Island Beauty

This morning I was scanning some old photos again and before I knew it, I was reliving one of our most beautiful trips ever. It was a well deserved 10-day vacation many years ago to Mauritius, a small island nation (actually a group of islands) with a population of just under 1,3 million. Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean about 540 miles/870 km east of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. The island’s  history includes influences of Arab, Portuguese and other sailors, and then Dutch, French and British rule before its independence from UK in 1968. Immigration from Africa, China, India and many European countries has added to the fascinating and unique mix of people, cultures and religions on the island.

This multitude of influences is also reflected in the languages spoken on the island: lingua franca or Mauritian Creole,  French, English and Bhojpuri. We managed quite well with our poor French, but many people also speak English, particularly in the areas frequented by visitors.

The island is famous for its white beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. So if you enjoy beautiful beaches, swimming, snorkeling, boating, water sports and sun bathing, this small island paradise is for you!

We were living in a landlocked country in Africa at the time so being on an island was a big attraction for us.

We did not stay in the capital, Port Louis, but drove north passing many sugar cane plantations. Our home away from home was a small villa close to Grand Bay, right on the beach. We spent a lot of time exploring the

beaches from land as well as from the water.  And learning about the local life, nature and the economy, which at the time was mainly focused on fishing and sugar production.

We rented a car for a couple of days and could easily reach any part of the island in few hours. But observing the local traffic, I soon became confused as to what side of the narrow roads I was supposed to drive. So I asked a local driver. His response was quite scary.

He said: “First we had the Dutch and the French who wanted us to drive on the right side of the road, then we had the British who wanted us to drive on the left side of the road, so when we became independent, we decided to drive in the middle of the road”. No kidding! That was exactly what I observed. Coming up each curvy hill, I’d go as far left as I could and tried to be prepared to meet someone trying to move on my right (their left) just before we had to pass each other.

Another way to see the island’s many beaches, mountains, sugar cane fields and tropical forests with rare trees and absolutely gorgeous flowers would have been biking or hiking along  the smaller and less trafficked roads and trails.

A third way to see the island, which soon became our favorite, was taking a boat along the shores and making stops along the way. There were always many boatmen (and tour companies, of course) prepared to take us on a trip along the coast in any direction we desired to go. So we spent several days on the water, mostly on smaller fishing boats. One day we also sailed a large catamaran to one of the nature reserves and some of the tiny uninhabited islands along the west and south-west coast. The beauty of the coast and the small islands, for example Isle Aux Cerfs, was breathtaking, but the one most memorable experience for us during this sail was to see small “flying fish”  jump out of the water! They were literally “flying” beside and in front of the boat. Their jumps were so short and unexpected that unfortunately we couldn’t capture them on film.

Our explorations also brought us to the nature reserves and the few remaining forests. It was quite an experience to try to climb up a liana. I have to admit, I’m no Jane and my hubby is no Tarzan. We didn’t get too far up before having to jump down.

In the evenings we sampled local foods, mostly creole seafood, and entertainment. Creole dancing was a popular and colorful form of entertainment. And of course, we went to see some of the local reggae bands. It was nice to connect with a culture of so many influences.

All in all, our  stay on this beautiful island has remained among the most treasured experiences of all our travels. No dangerous encounters, for a change, just a lot of enjoyment of natural beauty and exciting culture.

Today, this island nation is doing well. It’s economy is much more diversified and not as dependent on sugar production as it used to be. High-end financial services, IT and outsourced services combined with tourism and preservation of the islands unique flora and fauna now complement the traditional industries. If you are looking for natural beauty, this island is truly worth a visit!