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The International Writers Magazine: Indian Ocean

Making Merry in Mauritius
• Elizabeth Joss
I step off the aeroplane into a wall of humidity. It’s 3am and the sky is pitch black. I haul my luggage towards a taxi driver and we promptly depart Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam airport moving north. Like most locals, the taxi driver is an Indian who speaks French as well as the Mauritian Creole. His tiny, cocoa-coloured fingers pivot the fake leather steering wheel as he turns corners at an extraordinary speed. I refrain from glancing at the speedometer and look out of the window instead, the landscape racing by.

Elizabeth

Mauritius, contrary to what I had believed, is a poor country. But the extent of this is not yet evident as we drive on the highway. Concrete supermarkets and stores line the main roads but as soon as we veer off onto a smaller road, the grey outline of corrugated iron huts comes into view. In the black of night, I can barely make out the pastel-colours of huts with hundreds if not thousands of electricity wires hanging from one to the next. I see many single story huts and then a few double story huts with the second story in a completely different shade and style to the first. The driver excitedly tells me about the culture present on the island and that families tend to all live together in one house. When a woman gets married, the family build on another level to their house for the new bride and groom. “That’s convenient,” I answer and we laugh together, acknowledging our significant cultural differences.

The driver informs me of the country’s vibrant and enthralling mix of cultures. Mauritius has Indian, Chinese and African influences. Moreover, Buddhism, Christianity and Muslim religions are celebrated in the form of temples, mosques, pagodas and churches scattered across the island. In fact, the cheerful colours and pungent scents of these sacred places is yet one indication of the diversity of the island.

As I arrive at the hotel, the smell of the sea reaches my nose and the croaking of massive frogs, unlike any I’ve ever seen before, breaks all silence. There is a jungle-like appeal to this quaint accommodation. But the cerise doorway jolts my thoughts back to civilization. I feel as though I’ve been transported into the middle of the Amazon, albeit with Indian-speaking inhabitants and dwellings!

Hotel Choisy Mont Choisy is almost halfway across the island, about an hour’s drive from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. I am eagerly welcomed by well-groomed staff in meticulous uniforms. They lead me to my room and I am most impressed. Rooms are built in a townhouse-style and are colourful and attractive, most with little white verandas. I open the door and my dinner awaits me; all covered in cling wrap and beautifully finished with a local Mauritian flower. The staff must’ve known that after a long flight, I would be famished. This is just one example of true Mauritian, world-class hospitality.

Might I add that this hotel is not a 5 star but the staff sure make one feel as though you are living the high-life. Mauritius, after all, is known for service. And boy do the Mauritians exceed one’s expectations in every way possible.

After a good 12 hours of sleep, I’m recovered and ready to venture out into the harsh humidity. At first I struggle to adapt and drink litres of water at breakfast. I eat like a king and am ready to conquer this lush paradise. A local bus-ride to the Pamplemousses Garden sounds appealing. As soon as I get on, I am met with looks of intrigue and interest by the many locals who sit squished together on the tiny, worn seats. Had goats and chickens been on this bus, we could’ve easily been in India!

The tropical plants and trees at Pamplemousses are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before back home in South Africa. And because of the wonderfully warm weather, the fruits on the trees are ginormous. Roots grow far above the ground’s surface and intermingle around main tree stumps. Mind boggled, I observe every tiny detail of the gardens before jetting off on a tour to the other side of the island. Treeroots
Beach The guide puts ten of us tourists into a speed boat and we are whisked away to another smaller island off the south-east coast. None of the tourists speak English and only a few of the locals do. This is what I’ve been waiting for – a true Mauritian cultural immersion. I take my seat on the sand, working my feet deep into the wetness. A woman dressed in a traditional Mauritian outfit brings a local Phoenix beer to me and places it on a brown wooden table situated on my right-hand side. Next I sample the local cuisine while the music pipes up.
A family of three generations play drums and chant. The rhythm is intoxicating and I am immediately up on my feet moving to and fro.A saga dancer in a beautiful red dress accompanies me and we twist and turn our hips to the hypnotic drumming. Dessert is then ready and I take my seat back on the sand. I am presented with a fried banana – the most delicious banana I have ever tasted. This is island life and I could live here forever!
Chinatown

© Elizabeth Joss June 2012

Elizabeth Joss is a creative writer, passionate about all things to do with travel. She thrives on writing articles about places off the beaten track. Elizabeth writes for numerous travel sites including Fly First. Follow Elizabeth on Google + Elizabeth Joss

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All images © Elizabeth Joss 2012

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