of Mauritius.  It has about 42,000 people and gained autonomous status in 2002.  While the histories of Mauritius and Rodrigues are somewhat aligned, there are quite a few differences.  Rodrigues was named after a Portuguese explorer who charted the islands, while the Dutch renamed Mauritius when they arrived.  Several Dutchmen landed on the island but it was the French to first properly settle it and populated it with slaves imported from Africa.  The British took control of the island around the same time as they took control of Mauritius.  The island didn’t have a history of indentured labourers coming from India, so the population is predominantly Creole (a mix of African and French descent) and Catholic rather than Indian and Hindu.  Like Mauritius, the main language is a French Creole language called Rodriguan Creole (which is very similar to Mauritian Creole).  Everyone also speaks French, and English turned out to be a struggle in a few places on the island.  Unlike Mauritius, the Rodriguan people overwhelmingly voted against independence from Britain back in the 1950’s, but decolonization was the flavour of the moment and Britain attached Rodrigues to Mauritius when it granted Mauritius independence.

The pace of life in Rodrigues is incredibly slow.  There is no hustle.  There is no bustle.  And nobody is ever in a rush.  This was best evidenced by the public bus system on the island, to which I will devote a separate post.  Many people say that Rodrigues is like what Mauritius was like 25 years ago.  Obviously, I can’t vouch for that, but Rodrigues is a great place to just chill out and relax, and that is exactly what I did.

A few highlights of my time in Rodrigues:

Cargo ship:
I decided to take the national cargo ship (MS Mauritius Trochetia) from Mauritius to Rodrigues.  It was the same price as flying but it took about 38 hours and included two nights of accommodation and five meals, so I figured it would be good value and an interesting new way to travel.  There were maybe fifty or sixty other passengers on the ship and all of them were locals.  I was the only tourist.  And the only person who didn’t speak French.  Despite that, I had a few good chats with a few locals who did their best to converse in their limited English.  To save time, I opted to fly back.

Villa Mon Tresor:
From the cargo ship, I checked into my traditional Mauritian/Rodriguan chambres d’hotes (guesthouse).  This guesthouse – named Villa Mon Tresor (VMT for short) – was the highlight of my time in Rodrigues.  The typical chambres d’hotes on the islands generally include breakfast and dinner, and at VMT, the meals were prepared by the proprietor of the guesthouse, a lovely lady named Marie Louise.  Not only was Marie Louise the hostess with the mostess, she could cook like nobody else.  Every meal was a big spread and every component was absolutely delicious.  Breakfast was served just for the guests (there were two older French ladies there for my first two nights, but I was the lone guest for the next two), dinners were served with Marie Louise and her charming husband seated at the table with us.  It was such a delight being in their company, and I would go back to Rodrigues one day just to stay at VMT again.

Francois Leguat Reserve:
Named after a French explore and naturalist who was the first to write about Rodrigues, the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve is the island’s biggest attraction.  In fact, it is one of the island’s only attractions (there’s really not all that much on the tiny island), but it’s a quality one and it makes up for the island’s lack of other major tourist sights.  The star attraction of the Francois Leguat Reserve: giant tortoises!  Just like on Mauritius, the indigenous giant tortoise was led to extinction by man so these have been imported from the Seychelles.  The reserve also has a breeding program for the much smaller (and apparently hornier) Radiata tortoise from Madagascar.  In addition, there are some Rodrigues fruit bats (the only native mammal on the island), several caves (including the quite large Grande Caverne), and the only museum on the island (which does an excellent job of walking visitors through the island’s history, geography, flora and fauna, and more).  I even learned that the Pope visited Rodrigues in 1989 and it was (and still sort of is) a big fucking deal.

What the island lacks in major tourist attractions, it makes up for in beaches.  Little beaches dot the coast of the island, and as Rodrigues is entirely surrounded by a massive lagoon, all of the beaches have calm, pristine water.  Though the weather played up a bit on my first two days, I was able to get some amazing beach and swim time on my third day.  I first went to the super gorgeous St Francois beach, but after finding the ground to be a bit rocky, I walked around the corner of the island to the beach at Pointe Coton.  It was a great move on my part, because the sand was soft, the water was calm, the beach was empty (like all beaches on Rodrigues), and I got some excellent swim time.  Where else in the world can you have your own beach without paying an exorbitant price?!?

Hiking is the other main activity on Rodrigues.  I did two big hikes during my stay.  The first was the coastal walk from Graviers to St Francois.  Reminiscent of the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney, the walk takes you along one long stretch of the island’s coast, passing empty beach after empty beach along the way.  For my second hike, I started at Mourouk Beach and worked my way up a trail that took me to the top of the ridge that runs down the centre of the island.  It was quite steep in some parts, but the views from the top were very rewarding!  Also at the top…

Chez Jeanette and Jardin des 5 Sens:
I finished my hike with a massive lunch at a lovely restaurant called Chez Jeanette, which was super recommended by my hostess and about every guidebook written about Rodrigues.  The traditional Creole cuisine was to die for!  Just next door, a small botanical garden called the Jardin des 5 Sens (Garden of 5 Senses) took me on a guided tour of endemic plants as well as through different plants that would trigger each of my five senses (see, hear, taste, smell, and touch).

Ile aux Cocos:
My last major activity was a day trip to Ile aux Cocos (Coconuts Island).  The tiny island sits offshore but still within Rodrigues’ massive lagoon.  It is a breeding site for four species of seabird – the only such island to have that claim in all of the Indian Ocean.  Though the weather played up a bit, I did get to see some of the native birds and go for two swims (including one in the rain).

My time in Rodrigues was just absolutely amazing.  I’d like to get back there one day to hike around more of the island and swim at more of the beaches (and, of course, stay at VMT again!)  I will make a point to get back one day, but I still have much more to see before that.  I do have one more blog to post about Mauritius and Rodrigues – a blog devoted to their ridiculously funny bus system.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Rodrigues, follow this link:

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