Mauritius Respite

On a Whim, a Breathtaking Trip To an Island of Varied Wonders

Creatures and curiosities in endless number seem to lie in wait at this East African island, first settled in the 10th century | Photo: Tamara Nosenko

Photo: Tamara Nosenko


Creatures and curiosities in endless number seem to lie in wait at this East African island, first settled in the 10th century | Photo: Tamara Nosenko

It all happened too fast and I didn’t have a chance to reflect. One day my friend called to say she had found a super travel offer to Mauritius. The next day I was buying myself a ticket.

It all hit me on the plane, which is not surprising – I had 24 hours to think while traveling from Moscow to the island, my train of thought interrupted only by a hectic one hour change of flights in Paris. Although I have traveled a lot, I had never been that far. I knew Mauritius was in the Indian Ocean, somewhere off the East African coast, but exactly where I had never quite known until this trip. And, of course, I have always assumed those paradise islands were not for me because of high travel costs. Mauritius and that “educated and sophisticated I” just didn’t belong on one piece of paper. But apparently that wasn’t necessarily the case, and now I had an airplane ticket to prove it.

And then again, I knew nothing about the place at all except for what I remembered from Mark Twain. “You get the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven and that heaven was copied after Mauritius,” he teased in 1897.

Confused and excited, I arrived to the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport at 5:00 in the morning. My friend Masha and her children – Olga (8 years) and Polina (9 months) – were already waiting for me at the hotel.

It was hard to digest the fact that there can be winter in July – especially if you’re Muscovite. Now, in April, when we are anxiously waiting for spring to come to Europe, Mauritius is wrapping-up the hot season and preparing for winter – that will be over again only in October.

It’s also difficult to understand how a small island – its area is 1,860 Km2 – can be so varied in climate. The cloud hanging over the Mauritius capital of Port Louis was fixed by invisible strings, just to keep the sugar fields wet.

However, a 30 minute drive to the beach on the Indian Ocean completely altered the weather conditions. Here on the long white beaches (mostly public, but clean and safe), it was always warm and sunny, except for one night at sunset when it poured rain for 10 minutes and four rainbows swept across the sky – one of the famous Mauritius miracles that nobody believes until it happens.

Our idea of vacation was a simple one. Since we had two small girls on board, all we wanted was a hotel room with a kitchenette and the ocean. In that we succeeded – during the low season the island is not so crowded with tourists; and it was difficult to choose between the offers, most of good quality and at ridiculously low prices. Finally we found a small and modest family resort with its own beach and comfortable bungalows.

The island is offering a number of hotel options – you may want to choose a 5-star or 4-star hotel from one of the French chains with traditionally perfect infrastructure, spas and bars. Or you may prefer a similar level of comfort in a private local hotel that would give you a chance to sink into the peaceful quiet of nature. The most lively area is located at the top south of Mauritius and is called Grand Baie.


Photo: Tamara Nosenko

We never used the travel agencies for planning our sightseeing, preferring to explore the island by our own intuition and at our own risk.  The first attraction that we discovered was La Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes – a National Park commonly referred to as ‘The Crocodile Park’, for its thousands of Nile crocodiles. It also had deer, monkeys and giant turtles that didn’t mind at all if you sat on them. The Park itself was tropical and humid and full of strange unfamiliar trees, giant lianas and flowers. Here for the first time we saw a banyan tree, the so-called walking tree because it keeps expanding from its base, its’ branches coming down to the ground to form new trunks.

We saw Tamarind Waterfalls, more than 240 m high over seven steps and even enjoyed a refreshing bath in cold crystal clean water. The girls were thrilled to spend a day at Caudan Waterpark with a train ride, a  Children’s Park, and endless games. We visited Black River Gorges National Park with its original jungle and bird life which exists only in Mauritius (the Pink Pigeon, the Echo Parakeet and the Mauritius Kestrel; all very rare species). We took children to the Pamplemousse Botanical Garden, one of the most famous in the tropics, with hundreds of plants and remarkable gigantic water-lilies called Victoria Amazonica.

Then, kids satisfied, we explored the cities. We discovered that Mauritians (pop. 1.2 million) were a handsome people, a breathtaking mixture of Creole, Indian, Chinese and European (mostly of French extraction), peacefully living on their small territory with no inter-ethnic or inter-religious conflicts and tensions. Temples, mosques and churches co-habit the same districts, even the same streets. Somehow they manage to live with each other and it all felt quite natural. Perhaps it’s their unusual history, where the first records were those of the Arabs in 10th century. Later, the island was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, and afterwards occupied by the tolerant Dutch (1598-1712) and the high-minded French (1715-1810).  In 1814 it was ceded to Great Britain and remained a part of the Empire until 1968 when it became independent.

We saw huge Indian and Chinese markets, highly colorful and full of you-name-it and nothing-useful-but-oh-so-nice. We went to giant cashmere stores where all outfits and Pashminas made you feel cozy and warm. And then, we saw thousands of the famous Mauritius-made historical ship models carefully built out of wood.

Who thought that I could stand the temptation of bringing a huge boat with blazingly white aft sail back to Moscow as a gift to my friend? I cursed myself for that great souvenir idea on my long way back home, knowing I had to refuse to consign the boat to the luggage hold, afraid it would be totally crushed.

Then we made a scrupulous investigation of local cooking. The cuisine of Mauritius is as international as its population. During the three weeks we were there, we tried nearly everything – from a chicken and seafood curry accompanied by a vast selection of chutneys and chards to palm hearts salad, and a dish of tuna in fresh lime. We were surprised to discover that dining out in Mauritius was quite inexpensive. We ate fruits and a local version of kebabs on the beach, protecting both from the troop of local mongrels, fat and clearly very happy. We tried the local rum and wine just to make sure that we could recommend it to people we respect.

We traveled the island, stood on the dead volcanoes admiring the views of the Ocean, and saw mosaic soil of pink, yellow, light blue and orange called Chamarel. Having gated too long at the souvenir boats, we gave in and had a splendid day deep sea fishing.

We also had quiet days at the beach and local disasters when the older girl – Olga – was bitten by a Medusa and developed severe allergy that landed us in the local hospital, which put an end to night swimming under the stars.

Still we had three weeks of happiness and solitude, allowing ourselves not to think of the worries we had left behind at home; troubles and duties put aside, we just absorbed what Mauritius gave us – the natural world at its best and an unforgettable sense of peace and calm.

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